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Ted's House
How to Buy a Used BMW

How To Buy A Used BMW Motorcycle
A Work In Progress by Ted Verrill
Copyright 1998 (#TXu000885799)

So you've decided to buy a used BMW motorcycle. I put this article together to help you not only figure out which model is for you, but when to look, how to look, and finally how to buy. Although I am far from an expert, I used among other things the vast resources and expertise of the Internet BMW list run by Joe Senner. Already bought a bike? Check out my "New Owner's Guide" :)

INDEX

I. Buying Advice

  • Why a BMW?
  • Examine Your Circumstances, namely how much do you have and how badly do you want it.
  • Narrowing your choices of Models
  • So Where and When Do I look?

II. The Hunt Begins

  • The First Call - The Inquiry
  • Going To Look At The Bike - The Examination

III. A Closer Inspection

  • In General, Take A Close Look At:
    1. The Frame
    2. The Wheels
    3. The Brakes
    4. The Cluster
    5. I Only Dropped It Once, in a Parking Lot
    6. Tires
    7. Those Pesky Leaking Fluids.
    8. The Spark Plugs
    9. Splines & Transmission
    10. Cracks, Chips and Faded Paint
    11. Wiring & Switches, Or Lack Thereof
    12. The Fuel System
    13. Hoses & Rubber
    14. The Handlebars
    15. A Sniff Here, A Sniff There
    16. It Went In Clean
    17. I Want Your Maintenance Receipts
    18. Faith In Odometers
    19. The Chain of Ownership

IV. Buying the Bike

  • The First Decision, Is It Worth Pursuing?
  • The Second Call - The Negotiation
  • The Big Decision - Do I Go For It or Wait?
  • Messy Legal Stuff to Think About
  • Congratulations On Your New Bike.

V. The Bikes

  • The R Bikes
  • The K Bikes
  • Notable BMW Accessories
  • Notable Aftermarket Accessories

INTRODUCTION

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years looking at used BMW bikes I thought I would write down some things I've learned. In the spring of 1995 I had saved $1000 and was looking for a basket case old R bike that I could buy cheap and put back together. As I waited and looked I saved more money - As I saved more money, I looked at more expensive bikes.

Right now I am looking at late 80's K-75S' and K-100RS'. This was true when I started this article, but no longer. I bought my '88 K75S on October 14, 1995. I had looked at over 30 bikes over a 7-month period before picking this bike. The bike was in very good condition and had only 23,672 miles on the clock. The bike as of this edit has 49,511 miles, and aside from routine maintenance has needed very little service. Another update, I sold the K75 with just over 50,000 miles in the spring of 1997 and bought a slightly used 1995 BMW K1100RS. Yet another update, on July 15, 1999 the K1100RS was totaled with almost exactly 50,000 miles - I am now on the hunt for an R27. Yet another update, it has been almost 10 years since the accident and I am once again looking for K-Bikes, a '93 to '95 K75 with ABS to be precise! And another update, I bought a K75RT :-)

I may sound like a cynic and I am to some degree. However I have found it to be true that it is far better to err on the side of doubt, and to pay close attention to "gut" feelings when buying used motorcycles. I claim no great special knowledge and I urge you to freely form your own opinions that contradict mine. When I was first looking at bikes in early 1995, I had one seller that I truly liked (but who didn't accept my generous offer) send back information on the BMW/BMW (our local club) I had given him with a note saying he wouldn't have wished the "lemon" on anyone and good luck in my search.

Lastly, this guide is heavily skewed towards classic BMW K-Bikes (K75, K100 and K1100) though the general themes apply to most if not all BMW's bikes.

A BRIEF NOTE ON SCAMS: Lately a very convincing scam has been making the rounds and tricking even the very careful. It involves being contacted by a buyer or seller, almost always overseas, interested in buying your bike or selling you a bike. He will offer to send a cashier's check or money order for one reason or another, but will have to send it for more than whatever reason the scammer thinks up (insert excuse here - it was already drawn, the account needs to be closed, the extra is for transportation fees, etc.) He will ask you to deposit the check then wire him the excess money via Western Union, Money Order, etc. Undoubtedly you will then receive a call from the bank that the check/MO you deposited the week before was actually a very clever forgery and they are removing the deposit money from your account. You will be out whatever money you "refunded", any shipping prep and deposits, and will never hear from the person again. HERE is a great Wired story on this scam. In this case, it pays to be a bit paranoid.
Another popular scam these days is the "I am selling my bike but just moved overseas, just wire me the money and I will have the bike delivered to you for your inspection." There is no bike but the "seller" does indeed live overseas.

HERE is a great step-by-step of the scam.

NEVER, EVER, EVER, ENTER INTO A TRANSACTION THAT INVOLVES YOUR WIRING MONEY TO THE SELLER OR BUYER - IT IS A SCAM NO MATTER HOW REAL IT MAY APPEAR!!!

I. BUYING ADVICE

a. Why a BMW?

There are many reasons to choose bikes, and as many generalizations about the same bikes. Japanese bikes are dependable, Italian bikes are fast, and German bikes last forever. Not very many BMW riders have only ridden BMW's, most have come over from Japanese bikes searching for a bike with "soul." Your choice is entirely a personal one, and you should never make a major investment without evaluating all of the possibilities. Remember though, that most have chosen BMW motorcycles because of the reputation for durability, dependability and longevity. Personally I chose BMW because I wanted a bike that I could ride a long, long way before having to worry about extensive engine work.

b. Examine Your Circumstances
(namely how much do you have and how badly do you want it?)

I am not the greatest on advising you here as I started looking at broken-down R bikes and am now looking for a spotless K bike. Generally I can say that the first thing you need to do is establish three prices, what you want to spend, what you are willing to spend, and your absolute ceiling. The cost structure then becomes more difficult because you must add in several "hidden" costs, namely insurance, tax on the transfer, and figure on about 5 to 10% of the sale price for immediate basic repairs and maintenance. I mentioned three prices because unlike many Japanese motorcycles, advertisements for BMW motorcycles do not pop up everywhere you look. Once you have a good idea of what you want to spend, start thinking about what kind of riding you plan on doing.

c. Narrowing Your Choices of Models 

BMW has made a motorcycle for almost every style of riding (and rider.) Before leaping at the first bike that screams "BUY ME" you should sit down with a pen & paper and narrow your choices a little. BMW has created a fantastic timeline of models, take a peek.

