The latter part of this article covers a buying guide for motorbikes using a BMW F 650 GS from eBayer BidForBikes as an example.
Personally, I believe that a motorbike has to be straight and in safe mechanical condition.
This is NOT the same as the establishment bull about having the thing serviced at a franchised dealer, having an MOT, having insurance or wearing a crash helmet. The establishment angle is merely about creating an industry for their corporations. None of these things give you safety. I would only want to wear a helmet when it is really cold. I don't care what certificate a helmet as, they can be plastic so limited to protecting you from pine needles but that's all, can crack under sunlight, obscure your side vision and fog up just before a near accident.A good helmet would be as tough as fibreglass & with a practical no-fog visor. If only BMW/Shuberth & top Shoei helmets had DOT certificates then they would be a lot cheaper.
I would certainly select a franchised dealer for certain maintenance jobs. I do not find that cheaper garages are actually cheaper. Far more important is that they typically (or invariably in my varied experience as a review site researcher) use the wrong products. 'Every oil has a viscosity' but synthetic engine oils will destroy a wet clutch in a few weeks or months. 'They are all the same' antifreeze but those with nitrites or silicates will destroy your BMW or Honda radiator in less than one year. Franchised dealers find it harder to get wrong because they stock what the manufacturer gives them. Small dealers only stock one kind. Franchised dealers make plenty of mistakes but tend to know which engines need accurate engine oil levels before they split whereas local garages tend not to care.
Franchised dealers also know what issues to expect on each model from their factory workshop CD manuals.
Insurance & helmets create compensation factors and do nothing for safety. These measures are designed to bolster an industry so that we end up paying £££ for a plastic £2 helmet. If you want to be safe, you should, logically, learn to be a great rider and avoid accidents with other poor drivers and poor road conditions.
There are several eBay traders who sell bikes rejected from dealers. Dealers like perfect looking bikes without scratches. They actually have no idea nor care whether a bike is mechanically fit until they secure a sale. The same therefore goes for the eBay traders in these bikes. You must see the bike and make a basic check of all the key components. You must get it cheap, it will always be a donkey to sell on for the same reason that a dealer has rejected them. It is likely to have faults since no one who cares has checked them.People rarely sell late low mileage bikes which dont have faults.
I got a one year old BMW F 650 GS for about £750 less than the book price (£2,750) from a trader who sells on & off eBay as BidforBikes. A well presented guy (who - like all good sales people - never stops talking in case you find time to ask a key question or have a second thought about what you are looking at) but his knowledge of his stock & the skill of his mechanic are just not helpful.
My 'bargain' had been used at the Brecon Beacons BMW off road training school & came with many cosmetic scars which I did not personally care about. The frame was perfectly straight as the wheels aligned perfectly. Look along the bike length from both sides of all wheels for perfect symmetry or use a long spirit level.
Surely a one year old BMW would be in good condition no matter how ill treated?. The well known eBay trader (BidForBikes typically sells BMW) said it had been checked by his 'mechanic' (I'm not pretty sure that he himself is his mechanic) and that the bike was fine. Despite this review, I would expect buyers to get some bargains or at least some decent bikes from BidForBikes. His Buy It Now prices are typically book retail prices and his reserve just less than that. Neither of these prices represent good value in my humble opinion.
There was a little oil on the front forks. I could not recall 25 years back to remember if this was normal. I took his word for it that the seals were fine. There should be no oil whatsoever on the fork stanchions. Since the trader assured me the fork seals were good, I put him down to pay for this (but see later). I consider that the trader was probably unaware of the clutch & overheating faults so I will happily pay for them. I got the bike at a good price. I always knew I had 25 years of catching up to do. What is your excuse?
So BidForBikes lied or mislead me (if it makes you feel better, you can presume that the salesman was telling the truth but that his mechanic mislead him although eitherway it is the same result and the responsibility of the description surely lies with the seller.).
