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The Buying Mantra

(from the Travels with Guido series #211, October 2020)

Honda Blackbird

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen

Why selling has become a mug’s game

That’s it, I give up. And you know what’s worse? I’m partly responsible for a breakdown of the used motorcycle industry.

Like several other bike journos of dubious sanity, I’ve written overly serious buying-used advice features across the years and – I dunno how this happened – there’s a religious mantra that has developed over time because people actually took notice of them. It’s the three commandments of buying a used bike:
1. Thou shalt not buy a motorcycle without a complete service record;
2. Thou shalt demand a complete ownership history;
3. Thou shalt expect more than is actually possible.
Of course it has come back to bite thee…

It’s a long story – some time ago muggins bought a Meriden Triumph T150 Trident and figured selling a Blackbird (one of three that have so far graced the shed) was the only way to pay for the deal.

So I advertised Bronson the Blackbird at a low price and got a few calls. It all went pear-shaped at the first commandment.

“Does it have a service history?” asked the caller. Well, no. I then tried to explain that it’s a 2004 model which then cost $18,000, so it’s fair to assume the first and second minor services would have been done, which takes it up to around 6000km. I bought it at 14,000, when it got an oil and filter change. It’s only reached 16,500km, which is well short of the first major service, due at 24,000km. Ipso facto (or some equivalent pig Latin phrase), it is serviced.

Even if the second minor service hadn’t been done, the oil was now fresh and my experience with Blackbirds says this one is not yet fully run in. The caller couldn’t cope with the inescapable logic that the first major service was not yet due, asked again if I had a stamped service record, and we parted lines.

The second caller was worried that I didn’t have a record of, or personally knew, the first owner. I tried to point out this did not matter, as the motorcycle is fully functional and has just, again for those not paying attention, 16 thousand, five hundred, sodding kilometres under its ample wheels.

A third rang to ask if it would do Melbourne to Perth and return (7000km!) under its own steam. Of course it would. But then the honesty gland kicked in and I suggested that the chain and sprockets might want replacement in Perth, or perhaps before a trip of that length. They were fine, but it was the original set and 20-ish thousand kays seemed like a reasonable time to do a precautionary change-over. Though the asking price of the motorcycle was very modest, apparently the trauma of organising a simple driveline replacement was too much to contemplate.

Now that, to me, is the most sad. How hard is it to ring Bloggs Honda in Perth for a chain/sprocket replacement and an oil/filter change while you’re at it? Take a day off the bike and go flying/boating/ballooning/drinking.

Another caller was more generous. He asked about the condition of Bronson, and I mentioned it had a couple of slight scuff marks. He thought about it, and got back in touch saying he reckons it’s a bargain, but he and his mates felt he was too “autistic” (their description) to live with it. Even he admitted he wasn’t right.

I countered with my superstition that a perfect motorcycle is just asking for trouble, while a mildly scuffed one is less likely to get damaged. No sale.

Over the years, I’ve heard trade stories saying that people have become less compromising and less confident in their own judgment. First it was wreckers bemoaning the fact that people would no longer adapt parts, but had to have the exact one.

Increasingly it became motorcycle retailers saying buyers demand perfection, for which they won’t pay.

Maybe I’m partly responsible. So here’s my start of a re-alignment of the used bike buying mantra:
1. There is no perfect used bike, get over it;
2. We don’t know the first owner, and nor do we want to;
3. Look for the best combination of price, love and function. Be happy.

And by the way, Bronson is no longer for sale, but thanks for asking…

See more Travels with Guido columns


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