BMW has made basically three major models of motorcycles, the R series which has two, horizontally-opposed cylinders, the F series which has belt or chain drive and 2 side-by-side cylinders (older F bikes are single-cylinder, now morphed into the G series) and the K series which has three or four side-by-side cylinders. The R series is further divided by the modern fuel-injected bikes and the older carbureted bikes. The older carbureted twins, known as "Airheads" are widely respected for being a simpler design, durable, and easily and inexpensively repaired. The later and more complex fuel-injected twins, known as "Oil-Heads" and "Hex-Heads" are well known for raw power and the famous handling from the revolutionary "telelever" front end. The K bikes, known as "Bricks" from the appearance of the engine, or "Whiners" due to the distinct whine created by the sound of the fuel pump, are the most complex of the BMW bikes. They are renowned for dependability, incredible durability, and ease of regular maintenance.

First, consider your level of riding experience. The K1100RS and R1100RT may look very cool, but they are a handful and suited for riders that have a few years of riding under the belt and used to bikes with plenty of power and extremely precise handling. They are also very expensive to drop. On the other hand, one of the earlier R bikes like the R60/5 is a great bike to start out on, is forgiving in handling, and not so expensive to drop. Most people will fall somewhere in between and should take a few minutes to carefully consider how well they ride before settling on a certain bike. (MSF Plug: take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course(s), your bike will thank you, your insurance will drop, and you will be able to enjoy riding much more.)

Next, consider your body style. Most BMW bikes will fit most any body style, either right away or through modifications such as shorter rear shocks and lowered front ends, lowered or raised seats, fiddling with tires, even moving footpegs. Many of these modifications are expensive however, and often it is better to look towards a model that is comfortable right off the bat. As an example, the R1200GS is generally suited for taller riders, whereas BMW made a K75 "low seat" edition, which is much more comfortable for those with shorter inseams. Sit on a few and you should find what you find comfortable. Remember, the newer generations of BMW bikes have adjustments to custom fit your bike, such as the three-position seat on the R1100RT.

Further, consider whether you are planning on performing regular maintenance on the bike yourself. While a K bike needs valve adjustments only every 40,000 miles or so, servicing the fuel injection system should something go wrong is beyond the capability of most shade-tree mechanics. Alternatively, adjusting the valves on an R bike is not difficult, but a monthly process for many. Regular maintenance on a classic K bike is simple and sparse, yet more complicated repairs usually go to the shops. While the Airheads certainly more maintenance-intensive, the more complex repairs are often less difficult to find and less intimidating to repair.

The final major consideration revolves around your style of riding. BMW makes bikes like the R100GS that earned fame through its success in the Paris-Dakar rally, and the R1100RS which is still competitively raced. They are two very different bikes for two very different riders. Paradoxically, you will find many motorcyclists that own both so don't fall into the trap of classifying yourself. Rather, consider what style of riding you plan on doing more of, and gravitate towards the bike that is better suited for it. While all BMW bikes are perfectly at home commuting or on the highway, the F650GS would certainly be a better choice for the off-road explorer, and conversely the K1100LT for the long-distance tourer.

d. So Where and When Do I look?

Many people will tell you that you should only buy a motorcycle during this time of year and never buy one during that time, and so on. Basically, while bargains on motorcycles can be had year-round, your variety of potential new rides is what is limited by season. During the spring as people start to clean out the garage and want to get rid of the bike because it is taking up space, want to sell the bike in order to by a new camper (the reasons are endless,) the advertisements start showing up like mosquitoes. Springtime brings a flood of bikes for sale, and in general brings lower prices. Similarly, the end of summer usually brings a rise in the bikes for sale, generally from those who either decided to sell after one last season or those who asked what in the world they were thinking when they bought something that must sit motionless in the garage for a third of the year. All summer you will find people selling that didn't get the price they wanted in the spring, people that want to beat the end of summer rush, and many people selling in order to buy another bike themselves. During the winter there are not too many ads for motorcycles, but those selling are usually very motivated to sell. If you want more choices, wait for spring and summer, but certainly keep an eye out during the fall and winter!

There are many places to find ads for BMW motorcycles, in print, online, or even on corkboards. Don't make the mistake of trying one, before another. Below is a list of where and when to find ads (in my order of potential for success.)

  1. Craig's List. Craig's List has not only become the most active site to find people selling used bikes and motorcycles, it has become the most active site for scammers too (see above...) With that warning out of the way, it is a great place to find bikes. In general I find folks advertise high and are willing to negotiate, but you can always find folks selling a good bike at a fair price. One downside of Craig's List is that you can only search by City - to get around this limitation you can either save your searches by city as bookmarks or favorites and simply run down the list each day, or come up with a simple little framed webpage like this one I use that has links at the top and the corresponding Craig's List pages at the bottom. As you can see I have my bike-buying radius set at about a 3-hour drive - unfortunately the bikes you may want are not always next door.
  2. The Local BMW Club Newsletter. While this outlet often has more bikes listed, they are priced higher, not only because the advertisement is typically free, but because these owners tend to know the value of their bikes and on the whole seem more concerned with the care of their bikes. Many club members are enthusiasts, and rigorously follow maintenance and repair guidelines.
  3. The Internet. Places like the Internet BMW Riders' "BMW Marketplace" and ADVRider are a haven of motorcycles of all types and years, though you may have to travel to buy the one you want. Buying over the internet is quite similar to buying through a National Club magazine like the BMW MOA Owner's News in that one risks wasting money and time if the bike one travels 500 miles to buy is not exactly as the seller described over the telephone. If you choose this route you will have many, many bikes from which to choose, though you will have to rely much more on the word of the seller. A good trick to use here is to ask for the seller's permission to speak to the dealer that services the motorcycle. Any hesitation on the part of the seller should be viewed with caution. The Internet and in general any non-local advertising venue demands extra care on the part of the buyer. Not only is it expensive to fly to another part of the country to look at a bike, there is often little recourse should something happen once the buyer gets the bike home.
  4. National Clubs. The BMW Motorcycle Owners of America has pages and pages of motorcycles for sale every month and a moderately active online Flea Market. While there is a 6-week(!) advance time on the print ads, the online ads go up immediately. The print and online ads are free to members and you must be a member to view the online ads.
  5. The Local Newspaper. If your local paper generally runs ads on a three-day basis, go pick it up Thursday night at your local 24/7 convenience store. If not, get up early Friday, Saturday, & Sunday, call early, go look early. On more than one occasion I had a bike sell between when I called and when I arrived to look at the bike. You can't blame the seller, when someone offers what they want (or what they need) in cash, they will sell. Period. The local paper is generally not cheap so sellers are usually serious about selling and not just fishing for a high price. The Internet has largely eclipsed print newspaper ads, though it is still worth an occasional look.
  6. Check Your Local Dealer. No not for used bikes but either for a bulletin board or for word of mouth. Many dealers provide a bulletin board for customers to post bikes and equipment for sale. Remember that these boards are full of trollers. A better source at the dealer is word of mouth from the employees. They often hear of a customer wanting to sell a bike. Often you can get a shot at a great bike before it is even advertised. Often times the mechanic who actually works on and knows the bike best will fill you in on details the seller may not, or may choose not to know.
  7. Buy From A Dealer. I left this last because I believe it is only a good option if you either don't have the time or wish not to expend the energy to really look for a bike. At the dealer you will pay more, period. Some dealers charge exorbitantly high prices, some are actually quite reasonable. Again, refer to the NADA Used Price Guide for the actual base value of the motorcycle. While particularly with BMW Motorcycles the NADA guide is usually very pessimistic regarding prices, it is often the best source for a place to start. On the positive side, dealers will usually be pretty forthright about the condition of the bike, will usually either have or be in the position to obtain service records, and will often offer a short-term warranty that usually covers the drivetrain. Be wary of a dealer that refuses to let you call the previous owner, that offers to fix any problems but won't put that down on paper, or finally that offers to repair problems you point out to him or her, but only after you purchase the bike.

