You've decided to buy a used dirt bike, and you know that it's possible to end up with a bike that's been run into the ground. To avoid being tricked by a seller that tells you the bike is in amazing condition, and has been well maintained, you will need to fully inspect the dirt bike before handing over the cash. To make things easier I have created this used dirt bike checklist, and a full used dirt bike buyers guide, to ensure you get the best deal possible.
The quick used dirt bike checklist that you can highlight and print off to take along with you is below. Further down the page you'll find a more detailed explanation on what exactly you are looking for while carrying out these checks.
Used dirt bike checklist
See below the list for a explanation of each point listed
- Cosmetics including plastics, seat cover, grips, sticker kit ☐
- Frame and swing arm condition ☐
- Frame number present ☐
- Tyres ☐
- Foot pegs ☐
- Wheels ☐
- Wheel bearings ☐
- Swing arm bearings ☐
- Rear suspension linkage bearings ☐
- Steering head bearings ☐
- Handlebars ☐
- Wiring ☐
- Forks and seals ☐
- Kick starter ☐
- Engine compression ☐
- Gear selector ☐
- Gearbox oil ☐
- Engine oil ☐
- Chain and sprockets ☐
- Twist throttle ☐
- Clutch and brake levers ☐
- Cables and pipes ☐
- Brake pads ☐
- Brake discs ☐
- Brake calipers ☐
- Exhaust system ☐
- Radiators ☐
- Coolant ☐
- Air filter ☐
- Engine start and running test ☐
- Clutch test ☐
- Gearbox test ☐
- Brake test ☐
- Kill switch test ☐
The used dirt bike checklist explained
Cosmetics including plastics, seat cover, grips, sticker kit
Sellers will always clean and polish their dirt bike to make it look as pleasing to the eye as possible. This is a good way of tricking buyers into thinking the dirt bike is well looked after, and in better condition than it actually is.
When you first set eyes on the dirt bike, don't be fooled by the cleanliness and gleaming plastics; instead, look a little deeper.
Start off by checking the plastics for cracks, and look at the fixing points, as people very often neglect to replace the top hat washer when bolting them back on after maintenance.
This causes the bolt to break through the mounting hole, and it's very common to find tank shrouds and side panels flapping around because of this. The plastic may be held by one or two bolts, but it will be loose on the damaged part.
To quickly check, gently pull on the shrouds and side panels to make sure they are properly attached. If you find that they are broken, negotiate the price accordingly.
Check the seat cover for tears, a small hole will soak up water and lead to wet pants every time you sit on the dirt bike. Check the sticker kit for condition and peeling, a new sticker kit is pricey, so peeling stickers can drop the price.
And lastly, check the grips. If grips are split, dirt may have found its way under the throttle barrel, which will lead to a gritty and sticky throttle, and maybe even wear.
Frame and swing arm condition
A heavy landing can crack a frame, and although it's fairly rare on modern dirt bikes, it's still possible. And the older the bike, the more stress the frame has had to endure throughout its life. It's essential that you check every inch of the frame for cracks, paying special attention to the welds.
Frames can also bend, especially at the subframe. So check the wheel alignment, and look along the frame whilst checking for anything that looks out of place, or asymmetric. Look at the dirt bike from the rear, if the rear fender points up, down, left of right, this could be an indication of a bent subframe.
Subframes can be replaced, as they only bolt onto the main frame, but they aren't cheap, so negotiate the price accordingly.
Check the condition of the swing arm, and make sure the wheel sits upright between it, to ensure that it's not twisted. Being so close to the ground, and to the back wheel, it's common to see large dents and damage. Although swingarms are very strong, a large dent will obviously weaken it.
Frame number present
Check to make sure the frame (or V.I.N) number is present. The V.I.N is located on the front part of the frame, just below the handlebars. If it isn't there, and the seller has no good, believable explanation, walk away from the bike. If the frame number is missing, the bike is probably stolen, so it might also be a good idea to report it to the police, as somebody has lost their pride and joy.
If the frame number is present, check to make sure the frame number matches the age of the bike that the seller has told you. The 10th digit of a 17 digit V.I.N number represents the year, and letters or numbers will correspond as shown below.
