Craigslist is a great place to search for that used motorcycle of your dreams. It's easy to find the bike you're looking for in the area you live and communicating with the seller is simple either via email or phone. While craigslist is a good search tool, it's rife with scams and all sorts of nefarious activity. In order to buy the bike you want and not get ripped off, I suggest you follow the steps I've outlined below.
Keep in mind there are plenty of other great classifieds websites out there like Cycle Trader or eBay. While many of the following steps are written specifically for Craigslist shopping, many of them will be applicable to these other sites as well.
Look Closely at the Craigslist Posting
You need to have a good spam radar when shopping on craigslist so anything that seems too good to be true usually is. If someone seems to be giving something way for way less than its worth, it could be stolen or simply be a piece of junk.
Also, check the picture closely. If the bike looks like crap in the pictures, it's sure as hell going to look bad in person. No photo? Don't even bother calling on it. No phone number? Email, but be wary if you get a reply. Many scams take place over email, and if the seller wants anything from you before you can see or buy the bike, tell them to buzz off.
Get as Much Information About the Bike Before You Go to See It
Once you find a bike you think is worth a closer look, contact the seller. Try to get as much information as possible. You want to have an idea of what you're buying before you see the bike in person. Don't feel bad about badgering the seller with questions. You're buying something from them and they should be happy to answer questions.
If they don't have the answers you're looking for, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but if they know nothing about the bike, you may want to look elsewhere.
Keep track of what you've asked the seller and after the first communication be ready for additional questions when you see the bike in person.
Set Up a Meeting With the Seller
Setting up a meeting with some random person on Craigslist isn't a social call. You don't want to meet anywhere secluded or hidden. Try to get the seller to meet you in a public place that's easily visible. This will eliminate any foul play.
Set up a time and a place to meet as soon as you can. If you wait, the seller may let another buyer have the bike before you can even look at it.
Bring a Friend to the Meetup with the Seller
Bringing a buddy along is always a good idea. Ideally, it's smart to bring someone who rides. Someone who knows bikes well and can help point out anything that's wrong with the bike. Having a friend there is also good for safety reasons and just to keep you from buying anything stupid. I've bought bikes that I shouldn't have simply because there wasn't anyone there to stop me.
Have a List of Questions Handy
At the meetup, bring a list of questions you didn't get to ask when you first discussed the bike with them. This will not only help give you everything you need to know about the bike, but it will also help show the seller that you're not some idiot to be taken advantage of.
Inspect the Title
While the title status of the bike would most likely have already been addressed by now, you should still ask to see it. A seller may say they have the title when in fact there is no title, or the seller may say it's a clear title when it's actually a rebuilt title or a salvage title.
Just because there's no title or it's a reconstructed or salvage title doesn't mean you shouldn't buy the bike. It just means that there's going to be some serious headache before you can get switched over to your name and legal on the road. In general, you want to avoid anything but a clear and open title, but in certain cases, if you're willing to put up with the headache of dealing with a salvage, reconstructed or missing title can be worth it. Just read up on what the laws are in your state and be prepared.
Test Ride the Bike
Don't buy the bike without test riding it. If the seller claims it's ridable and totally ready to go then they should have no problem with you riding it around the block to make sure the brakes, lights, and gears and everything else works.
Before you go for a little joyride, do a pre-ride check. When you do this, make sure the bike is cold before you start it. A cold bike is harder to start than a warm one. Many sellers warm their bikes up before a buyer sees it to hide any startup issues.
When riding the bike make sure to check all controls. If the seller says something should work, make sure it does. If something doesn't work ask them about it when you get back. Also, don't go too far on your test ride. You need to know everything works, but don't make the seller any more nervous than they probably already are letting a stranger ride the motorcycle.
Bring Cash and Negotiate
Cash is king. Someone that wants $3,000 for used bike might be willing to take $2,800 or less if you have the cash in hand. My advice is to always be ready to walk away from a purchase. There are plenty of bikes out there.
You Should decide on the absolute maximum you want to spend and then offer the seller quite a bit less. When they scoff, you can come up and reach an agreement you can both be happy with. If you don't negotiate, you're bound to pay too much. Don't be an asshole during negotiations, but be firm with your offers. If you can't get the bike for the sum that you want to pay, thank the seller for their time and leave. Make sure they have your contact information and tell them you'd be happy to talk if they change their mind. Some will call you back after a day or two. Most won't.
The bottom line about buying something from a seller on Craigslist is that you have to be cautious and corteous. If you do both of those things, you should be able to get a nice bike for a heck of a deal.
Have any questions? Any concerns? Did I leave anything out that you'd suggest? If so, leave a comment below. Thanks!