Before you start calling, you will need a little preparation. First, you'll need to collect your pricing information. There are several places online to get an idea of the fair price for a bike. Both Motorcycle Consumer News(pdf) and Kelley's Blue Book have excellent areas (though MCN's prices are more realistic.) You might also want to take a look at the Internet BMW Rider's Online Marketplace, the online MOA ads, and regional Craig's List for similiar bikes for sale. You should also try to find a NADA Used Price Guide for motorcycles and personal watercraft. Both of these publications will list prices for BMW motorcycles. While the NADA guide often understates the real value of BMW motorcycles by around 25% to 40%, it does so consistently across the model range and besides, it is what Insurance companies use to value bikes. Pay particular attention to bikes advertised from your region of the country as these will most closely reflect the price ceiling you should expect to pay.

You should also establish the prices of various accessories by looking not only at the prices for used items in the magazine's marketplace, but by calling both locally and to nationally for the "new" prices. A quick example would be a Corbin seat, which for a K75 can be bought used for between $75 and $150, new for $375, and should add no more than about $100 to the bike when in "like new" condition. A Ratty seat should take off the same amount as it will have to be replaced. I have made the job of accessories a little easier in part V. where the more common ones are listed with several valuing factors.

II. THE HUNT BEGINS

a. The First Call - The Inquiry

First Call Worksheet (.doc)

The first call should never last more than three minutes. I say this because anything beyond the make, model, year, general condition, a few questions about receipts and maintenance, and a general feeling about the seller is a waste of time. If you are going to spend your hard-earned money on a bike that you will have for a while, you need to confirm virtually everything the seller tells you. The first call is used mainly to separate the "definitely not" bikes from everything else. Do ask for the VIN number and run it through the NFIB's VinCHECK, a database of vehicles that have been declared a loss or slavage, and through one of the excellent VIN decoders like BMW-Z1 or RealOEM to make sure that K75 standard was not at one time a K75RT that had been wrecked and resurrected.

I urge you to go look at every bike that is even remotely a candidate. There are some real hidden gems out there, like the R100RS that I missed because someone bought it sight-unseen while I was on a test-ride, and the K75S that I ended up buying. I have found that many people know very little about the bikes they have been riding and are selling. In the K75S' case, the seller incorrectly diagnosed a loose vacuum tube and the accompanying rough idle as impending engine and fuel injection problems, and squeaky front brakes as worn brake pads.

The process of eliminating a bike as a candidate is simply one of verifying that the bike is as advertised (i.e., is it really a K75S or a K75C with a fairing?), that the owner holds a clear and legal title, and that the bike is in the neighborhood of your acceptable condition. You also may want to ask that the owner have the title ready for you to look over, that he or she have all maintenance receipts and all accessories available for inspection.

b. Going To Look At A Bike

1. The Initial Examination. Bring the first-call worksheet, the closer inspection worksheet, a notepad & pen, a small flashlight, a shop-rag, and a small toolkit with at least a small socket set and both flat & Philips head screwdrivers handy.

I would have rather called this section "fishing for the big fib" because a test of truthfulness is the first thing involved with looking at a used bike. When you consider buying a used bike (or anything for that matter) you have to rely somewhat on the word of the seller in assessing what it is worth to you. If I ask a question I already know the answer to and the seller either lies or leaves things out, I know I should be skeptical of any anything he or she says and assume the worst (especially with oil changes and odometer readings). On the other hand, if the seller replies truthfully, not only do I feel much better but I generally give him the benefit of the doubt.

It works like this, spend a few minutes looking over the bike and find a flaw that would be obvious to the owner but not to a first-time buyer. I always look for evidence of a drop-and-drag like fairly deep scratches in the fairing, valve covers, frame, exhaust pipes, end weights or especially brake or clutch handles. Failing that I look for leaks or other flaws like rotting seat pans, jury-rigged repairs that will need to be redone, or even (once) bent front fork tubes.

Once you have decided on your obvious flaw, ask a question about it. For the K-75S I looked at with exquisite new paint and masterfully hidden heat-welded cracks, I asked whether it had ever been down. When I received the "absolutely never been down" reply I didn't immediately leave because it was selling for a very good price. I did decided not to make an offer however when the seller couldn't produce receipts for work and service he swore he performed. You have to be the judge of the veracity of the seller but I usually leave if I receive an outright lie, or demand proof to back up all of the claims of the seller if he hedges, changes the subject or doesn't give a complete answer.

Once you have established whether the seller is fairly honest (I use fairly because we all have a bit of "salesmanship" in us and things that others may see as flaws we may see as character, etc.) or totally unreliable the time has come to take a few steps back and take a look at the machine in front of you. This initial examination is to record your initial impressions and to do a basic safety check before you test-ride the bike. Write down anything and everything that will effect what you are going to offer for this bike.