A = 1980 B = 1981 C = 1982 D = 1983 E = 1984 F = 1985 G = 1986 H = 1987 J = 1988
K = 1989 L = 1990 M = 1991 N = 1992 P = 1993 R = 1994 S = 1995 T = 1996 V = 1997
W = 1998 X = 1999 Y = 2000 1 = 2001 2 = 2002 3 = 2003 4 = 2004 5 = 2005 6 = 2006
7 = 2007 8 = 2008 9 = 2009 A = 2010 B = 2011 C = 2012 D = 2013 E = 2014 F=2015
G=2016 H = 2017 J = 2018 K = 2019 L = 2020 M = 2021 N = 2022 P =2023 R = 2024
Tyres are pricey, so if they are worn out you will need to change them. If the edges are worn away you'll loose traction when you corner and accelerate, so negotiate the price accordingly.
Foot pegs are another thing that can get bent, either at the mounting bracket on the frame, or the actual peg itself. Pegs that are bent can be dangerous, and can easily lead to your foot sliding off after a jump, which would not be pleasant!
Kneel in front and behind the bike, and look along each side to check the pegs are level, and that the angles they are fixed at both match. While you're there, check that the springs are present. These springs allow the peg to move up, and to flip back into place in the event of a crash. So check that the pegs move freely, and that they return to the correct position after you push them upwards.
Check the wheels for buckles, by lifting the bike onto a stand, and spinning them. The rim should run true, with no side to side, or up and down movements. Small buckles can be removed by adjusting the tension of the spokes, but you'll struggle to remove larger buckles.
Check that there are no missing spokes, as this will weaken the wheel, and check the tension of each spoke. If they are loose they can be tightened, providing they aren't seized solid, which is common.
With the bike off its stand, standing on its wheels, ask somebody to hold the bike. Grab the top of the wheel/tyre while keeping the bike as still as possible, and attempt to move the wheel side to side. If you feel any play, this will indicate worn bearings that need changing. This should be expected with a used dirt bike, especially in the rear wheel, but don't worry, they are easy to change; but you should still negotiate the price accordingly.
Swing arm bearings
Swing arm bearings and bushes also wear out, but not quite as often as wheel bearings. To check these you will need to put the bike onto its stand, and try to move the swing arm left and right while feeling for play. You can also watch the chain, if the tension changes, the bearings or bushes will need replacing.
Rear suspension linkage bearings
While you're checking the swing arm, you can also pull it upwards to check the linkage that sits below it. There are lots of bearings and bushes in this linkage, and replacing them is time consuming. If you feel any up and down play in the swing arm, or if you can here any knocking, the bearings will need replacing.
Steering head bearings
Steering head bearings are another very common fault with used dirt bikes, people just don't seem to bother changing bearings! To check these you can take the bike of its stand and sit on it. While holding the front brake, push forward and pull backwards to check for play.
You can also check the steering head bearings with the bike on its stand. Simply pull on the bottom of the forks, moving them back and forth to check for play. If you see any movement, or feel any play in the steering head, the bearings will need replacing.
Check the handlebars to make sure they are straight. If they are bent they should not be straightened, as they will be weakened. The handlebars will need replacing. Check out my handlebar guide to find out more HERE.
You won't be able to see much of the wiring, but have a good look at what you can see. If it looks like it's been taped up, or anything other than original factory sleeving, this could be a bad sign. Taped up wiring can get damp, and corrode, which will eventually lead to electrical problems. Ask the seller why it's been taped up, and be very cautious.
Forks and seals
You can check the fork seals by pushing down on the suspension a few times, and looking for oil leaking around them, or running down the forks. Assuming all of the oil hasn't ran out of the fork, this is usually a pretty reliable way of checking.
Leaking oil doesn't always mean the seals are worn out, they may simply have some grit stuck between them, preventing a tight seal. Grit can be removed by popping the seal out and wiping it clean, but the chances are, if you see oil, the seal is worn out.
After you've checked the seals, look at the fork stanchions, which are the shiny lower part. This is the most vital part of the suspension, so check for scratches, pitting, or scoring. If you see any damage, the whole tube will likely need replacing, as the damage will immediately destroy new fork seals.
The kick starter itself should be in good condition, and should click into place when not in use. But the kicks starter mechanism and ratchet can wear out over time, so make sure the kick start engages, by slowly pushing down on it a few times with your foot.
As you're pushing down on the kick starter, you can also check that the engine has plenty of compression. This is best done by hand with a two stroke. As the piston reaches top dead centre, you will feel the kick starter get a little harder to push down. There should be a good amount of resistance to get it past this point, if not, the piston and rings will need replacing.
