These uncertain times may not be the best time to buy a motorcycle. Or are they? If you are fortunate enough to still be working full time, you may not actually need your $1,200 stimulus check to pay your basic bills. I've never had a lot of money to spend on motorcycles. Most of mine have cost under $1,000. This might be the final push you need to do the same. A $1,000 budget leaves the remaining $200 of your stimulus available to register, insure, and title the bike, if necessary. This gets you on the road for no additional outlay from you, and pumps your money back into the economy.
So how do you buy a motorcycle on the cheap? There are a number of ways. I've tried many of them, but you don't have to take my word for it. Alex Simmons sums it up quite well. It's worth noting that one alternative not covered here is buying a cheap bike from Amazon, but since we've already covered that extensively we won't repeat it here. Assume that for the bargain-basement price, we're looking at exclusively used bikes here.
1. Buy A Small Bike
Less bike means less money, so this is an easy way to save a few bucks. We're talking about 250s or smaller. People often look at small bikes as beginner bikes and sell them after just a season to get the bike they really want. This means the market is flooded with small motorcycles. With a high supply comes low demand, and therefore low prices. Small bikes are also cheaper to insure. Vermont doesn't even require a title for any bike smaller than 300cc, even new ones.
2. Buy An Old Bike
This is how I got into bikes, with an endless string of early 1980s UJMs. Look for bikes from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. These have hit the bottom of their depreciation curve. Anything newer hasn't fully depreciated yet. Bikes from the 1970s and earlier have achieved classic or antique status, and are gaining value due to their rarity.
One point to note is that you should be reasonably flexible on the mileage of a used bike. Clearly you don't want a 200,000-mile rat rod, but contrary to popular belief, motorcycles aren't all used up at 20,000 miles. My Kawasaki KLR 650 had 21,000 miles when I bought it. I put another few thousand on it last year, and there is still absolutely nothing wrong with it. I bought my Honda PC800 with 47,000 and put another 20,000 on myself before selling it. If a bike is known to be quite reliable and it has been well taken care of, a high-mileage example may not be so bad.
3. Learn To Fix Bikes
Looks no further than Jason's Small Bike Rescue for an example of this. He picks up broken bikes for dirt cheap, fixes them up, then sells them, sometimes keeping them a while first to enjoy the fruits of his labors. If you're perenially short on cash, you should learn to do your own wrenching no matter how you get a bike. It'll save a lot of money, plus you'll learn a great deal in the process. This goes double for old bikes, which some shops actually refuse to work on.
4. Insurance Salvage Or Mechanic's Lien
At some point, I realized that if I dropped my Honda PC800 and damaged the extensive plastic bodywork, my insurance would probably total it on the spot. It's a rare enough model that you can't easily get replacement body panels anymore. The frame and mechanicals could be in perfectly good shape, but the expense of fixing the appearance would be more than the bike is worth. That was bad for me but can be a great way to get a good deal on an easy-to-fix bike. Just be sure the damage is strictly cosmetic, not structural like a bent frame. I once owned a salvage-titled Mazda Miata, and it was one of the most reliable cars I've ever had.
Sometimes owners can't or won't afford to pay the shop for work they've done on a bike. The shop can place a mechanic's lien on the bike to force the owner to pay or forfeit ownership of the bike. If that happens, the shop will typically sell the bike for cheap. All they're interested in is recouping their expenses and legal fees, not getting into the used bike dealer market. I bought my 1981 Honda CB750 from a towing company, of all places. I stole it for just $500. More than likely the previous owner never bothered paying the towing and storage bill.
It's kind of cheating because it blows your $1,000 budget out of the water, but yes, you can use your $1,000 as a down payment on a new bike. This could be an option if you need a larger, newer bike, and you're not able or willing to work on it yourself. Even then, try to keep your total budget below $5,000. This should keep your payments below $150 a month. Consider lightly used models to keep the price down. A new Yamaha MT-07 may cost $7,599 but with a little digging, I can find an older FZ-07 (the same bike) under $5,000.