2. The Test Ride: The test ride is as important as the close inspection, if not more so. Start with a basic safety check - tires, brakes, leaks, loose fittings, lights, horn. Does the bike start and idle easily? Any rattles or hesitations? If it is warm, is the idle enrichment (aka choke) still needed anyway? During the test ride you will have to listen very carefully and pay close attention to the "feel" of the bike because most of the problems that can not be seen by examining the bike can be discovered through the test riding procedure. At some point during the ride open up/thwack the throttle after hitting second gear and again in third gear - if it pops out of gear or has difficulty downshifting, see below. Make sure the tach and speedo are functioning normally, that the ABS self-check has completed normally, and that the cluster lights are all functioning normally. Pay particular attention to the smooth delivery of power, any backfiring or irregularities in power delivery, pulsing or vibration from the brakes or through the handlebars, the gear indicator accurately listing the gear, and listen to make sure the fan comes on at some point. Does it pull when you hit the brakes? Any odd flexing in the frame, do the handlebars line up correctly when riding in a straight line? Read the "Closer Inspection" below carefully before you head out, many of the things you will be looking for pop up during the test ride.

3. The Closer Inspection: This is time for the closer inspection. The success (or failure) of this examination will answer the big questions posed by this section: Should I walk away, have a mechanic look at it, do I feel confident it has been well-tended? In general, you should not closely examine a bike until after having ridden it for at least 15 minutes. During this very careful examination of the bike ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers - does this seller know his or her bike, does he or she know about oil changes and spline lubes, how many miles per set of tires, even the names of the wrenches at the local BMW shop? Lastly, make a note of the VIN number if you did not get it during the first call so you can later run it through the NFIB's VinCHECK, a database of vehicles that have been declared a loss or slavage, and through one of the excellent VIN decoders like BMW-Z1 or RealOEM to make sure that K75 standard was not at one time a K75RT that had been wrecked and resurrected.

III. CLOSER INSPECTION

a. In General, Closely Examine:

Start with an inspection worksheet - here is one I put together you might use though I encourage you to make modifications as needed. Remember to take the First Call worksheet with you!

1. The Frame. Look extremely closely at ALL major weld points. While welds rarely go bad, it is not unheard of and certainly difficult to find until major damage has resulted. Pay particular attention to frame-welds and other evidence of frame repair. As with most structural repairs, the fix is rarely as strong as the original and could cause big problems down the road. Also make sure to closely look at the frame around the center stand. This area is prone to breakage. Lastly, put the bike on the centerstand and make sure the fairing panels are straight, and that the rear mudflap is centered on the rear tire.

2. The Wheels. Wheels are unfortunately often overlooked in assessing a used motorcycle. Wheels are quite expensive to replace and many say dangerous to repair. Often a problem can not be "felt" at normal test drive speeds, only at the higher "highway" speeds so careful inspection is absolutely required. There are three major items to inspect.

The first is whether the wheel is damaged from hitting debris, curbs, animals, the list is as long as there are things that can end up in a road. Carefully inspect the wheel for any bulges, dings or "waves" in the flow of the metal. Run your fingers around the outside of the rims of each side of the tire at the same time, feeling carefully for any deviation or ever so slight change in the arc or width. Put the bike on the centerstand and spin the wheel while feeling each side's rims - any deviation? Especially with alloy wheels, are there any gouges or scrapes that would indicate an impact? Should you find a problem with a wheel, make a very descriptive note of where on the wheel and the extent of the damage for estimating whether to repair and how much it would cost. The Second is whether the wheel has been damaged and repaired. The jury is still out on whether the practice of repairing or "straightening" wheels is acceptable. While some scoff at the idea that repairing damaged wheels is unsafe, many cast dire predictions of straightened wheels shattering like glass or failing "at speed". It is your call on whether it is acceptable, and you'll probably have to take the seller's word on whether it has been done or not. The last thing to check is whether the bike has tubeless tires on wheels designed for tubed tires. Again, the practice of running tubeless on wheels designed for tubed tires is acceptable to some, though I think more than not will tell you it is dangerous because the tire can not "seat" properly.

Wheel bearings on these bikes often need replacing in the 50k to 60k range. You can evaluate them by putting the bike on the center stand with the weight on the rear wheel, and with a helper holding the handlebars and putting hands on the wheel from one side in the 9 and 3 o'clock positions giving the wheel a push/pull - any give could mean failing bearings.

3. The Brakes. Did the brakes work correctly when you rode the bike? Any vibration or pulsing could mean warped rotors, an easy but not inexpensive fix. With the bike on the centerstand, do the wheels turn easily with no grabbing at certain points - a sign of either warped rotors or the need for a caliper or master cylinder rebuild? Are the rotors clean with no cracks or signs of uneven wear? Did the brake pedals snap back when you let go? If the levers stick or are slow to return this could mean an expensive master cylinder rebuild is required. For ABS equipped bikes, there are two self-tests. When you start the bike the two lights should blink in unison. If they blink alternately, the initial self-test failed. After riding 15 or so feet you will notice a "ka-chunk" noise, this is the second ABS self-test and is normal, the lights should go out with the successful completion of this test and alternatively blink in unison at this point for a failure. A failure could run the gamut from either an expensive fault in the ABS brain to an easy and no-cost adjustment of the ABS sensor. Lastly, check the brake hoses as they can degrade and swell over time requiring replacement, and the brake resevoirs as they can also degrade, become chalky and ultimately crack and fail, especially the rear.

4. The Cluster. The guages and indicator lights should all work correctly with the speedo and tech needles moving smoothly and accurately. If they seem to stick at certain points the faceplate in the cluster could be warped. Any jumping or skipping could be a sign of a failing sensor or guage. In 1998 BMW added Gore-tex vents to the cluster to combat fogging from water intrustion - any condensation on the inside of the cluster is a harbinger of more expensive issues following. The yellow triangle light should go out when activating both front and rear brake - if it stays lit you either have a bulb out or on its way out, a wiring issue, or a poorly-installed aftermarket brake light enhancement.