Check that the gear selector isn't bent, and check the spline that it attaches to. If there is any play between the selector and the spline, then there is wear that will only get worse. If you're lucky the selector will need replacing, if you're not so lucky it will be the spline, which is a pain to change.
Take the oil plug out, and check that there is oil in the gearbox. You should see nice clean oil if the bike has been well maintained.
Four strokes will have engine oil that can be checked with a dip stick, just like a car. The engine oil should be filled up to the correct level, and if the bike has been looked after, the oil should be clean.
Chain and sprockets
The chain and sprockets are easy to change, but they are pricey, so if they are worn, negotiate the price down. To check the sprockets, simply look for curved, hook shaped, or worn down teeth.
To check the chain, pull it away from the sprocket at the 3 O'clock position, if you can pull it away from the sprocket a ¼", you may need a new chain, the further it moves, the more worn it is.
If you replace a chain, also replace the sprockets, and vice versa. Putting a worn chain onto new sprockets will destroy them in no time.
Open the throttle, and make sure it flips back to the closed position quickly. A sticky throttle can be dangerous, and will need fixing.
Clutch and brake levers
Both levers should be in good condition with ball ends present. This prevents the lever cutting your hands, or sticking into you if you crash and fall onto them. If the ball ends are broken off, the levers will need replacing asap.
Cables and pipes
Look at the clutch cable while pulling the lever in, and feel for a smooth action. Tight or frayed cables will be on the verge of breaking, so they will need replacing. Throttle cables can be checked by feeling for tightness, and by listening. Any crunching or grinding inside the throttle barrel will indicate frayed cables.
Also check the brake pipes for wear, and make sure no brake fluid is leaking from the pipe, or from the master cylinders around the seals.
Check that there is plenty of meat left on the brake pads. They're easy to change, and most dirt bikes go through pads a few times a year, so don't let worn pads put you off. But you can use this to haggle the price down a little.
Brake discs should be smooth, clean, and free from rust and pitting. If you see grooves around the discs, the brakes will not be working as effectively as they should; so a new set of discs will be needed asap.
Brake calipers can seize up, making the front brake very hard to pull, or the back lever harder to press. This will also lead to poor braking, so check that the pads are releasing when the brakes aren't applied. If not, the brakes will need servicing.
Check the front pipe for dents, and bare in mind that a dented pipe will zap engine power. New exhaust pipes are expensive, so if the pipe is dented this makes a good bargaining chip. Check the condition of the rear pipe, or silencer, and check the rubber joiner for splits or holes.
Check for dents, cracks, leaks, and repairs. Check for bent cooling fins, and make sure all of the water pipes are in good condition with no splits or cracking.
Take the top off the radiator, and make sure the coolant is filled up to the correct level. Another good indication of a well maintained dirt bike is clean or fresh coolant.
Take some tools with you so that you can pop the seat off. This is easily done by undoing two bolts to get to the air filter. Make sure the air filter is nice and clean, and slightly oily, this indicates a well maintained dirt bike.
Engine start and running test
Start the engine and listen for any strange sounds, knocking, grinding, etc. Keep the engine running and let it get to temperature. It's important to let the bike warm up, because some serious electrical problems only become apparent with a warm engine, and as electrical components get warm.
When the engine has reached temperature, open the throttle to make sure it revs cleanly throughout the rev range. And do this during the test ride to, to make sure the engine produces full power without spluttering, or holding back.
Put the bike into first gear and feather the clutch to make sure it bites as it should, and that it doesn't drag or slip. Any whining will indicate a blown clutch that needs replacing.
With the engine running, and also with the engine stopped, make sure the bike easily selects all of its gears. Take the bike for a ride, and accelerate hard to make sure it doesn't jump out of gear, or that it doesn't get stuck in gear. Do this in every gear if possible.
At the same time, listen for any unusual sounds or grinding coming from the gearbox, as this could indicate broken gears.
Brake hard to test the brakes, and make sure they release as expected afterwards.
Kill switch test
Don't stall the bike to stop it like many people do, use the kill switch this time to make sure it works.
Use this used dirt bike buyers guide to your advantage
Take this used dirt bike checklist with you when you go to view a dirt bike, and any faults can be used to bargain the seller down. Even small things like a broken kill switch will need replacing, and this all costs money to replace. So use this to your advantage, and get yourself a much cheaper dirt bike.
Thanks for checking out this post, you'll also enjoy my guide to help you choose your first dirt bike, that can be found > HERE.