I'm tired of the nightmare of selling used motorcycles. How can we fix this? It's something I've been working on and mulling over for a while.

I've sold over twenty motorcycles and nearly every time it has been a nightmare.

This is going to sound really familiar to a lot of people who've sold motorcycles. But bear with me, because I'd love to know the secret of making it NOT a nightmare, and that's the reason for this post.

But what I really want to talk about is a new way of doing it — rent to buy. Is this something worth trying? I'm going to try next time and see.

In this post...

The problem with selling motorcycles

Many things go wrong when I try to sell a motorcycle online.

I typically experience one or more of the following:

  • People saying they'll show up and not showing up, and not apologising
  • Showing up an hour late (or more) without any contact/explanations
  • People texting insane stupid offers. For example if I list a motorcycle at $6,000, they'll text "Would you accept $3,000?" as the first question.
  • People not following up after making an offer that I accept
  • People asking one-word questions like "VIN" without any punctuation. C'mon man, give me a question mark at least!
  • People making an appointment and showing up having done no research and then realising it's not for them for a reason I explicitly mentioned in the ad itself (e.g. "It's not learner-legal")
  • Buyers looking like they might knife me (both buying Ducatis, incidentally)

Other situations I've read about (but that haven't happened to me)

  • Test drives that take forever ("I got lost!")
  • People mysteriously not having enough money ("I only have $2K on me...") with no prior negotiation
  • Just getting robbed (thankfully, rare)

I've had TWO good experiences selling motorcycles that are worth mentioning.

One was when I was selling a BMW R1200RS for US$3,200. Someone emailed me and said "If it's what you say it is, I'll come in an hour and buy it for asking". He did.

The second time was when I was buying a Triumph Scrambler EFI, more expensive at over $5K. It didn't sell for a while, but then it did to someone who really wanted it. The guy who bought it became my friend (hi James!).

I've also heard of others having good selling scenarios. Friendly people paying the full amount, not being jerks, being honest and transparent, and so on.

Other than those two situations, it's all the above, many times over.

How can we make buying and selling motorcycles better?

I believe the problem is a people problem, not a system problem.

If we're to improve the selling experience, we have to attract people who behave honestly and encourage honest behaviour.

How to attract honesty and good people is another question.

Many things don't work, including

  • Mentioning anything in the ad. For example "non time-wasters", "no tire-kickers", "no swaps", "no test rides". These are an invitation to some people to negotiate anyway, the so-called "Mrs. Doubtfire Strategy"
  • Giving vague details, encouraging someone to contact you for more information. People think this might encourage better buyers. It might, but it also dissuades genuine buyers.
  • Listing only on premium sites. For example, sites where you have to pay to advertise. This simply means your vehicle is in better company, but doesn't encourage buyers to behave differently.

I have three theories about how to make motorcycle sales better.

  1. Stick to "premium" — better brands, higher prices. For example, stick to BMWs, Ducatis, and so on.
  2. Don't sell: Rent to buy. This is a more complicated strategy.
  3. Choose where to advertise wisely. Selling on Craigslist or Gumtree seems to attract lowballers (or at least a large proportion of them). Selling on private forums gets a smaller but more focused audience.
  4. Build an audience. I started this website to write about motorcycles. Now, I have a small audience on which to sell. Others have YouTube channels, Instagrams, and so on.

From now on, my own approach is going to be:

  • Only buy cheap motorcycles I want to keep forever. This probably includes a Kawasaki KLR650, a Honda CB900 919 (I miss it!), a Honda CBR954RR, a Yamaha 2006 R1 Anniversary Edition, and precious few others.
  • Advertise only on my own website and in forums. Don't sell because I need to; sell only if someone else wants to pay the price. No more Gumtree or Craigslist. I'll use MotoFOMO for finding motorcycles on forums — once it's built up properly.
  • Otherwise, stick to premium collector motorcycles and brands.  I've had such good experiences with used BMWs and Triumphs that I'm likely to focus on those. Probably will get the same with better Ducati motorcycles as well!

Still looking for the perfect approach — comments welcome.

One Alternative Way to Sell a Motorcycle... Rent to Buy

I've previously written about rental forums like Riders Share and Twisted Road. Right now, they're US-only.

Renting a Harley Davidson LiveWire on Twisted Road
This is the Harley Davidson LiveWire I rented on Twisted Road

The premise is that you can rent out your pride and joy for something like $100-200 a day. A princely sum that many motorcycle owners would definitely turn their noses up at!

But I think a better option is to use motorcycle rental platforms to let potential buyers test-ride your motorcycles.

There are many reasons this is a good idea.

Firstly, this lets people really figure out if they want a motorcycle — or pay you for the privilege of riding it.

It takes over 100kms to really put a bike through its paces. I believe it takes hundreds more — up to 1,000 kms (over 500 miles).

It's unreasonable to let someone take a test ride of more than 15 minutes. A test ride is just supposed to be to make sure the clutch works, that the engine is well-tuned, that the brakes aren't warped, and so on. It's not supposed to be to figure out if a person likes a motorcycle.

Secondly, once you've decided to sell a motorcycle, you're probably detached enough to be able to rent it out without too many qualms.

Renting out a motorcycle is anathema to many owners. "Not my baby!" is people's first reaction, often.

But if you've already decided to move on... renting it isn't such a bad idea.

You might even make a bit of cash while you wait to get rid of it.

Finally, rental platforms take care of insurance for you.

If you let someone else ride away with your motorcycle, it's nice to know that it's fully insured. Both platforms fully take care of insurance for you — so that's one less thing to think about.

Renting motorcycles out... without a platform

In many countries, rental platforms don't exist. So how are we supposed to rent motorcycles out?

I don't expect people to set up company structures, get rental insurance, or set up rental agreements just to be able to rent motorcycles out for a day or so.

But you can definitely rent motorcycles out privately. You just have to be careful about insurance.

In Australia, for example, you can't rent out a vehicle if it's not registered for commercial use and insured commercially.

So here's the agreement I'd set up with the buyer.

Say you're selling your motorcycle for $5,000 (the full price), and you decided that $200 (extended test ride fee) is a fair price for a test ride.

  1. Create a full sales contract. It should say the buyer will purchase a vehicle pending the outcome of a test ride, for the full price minus the test ride fee. In this case it would be $4,800.
  2. Create a receipt for an extended test ride for $200. Details written should be "Maintenance after extended test ride of vehicle including inspection, cleaning, change of fluids." It needs to be legally defensible so you can say "I'm not renting it out; I'm just letting people figure out if they want it, and then charging for the upkeep resulting from letting them keep it for a while.
  3. Get the full price of the motorcycle from them in either cash ($5,000), or bank transfer +cash ($4,800 + $200 cash.) Either way, you need that $200 cash in hand.
  4. Take a copy of their drivers license and credit card for security. Keep a copy of the contract and give one to them.
  5. Take condition photos and get them to sign a condition report.
  6. If they come back and decide not to buy it, then you keep the $200. Otherwise, it becomes part of the full payment.

If they crash it or if it's damaged in any way, they keep it, too.

The goal of the above is to sell the motorcycle, first and foremost. You don't actually have to let anyone rent it out. If someone comes along and they seem sketchy — bail! It's an entirely private transaction and it's up to you to let someone take it or not.

In the meantime, you may make a little cash profit for rental of motorcylces, but that should just compensate for the time and hassle of renting them out.