Should I consider purchasing this 1991 Honda Nighthawk?
October 12, 2012 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Is this 1991 Honda Nighthawk 250 worth considering as a beginner's biker?

See the posting here.

The bike has 19,000 miles and the seller is asking $1200.
Too old? Too many miles? Other? What should I offer if it's even worth considering?

If I do go look, what are the absolute must-ask questions and procedures? I don't have any motorcycle-savvy friends to bring along. I've done some reading (Complete Idiot's Guide to Motorcycles, a surprisingly decent book for the beginner) and checked out the guide here, but I'm still relatively clueless. I know I should run the VIN (can I do that via phone while meeting with the seller)?

I've also considered buying from a dealership (either used or new), but this seems like an okay deal.

Halp. I have had bike fever for the past few months after getting my license and my burning desire to ride is escalating with each passing day...
posted by jacobdezoet to Shopping (15 answers total)
In my opinion $1200 is a tad high, but the bike is in NY and I wouldn't be surprised if they're priced a bit higher than here in the Midwest. Winter is on the horizon and now is a great time to get a discounted bike.

Upon review, if it comes with bags, helmet and a cover then $1200 isn't that bad at all. My one caveat is that you check the tires, especially the rear one. Make sure they're not bald and have a decent amount of tread remaining. From the picture, it looks well-maintained and that is really the single most important part. 19k miles is a red flag, but if it's been well taken care of it isn't a deal breaker for me.

That being said, depending on how large/tall you are, a Nighthawk 250 is a great beginners bike, small enough to be manageable on the streets but with enough oomph to take it on a highway for a short stretch or two. Take it for a spin or bring a friend who can do so and if there isn't anything that feels/sounds bad or shady, I'd go for it. Bring a helmet that fits in case the included one doesn't.

From my own experience, I wouldn't recommend buying used from a dealership, I've had issues buying used and some of my friends have as well.

Welcome to the fun world of motorcycling!
posted by Sphinx at 9:35 AM on October 12, 2012

That's more than I'd pay for something that old and with that many miles, but I don't know your local market. I mean, a brand new 2012 Honda Rebel has an MSRP of just over $4000, so by the time a bike is 20 years old, extremely well used, and probably needs some work there just isn't all that much I'd want to pay for it.

That said, check the condition and age of the tires, cables, and other wear items and make sure to deduct the price to replace them from the cost if they aren't in great shape. Look for crash damage and don't buy it if it is worse than "oops, tipped over in the driveway." Check that the forks aren't bent, and the same for the wheel rims. Look for rust.

Basically, look for evidence of a hard life, and adjust the price accordingly. Those little 250s are great beginners bikes, but there are lots of them that got ridden a few times and put away, so don't feel pressured to buy one that isn't all that great.
posted by Forktine at 9:36 AM on October 12, 2012

Few riders are out to cheat other riders. If all the information in the ad is true, then the owner has been taking very good care of the bike maintenance-wise. As for mileage, 19K isn't a lot, especially for a famously bulletproof Nighthawk. It is indeed a very good beginner bike, used in some Beginning Rider Courses given by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. If you've taken one of those classes, maybe your instructor wouldn't mind going with you to look at the bike. (If you haven't taken a class, you absolutely should.) The Kelley Blue Book value for this bike is $935. The owner's probably hoping to get $1000 for it. It's unlikely you'll find a bike that cheap in a dealership. Go for it, why the hell not.
posted by scratch at 9:40 AM on October 12, 2012

It definitely is old, no question. But the mileage nets out to about 1K/year, which isn't unusual for NY given the riding season is 9 months or so. In other words, not remarkable.

These are really simple and solid machines and should last 20 years if serviced properly. The trouble is the seller is obviously not the original owner so the service history is probably lost. So you're left with doing a close inspection of the engine and frame for rust, leaks, etc. Also check the tires, cables, and basically anything else that moves. It would be nice also to check the brakes for wear but that's tough on a bike with dual drum brakes without taking it somewhere. You basically want to avoid a lot of expenditures up front for wear items.

If it looks good, I'd lowball the first offer and see what he'll take.
posted by tommasz at 9:45 AM on October 12, 2012

I'm not going to focus on the cost of the bike, but the beginners part. I started out with almost the identical bike when I started riding motorcycles, but quickly, within a week or two, became dissatisfied with it. It simply didn't have the power to make me comfortable riding it on the highway.

I would suggest you look into something in the 500cc range. Not so large it's overwhelming, but powerful enough to make being on the highway possible.

However, the low power of my first bike made the first week or two very comfortable. Is there somewhere you could rent a small bike for a couple of weeks and then see if it really suits you?
posted by bswinburn at 10:15 AM on October 12, 2012

As scratch says above, Honda Nighthawks are "famously bulletproof."

I also agree that 250 is going to be disappointing power-wise if you ever want to get off of city streets.

I'd imagine you could find a Nighthawk 750 of that age and mileage for that price plus a little. That's big enough for extended highway driving, but not so big that you can't get the benefit of the small profile in the city.

