How do I buy a used motorcycle?
April 20, 2008 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Wanting to buy a motorcycle but a little confused about the process.

I have a permit and am signed up to take the MSF course in June. I won't be able to get a full license until then. My question is this: at what point can I legally buy and register a motorcycle? I'm shopping for used, and if I find a good deal, can I go ahead and buy it? Can I insure it / register it before I complete my license? Am I limited to hauling it on a truck to get it from the seller to my home? I live in Indiana. Any insight here would be helpful.
posted by expletivization to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There are a lot of younger riders out there that ride without a license - not smart at all - good for you for signing up for the MSF course!

You don't need a license to buy and register a motorcycle, that can happen anytime.
Personally I'd find a competent rider that you know, preferably someone with some knowledge about buying used bikes too that can help you spot things to look for and ask good questions. Have them ride it home for you if you find the right one for you between now and June.
It will be very tempting to ride though, with a bike sitting in the garage and no license till June, but make sure safety and your better sense win out there!

Googling "how to buy a used motorcycle" will yield lots of tips on things to look for - like damage and wear and tear so that you get one in good condition.

Insurance will often give you a discount for having taken the MSF course, many dealers will offer a discount on safety gear with proof of a recent MSF course completion too, but you can buy your bike any time.
posted by clanger at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2008

Best answer: I'm not sure where you live or what the rules are there, so I'm speaking from my experiences in AZ, GA and TN.

You don't have to be licensed to own/register/tag a motorcycle. You do have to be licensed to insure it. Since you're showing the good sense to take the MSF course, I'll presume you also have enough sense not to ride on the street without a license or insurance.

Here in TN, the process goes like this:
1. Go to the DMV and sit the written exam. This will get you a permit which will allow you to ride on the street with some restrictions (no passengers or freeways). You are now eligible for insurance.
2. Buy your motorcycle*. Tag it and insure it.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Work on your MSF drills, get as much seat time as you can.
4. Go back to the DMV for your riding test**.

* Free advice, and worth every penny: buy a naked small-displacement motorcycle as your starter bike. You will probably drop it, and more than once. Bodywork is extremely expensive (my 1998 VFR racked up a $3500 repair bill after someone tipped it over in a parking lot). Small-displacement motorcycles (say, non-supersport 600 or smaller) are easier to learn on and harder to get into trouble with. You will become a better rider faster by starting small.

** In some places, your MSF completion certificate waives the DMV riding exam - you go to the DMV, show them your cert, and they give you your endorsement. Your MSF instructor will know for sure.
posted by workerant at 11:08 AM on April 20, 2008

The laws vary state by state.

Here in Hawaii, you can buy and register without a license. Your permit will allow you to get insurance as long as you can fax them proof of registration for the MSF course.

Your permit would also allow you to ride SOLO ( no bitch with a permit ) daytimes and I would assume its the same in most states. Take the time to fiddle around in parking lots and residential streets. Get a hang of smooth takeoffs and stops and curves before you go fast ;)

Have fun too! I love my bike.
posted by petethered at 12:17 PM on April 20, 2008

The bikes are out in force this week in Lafayette. The sequence I followed in Hawaii was:

1) Buy bike, have some other lucky... person drive it home.
2) Sit written.
3) Insure bike, drive it around block in circles grinning like 5 year old.
4) Commute bike.
5) Oh yeah, take MSF and get full license.

(step 3.5 was, of course, slowly drop bike by letting it lean hot Ducati tailpipe into ankle and sear permanent scar)

I have to put in a vote for a Monster 620 as a starter bike. It worked for me, and never got me into trouble. The DMV seems to suggest a similar process is in effect in Indiana. Good luck and ride safe.
posted by minedev at 12:30 PM on April 20, 2008

If you can, bring a more experienced rider with you to look at potential bikes. They will know what to look for when inspecting the bike and can do a test ride for you if you aren't confident enough yet. I brought two riders with me when I bought my first bike, one of which had the exact same model and therefore knew what to check for.

Good luck!
posted by jinatrix at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2008

In California, the MSF course waives the driving test portion, but you still need to do the written part.

Pretty sure you can't get insurance without an M1, however you can certainly purchase and register a bike.

The best option is to get a friend or relative who rides to drive it back for you.

Of course, you could also be awesome like me * and just buy one before getting insurance and ride it 50 miles back without ever having ridden a 600cc or any bike over the speed of 30mph, with a shiteating grin on your face the whole time.

* by awesome I mean retarded
posted by spatula at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2008

Please, please, please, ATGATT. Wikipedia has a great entry on motorcycle safety that is worth reading and re-reading a few times. Good luck and keep the shiny side up!
posted by gen at 4:39 PM on April 20, 2008

I'd recommend checking out as well. The community there will be able to help you a ton.
posted by azpenguin at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2008

Getting a friend to ride it back would work.

When I bought my first street bike, I had gotten the motorcycle permit, and I had
gotten title/insurance/tag before I picked it up, and rode it home (only a few miles).
I had had some practice riding others street bike before though (and dirt bikes as a kid)

I'd strongly suggest getting your permit, then MSF/endorsement before doing too much riding. That said, you would hardly be the first person to skip a step or two if you decided to.

As others have mentioned, I do not believe there is any problem getting a bike registered. Most states will require insurance first, which usually means having a permit first. But you already have that.

Have fun on the bike.
posted by alikins at 11:05 AM on April 21, 2008

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