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What to Look For When You Test Ride a Motorcycle

Emotion and adrenaline kick in when you're considering buying a new motorcycle (or a new to you bike). The stakes are high. If you find one that's a perfect fit, you could end up with the bike of your dreams. 

But how can you be sure? How do you know if a bike is going to be comfortable on long road trips when your test ride lasts half an hour? If you miss mechanical flaws, you could buy a lemon that never lives up to your hopes. Your money is at stake, and so is your happiness. Even more importantly, some problems can cause safety issues, so we're also talking about your health and well-being.

Getting the most out of your test ride experience actually starts before you throw a leg over. It's a good idea to research the make and model you're considering so if there are known issues, you're aware of them. Then, here's advice on how to proceed.

Before You Ride

Inspect for obvious flaws, then sit on the bike and take a second to just evaluate how it feels before you even start the motor. Are your hands and arms in a comfortable position? Can you sit flat footed? How does the seat comfort feel? What about tension in your back or shoulders? Seat height can be adjusted, and seats themselves are easy to swap out, but it's helpful to know from the beginning if modification is going to be necessary.

Are the foot controls positioned in a way you're comfortable with? If you'll be riding two-up, is there going to be enough room for your passenger? 

Then, once you start the bike, continue to observe. How do you feel about the amount of vibration? Then focus inward. Is there anything about the bike that makes you feel nervous, or any questions you want to ask about operating it before you head out?

Hitting the Road

You've evaluated fit, now it's time to test out function. As you ease out of the parking lot and into traffic, note how the clutch feels, how the gears shift and so on. You want transitions to feel smooth and effortless. Note again the vibration coming through your feet, legs, rear and hands. Does it feel steady and smooth, the result of a powerful engine, or does it feel like the bike is struggling or missing?

To know if you're going to be happy with it long term, again look inward. How did you hope you'd feel about the ride? Some people want adrenaline-inducing acceleration and an aggressive riding position. Others want to feel refinement and comfort. Does this particular bike check the boxes for you, or are some elements missing?

If what you're wanting is a comfortable ride, storage space and amenities for weekend road trips, you'll want softer suspension that absorbs bumps and a design that deflects the wind. If you're looking for agile and aggressive, you give up some of that for a lighter, sportier frame and responsive performance.

Evaluating Performance

If you can, take your test ride through different traffic and road conditions. Just because you like how it feels accelerating into traffic doesn't mean you're going to be happy with it on winding back roads. As closely as possible, duplicate the conditions in which you'll be doing the most riding. What can you glean about power, power delivery and fuel consumption?

Pull over in a parking lot and see how you feel about its handling at slow speeds. Pull into a parking spot, then see how it feels backing it up. Test cornering at low and high speeds to experience how you feel at different lean angles.

Test out the brakes by stopping at different speeds. Do you feel in control as you come to a stop? If your bike has different ride modes, try them out to see how they enhance or detract from your experience.

Look for Negatives

Positivity is great, but you don't want to let test ride excitement cause you to see a bike through rose colored glasses. Does it have quirks you didn't expect? Are there little things you'll want to modify?

Think About Renting

Most places aren't going to let you take a motorcycle for a long weekend, but if you're comfort testing a touring bike or the bagger you plan on riding to Sturgis, you might not be able to take everything in during a regular test ride. One possible solution is to rent the make and model you're considering so you can take it out for as long as you want (or as long as you're willing to pay for anyway.) By taking a little time and spending a little extra, you're either going to get to the point where you feel good about your purchasing decision or you know you need to walk away from that particular model and explore other options.

Don't Mess it Up For Others

Sometimes people abuse things that don't belong to them. A test ride is not the time to test limits or show off. Whether you're buying from a dealership or an individual, during the test ride it's not your bike yet. If you break things, or just generally act like an idiot, you give the owner bad feelings about offering test rides in general. Ride safely and responsibly so others can continue to enjoy the test ride privilege. 

Book a Test Ride Now

See available pre-owned motorcycles, visit our 2022 Harley-Davidson®  showroom online or just stop by the dealership. We're here to answer your questions and help you find the bike you're looking for when you book a test ride now.