5. "I Only Dropped It Once, in a Parking Lot." Boy is this a tough one. All right, check the footpegs, mirrors, brake & clutch levers for scrapes or "sanded" patches, the fairing for cracks, scrapes or chips, engine case guards for scrapes & chips, turn signals for loose or broken mounts & mounting tabs, and a front and rear look at the fairing and tail to ensure that the mounts are not bent and the fairing is lined up and mounted correctly. Even minor drops or "fall-overs" can result in serious but hidden damage so check carefully. Sit on the bike and make sure the handlebars are not tweaked.

Concentrate on the following:

  1. Is there any rash or any gouges on the ends of the footpegs or handlebars (grips or bar-end weights?) One of these two and often both will almost always contact the ground in a drop and usually the evidence is obvious. That said, footpegs and bar-end weights/grips are inexpensive to replace so don't stop there.
  2. Is the fairing straight? Many times a fall over will slightly bend a fairing mount, not enough to be obvious but enough to effect the integrity of the fairing (which, especially with the K75S, is made up of several pieces all relying on correct alignment) not to mention the value of the bike.
  3. Are any of the fairing mounts damaged? Behind the turn signal on a K75S is a point where three fairing pieces come together and are joined through two screws. Either of the three fairing pieces can be damaged (cracked, or even missing!) without it being completely obvious. Check *every* fairing mount if you see any sign of fairing stress, or check them anyway if you have time.
  4. Are there any (cleverly?) hidden cracks or other flaws?: Take your flashlight (you did remember to bring it didn't you) and thoroughly examine as much of the inside of the fairing pieces as you can. Look carefully for any evidence of plastic welding, fiberglass bonding, epoxy work, etc. Look down the fairing pieces from the sides and look for any ripples or ridges, if you find any look very carefully at the inside of the fairing.

6. Tires. Take a close look at the tires - are there any flat spots, cracks or dry-rot? New tires can run $400 and as they are the only thing between your bike and the road, it is best to replace them quickly if needed. Check the date code on the sidewall - it should be a four-digit code signifying the month and date of the manufacture of the tire. For example, "3405" would be the 34th week of 2005. The four-digit code may or may not be precedede by two more letters - these are manufacturer-specific and can be ignored. If it is a 3-digit number your tire was manufactured before 2000 and should be replaced as it is at least 10 years old.

7. Those Pesky Leaking Fluids. You will need to run it for a while for this one, you might even want to wait for until after the test ride if the bike has been recently cleaned. Pay particular attention to the more expensive leaks to fix, around the timing cover, the seal between the engine and transmission, around or through the alternator, any irregular leak at the oil pan (could be warped), leaks in and around the head gaskets, or leaks at the forks or around any of the brake hose or coolant hose connections. Make sure to check fluid fill and drain plugs for both leaks and soundness of bolts, paying particular attention to the Oil and Coolant drain plugs. If the bike has a belly pan, remove it (easy) and look for oil and coolant leaks around the oil/water pump, leaks of either coolant or oil could mean a pump seal replacement is needed. Lastly,examine the tank very closely along the bottom ridges for pinhole leaks, especially on bikes that have sat for a while.

8. Spark Plugs. If you feel confident and the seller allows you, pull one of the sparkplugs and closely inspect it. If you have access to a Clymer's manual, bring it with you as there is a great diagnostics page with detailed photographs of differing conditions of spark plugs and what abnormalities could mean. Here is a quick online version. Spark plugs are a great indicator of undiagnosed problems with the bike, from leaky injectors to major ignition malfunctions (remember, with fuel injected bikes many things that would show up immediately on a carburated bike will be masked by the ability of the FI to compensate for minor variations - both a good thing and not such a good thing...)

9. Splines & Transmission. If the seller does not have a receipt from the dealer showing this critical "clutch-back spline lube" service has been completed you must assume it has not been done and figure the $350 to $500 service into the cost of the bike or an afternoon or two to do it yourself. There are three spline areas to consider (in order of both ease of accessing and increasing cost to repair) - the final drive spline located where the driveshaft in the swingarm meets the final drive below the rear shock, the output spline located in the swingarm where the other end of the driveshaft meets the transmission, and the clutch spline inside the transmission. Oftentimes people will do a "final drive spline lube" which involves cleaning and lubing the splines at each end of the driveshaft, but neglect the important (and expensive) clutch spline. Quite simply, take the time to bring a bike with questionable Splines to a dealer to have the Splines checke

Final Drive Splines - The final drive splines are the most frequent point of spline failure. If you have the time and the seller will allow, remove the final drive to inspect the final drive and drive shaft splines. You can do this in 20 minutes with a bungi cord, something to prop up the swingarm like a tool box or block of wood, and the tools in the bike's tool kit - either bring along an experienced friend or thoroughly familiarize yourself with the procedure by reading the tech articles on the IBMWR K-Bike Tech/Drivetrain area. Here is a good article on what failed splines look like. Replacing a K-Bike final drive and driveshaft with good used parts will run at least $300, new, well, you don't even want to know. Bruno's in Canada can repair final drive splines, but the price is more than just buying a good, used unit.

Interior Splines - It is important to note here that K-bike shifting tends to be a bit klunky by nature and requires firm and purposeful shifting, the bike should nevertheless go into gear smoothly and not pop out of gear. When you ride the bike, if it is difficult to downshift (well, more difficult than normal) or finds false neutrals, this is a red flag for the need for a spline lube and/or a closer look at the transmission. Pull in the clutch and let it go - it should snap right back. If it doesn't or is slow to return, that could be an indicator of the need for a trans input shaft lube.

Transmission - Check the gear shift lever, there should be no play. If the bike has difficulty going in to second gear or pops out - there is a little set screw that secures the gear shift lever inside the transmission that rarely comes loose, when it does it requires removing the transmission (think $$$). Clutch and gear shifting issues can run the gamut from a poorly-adjusted clutch cable to a worn clutch or bent/broken dogs and gears. In general if the bike ever pops out of gear, especially during a WOT run in second or third gear, do not buy the bike unless you have a good line on a used transmission or have the time to disect and inspect it.

10. Cracks, Chips and Faded Paint. Motorcycle fairing pieces are generally very difficult to repair and are often among the most expensive items on a motorcycle to replace. I have heard of more than one bike totaled due to entirely cosmetic damage. Before dismissing minor damage to a fairing piece, make sure to contact a dealer to get the true cost of replacing the damaged piece. Motorcycles are also expensive to repaint (usually at least $1,000) so make sure you either can live with any faded or discolored paint, or figure the cost or repair into the deal.

