Let's face it, we don't own Harley's. We own dirt bikes. They get dirty, beat up, broken, and
worn out. Our bikes depreciate rapidly, and anyone who's ever attempted to trade one in at
a dealer probably laughed upon first hearing the trade-in value, then experienced the same
type of shock and disbelief that many felt upon seeing Al Gore with facial hair. Below are my
tips for improving the resale value of your dirt bike.
A little soap, some water, a brush....sounds easy, right? Wrong. Your goal is to get every
single piece of foreign material removed from every possible square inch of surface area.
Some things you get used to looking at over the years, like the greasy dirt that collects
around the engine cases, but that doesn't mean a prospective buyer won't notice it. A
flawlessly clean bike shows your buyer that you are anal about tending to the appearance of
your bike, and that's a good thing. This increases the odds that the buyer will think you are
also anal about maintaining your bike.
Start by taking off the plastic (including the gas tank) and getting it out of the way so you
can focus on the frame, engine cases, and other often-neglected areas. A spray bottle, a
gallon of industrial degreaser, and your wife's toothbrush will work well. The exhaust system
hides a lot of crud and generally gets in the way, so remove that also. Take off the wheels
and clean every spoke, the hubs, and around the seals and wheel spacers. The rear hub
tends to collect a thick layer of grime (I haven't seen the gold color of my Talon hub in
years) and is awkward to clean, so that's where a coating of degreaser and a toothbrush will
make it easier. I find the engine cases to be the hardest to clean because the dirt and oil
get baked on. Again, degreaser helps, as does a small, stiff brush. Keep looking for dirt
and don't stop until you've taken it all off.
If possible, sand or grind off rusty spots on the frame and use touch-up paint to improve the
appearance. Some areas don't make sense to focus on if the only way to improve the
appearance is high-dollar expenditures, so concentrate on the areas where a little hard
work makes your bike look almost-new.
If you could do it again, the day you bought your bike, you would have traded the original
plastic for an aftermarket set and on the day you sold the bike, put back on the still-shiny
stock plastic. If you already did that, give yourself a pat on the ass. But if your original set
of plastic was scattered in bits and pieces over many miles of trail or is now resting at the
bottom of a landfill, and what's left on the bike is a hodge-podge of mismatched, duct-taped,
safety-wired plastic parts, then a new set of aftermarket plastic will definitely help the
appearance. Costs money, of course, but this is one of those places where you can
generally get your money back in the form of a higher resale value, and your bike will sell
quicker. Remember, put yourself in the buyer's shoes: would you rather buy a ratty-looking
bike or a clean, mostly-shiny bike? This is how my '99 300EXC looked before I sold it. This is
how it looked when I put it up for sale.
I am anal. Every time I ride, I write down the date, approximate riding distance, number of
hours, and any maintenance that I perform afterwards. I started doing this because I was
curious about how much I was actually riding and how much it costs to keep a dirt bike
running (yes, it is shocking). Not only is this a great way to keep track of maintenance
intervals, but it also shows a prospective buyer how meticulous you are about details.
Again, this is a good thing. However, it can be a very bad thing if your records show that the
last significant maintenance on your bike was a chain lube back in '98. If that's the case,
then don't bother keeping track. Just focus on making the bike look good.
The internet offers many free classified ad services specific to motorcycles. My success
with those services has been marginal at best. Your ad will probably be read by more
off-road enthusiasts than a typical newspaper ad, but geography tends to limit who you can
sell to. It's great if a guy in Vermont wants exactly what you've got, but if you live in Utah,
the transportation cost will probably make the bike too expensive for your East Coast buyer.
Plus, most people still like to see the bike in person, think over their decision, and then
come back and make the purchase.
The last time I sold a bike, I initially tried the freebie ads but got very little response. When I
spent some money and ran a newspaper ad, the bike sold on the very first day (for an
acceptable price, too). The newspaper ad cost me $20, but was worth every penny
because my bike sold quickly. Choose the most widely-circulated newspaper in your area
and run an ad that includes the Sunday edition.
Ever try to sell a dirt bike in the middle of winter? Would be easier getting Bill Clinton to
drive by a Hooters without stopping. Most off-season buyers are looking for that desperate
soul who just bought next year's new model and is cash-strapped with multiple bike
ownership. Don't be "That Guy." Late-spring or summer is best, when people are more
likely to have motorcycles on their minds.
You've probably heard the horror stories of someone who let a guy test-ride his bike and
never saw it again. Or the day after the test ride his garage was broken into and the bike
stolen. The most basic rule of selling a bike: In God We Trust; All Others Must Verify. If
someone you don't know wants to test-ride your bike, get some identification and hold on to
their car keys. The guy who shows up with no car, claiming to have been dropped off by a
friend, is trouble, plain and simple. The guy who asks questions about how and where you
store your bike is also questionable. Meet with a potential buyer at a neutral location, if
possible, and politely explain why you need to see an I.D. Most people are understanding
about verification, which makes for a good test of the type of character you're dealing with.
Be very cautious with someone who gives you grief about producing a driver's license.
For me, the least enjoyable part of selling a bike is haggling over the price. While it's
tempting to take the first offer you receive, don't settle for a price just to get the bike out of
your garage. On the other hand, it helps to be realistic about the true value of the
motorcycle. For KTM owners, the majority of us are involved in racing of some type. We do
special things to our bikes to make them go fast. While those things add value to us, the
majority of the dirt biking population are trail riders who have no use for re-valved
suspension, don't want steering dampers, and could care less about aftermarket triple
clamps. Because of their race-oriented nature, European dirt bikes have a smaller
audience than Japanese bikes and we pay the price in the form of lower resale value. If you
can find a racing buddy to buy your KTM/Husky/Gas Gas/TM at the price you want, more
power to you, but odds are your bike has more value to you than to the general dirt biking
If a potential buyer is low-balling you with the "but it's been raced" excuse, that's when the
maintenance log can pay off. Show him/her how much you've done to the bike and, more
importantly, how much you've spent on the the bike to keep it in top condition. An educated
buyer should not discount a bike because it's been raced...at least I wouldn't, and I feel like
I'm somewhat educated.
When you do settle on a price, always follow this rule:
Cash, cashiers check, or money order. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Very few buyers take cash with them the first time they look at a bike, but most will bring
along enough to put down a small deposit if they decide they want the bike. I usually ask for
$100 and agree not to sell the bike to anyone else until they come up with the rest of the
money (usually 2-3 days later). In that time, however, I'll still let someone else look at the
bike as long as they understand that there's a "contract" on the bike. Sometimes a buyer
doesn't follow through, so it's important to keep your options open.
Overall, I've never been 100% satisfied with what I received for a used dirt bike, but that's to
be expected. Unless you find an uneducated buyer with a bunch of spare cash, you'll
probably end up settling for a price a bit lower than what you had hoped for. Go with your
gut feeling, get the bike sold, and move on to the next one!