What is high mileage for a motorcycle? This is the question that is on the lips of every person who wants to buy a used one and is not sure whether the purchase would be a good one or not. Let us guess, you found this really nice bike and it seems perfect but you keep thinking about the price and if you can afford it right now and, oh yeah, how it seems to be worn out.
If the wallet thing is the one drawing you back, there’s sadly not much we can do about that. Work hard, party less hard, and make smart investments. If that is not the issue, however, we can definitely help you when it comes to how important is the mileage in buying a motorcycle. While crystal clear, the answer is not by any means simple so read on.
Let’s Get This Straight: Mileage Doesn’t Matter
No seriously. This really is the short answer to this question and it should show you how too many people get hung up on it when it’s really quite irrelevant. Still, perhaps the reason why many riders give it so much credit is that it does factor heavily into “book value” when it comes to quotes by the likes of Kelley and NADA.
Also, the distinction to be made here is that mileage does matter when we’re talking about late-model bikes since these are priced for this exact reason and it often adds up on value. Most people, however, are not worried about high mileage due to the book value but they’re worried about the longevity of the product should they choose to buy it.
Longevity is the product of a number of factors and we’re going to list them now. Mileage is indeed one of them but rather an unimportant one in the great scheme of things. The question any potential owner should ask himself or herself, instead, is not “How high is the mileage on this?” but rather “How much service can I obtain from this motorcycle?”.
If you do this, you will soon notice that mileage is not the only element that has to be taken into account before you can give yourself that answer. Rather, you have to touch on quite a few points, and only once you’ve gone through all of them can you make an educated decision regarding whether the bike is worth buying or not.
Who Owned It?
Think about this: Is a bike that has been owned by the same person for the last 50 years going to be and feel the same as one that’s gone through a new rider every season? If one person has kept a motorcycle for a long time, they’re more than likely to have pampered it a bit, and as a result, it should be in more than just good shape.
Similarly, an older rider will almost always behave more conservatively on the throttle and more open with the maintenance dollars. Often but definitely not always, young riders will flog their machines a little more, live in the moment, and then just accept the consequences of their actions which will sometimes involve selling them.
As a result, a bike that has gone through a lot of owners in a short period of time is not necessarily a bad thing, but one that has only had one owner for a long time will almost always be a good thing. On the other hand, the family can also be a factor as a dirt bike that’s been passed down multiple children could hide more than the weekend toy of an experienced rider.
What Is It?
When you’re buying something you should definitely know what it is before you shell out the bucks and this case is no different. The bike’s appearance can be a deal-breaker as most learner motorcycles will come with small issues like drops, bangs, and deferred maintenance while a larger machine owned by seasoned vets could have avoided all of that.
On the same note, life expectancy will vary greatly from bike to bike. A big touring beast could offer you over ten times more than what you’ll get from an off-road racing bike, at least in terms of how much mileage you can accumulate on one of them. The reason for this is that touring motorcycles have a low-revving engine that can get by with performing very little work.
As a result, the quality of the gained miles will also be quite relevant. If these have been easy highway miles, where stress on the drivetrain and the chassis are not things you even worry about most of the time, the difference will certainly be there when you compare it to a used all-terrain vehicle.
A small-displacement motocross machine, which is basically crafted for lots of power and justifies its existence with fast and hard riding, will have had to suffer through crashes and wrecks by the time you get to it. Things like dirt, sand, dust, and water can find their way inside and shorten the service life of the individual components and even the entire bike.
Don’t turn up your nose at the motorcycle’s architecture either. Some engine layouts for instance, like an inline-six or a flat twin, don’t come with the same vibration that’s become inherent to other designs like a single or even a 45-degree V-twin. Considering the increased operating clearances justifiably demanded for higher temperatures, air-cooled bikes will typically live less.
In the same way, poor or less-modern architecture can have an impact on the way your chassis starts to act out as well. Bikes with poor suspension will obviously transmit more shock to the chassis and those that are built for low weight will often sacrifice some material strength in order to achieve that result. Broken frames or subframes are a well-known result of this approach.
Was It Used?
Now, this does not translate to “Is it new?”. Rather, what you should look at is if the bike was ridden regularly because we’ve seen a lot of examples where they had exceptionally low mileage due to simply staying in the garage but problems simply flared up when they were placed back into service.
Motorcycles, unlike other things, have a tendency to lose value even when they are not moving for a long period of time. Tires tend to degrade, seals dry up due to not being used, and allow fluids to slip by while the moisture that accumulates will attack even the most robust parts.
On the other hand, there is such a thing as preparing your motorcycle for long-term storage or, as we call it in the biz, “mothballing”. This does involve intention and does not mean there’s something wrong with the machine itself. If a bike was simply left unused, however, you can expect further problems down the road ranging from pistons and rings and even the gas tank.
How Was It Cared For?
This is the question that we can’t stress enough in terms of what is important to ask before you buy a motorcycle. This is by far the most important determinant when it comes to how many miles a motorcycle can last and after how many miles you can actually say it is gone far beyond redemption.
Keep in mind that buying a bike is a fairly expensive purchase for most of us. Someone who has appreciated, maintained, repaired, and serviced their baby as needed or even more often than needed is obviously the type of person who realizes the importance of keeping it in top-notch condition and you should, as such, receive better business from them.
Similarly, a good hand can rectify, repair, and reverse traces of damage and even abuse. Motorcycles that suffered through something and have then been repaired will often fare better than undamaged but unmaintained ones that have simply lost the track of time in a long-forgotten garage somewhere.
To put it bluntly, a motorcycle with high mileage and several major rebuilds done correctly can be just as if not even more reliable than a comparable unit that comes with a lower odometer reading. A textbook example and explanation of this is the booming business of restored bikes.
Okay, Okay, but How Much Mileage Is High Though?
As we said, this is not a comprehensive question and the answer would not be satisfactory in the slightest. People who use their bikes every day can even go up to putting 17 or 18 thousand miles a year on them and those babies still function flawlessly with proper care and maintenance.
A motorcycle is rarely “shot” as in without any value whatsoever. Rather, the ratio of its value in comparison with the cost of performing more and more expensive and numerous repairs keeps getting smaller and this is when you decide you want to sell it or you don’t wanna use it anymore.
If we said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: Look at the previous owner, how it was taken care of, the way it looks, type of motorcycle, rarity, age, and price and determine from all of those whether the machine is worth buying or not. Mileage alone is not a fixed answer because you can get a new, problematic one and completely miss out on a re-tuned monster.