Oh man, now I want this:
posted by GPF at 10:45 AM on October 12, 2012

Looks like a solid choice for a starter bike. Nighthawks are notoriously reliable machines - mine is the 750cc model, with 36K miles on it, and the only work it's ever needed beyond basic maintenance was a head-gasket replacement at 35K. Not bad. It's never so much as failed to start (unless you count the time I left the headlight on and drained the battery. Oops.)

$1200 seems a completely reasonable price if it's in the condition he claims it is. You can definitely get bikes for less but my experience with $800 craigslist specials has been that they come with a lot of problems, and by the time you've fixed the problems you might as well have just spent more on a better bike. Unless you're a hobbyist looking for a project, it's better to pay more and get something reliable.

The ad shows two very different Nighthawks; which one is he actually selling? If it's in stock shape it's worth more than if it's been customized.

Some people are happy with 250cc as a starter bike and others aren't. One of my friends bought a Rebel 250 about a year and a half ago, and is still totally happy with it; another bought a Ninja 250 six months ago and has already upgraded. Fortunately, bikes are easy to resell, and if you outgrow this one you shouldn't have any trouble reselling it for $1200 or close to it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:46 AM on October 12, 2012

GPF: I'd be amazed if you could find a '90s-era Nighthawk 750 in good condition for $1200. If I saw one priced that low, I'd assume it needed a full set of new tires and brakes and probably had spiderwebs in the carburetor. Normal price is more like $2000. I paid $2300 for mine.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:49 AM on October 12, 2012


>If I do go look, what are the absolute must-ask questions and procedures?

Tires. Tires. Tires. A blowout is dangerous on a bike. Any flat is annoying. When were they last replaced? Obvious cracks or irregularities?


Yeah, Mars, I think you're right. "Plus a little" should probably be a little more plus than little. :)
posted by GPF at 10:58 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for your responses so far. They are all very helpful.

Jumping back in to say...I don't intend to do a ton of highway riding on this bike, mostly city. But I will want to escape the city occasionally, necessitating some highway travel. Is it that the bike will be extremely underpowered when riding on the highway? I have heard 250cc is a bit low, but doesn't it depend on the characteristics of the particular engine as well (n00b here)?

Thanks GPF for that link, btw, I'm actually going to check out that bike, too! It looks real nice (even though I'm assuming it has a Jersey title, which might be a hassle...can I even ride it back to NYC?)
posted by jacobdezoet at 11:36 AM on October 12, 2012

I think the Nighthawk 250 is the perfect bike for you. It's not going to be a beast on the highway, and you'll probably need to downshift to get passing speeds, but it won't be dangerously underpowered. For city riding, which sounds like most of what you'll be doing, and for a beginner, a 250 is great.

GPF mentioned the Nighthawk 750, but I think that's too big for a beginner. The Nighthawk will hold its value for a couple of years at least, and you can always sell it to another beginner and upgrade to a bigger bike if you're feeling cramped on the 250 later. That's how these things work. When you're learning to ride, though, you want the smallest bike you can manage.
posted by aaronbeekay at 12:36 PM on October 12, 2012

Another vote for a bigger engine. My first bike was a 400cc Yamaha, and it definitely struggled to get my 200 lbs up to speed. I disagree that a 750 is too big -- I'd say a 750 cc nighthawk is a perfect beginner bike that will continue to be fun to ride as you get more confident.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2012

Something often overlooked is to check for rust in the gas tank. If it is rusty (very common with bikes where you don't ride over the winter) it is really hard to fix and can ruin your carburetors. tank a strong flashlight and look in the gas tank-is it shiny steel or paint in there? or is it brown and kinda dirty looking?. Tires can be replaced-if they are worn out or cracked or whatever get them replaced and use that as a negogiating tactic. BTW if you aren't much of a mechanic you will need to be learning, Nighthawks are great, reliable basic bikes but they still take a LOT more maintenance than a car (especially a honda car). Chains, batteries, tires, carbs, oil changes, seats, old wiring. Owning a motorcycle is an adventure (one worth having) but be prepared, and this is the best bike you can own for learning the basics of motorcycle maintenance. The only transportation that takes more maintenance is a horse you have to feed daily.
posted by bartonlong at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2012

Well, I bought the bike. Thanks again everyone for the advice! I will probably be trading up, but for $1,000 I'm happy with this as a beginner bike. I'll post some pics after I pick up the bike - probably later this week after I've registered it.
posted by jacobdezoet at 1:29 PM on October 14, 2012

And I also picked up this book: The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance, as I know the bike is going to need maintenance given its age. I won't feel comfortable riding it without thoroughly checking it over, and that's part of the fun for me, too! I was thinking of having the bike trailered home actually...but maybe I'm being too nervous? What's a reasonable price for that sort of thing, do I advertise on CL? Another option might be paying the seller to drop it off, what do you think I should pay if he's willing?
posted by jacobdezoet at 1:36 PM on October 14, 2012

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