11. Wiring & Switches, Or Lack Thereof. People love to customize motorcycles. Unfortunately this often means irrevocable changes to such necessary things as wiring and electrical connections. The first thing to look for is the dreaded "Scotch-Lock", a light blue or red plastic device that usually has two wires in one side and one on another. This is an easy (and short-term) solution to splicing wires, and they often fail in the trying conditions on a motorcycle. Any nonstandard wiring that was added with anything less than the OEM factory procedures is bound to fail (and cause you major headaches.) Look for soldering or high-quality wiring connectors on any non-standard electrical work. Also keep an eye out for chaffed or abraded wiring (the most frequent cause is replacing zip-ties after adding new wiring to a bundle or moving or re-routing wiring.) Pay attention to wiring around fairing pieces and especially the seat. Check the switchgear on the handlebars, they often get a bit chalky but should work correctly and usually clean right up with a bit of Vinylex cleaner then protector. How about the red-in-green starter and kill switch? Pay attention to the ignition switch - if the bike sputters or dies when you wiggle the key it could mean the need to clean/repair or replace. Note, if the right switchgear has a yellow slide switch that turn the headlights off and on, someone has at some point replaced the switch gear with the European verson - a nice upgrade! Lastly, with the engine OFF stick your screwdriver in and give the fan blade a spin - if it is frozen, as they sometimes are, replacement is a few hours and a $150 or so part.

12. The Fuel System. Open the gas cap and peer inside the tank with the flashlight - is there any debris or "mud" at the bottom of the tank? The rubber surround cushioning the fuel pump sometimes begins to break down and fail, especially with bikes that have been sittingfor long periods, it is not hard but somewhat expensive (~$80) to replace. Also check the fuel hoses inside the tank, these too can swell, crack and fail. Check the high-pressure fuel hoses leading to and from the injectors, there should be no swelling or cracking especially near hose clamps. Lastly, carefully examine the seams at the bottom of the tank, there should be no cracking or corrosion.

13. Hoses and Rubber. Check the main coolant hose leading out of the right-side engine cover, there should be no evidence of swelling or cracking or amny "sponginess." On the left side of the bike check the elbow crankcase vent hose, these can fail and cause problems but are easy and inexpensive to replace. As mentioned, carefully inspect all brake and fuel lines. At idle does the bike rattle? Is the sound coming from the rear of the engine? The rubber "monkey nuts" that cushion the alternator drive sometimes fail - an inexpensive but time-consuming repair. Lastly, carefully check the little 4" or so crankcase breather hose on the left-side, top rear of the engine - these must be replaced ever five years or so, failure can let unmetered air into the system leading to lean condition evidenced by rough running and poor idling.

14. Handlebars. Check the handlebars for any awkward bends or non-symetry, they are often the first victim of a bike drop. With the bike on the centerstand, sit on the bike with the weight on the rear wheel and center the bars, they should easily and smoothly go side to side - any notchiness could mean a failed steering head bearing and stiffness or binding on some K75 models could mean a need for a cleaning and repacking (using hard to find grease) of the fluidbloc steering dampner. Are the mirrors secure? How about the grips and switrchgear?

15. A Sniff Here, A Sniff There. Use your nose (it often knows...) Take off the oil fill cap and smell the oil. Does it smell like oil? If you smell gas this could mean anything from a stuck injector to a malfunctioning FI computer (pulling and inspecting the plugs will tell you whether it is an injector.) Do you smell antifreeze? That is also bad and could mean a bad seal and possibly a new engine.

16. It Went In Clean. Check all the fluids and fluid containers (this is where the flashlight pays off.) You should easily be able to see:

  • the brake fluid through the fill window in the front and the reseviour in the rear.   Is it clean and the color of iced tea? Dark or cloudy brake fluid could signal abuse and neglect, and could mean bigger problems ahead.
  • the engine oil through the fill window. Engine oil usually turns much darker just a few minutes in a running engine after it has been changed. However, is it simply too dark? Is it cloudy? Is the oil properly filled? The site glass may be discolored, if so use the fill hole and a flashlight.
  • the inside of the gas tank.  Look for water at the bottom (gas will float on top of the water leaving it looking like bubbles of air under clear ice.) Does the filter look like it has been replaced recently? Is there any residue at the bottom of the tank (sometimes ethanol-mix gasoline will dissolve the seals in K-Bike gas tanks if left sitting for extended periods of time.)
  • the coolant overflow reservoir. Check this carefully as in my experience changing the coolant every other year, while one of the more important maintenance items, is often overlooked. The coolant should be clear and clean. If it is cloudy or dirty, carefully inspect the maintenance receipts for coolant changes using silicate and phosphate free antifreeze. BMW is also quite specific about the proper ratio between coolant and (distilled) water - make sure the owner knew this if he has done his own maintenance. If there is any evidence of oil in the anti-freeze you'll in all likleyhood need to rebuuild the water pump with new seals and possibly a new shaft.

17. "I Want Your Maintenance Receipts." We've been over this, but for clarity's sake, if you don't have it on paper in front of you, assume it was note done. Period. Also remember that you'll need these receipts when you go to sell the bike so make sure they are part of the bargain. Lastly, receipts perform the critical function of ensuring the mileage is accurate - especially on the pre-1998 Gore-tex cluster bikes the clusters infrequently failed and were replaced by clusters from bikes being parted out (and the bike's mileage changed to whatever the mileage of the donor bike. )

18. Faith In Odometers. This is an easy one…Unless you have trustworthy receipts that show a distinct timeline of maintenance where the mileage corresponds with the dates…don't have any. It is too easy to forget to fix the flaky odometer, keep the odometer replacement receipt, etc., until it is time to sell the bike. Further, even though the current owner may have kept everything and be able to certify all of his miles, what about the previous owner? Repair receipts usually list the mileage. Not to be any more cynical about sellers then the next person, but closely examine the receipt mileage for the proper pattern of mileage on the bike. Many of these bikes had clusters replaced at some point, often resetting mileage to zero - receipts can help determine wether the bike has the 40k miles shown or 90k miles actual.

19. The Chain of Ownership. Look VERY carefully on a seller who has owned the bike for a short period of time. While there are many out there who have bought a motorcycle only to find it does not fit their needs, there are at least as many who have bought a bike only to find it needs unexpected or hidden expensive repairs.

