Motorcycle Test Ride Etiquette: Dealerships & Private Sellers

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The most important step in riding a motorcycle is to find the right fit. There’s a lot that goes into the buying process and should be done carefully to ensure you find the right one.

Part of that looking and buying process includes test rides; it’s always a good idea to test ride a motorcycle before you buy it if the owner is willing. Many people aren’t familiar with the rules and regulations for testing a motorcycle, whether it is for a dealer or private seller. This article will explain everything you need to know to ensure you don’t frustrate a seller which ultimately can make the whole situation a bit awkward.

Proper Licensing

I have bought and sold dozens of motorcycles myself, so I’ve been able to see first hand what the proper etiquette is when it comes to test riding someone else’s motorcycle since I’ve been on both ends.

Always ensure you have the right licensing in order to ride a motorcycle. Having a regular driver’s license isn’t considered legitimate – you need an actual motorcycle license. Additional training and testing at DMV is required. (See my article here for more information about how to obtain a motorcycle licence).

You see, if you plan to ride a motorcycle without the right licensing, you run the risk of getting a hefty fee if you’re pulled over. In addition to that, the motorcycle you’re test riding may also get impounded if the cop you’re dealing with is in a particularly bad mood. He/she can still do it.

It’s pretty rude if you took someone else’s motorcycle out for a spin and it ends up getting impounded. You can read my article here about what happens to a motorcycle rider who does not have a motorcycle license.

Horseback Riding Experience

You should consider how comfortable you feel riding a motorcycle. You should only test ride a motorcycle if you’re 100% confident in your skills.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong while taking one out for a spin if you’re new to motorcycling. There is a greater chance of the motorcycle being damaged if you have less experience. You may be held liable for those damages too, but it’s completely frustrating when someone breaks something on a motorcycle that isn’t even theirs (I’ve been there myself).

Take into account the bike’s size. Just because you’re comfortable riding a 500cc doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the skills required to operate a 1200cc. That’s a lot of extra power you’re learning to play with on someone else’s motorcycle.

Collateral Exchange

Anytime you expect to take someone else’s vehicle for a test run, you’ll need to also expect some sort of collateral exchange. The seller might ask you to leave something valuable in the event you steal or damage their bike.

This could be anything from leaving your driver’s license, leaving the keys to your car, or handing the seller a cash deposit while you’re out. Don’t be surprised if a seller asks you to do this because it’s pretty normal. Accept their request and allow them to test drive your bike.

This is especially true of dealerships. You won’t be able to take any motorcycle out unless you leave your driver’s license and sign a few liability papers.

Time frame

The biggest question motorcycle riders have about how to test ride a motorcycle is how much time you should be out on it. There are varying opinions on this, but since I’ve been on the receiving end of both sides I have found that A sweet spot is anywhere from 15-20 minutes to an hour.

Most sellers are comfortable with this time period as they expect you test the unit and get to know it well. This takes some time. It will allow the motorcycle to reach its maximum temperature, so that you can feel how it rides.

Your test run should not last more than 20 minutes. This is when sellers can start to feel uncomfortable. You’re out with their vehicle and having it for too long may rub the seller the wrong way. This could make them less likely to negotiate the price. I personally have become extremely frustrated with potential buyers who had my motorcycles out for way too long; most of those times I didn’t end up selling it to that person.

It also doesn’t hurt to simply be transparent with the seller and ask them how long they’re comfortable with you taking their motorcycle for a ride. It was always a nice gesture to have potential buyers ask me this question. I felt much more at ease with them taking the motorcycle out for a spin.

What You Should/Shouldn’t Do While Riding

While there are certain things you should do when testing your motorcycle, others should be avoided. Some of these may be common decency but you’d be surprised at how many people attempt some of the unsafest/rudest things on someone else’s motorcycle.

First, don’t accelerate fast in front of the owner. My expectation is that those who buy a motorcycle from my will at some point accelerate quickly and ride the motorcycle hard while they are out on a test run. But it makes me extremely uncomfortable if they do it in front of me simply because if they’re willing to do that in front of the owner, what are they going to do when I’m not there?

You can accelerate fast while you’re out of sight of the seller because you need to get a good idea of what the motorcycle is like riding a little hard. However, don’t go overboard. A fast acceleration or two is more than enough to give you an idea of what you’re getting into.

Obviously, follow all traffic laws while on someone else’s motorcycle. It’s possible for the owner to get in trouble for your careless riding since they still own the motorcycle. This holds true even if you cause an accident. You’ll still be held liable for the accident, but the owner can still get in trouble for that one too.

Be kind to the seller As I said before, a seller will be more open to negotiating a price if they are able to get along with you. In fact, try to get to know them a little and become buddy-buddy with them; some of my motorcycle buyers have done this to me and I was more willing to give them a better price simply because they’re nice and making a effort.

Vs. Dealership Private Seller

Many buyers of motorcycles are interested in knowing the difference between dealerships and private sellers’ test riding protocol and what they should know. You’ll want to follow most of these tips for both dealerships and privates sellers. However, there are some important differences.

As I mentioned previously, be prepared to present your driver’s license and motorcycle license (if they’re separate) to the dealership. They might make a duplicate or keep it until you return. This is their collateral against your if they end up with a damaged motorcycle.

Some dealers won’t let you test ride your motorcycle. It is just their policy. If you’re involved with dealership like this, don’t get cranky with the workers. That’s just how their specific business is run. They have had poor experiences with test riders before.

Private sellers may be able to help you with similar problems. There are sellers out there who will not let strangers take their motorcycle for a test run simply because they’re not comfortable with it. If you run into this, it’s best to look elsewhere for a motorcycle that you can test ride before you buy it. This could also mean the seller is hiding something on the motorcycle they don’t want you to see. It’s best to not take your chances.

You can find more information about what to look for in a motorcycle purchase by clicking here.

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