Used Bike Guide – Has it been raced, crashed or abused?

Filed under: Buyers Guide |

Has It Been Crashed?

• Look for: deep parallel scratches on engine cases and on plastic (particularly above footpeg-level); a different/non-standard paint job (the owner might have repainted it to hide damage); paint or metal ground off the ends of the handlebars, or off the balls on the ends of the clutch/brake levers; dents in the gas tank where the handlebars may have smashed into it during a crash; dents and deep/parallel scratches in exhaust pipes; turn-signal stalks bent or ripped off; cracks in plastic bodywork obscured by stickers. (Aftermarket stickers are sometimes used to cover defects — beware!)
• Sometimes brake and clutch levers will be bent in a crash and replaced with a lever that’s a different color than the other side, or a slightly different style than the other side, or it’ll be hammered back into shape so it doesn’t look obviously bent. (In the latter case, look for thin cracks in the anodizing or clear coats of levers… it’ll look something like a spider web of hairline cracks.) Also look for bent or cracked mirrors, or mirrors replaced with mirrors of a different type. Both are signs that the bike has been down. Not necessarily crashed, but at least tipped over. Check carefully.
• Sometimes a crash will twist the front forks. Sit on the bike, sight down the forks, and see if they’re at all twisted or bent. (Twisted is pretty cheap and easy to fix, bent is not, but either ought to be a warning sign to check extra-carefully for other damage.) If you get a chance to test ride the bike, get the bike going straight, and take a quick look down at the bars to make sure they’re pointed straight — if they aren’t, the front has probably been twisted in a crash.
• Non-parallel scratches and shallow chips tend to indicate a tip-over rather than a crash at speed. (Crashes, of course, tend to do more damage — tip-overs rarely do more than minor cosmetic damage.)
• You may come across a bike that has horizontal scratches on its lower plastic and metal parts… this isn’t necessarily a crashed bike, it could just be that the owner was an enthusiastic rider that leaned the bike way over when turning. Ask the owner about the origin of the scratches, but unless you see evidence of a crash, it’s probably just evidence of an enthusiastic owner. Deep/parallel scratches above footpeg-level are something to be concerned about, though.
• Crashes can cause bodywork problems for two reasons. Besides scratching and cracking the bodywork, crashes can bend the bodywork’s mounting brackets and break mounting tabs. Check to make sure that bodywork pieces that fit together do so easily and have an even seam where pieces come together. And check to make sure that the bodywork isn’t loose, either because mounting tabs were broken off or because aftermarket fairings might not mount up as well as the stock stuff.

Has It Been Raced/Abused?

• Racing puts tremendous stress on machinery. You may or may not want to buy a bike that’s been raced (the price ought to be way lower than it would be otherwise), but you should definitely try to find out if it has or hasn’t been raced, so you can adjust the price accordingly if need be.
• Look for holes drilled through the heads of bolts, which racers use to safety-wire bolts in place. Check: front brake caliper mounting bolts, exhaust pipe bolts, engine case bolts, oil/water drain bolts, etc. The holes will be small, about 1/16″, and should not be confused with the 1/8″-3/16″ holes and castellated nuts that are often used to hold axle nuts on axles with cotter pins. Safety-wire ends can be extremely sharp — don’t cut yourself.
• Tires with roughed up edges, covered with ragged strips of balled-up rubber is a sure sign that the bike has been raced. If the rear tire is completely flat in the middle but looks practically new on the sides, the owner may have performed a burn-out with them. (Not necessarily damaging to anything other than the rear tire, but a possible signal that the owner hasn’t taken good care of the machine.) In rare instances, frazzled/ragged edges may be there because the bike’s owner bought “take-offs” (used race tires) from a racer, and not because the bike itself was raced. But be very suspicious.
• Also look for heavy-duty aftermarket engine covers — made by NRC, Factory, Traksport, Yoshimura, etc. Many racing organizations require them, so they’re a decent tip-off that the bike has been raced. They tend to be cheaper than the OEM case covers they replace, however, so sometimes they’re used to replace crash-damaged case covers. By themselves, they aren’t proof that a bike has been crashed or raced, but look around carefully for other tell-tale signs.
• Look at the under-side of the rear fender. (You may need a flashlight for this.) If you see a thick streak of balled up & flung-off rubber on the inside of the fender, that’s a good sign that the owner has done a burn-out on the bike. Burn-outs mostly damage the tire, but could be indicative of other abuse. Be alert.
• Check the frame for cracks, usually along welds. Check around the steering head, around the engine mounts, and, if possible, welds in the front fairing bracket and rear subframe. (“If possible” because these brackets may well be covered by fairings on many models.)


• Some models have specific problems that you should be aware of. Ask dealerships, bike-savvy friends, etc. Read magazine reviews. Examples: many Kawasaki EX500’s (and some other older Kawasaki sportbikes) have problems where they’ll pop out of second gear while engine-braking. Some older SOHC (single overhead cam — an engine design) Hondas had lubrication problems. Learn as much as you can about the models you’re interested in.