IV. BUYING THE BIKE

a. The First Decision, Is It Worth Pursuing?

At this point you must ask yourself three very important questions. If you answer "No" to any of them, pass on the bike and keep looking elsewhere.

  1. Are you absolutely sure that the engine and transmission are in good shape and that there are not unidentified noises, no unexplained leaks or other anomalies with the smooth operation of either? If you have narrowed your search down you have probably seen several of the particular model you may be examining and have a good idea of what sounds and feels normal and what does not. Never, ever accept "It has always done that" from the seller.
  2. Does the seller have all of the ownership papers including a free and clear title, registration & inspection papers? Make sure the owner shows you the title before going any further, and check it carefully to make sure that the VIN numbers match the bike, that there are no liens, that the title does not indicate that the bike has been totaled out somewhere along the line, and for anything else strange (names & addresses the same as given and further, on the registration & inspection?.) At this point run the VIN through the NCIB and through a VIN Decoder if you haven't already. Does the model of the bike on the title match the model advertised & the model you have seen? Many near totaled or totaled faired bikes are stripped to the "standard" model and brought back to life.
  3. Has the seller freely allowed you to thoroughly inspect the bike, to talk to the person who has maintained the bike, to look over service receipts, and to listen to the engine run and the transmission operate? Any reluctance on the part of a seller to accede to any of your requests should be viewed as one big, fat red flag.

You like the bike, it has passed your first inspection and the seller has showed you the paperwork? Move on Grasshopper….

NOTE: If you *really* like what you see, consider making the "wild stab." The wild stab is the first offer, namely a low cash offer. Generally, The wild stab works by offering the owner about 50% to 60% of what he or she is asking, and offering it in cash prominently displayed under the seller's nose. While this tactic is not for everyone and is not favorably looked upon by many, it just may work.

b. The Big Decision - Do I Go For It or Wait?

Hopefully you have looked at at least several bikes are pretty sure you know what you want. If you have any nagging second thoughts, skip the bike and keep looking. If you buy a bike with which you are not entirely comfortable you will probably end up selling it for a loss to get the money to buy the bike for which you have been really looking. (Inevitably it will show up in the next week's classifieds.)

1. Price.
a. First, can you afford it? Remember to always add around 15% of the purchase price of a motorcycle to cover the fun things like tax, title, tags, registration, inspection & insurance. This of course is a rule of thumb and you should at least call your insurance agent to inquire about the difference in the cost of your motorcycle coverage for the addition of the bike. Also figure in the cost of a complete level II tune-up (and then get it done!) If the seller has documented service records showing no maintenance required, figure in a fluid-set change (engine, fork, tranny, brake & final drive) and get that done after the purchase.
b. Second, is it priced fairly? Remember to figure in mileage, maintenance records, extra equipment, collision history, and general condition.

2. Patience. Are you deciding to buy this because you know it is the right bike, or because it is the right bike, right now? If you are like most motorcycle riders, you are buying this bike to ride for a while. While Jay Leno may be able to afford a stable of motorcycles, most of us will never own more than one or two at a time and buying a bike you may not like because you want it now is a terrible trap to fall into. You will inevitably end up wanting something else and losing money and time trying to buy it.

3. Success. Well, you like it, it is mechanically sound and you like the cosmetics, you have a reliable maintenance history, you can afford it AND it is what you have been seeking…….Congratulations! You will probably get to this point at least once before actually succeeding in buying a bike.

c. The Negotiation & Messy Legal Stuff to Think About

So, you've decided to buy the bike.

Step one is of course to call the seller and tell him you want to buy it. Don't play around here, I lost a bike I really wanted because I told the seller I was "interested" hoping it would strengthen my negotiating position. Your best bet is to come right out and tell him you want to buy it, then ask for a time to meet to discuss the details of the sale. If the seller wants a price right there, tell him or her you want to look at the bike again before you fix firmly on a price. Never, ever give a firm offer over the phone, ever. There are simply too many details, such as exactly what accessories are included, to settle it over the phone. Of course this is predicated on the deal itself; if you are buying a bike that has never been uncrated the sale could be easily concluded over the phone. Most of us however, will have deals that include a helmet or two, accessories like a cover and a battery charger, the list goes on. It is far better to have these items spread out before you as you negotiate than to argue over what was included when you go to pick up the bike. Make an appointment to negotiate a sale and don't be late. Common sense of course applies, if the seller wants you to bring cash don't arrange to meet in a deserted parking lot at night. I personally would not even bother to look at a bike unless it was at the seller's house; I would wonder why a seller wouldn't want me to know where he or she lived…..

Step two is to prepare for buying the bike. First, how does the seller want to be paid? Cash is the easiest, but a check offers you more protection should something go amiss. I found half by check and half by cash was suitable to reasonable sellers, the more cautious will often offer to meet at a bank to do the transfer in cash. Whatever the method of payment, be sure to bring the asking price and be ready to negotiate down from there. Now is NOT the time to lowball, the seller is taking a chunk of time from his day to sell you a bike you have told him you want to buy. Making this appointment in order to make a wild stab offer is not only dishonest, it certainly will not do much for your reputation in the (normally very tight) BMW motorcycle circles. Be ready to negotiate, but negotiate fairly.

Step three involves insurance. Call your insurance agent and ask how much it would be to add the bike to your plan (or if you are not insured, to get motorcycle insurance.) If you are successful in buying the bike you WILL want to activate the insurance immediately before signing that Bill of Sale and title. Get 20 riders in a room and you will inevitably hear at least one story of someone who paid big bucks for a bike and wrecked it on the way home to call and have the insurance put into effect. Make sure you are covered the second you buy the bike…..period.

Step four is to do a little research and put a little negotiating kit together. Ask the insurance agent how they value the bike. This is often up to 35% less then the going market rate, and a good negotiating chip. Have the agent fax you a copy of the relevant page of the valuing guide and bring this with you. Make sure you have checked the MCN and KBB online guides, print out the relevant sheets and add them to the file. Also, don't forget to photocopy and add to your file recent ads for similiar bikes from regional Craig's Lists, the BMW MOA Owner's News and IBMWR Marketplace. Be ready to back up your offer with this material if the seller balks at what you consider to be a fair price.

 Lastly, the legal stuff. There are several things you must do, and a few you must not.

