It has been well documented that I have a long, long list of bikes that I’d love to walk into a showroom, plonk down my credit card, and pick up the keys for. It’s tantalising to imagine riding out of the dealership on a brand new Street Triple and doing wheelies all the way down the street, or gliding out on a long, low ZZR 1400 and roaring off to the drag strip – safe in the knowledge that if something breaks, you don’t have to care. And with 0% finance, it’ll cost next to nothing a month, with no fear of mechanical maladies and the bragging rights of having the slickest, newest toy on the block.
But I’ve seen Rosa buy a bike for less than a grand, throw some soft luggage on it, and then chase Corvettes down the Swiss Alps on something almost as old as she is. And then sell it for what she paid for it.
So…what exactly does buying new get you these days?
Well, for starters, there’s the warranty. I’ve owned my Bandit for less than two years and had I purchased it new the current ignition-barrel issues would have been covered free of charge. On the flipside I’d probably have paid half the bike’s value in warranty-preserving dealer servicing. It’s certainly making my PCX more expensive than it probably needs to be, so I guess the answer here depends on whether you wrench your own.
Next up, there’s dealer incentives. Manufacturers sporadically offer enticing finance offers (0%, free accessories etc.) that mean you might actually save money over the loan/ownership period, or at least make the gap between new and used small enough for consideration. I’d never have bought my PCX new if it hadn’t been for the 0% offer from Honda. But then I also didn’t want one that had been crashed – see my previous posts for how that went…
Peace of mind? Well, that depends. True, buying used means you have no idea how that poor bike was treated by its previous owners. Was it wheelied down the road every day, engine bouncing off the rev limiter while the suspension creaked under its overweight owner? Is the gearbox ground to dust from years of poor chain maintenance and sloppy clutch-less shifting? How carefully was the break-in period and service schedule observed? Yet just a little research can tell you what to look for and even give you some great fodder for haggling the sale, whilst buying from a dealer can give you the option of a limited warranty, and who’s to say that a brand-new bike hasn’t been neglected right there on the factory floor? You can buy a lemon at the showroom too, and dealing with those could easily by more problematic than fixing up an older, well-worn and weather-beaten ride.
Features and technology? It’s true that a brand-new 2013 BMW R1200GS (Waaaaant!) comes loaded with enough toys to make Mothercare look barren, and the allure of being an early adopter is just as strong as in any other industry. All the advertising is there to assist us in convincing ourselves that it’s worth paying extra to get the newest bike, that we’ll be able to do more/go further thanks to semi-active suspension and traction control, and that non-ABS bikes should be relegated to the scrapheap of historical deathtraps along with drum brakes and bias-ply tires. And, if you’re like me, you may have finally seen – on a new bike – that crazy science-fiction feature that you’ve always wished your bike had.
But, as always, there are two sides to every coin. The only digital part on a ’90s VFR is the ignition system, and if that’s still booting up when you buy it today, it’ll probably still be doing its job in five years’ time. Can the same be said for BMW’s high-tech adjustable suspension? How much will the colour LCD dashboard on the latest Ducati cost to replace in five, ten, twenty years’ time? And if it’s been proven that you can ride around the world on a 60s Triumph, drops of engine oil scattered in your wake, do you really need five different engine modes to get you to work and back? What will you do when your keyless ignition leaves your bike immobilised in the middle of Siberia?
Cost is, of course, a major reason to buy used. I owe more on my Bandit’s finance than its current market value, yet sold my VFR for more than I paid for it, despite putting almost 20,000 additional miles and two extra years on the clock. True, bits may be worn out and in need of replacement on an older bike, but sometimes those parts are items you’re better off swapping out before the first service even when buying new. Manufacturers cut corners even when building a £15,000 motorcycle, and when not are often forced to design for an ‘average’ rider of ‘average’ weight, build, riding style and budget. Compromise at the design stage means that every bike needs tailoring to fit – even the latest technical marvel. After all, have you ever met an average person? I haven’t.
Exhausts are huge, heavy monstrosities, loaded with noise and emissions equipment. I like my bikes to sound like bikes, so that’s budgeted for straight away. Stock suspension is too soft and cheaply made, with very basic damper rod technology – good enough to pass a test ride, but no good for long-term spirited riding. You have to buy a very expensive sportsbike to get anything else, so straight away you should be shopping around.
Heated grips? Generally not fitted as standard unless it’s a BMW, but easily (and cheaply) retrofitted. Tyres? My brother is trying to get me to change them on my <800 miles-from-new PCX because the stock items have about as much wet grip as a frog in a vaseline factory. Most bikes leave the factory with fuelling systems compromised to satisfy emissions and noise testing – you’ll need a Power Commander (or similar) to fix that. And few saddles are anything more than a bit of cheap foam and some faux-leather. When you consider that the modern car industry has distilled seating comfort into a precise science, the sorry excuses we motorcyclists are expected to suffer on our new rides are just baffling. Triumphs are the only manufacturer I know of that ship their entire lineup with steel braided brake lines. That £12,000 Yamaha you just bought? Cheap rubber hoses, scheduled to be replaced every 2 years. Have fun with that.
So if we imagine that you’re going to want to swap out all of these parts, whether you are buying a bleeding-edge technology showcase or so much weather-scarred aluminium, where does that leave us? Upgrading an old bike with great suspension, a comfortable seat, effective windshield, necessary crash protection, long-lasting brake hoses, re-usable air filters, salt-resistant exhaust systems and all the other things that the bike ideally should have shipped with brand-new may well bring the cost of that second-hand steal up to the level of a brand new bike. But that new bike will still need all or most of those upgrades – none of which will be covered by warranties, and which may be hard to obtain in the aftermarket for very new models.
I guess the point I’m trying, somewhat laboriously, to make is that a brand new bike isn’t perfect. You may get the perfect motorcycle right out of the showroom for the price on the sticker, or you may spend thousands ‘fixing’ things, be it because of bad design or just personal preference. Motorcycling is headed in the direction of more regulation, more mandatory safety features and emissions equipment, and the only place to seek refuge may well be in the past. And those on a shoestring budget are just as capable of circumnavigating the planet as their well-heeled brethren with a loyalty card for an aftermarket parts company.
I’m not choosing sides here – it’s easy to waste money trying to repair/upgrade a worn-out wreck, and the right bike, bought new, may well be perfect and cost-effective. Whatever you choose to ride, make sure you know why you chose it. Because you don’t have to convince anyone but yourself.
Also? You’ll save a lot more money that way.