Like many a time before, I find myself standing there. In the dimly light garage there sits a motorcycle and its owner. Now all I have to do is size the two of them up and decide if I am going to make that motorcycle mine.
From time to time, every introspective person finds themselves standing outside looking in, looking back at themselves and the road that brought them to just this point. For me, that almost entirely revolves around motorcycles. Looking deeper, it is the various aspects of motorcycling that stand out. It almost all started, way back when, with a purchase. Technically, I guess it was my uncle who actually gave me my first (non-running) bike, but from there on, the art of buying and selling became an integral part of my education.
Perhaps it is one of the things that sets me apart from others who do what I do. I have bought and sold more motorcycles than I can count. I have laid my own hard earned cash down many times. I did so at times when I had no money to spare, the bikes came first. I even became a professional motorcycle salesman just to get into the industry. I was good at it too.
In the last few years I started to slip away from the buying and selling routine. Money was tight, so I was getting lots of extra life from the bikes I had. I worked on them more to squeeze as many miles as possible from each one. Then the factory test bikes started to come along. That eased some of the burden on my own bikes. But that all changed again as I moved to develop the tour business.
Now I was back to needing a practical fleet of bikes. Time to start buying again. Time to get back in the routine of playing horse trader. Never mind the selling part. Once I am done with them, there isn’t much left to sell, just a collection of well used parts.
So I find myself back in the swing of cruising the classifieds for the hidden gem that is just waiting for me. I make the calls, send the emails and arrange to go take a look see. I head out the door with a wad of cash in my pocket. There is no time in my schedule for ” let me think about it” or ” I will get back with you”. When I go look at a bike, I have every intention to bring it back home.
So as I have done for much of my life, I once again find myself standing under the dim florescent light of a suburbia garage looking at what was once someone’s pride and joy. The story is typically the same – low mileage (aren’t they all), been sitting for the last year or two, just needs a bit of TLC, always ran great. There is often a baby or bum knee somewhere in the story line too, so time for the beloved bike to find a new home.
Then it is time for me to go into detective mode. I probably don’t look at the bike like any other prospective buyer. I am looking for the littlest of details to guide me. First I want to see the stock parts; grips, tires, sprockets. These all give me a clue as to the true mileage and use. Oh baby, when I see a mid 2000’s KTM with the stock Bridgestones still on, now that is the kind of thing that excites me. Nobody ever buys those same tires as replacements, so I have a near exact mileage estimate.
Next I want to see if the stock rear sprocket is there. It is a bit more difficult because it is a common swap, nobody ever seems to want stock gearing. Failing that, how about the stock gray and orange grips? Then comes the tell tale boot rub marks on the clutch cover and a look for swingarm scratches.
Once I am done giving a once over to what can be seen it is time to consider that which cannot been seen, the motor internals. Things are a bit more difficult here. A look at the air filter and inside of the air boot is mandatory. I also give it a good kick over to judge compression, not exactly scientific, but at least it is something. Mostly I just look, I cannot explain exactly how, but there are a dozen small clues that lead me to determine how much use or abuse a bike has seen.
We are talking mostly about near 10 year old bikes that don’t cost too much, so I am not going to go to the trouble of a leak down test or anything like that. I give the current owner a full quiz, but it is seldom of value. In 5 minutes of inspection I typically know more about his bike than he does.
I guess I do enough buying and selling that I take it for granted that somewhere along the line there will be a dud. In the long run it will surely all equal out, there will be a gem or two in the group to make up for it. So I often just go on faith. Motorcycles are often tougher than we give them credit for. Many a time I have seen a bike that the owner thought was on its last legs, go on to live many more years with a new owner oblivious to the shortcomings.
Last night I once again I found myself standing there, playing detective as I scrutinized another potential purchase. It started well, decent bike, stock grips, added stabilizer and all a bargain price. But my flashlight spied the first cautionary sight, the breather tube was not plumbed into the carb properly, it just dangled there.
Pulling the airbox cover I could see that the ancient air filter wasn’t quite right. It was dirty, but the color was all wrong too, there was no dark tint of oil. Pulling the filter confirmed the lack of filter oil and as would follow, an air boot covered in dirt.
That put a quick end to the sales conversation. I said my goodbyes and was on my way. As I drove off I could not help but wonder at the owner, an auto mechanic who owned multiple bikes. But then I considered it as my good fortune. Sure, it was a waste of my time, but also kept me from making a bad purchase. He could have fixed and cleaned both issues in minutes had he thought of it.
So I am back to the classifieds, hoping the guy with the 06 450xc I spotted will call. By the way, if you find yourself looking at an 05 450mxc in the Temecula area, perhaps you should pass on it.