1. The Bill Of Sale. First of all, prepare a "Bill of Sale" before you go to conclude the sale. Sample, may not be applicable in your jurisdiction. Basically, you need to have a description of the bike and included equipment, the date of sale, the amount and type of consideration , seller's name, address and telephone number, your name address and telephone number, the VIN number off of the bike. Make sure to check not only the number off of the frame of the bike, usually at either/both the steering head and the left-hand cross-member below the seat, but also on the engine. In some jurisdictions, having different numbers on the frame and on the engine will cause problems. If you do not have any of the information handy, leave a blank and pen it in when you meet with the seller. Do not feel bad about asking the seller for his drivers license, if he or she refuses, walk away.

2. The Title. The title should be free of any liens, should show NO signs of tampering whatsoever, should clearly indicate the owner's name and address, and finally should be absolutely free of tears, staple holes, etc. I spent a total of about 15 hours trying to replace a slightly torn title for a bike I bought. I spent over $40 just Federal Expressing documents back and forth with the owner (after I was finally able to track him down.) Make sure to check the names and numbers against the Bill of Sale, the mileage and that the owner's signature matches that on his or her license (you did get to look at his or her license didn't you?!?) Look carefully for "NAM" - aka, "Not Actual Mileage." If you see this all bets are off and you should be a little peeved it was not mentioned up front. Lastly, compare the VIN on the Title with the actual VIN on the frame of the bike to make sure they match.

3. Documents. Make sure the seller has at least the Title and the registration (and that all the numbers match.) This is also the time to make sure you have in front of you all of the maintenance records, and anything else you have been promised or you have asked for.

4. The Exchange. Before you hand the money over, make sure all incidentals have been identified and are available for you to take home with the bike, and that you and the seller have signed both your and his copies of the Bill of Sale and the Title, (and the registration if your state requires it.)

d. Congratulations On Your New Bike.

Make sure you have all the items that went with the bike (including all receipts, gear, and anything else promised by the seller), and all of the legal papers (properly signed!). Being lax on any of these "must-do's" will only bring you headaches as people usually have much more incentive to make good on a promise when they haven't yet been paid, then after the money is safely in the bank..

The Ride Home. The only real last thing to consider is whether to leave the bike and go to the local DMV or ask the owner to let you borrow the license plate so that you can ride home without having to worry about being stopped for not having one. I'd recommend the first, though I know many who don't see any problems with the second.

It Is All Mine. If you haven't already, take the bike by your local BMW shop for a quick safety check. While you should have performed this basic inspection BEFORE even sitting on the bike, it is prudent to have a second set of eyes confirm your findings. Also, if you are not the wrench or don't have the time, have all the fluids, filters, spark plugs & crush washers replaced and the splines lubed (unless of course there is verifiable records of this service at a reputable BMW shop.) That said, if you do have the time buy a Clymer's manual and check out the IBMWR K-Bike Tech section and do it yourself, for the most part the fluid services are easy and it is a good way to get to know your new bike. It is far, far better to begin ownership of a motorcycle not only knowing it inside and out, but also being confident that all maintenance is up to date. Check out my "New Owner's Guide" for some more in-depth information.

Lastly, wash the bike. Once you have performed all of the required regular maintenance and washed it, it is truly yours.

V. THE BIKES

Complete List

BMW has really outdone themselves with a great chronological listing of all BMW cycles made.

The K Bikes

  1. First Generation K Bikes
  2. Second Generation K bikes
  3. Third Generation K bikes
    • K1200 ~ RS | GT | LT | R | S
  4. Fourth Generation K bikes
    • K1300 ~ GT | S

Notable BMW Accessories

  1. Hard Bags & Mounts - there were three styles made for first and second generation K-bikes, each significantly better than the prior. The first had straps for handles and flat locks, the second had straps for handles and round lock cylinders, and the third have an actual plastic handle and round lock cylinders. Generally used sets with mounts are not easy to come by in decent condition and run about $300 and up. For many the side cases are a Must, if you buy a bike without them you will come to want them.
  2. Heated Grips - make sure to check these actually heat, the very fine wires are too often the victim of over-enthusiastic wrenching. Cost to upgrade is at least $175.
  3. Alarm - nice to have but if it fails you will be left on the side of the road. Many view this as a negative that should be removed.
  4. 4-Way Flasher
  5. Crash Bars
  6. Front & Rear Fender Extensions - critical to the health and appearance of bellypans.

Notable Aftermarket Accessories

  1. Hard Bags (Givi, Nonfango, Krauser, Samsonite)
  2. Windscreens (Parabellum, Aeroflow)
  3. Fairings (Pichler, Rifle, Vetter)
  4. Suspension Upgrades (Shocks & Springs like Ohlins, Fox, Koni, Progressive)
  5. Aftermarket Seats (Russell, Corbin, Mayer, Sergeant, Daimond)
  6. Horns (Fiams)
  7. Lights (PIAAs)
  8. Alarms (Ungo)
  9. Fork Gators
  10. Crash Bars
  11. Light Upgrades (K-Tail-2 Enhancement, Hyper-Lites, Run-n-Lites)
  12. Covers (Dow Guardian, Touring Concepts)
  13. Helmets (Shoei, Arai)
  14. Riding Gear (Aerostich, Feldsheer, First Gear)
  15. Luggage Racks (Reynolds, Top Of The Line)
  16. Luggage/TankBags (Harro, Chase-Harper, Eclipse)
  17. Luggage (Vermont U-Packs, Kathy's Cordura)

IV. NOTES

1. Why No liens?
A lien on a motorcycle is basically a right to exercise an ownership right over a bike and for the most part the result of a loan made for the purchase of the bike or a failure to pay taxes. Dealing with liens can be a simple or it can be a real box of fireworks. For now, the prudent course of action would be to leave a deposit on the bike and contact the financial institution or taxing authority to find the best way to have the title cleared for transfer. In many cases the lien holder will hold the actual title, making it difficult to verify information given by the seller.

2. Thanks
to the following people for pointing out mistakes and errors, or suggesting new content:

  • Bill Shaw
  • L.D. Sullivan

THIS WORK IS COPYRIGHT (#TXu000885799) 1996-2010, TED VERRILL
All Rights Reserved.

This material is for personal use only. Republication and redissemination, including posting to news groups, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Ted Verrill.

1995-2011, Ted Verrill

Comments? <contact@verrill.com>

"Red Light Insight" is copyright Ted Verrill, 1999