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Buying a Used Dirt Bike

KTM 530 EXC

Are you in the market for new ride? Maybe you are new to the sport and contemplating purchasing a new, or new-to-you bike? Not everyone can afford a new bike and if you are just starting out, there really is no reason to spend that kind of cash, unless you wipe your counter with Benjamin’s. Assuming you have already identified the bike you want to look at, what do you look for when checking out a used bike? There’s a long list of potential problem areas but we’ll stick to the basics.

Never Raced!

Who cares…so what! Some sellers go to great lengths to drive home the point that their bike was never raced. I am not sure that it matters if a bike was raced or not. A serious racer will always take good care of a bike and maintain it religiously. If the bike has been raced and looks to be in good condition, it likely is. But here are a few tips on how to evaluate what kind of condition the bike is in.

What’s the general appearance of the bike? Has all the plastic been replaced or does it look like it’s been dragged behind a truck? If it looks like it’s been dragged behind a truck, it may have been. Anyway, you can start by putting the bike up on a stand. Once on the stand, try and move the wheels side to side. If they wobble, they need bearings – or the axel nut is loose! Bearings will cost you about 25 dollars for the cheap aftermarket brands. Check out the rims, too. Are the bent? Cracked? What about the spokes? Are they loose? If the spokes are loose, how long have they been loose for? Spokes that have been loose for a while will stress and weaken the hub and rims.

After you have assessed the wheels, grab a hold of the forks and try to the move them forward and backwards to assess the head bearings. Everything should be tight with no movement. While you’ve got your hand on the forks, take a look and see if they are leaking, then take it step further and see if the forks seals have been packed with grease to mask a leaking seal. While you’re there, spin the front wheel and listen for a bent rotor hitting the brake pads. Do the same for the back.

While at the back of the bike, check the swingarm by moving it up and down. There should be little to no play. If there is play, confirm whether it’s the swing arm bearings or linkage bearings. If it’s a PDS KTM shock, check the heim joint. Have a look at the brake caliper and lines, too. Is there any oil leaking from the cables? Is the chain spent? Pull it away from the back sprocket and see how much play there is. It should be tight against the sprocket. If it’s not, it’s worn and ought to be replaced. Push the forks up and down, is the action fairly smooth? It should be the same with the shock. If the shock rebounds or compresses too quickly or easily, it is likely blown. Again, check for fluid leaks after you compress the suspension.

I always like to pop open the air box and check to see how clean it is. A good mechanic or a savvy seller will always clean the air box. Have a look at the radiators, too. Are they bent, slightly twisted? Ask about the mileage and number of hours on the bike. Has it had a top end? Does it need one? I like to try and work the kick starter with my hand to get some idea as to how the compression is. If I can move the kick starter easily, the bike likely needs a top end. Now would be a good time to start up the bike. If you are looking at a 4-stroke and it is belching black or blue smoke, the bikes needs rings. Listen for any weird noises emitting from the engine.

Also take it for a test ride and run it through the gears. Does it shift smoothly? Listen for any grinding. Take a look at the gaskets associated with the motor. Any weeping or outright leaks?

The above list will help identify some of the common things to look out for. Just because the bike isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean you should walk away. It is a dirt bike and hasn’t been kept behind glass. There are almost always going to be some minor issues when buying a used bike. The key is to identify potential problem areas to make a better decision. Also, use any flaws as a negotiating point. And as always, use a little common sense. If it looks like a piece of junk, it just may be.

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