I want to get a bike but I don't know the "process"

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This article is geared toward buying a used motorcycle, but you'll have to do a lot of this stuff if you're buying new. The dealer may take care of some of it for you.

Before buying

Some things you should do before you buy are:

  • Take an MSF course: You may need a moto learner's permit first. MSF is not required in most states but is highly recommended.
  • Motorcycle permit: The DMV may waive the riding section with MSF course completion (most states). Some states will grant a full license with MSF course completion.
  • Get riding gear
  • See Things to know before you buy a motorcycle

If buying used:

  • See What do I need to know about buying a used bike?
  • Once you have your permit or license, peruse your local classifieds, Craigslist, CycleTrader, local dealers, etc. for used motorcycles.
  • Find a likely candidate bike. Check prices on NADA or Kelly Blue Book, although those are just guides. Condition is far more important than 'suggested' price.
  • If you're new to bikes, or don't know how to tell the condition of the one you've chosen, take it to a trustworthy mechanic (use the nearest dealership if you can't find a bike mechanic you trust) and get a "pre-purchase inspection".

Buying process

Once the price is settled, ask to see the title and the seller’s driver’s license. Check the bike’s VIN against the title VIN to make sure it’s the right title for the vehicle. Check the name of the owner against the driver’s license of the seller. It may be all right if it’s not the same, but if it isn’t, you should ask why not.

Important: Check that the title doesn't have a lien holder listed (such as a bank). If there's a lien holder listed who hasn't signed off, then THEY (the bank) own the bike. You should steer clear of this deal unless that was pre-disclosed.

If there is a lien, you should pay the bank and not the owner. Check with the lien holder before handing money over to anyone. Having to do this may increase the time it takes to buy the bike. Most people have some equity in a used vehicle, so you won't be paying the full sale price to the lien holder. You'll be paying some to both parties. Make sure the lien is settled before you buy the bike, though, to save yourself from any headaches down the road.

Make sure the bike doesn’t have a rebuilt or salvage title, or anything other than a clean and clear title. A rebuilt bike may be fine, but there are too many bikes for sale out there without those issues, and it’s more difficult to try to sell a bike with registration issues later.

The title will need to be signed by the former owner (in most states) to release their interest in the bike. This is a huge nightmare if not done.

Then you need a bill of sale. Two, in fact: One for you and one for them. You can find lots of ready-to-use bills of sale on the internet. Here’s one. Once the title is signed, hand them the cash and then collect the title, keys, one bill of sale, and any extras that come with the bike.

If the bike isn’t road-safe, or you don’t have insurance, load it on your truck or trailer and head home. If it is safe to ride, call your insurance company and get them to add the bike and give you the policy number. Have your insurance figured out in advance. Don’t ride without it.

Some states allow a certain amount of time between the date on the signed title and when you must register it, so keep the title on you for the ride home. Other states require you to buy a temporary permit. Call your DMV and ask questions before you start looking for a bike.

Sales tax is taken care of when you go into your DMV to transfer the title to your name and obtain a license plate.

Normally, you’ll end up spending money on the bike, insurance, sales tax, and the title transfer and tag fees.