Motorcycle Test Ride Etiquette: Dealerships and Private Sellers

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One of the most important steps to riding a motorcycle is finding one that is the perfect fit for you. There’s a lot that goes into the buying process and should be done carefully to ensure you find the right one.

Part of that looking and buying process includes test rides; it’s always a good idea to test ride a motorcycle before you buy it if the owner is willing. But often times people are unsure about the etiquette that goes into the test ride, both for a dealership and a private seller. This article will explain everything you need to know to ensure you don’t frustrate a seller which ultimately can make the whole situation a bit awkward.

Proper Licensing

I have bought and sold dozens of motorcycles myself, so I’ve been able to see first hand what the proper etiquette is when it comes to test riding someone else’s motorcycle since I’ve been on both ends.

You always need to make sure you have the proper licensing to operate a motorcycle in the first place. Having a regular driver’s license isn’t considered legitimate – you need an actual motorcycle license. This requires additional training and testing at the DMV (see my other article here to learn more about how to get a motorcycle license).

You see, if you plan to ride a motorcycle without the right licensing, you run the risk of getting a hefty fee if you’re pulled over. In addition to that, the motorcycle you’re test riding may also get impounded if the cop you’re dealing with is in a particularly bad mood. But he/she has the right to do so.

It’s pretty rude if you took someone else’s motorcycle out for a spin and it ends up getting impounded. See my other article here to learn more about what happens if you ride a motorcycle without a motorcycle license.

Riding Experience

In addition to having the appropriate licensing to ride a motorcycle, another thing you should think about when it comes to test riding etiquette is how comfortable you are riding a motorcycle. You should only test ride a motorcycle if you’re 100% confident in your skills.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong while taking one out for a spin if you’re new to motorcycling. Obviously the less experience you have the higher chance there is of damage to the motorcycle. You may be held liable for those damages too, but it’s completely frustrating when someone breaks something on a motorcycle that isn’t even theirs (I’ve been there myself).

Also note the size of the motorcycle. Just because you’re comfortable riding a 500cc doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the skills required to operate a 1200cc. That’s a lot of extra power you’re learning to play with on someone else’s motorcycle.

Collateral Exchange

Anytime you expect to take someone else’s vehicle for a test run, you’ll need to also expect some sort of collateral exchange. This means the seller may require you to leave something of value to you in case you steal or damage their motorcycle.

This could be anything from leaving your driver’s license, leaving the keys to your car, or handing the seller a cash deposit while you’re out. Don’t be surprised if a seller asks you to do this because it’s pretty normal. You should comply and let them if you wish to test ride their bike.

This is especially true for dealerships. You won’t be able to take any motorcycle out unless you leave your driver’s license and sign a few liability papers.

Time Frame

One of the biggest questions motorcycle riders have when it comes to etiquette on test riding a motorcycle is how long you should be out riding it. There are varying opinions on this, but since I’ve been on the receiving end of both sides I have found that 15-20 minutes is the sweet spot.

This time frame is comfortable for most sellers since they expect you to test run it and get to know it a little. That takes a little bit of time. This will also give the motorcycle a chance to warm up to optimal temperature so you can truly see how it rides and feels.

If possible, do not go over 20 minutes on your test run. This is the time where sellers start to become a little uncomfortable. You’re out with their vehicle and having it for too long may rub the seller the wrong way. This may make them less willing to negotiate the price. I personally have become extremely frustrated with potential buyers who had my motorcycles out for way too long; most of those times I didn’t end up selling it to that person.

It also doesn’t hurt to simply be transparent with the seller and ask them how long they’re comfortable with you taking their motorcycle for a ride. I always appreciated it when potential buyers asked this because it showed respect to me and my motorcycle and I was much more comfortable with them taking it out for a spin.

What You Should/Shouldn’t Do While Riding

There are some specific things you should do while test riding a motorcycle while other things should be avoided. Some of these may be common decency but you’d be surprised at how many people attempt some of the unsafest/rudest things on someone else’s motorcycle.

First, don’t accelerate fast in front of the owner. I expect those who are buying a motorcycle from me will, at some point, quickly accelerate and ride the motorcycle hard while out for the test run. But it makes me extremely uncomfortable if they do it in front of me simply because if they’re willing to do that in front of the owner, what are they going to do when I’m not there?

You can accelerate fast while you’re out of sight of the seller because you need to get a good idea of what the motorcycle is like riding a little hard. However, don’t go overboard. A fast acceleration or two is more than enough to give you an idea of what you’re getting into.

Obviously, follow all traffic laws while on someone else’s motorcycle. It’s possible for the owner to get in trouble for your careless riding since they still own the motorcycle. This is especially true if you cause some sort of accident. You’ll still be held liable for the accident, but the owner can still get in trouble for that one too.

Be cordial with the seller. Like I mentioned before, a seller is much more willing to negotiate a price for you if you can get along with them. In fact, try to get to know them a little and become buddy-buddy with them; some of my motorcycle buyers have done this to me and I was more willing to give them a better price simply because they’re nice and making a effort.

Dealership Vs. Private Seller

A lot of motorcycle buyers wonder what the test riding etiquette is between dealerships and private sellers and if there are any differences they should be aware of. You’ll want to follow most of these tips for both dealerships and privates sellers. But there are a few differences you should be aware of.

As I had mentioned before, be prepared to present your driver’s license and motorcycle license (if they’re separate) to the dealership. They may either make a copy of it or hold it altogether until you get back. Again, this is their collateral against you if you end up damaging their motorcycle.

There are some dealerships out there that will not let people take motorcycles for a test run. That is simply their policy. If you’re involved with dealership like this, don’t get cranky with the workers. That’s just how their specific business is run. This is likely because they had bad experiences with test riders in the past.

You may also run into a similar predicament from a private seller. There are sellers out there who will not let strangers take their motorcycle for a test run simply because they’re not comfortable with it. If you run into this, it’s best to look elsewhere for a motorcycle that you can test ride before you buy it. This could also mean the seller is hiding something on the motorcycle they don’t want you to see. It’s best to not take your chances.

For more information on what to look for when buying a motorcycle, see my other article by clicking here.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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