BidforBikes explicitly lied about:
1. Late bikes having the lights always on (the switch had been broken & the lights wired on permanently instead
2. fork seals were leaking, cost £200
3. claimed 6 months vehicle tax remaining but there was none, cost £60
4. no HPI certificate provided as promised
5. bike had been tested by mechanic and was all fine BUT clutch had to be replaced, cost £379
6. bike had been tested by mechanic and was all fine BUT steering races had to be replaced, cost £200
7. oil over filled (dangerous for this kind of engine) & synthetic not suitable for wet clutch, cost £50
8. incorrect coolant type used and air in the system; bike was overheating, cost £35
My purchase was not a bargain & BidforBikes cannot be recommended.
I managed to extra £129 (50% of the repair cost) from BMW under warranty for the failed clutch on the grounds that this bike was marked as a scrambler so should have a heavy duty clutch.
In any case. I wanted a light duty scrambler. The F 650 GS is not a scrambler. It is too heavy and would need off-road tyres to remain upright. Its quite a well equipped road bike and very good for scrambling over pavements but not loose surfaces. With a leaking fork seal, it became surprisingly twitchy. You have to take care in this situation to keep the oil off the brakes & tyres. The frame is good with no discernible flex and handling was predictable. The front suspension was too soft for road use and can bottom out hard on road lumps such as pot holes. Rear suspension was generally good for a semi-scrambler on the road.
It needed a new clutch (slipping only apparent at high speed); & new fork seals (they had been well cleaned so as buyer would not immediately notice), radiator bleeding (no problem a DIY fix). About £500 worth of work in all that would rarely be covered by BMW's warranty. BMW's argument might be that these bikes have had hard lives at off-road training schools and as such should be expected to show premature age. (Excuse me? So you actually only get a warranty if you keep your new bike in your front room.). I do not agree. A bike with less than 2000 miles on it should not have failed fork seals & clutch. It might show 10,000 miles worth of normal wear. Looking at the F 650 GS chaingang web site, I could see that the fork seals and clutch often fail early on this model. This is very disappointing for a BMW. I have had a Honda superdream, a Yamaha XS250 and XS500. These bikes were all reliable over 30,000 miles without anything as major as a new clutch being required.
There is little that one can practically do when a warranty is not honoured other than add a review to Poached Traders Review web site. This got me a 50% offer from BMW direct within a few days.
I had originally decided to purchase a BMW because they are designed to be more durable. I did not care that the F series is made by Aprilia, it should still come with BMW type durability if they want to re-badge it.
With a Scorpion exhaust my F 650 GS sounds like my dream bike of old- a reliable fruity Triumph Bonneville.
General Things to look for:
Get ABS where available. It is uneconomic to add post-factory.
General wear & the disc wear should reflect the mileage.
Bikes with wet clutches are likely to have the wrong type of synthetic oil and failing clutches so budget for a new clutch.
Correct anti-freeze type; look for correct colour; service invoices done by main dealers or budget for a new radiator.
ensure frame is 100% straight; even on side stand look along opposite edges of front wheel to ensure they line up with exactly the same point on the rear wheel on both left and right sides; accept no margins of error.
look for tampered with wiring which is difficult to resolve.
gasket leaks may indicate (past or present) over heating or other major problems
(some bikes like the F 650 GS seep oil from the rocker cover gasket when over heating, these gaskets usually survive when the over heating problem is resolved if no warping has occurred)
bike starts and idles perfectly; correct rpm; no surging or faltering at all; steady idle
I found Bennetts to be far cheaper (for the first year) than anyone even BMW. I would point out that I got a quote from their web site direct for £138 fully comprehensive whereas the exact same quote via the eBay promotional banner offering free leathers & helmet came to £178. There was a time when advertising was obliged to be correct when quoting pre-sale prices or free incentives. After that, the TESCO comparison web site got me the best insurance deal even aking into account worthwhile extra cover items.