The last motorcycle I bought was a KTM Adventure 390. I purchased it new because I wanted some of the tech that came on the bike, and it offered most of what I was looking for in a 60 percent street, 40 percent dirt machine. Also, BMWs in this same frame would break my budget if I bought new ones. "Yeah, dude, that's why I always buy used," you and a whole fistful of my friends would argue. I hear ya.
But I wanted lighter weight than something in the 600-800cc range, ABS and traction control that I didn't have to fear had been monkeyed with by a previous owner, a TFT display that auto-switched from light to dark background at night, a bright LED headlamp and modern LED signals and, specifically, a sixth gear that would allow me to highway cruise as needed. Oh, and enough ground clearance to be reasonably capable on dirt. (I know, all you naysayers: The 390 Adventure isn't a "real" off-roader. The solution for moto enthusiasts like me who want to ride a myriad of terrains is always simple: Own more than one machine.)
I also knew the KTM had a massive catalog of parts for maintenance and adding or varying aspects to make the bike fit my use case more precisely. More than a few Japanese bikes have that option, too, but this isn't an argument for this bike and only this one. It's a discussion of how to think about buying new vs. used and why to zig or zag.
I'm not as seasoned a buyer as Marcin Wasicki, a genuine pro at this and master mechanic, who, while technically not a motorcycle mechanic by trade, actually is — he just wrenches on his own ever-expanding collection (and no, he won't work on yours). See, Wasicki has spent the past two decades as owner of a European-focused car repair shop called Airport Automotive in Linthicum, Maryland, where they work on BMWs, Mercedes, and some Porsches. But in his free time, Wasicki is a motorcycle nut, selling, buying and racing for as long as he can recall.
I bring Wasicki into this conversation because he's wrenched on more bikes than I've seen with my own two eyes, and if you ask him how many bikes he's owned, he's lost count of them. Basically, Wasicki's the guy you ask when you want the honest answer about whether you should purchase anything with wheels, two or four, and his wisdom is what you want when your heart is talking louder than your head. And he offers some compelling arguments for buying new.
New motorcycles may have cheaper financing right now.
You might have noticed that interest rates are up. Way up. Wasicki recently bought a new BMW GS because "The new bike had a great rate," partly because captive finance arms from major brands, like in the car world, can usually command lower interest rates than if you seek a private loan through a bank.
Yes, those private outfits can get you a loan, but you might be looking at nearly 10% APR, and over five or so years, that adds up. If you're eyeballing a bike that's just a few years old and you think the $3-4,000 price difference feels like a lot, at least run the numbers on financing a new bike from a dealer instead, especially if you were going to have to finance the used rig privately.
New motorcycles come with intact warranties.
Moto warranties tend to run a lot shorter than automotive ones, and if you're going to spend, oh, $7,000 or more on a bike (let's just say way more), having a warranty and a dealer who's happy to service your machine as well as getting notifications about safety recalls is a huge advantage to buying new. "With a car, okay, maybe some convenience thing might fail, but with a bike, like if a wheel is going to fall off, you have to know," Wasicki says. He sees plenty of recalls in his auto shop, and he also says many customers blow them off—but that you're risking your life to ignore one for your motorcycle.
You can enter any vehicle VIN on the fed's recall database to chase manufacturer-reported faults on your moto, but having a new bike out of the gate also means you know the history—and that no prior owner has done something stupid that would void the warranty.
Wasicki brings up someone who didn't bother changing the oil on a new GS for the first 2,000 miles, which is way beyond the factory interval. "They voided his warranty. So it was a huge, huge thing." You know what's next, right? Some poor sucker is going to buy that bike, presuming that there's still a warranty when there isn't—and also assuming the dude attended to this critical maintenance when he didn't. If that alone sounds scary, that could be one reason to buy new rather than used.
New motorcycles are loaded with modern tech and safer.
Quick question: Is the new technology on the new bike worth it to you? My KTM was pre-wired with a keyed setup for a GPS, with a convenient space just above the gauges that's a perfect spot to mount a Garmin. Nice. "On some of my bikes, somebody calls you, you can see who it is right on the cluster and talk to him through your helmet," Wasicki mentions, thanks to the miracle of Bluetooth.
Wasicki also brings up traction and stability control, as well as wheelie control, which, especially as horsepower has increased, starts to become critical. "The envelope of performance is insane," and while Wasicki believes riders have to learn threshold braking and no form of electronic nanny will save your butt if you ride like a lunatic, a bike with a wet weather mode, for instance, can be a significant aid to getting home in one piece.
People have ridden in the rain without traction control, ABS and cornering ABS. Still, Wasicki recently had a deer jump in front of him and hit the animal —"and I managed to stay upright," Wasicki said — and in part, he credits his bike's technology for preventing a severe slide or worse.
Buying new might be the cheaper option.
A recent Revzilla piece explained that there's finally some pressure off the used bike market for various reasons, including the fact that the inventories are slowly recovering for manufacturers. But for the moment, Wasicki sees the fever-trend of bike flippers continuing. "People want to pull a fast one on you because everybody's out there to make a killing. It's basically making honest people dishonest," Wasicki said.
Eventually, when used prices sink back to earth, and everyone and their uncle isn't trying to profit from the tight market, the flippers will move onto a fresh patch of exploitation, but that could still take until next summer.
There's a tendency, Wasicki says, to reach beyond your means for the flashier or more powerful bike vs. what you could afford new. "Like, 'So it's six years old, but it's $5,000 cheaper!'" But he cautions that what you think you're saving up front may be more than made up for with costly repairs, especially for a higher mileage bike where owners never bothered with maintenance.
And buying new is just easier.
Are you ready and armed with research and good friends who know bikes well? Buying a used motorcycle could still work out; the bike I nabbed before the KTM is a lot older and very used. But if the answer to that question is a simple "nope," your local BMW, Kawasaki, Honda, Aprilia, KTM or Suzuki dealer could easily save you all of those migraines — and may be offering the better deal.