Not Such a Newb After All?

I’ve been a little apprehensive about shopping for a new (used) bike. I’ve actually never bought a used vehicle from a stranger before. I haven’t had a car since moving to Boston in 2005 (they’re too much trouble here, so I got rid of mine when I moved out here) and the two cars I had before that were both hand-me-downs; one when I was in high school because my family got sick of driving me around to all of my extra-curricular activities, and when my grandma passed in 2002, she had instructed my grandpa to give me her car. My current Ninja 250 (which is up for sale, incidentally, if you’re in the market) came from my roommate, so I knew the bike’s history and I was comfortable that she wouldn’t screw me over.

So this is really the first time I’ve ever shopped for a vehicle. And I’d argue that I’ve got to be more picky about this one than I might be with a car, because I’ll be driving roughly 17,000 miles on it during three months, and finding the right motorcycle could literally be a matter of personal safety; not just finding a good deal. Needless to say, it’s made me a bit apprehensive about getting the right bike, or getting a bike that doesn’t have any problems.

I’ve been looking at BMW F650GS bikes 2003 or newer (so if you’ve got one for sale, let me know!) and I’m gratified to see that there are a lot of bikes out there. Unfortunately (but fortunately for her) Masukomi got a super deal on her BMW F650GS, so I’m not willing to pay a ton; I’m waiting for a deal. And I want a bike with relatively low mileage. I was surprised but happy to find that at least six bikes have met my criteria in the past two days, but when I did some more research, it turns out that three of them have lowered suspensions.

The first one I ran into with a lowered suspension was around 230 miles away and it had low mileage, great upgrades and a great price – I was very tempted to throw caution to the wind and go look at it. But then I did some research into the lowered suspension, and how much trouble it would be to raise it again (and whether I’d even want to raise it again) and I discovered that it costs around $1,200 (or more) to raise a lowered-suspension bike, and I definitely want a standard suspension for this trip. Standard has more travel and ground clearance, and the suspension is better – which I need, since I’m a big (heavy) girl. The lowered bikes have a reputation for dragging peg in corners and being worse off-road, and one of the big reasons I want a Beemer in the first place is for off-road capabilities. So I decided to skip all of the lowered suspension bikes, which instantly disqualified the two great deals I found, and the one local bike I looked at just today.

But I’m gratified to find that I already know a fair amount about this bike, and I’ve got a pretty good idea what to look for in terms of maintenance and performance. Masukomi and I have done a ton of maintenance-related things on her bike – we’ve changed the oil, changed both tires, messed with the chain (we’ll be replacing it soon), checked the sprocket and messed around under the front fairings. Through the course of maintaining her bike, I’ve learned what good tires are supposed to look like (and how to spot problem tires, since her old front tire was in bad shape), what the brake fluid should look like, how to tell if the brake pads need to be replaced (and we’re confident that will be trivial, since we’ve already messed with the brakes when we’ve changed the tires) and I’m very familiar with the way the body should look.

I can tell when a chain needs cleaning or replacing (and the bike I looked at today could definitely use a new chain – was probably never lubed). I’ve learned to spot tell-tale signs that the bike hasn’t been ridden lately or much. And if and when I actually test ride one, I know how the bike is supposed to ride and how to check it for transmission problems, brake problems, potential frame or alignment problems, etc.

In short? I’m gratified to find that I’ve come a long way from newb status. I definitely still need a lot more riding experience, but I was surprised to find that I’m actually more knowledgeable about the F650GS than some of the people who own it. The guy whose bike I looked at today obviously knows very little about maintaining bikes, for example, and couldn’t answer a lot of my questions about the bike. I had a conversation with another guy about his bike on Monday, and when I asked about the bike tools, he seemed surprised. He asked “how much will you really be taking apart on this bike, anyway?” in a sort of jovial manner – I assume because I’m a woman and guys think women don’t do much with their bikes.

He was definitely surprised when I explained that we did all of the maintenance on Masukomi’s bike, and when I briefly ran down the things we’ve done to hers. He added “Well, if you do end up with the bike, I’ll make sure everything’s there for you.” (I’m not optimistic about that one, though, because he had someone else interested who perhaps would have paid more than I was willing to pay – so I think that one probably won’t happen. Which is ok, because it’s got around 24k miles on it and I’d rather have something lower-mileage, if I can swing it. Masukomi’s, for example, only has around 8k on it.)

Anyway – helping Masukomi maintain her bike and maintaining my own bike has done a lot for my bike knowledge in general. I’m not worried anymore about potentially buying a lemon. I’ll give any bike I seriously consider a thorough inspection, and I’m gratified to realize that I actually know what I’m looking for. And I can afford to be patient and hold out for a deal – especially as the riding season is moving along and more and more bikes are going to be up for sale in the next couple of months as summer ends – so I know I’ll get a good bike at a good price.

This is gratifying. I don’t think I can consider myself a motorcycle newb anymore. I still need to get a lot more riding experience under my belt before I’ll consider myself an experienced motorcyclist, but I’m really happy with how much I’ve learned about bikes since this whole thing started.

Maybe it’s time for a new tagline.

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