Buying a motorcycle

Choosing a motorbike is where the fun really starts, but make sure you think carefully about what you need as well as what you can afford.

Cost of riding

If you’re thinking about buying a motorbike, make sure you take into account all the different costs that come with owning it.

  • Buying the motorbike – will you buy a new or used motorbike? Will you have ongoing monthly charges or interest to pay?
  • Insurance and vehicle tax paid annually – both vary widely depending on the type of machine you choose.
  • Fuel – how efficient the engine is will affect how much you’ll spend.
  • Breakdown cover – not essential but strongly recommended.
  • Servicing – either annually or at regular intervals, depending on how far you ride.
  • MOT test – annually when the motorbike is 3 years old or more.
  • Repairs and maintenance – for example, tyres and brakes. It’s difficult to predict when your motorbike will need repairs, and they can be costly – how will you pay for them?
  • Parking and tolls – where will you park your motorbike during the day and in the evenings?

Talk to other riders and get advice from brochures, magazines, newspapers and websites. These are some of the things to think about when choosing a motorbike.

  • Your licence – what size of engine are you allowed to ride?
  • Purpose – what are you going to be using your motorbike for: commuting in a town or long-distance riding?
  • Comfort – are you comfortable on the motorbike? Can you reach the controls comfortably? Can your feet reach the ground?
  • Weight – some motorbikes are very heavy, which can make them harder to park or manoeuvre.
  • Price – what does it cost to buy? If there’s a finance deal, can you afford the payments?
  • Running costs – look at the fuel consumption (how many miles it’ll do per gallon of fuel) and the cost of tyres and spare parts.
  • Insurance – sporty models and motorbikes with bigger engines can cost a lot more to insure.

Types of motorbike

Here are some of the different types of bike you might consider.

A moped

  • has an engine capacity of 50 cc or less
  • cannot go faster than 50 km/h (about 32 mph) if it was registered after 1 August 1977, or 45 km/h (28 mph) if it was built after June 2003
  • does not weigh more than 250 kg
  • can be moved by pedals if it was registered before 1 August 1977.

As a learner you can use a light motorbike as long as it has

  • an engine capacity of 125 cc or less
  • an engine power output of 11 kW (14.6 bhp) or less
  • L plates fitted to the front and back of the machine.

An automatic or semi-automatic motorbike has automatic transmission. These machines are usually small and easy to ride so they’re good for short trips or for using in towns.

Mid-range motorbikes are good all-rounder machines: you can use them for commuting or for longer trips. They’re comfortable to ride and can travel up to all the legal speed limits.

Sports motorbikes have road-racing styling and can go very fast; they can be expensive to buy and run.

Touring motorbikes are designed to be comfortable for long-distance riding. They can usually carry some luggage, have some fairing to protect you from the weather and have a large engine.

Custom motorbikes, sometimes called cruisers, usually have distinctive styling, a low seat height and a ‘laid-back’ riding position.

Off-road motorbikes, or trail bikes, are designed to be used on and off the road. They have extra ground clearance so the seat is higher than on other machines; they also have dual-purpose tyres and are built to cope with riding over rough ground.

Buying insurance

One of the biggest annual costs of running a motorbike is insurance. The cost of insurance varies widely but you can help to keep it low by

  • avoiding riding convictions
  • earning a ‘no-claims’ bonus for each year you do not make an insurance claim
  • choosing a higher ‘excess’: this is the amount of any claim that you’ll pay; the insurer will pay the rest
  • keeping your motorbike in a garage overnight.

Keeping insurance costs down

You can help to keep insurance costs down by taking extra training: find out more about the enhanced rider scheme on the 'Enhance your skills' page.

Keeping your motorbike secure will also help to keep insurance costs down: if you can, keep it in a locked garage overnight. Having security devices fitted, such as an alarm or immobiliser, can also bring down the insurance cost.

Remember, the longer you own and ride a motorbike without making an insurance claim, the more ‘no claims’ discount you’ll earn – so riding carefully and skilfully really pays off.

Things to check when buying a used motorbike

If you’re buying a second-hand motorbike, it’s important to do some checks to make sure the vehicle has not been stolen.

The motorbike details

Before seeing the vehicle, ask the seller for the registration number, make and model of the motorbike, the MOT test number and the vehicle tax details.

You can use an online service to check whether there’s outstanding finance on the motorbike: search for ‘check if a motorbike has outstanding finance’.

If you know the make of a vehicle and its registration number you can use the DVLA vehicle online service to find out

  • when its current vehicle tax is due to expire
  • the date that a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) expires
  • the date it was first registered
  • colour
  • engine size
  • year of manufacture
  • CO2 emissions
  • current vehicle tax rate.

Check these details against those given to you by the seller and use them to check the motorbike’s MOT test status and history on GOV.UK.

You can also get a vehicle identity check. This will tell you if a motorbike has a ‘VIC marker’ (vehicle identity check marker) on its vehicle record, which shows that the motorbike has been written off or stolen. Find out more about the vehicle identity check at GOV.UK.

The registration certificate (V5C)

Hold the V5C up to the light to check the ‘DVLA’ watermark is there. If not, the document may be a forgery.

Remember that the V5C is not proof of ownership: make sure the seller has the right to sell the vehicle and that the V5C matches the vehicle’s details and all other documents provided.

Look out for stolen V5Cs.  If the seller has a blue V5C with a serial number in the following ranges, do not go ahead with the sale (the serial number is in a white circle in the top right-hand corner of the V5C); contact the police when it’s safe to do so

  • BG8229501 to BG9999030
  • BI2305501 to BI2800000.

Do not buy the motorbike if you think the serial number has been altered or if part of the V5C is missing.

The vehicle identification number

Do not buy the motorbike if the vehicle identification number (VIN) has been tampered with or is missing: it’s usually on a metal plate somewhere on the steering head. Before buying a motorbike, check that the VIN and engine number match those on the V5C. 

Remember, if you have any doubts, do not buy. Buying a cloned motorbike could result in you losing the motorbike and the money you pay for it.

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