How To Test Ride A Motorcycle Like A Pro: What You Need To Consider!

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When I think back to the bikes I’ve owned, all but one were the wrong choice.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy owing them – far from it.

But in terms of buying the right bike, I’ve got it wrong way more times than I’ve got it right.

Why? Because I always get drawn into the romantic notion of test riding the bike.

Taking A New Motorcycle On A Test Ride Is Exciting!

I’m one of those people that is overly spontaneous and impulsive. I can’t help it, and I sometimes struggle to control it.

In the spur of the moment, I do rather than think. I’m all too easily immersed in the moment.

And whilst this is fine, it means the practical elements of a motorcycle test ride often take a back seat on a quick 10-minute blast.

So in this post, we’ll look at the top things to consider the next time you hop on a motorcycle for a test ride at your local dealership.

how to test ride a motorcycle - bmw showroom
Test ride a motorcycle like a pro next time you walk into a dealership (image via DDZPhoto / Pixabay)

Don’t Compare Apples With Oranges

I know you love your current bike. But if it’s 3 years old, is due a service, and is currently rocking tyres that need changing, then any new bike will feel so much better.

It’s natural to compare the bike you’re testing with your current bike. But it’s not a fair comparison.

Only ever compare brand new bikes against other brand new bikes.

So if you’re testing a brand new Honda, make sure you go and test a brand new Yamaha.

This will give you a better comparison.

yamaha tracer 9 gt
Always compare new motorcycles with other new motorcycles (image via Yamaha)

Motorcycle Test Ride Duration

As mentioned above, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is taking a bike out for 10-minutes. I did it with a Honda VFR800 and it ended up being a £6,500 mistake.

Most reputable dealerships will let you take the bike for an extended period of time. Some are happy for you to take it for a few hours, whilst others will let you book it out for the day.

The odd one or two will even let you take it for an entire weekend. And if you can negotiate this as part of your testing process, I highly recommend you go for it.

Ride On A Variety Of Roads

You need to test your bike on a variety of road types. It’s no good riding it through town only to find that it vibrates like hell on the motorway after you’ve bought it.

Similarly, it’s no good testing it on A-roads only to find it’s too top-heavy in the twisties.

One of the best ways to test a bike on a variety of roads is to pre-plan a route before you go.

If the dealership is in an area unfamiliar to you, plan a route on a smartphone app and then attach it to the motorcycle for your test ride.

Not only will you get a decent test, but you’ll know how to get back to the dealership!

ktm 1190 - how to test ride a motorcycle
Test ride your motorcycle on a variety of roads (image via KTM UK)

Simulate What The Bike Will Be Used For

If you’re test riding a bike that you will use for touring, you need to take it out for a good few hours – at least.

You need to get a feel for the bike over an extended period of time. Is it comfortable? Are the pegs the right height? Does it make your back (or your arse) ache?

Similarly, if you’ll also be using it for commuting, what’s it like in town traffic? Is it nimble and manoeuvrable? Is it narrow enough to filter?

Get Off And Push It

Most people need to physically move their bike when at home.

Try pushing the bike around like you would do at home to get it in and out of the garage. Or try putting it up on the centre stand to simulate oiling the chain.

There’s no point buying a 270kg GS if you can’t push it out of the garage or manoeuvre it out of a parking bay.

man pushing motorcycle
Take the time to get a feel for physical handling (image via The Ride Academy / Unsplash)

Be Sure (Doubly Sure!) About The Weight

Many people simply accept that a touring bike will be heavy. And whilst this may be the case, there are certainly different types of heavy.

Maybe a 220kg, 800cc tourer will suit you better than a 300kg, 1300cc behemoth.

But more important than the weight is how the bike carries it. A 220kg bike with low-down weight will feel way lighter than a 220kg bike that’s top-heavy.

And don’t forget, the bike the dealership has given you to test probably won’t have a top box, panniers, or a full tank of fuel. So there’s a lot more weight to be added to the bike you’re riding.

Power

Power is important with a touring bike. And it really affects how it feels to ride the bike.

As a touring rider, you probably won’t need a tonne of power at higher revs. But you will need torque in every gear and through the low to mid rev range.

And in terms of fuel economy, you would like the revs to stay low at motorway speeds.

Check the dials when you get on the bike for the mpg. Is it thirsty or does it seem economical?

2 bmw's - test ride a motorcycle
Test ride your motorcycle for low-down, usable torque (image via Ian Taylor / Unsplash)

Comfort

For me, comfort is the main reason why you need a longer test ride on a touring motorcycle. Because it’s very difficult to stray too far from the ergonomics of the bike once you get it home.

Yes, you can soften the suspension (possibly at the detriment of the ride), and yes, you can buy a custom seat, add bar risers, or lower the pegs.

But do you want to be going to all the additional faff and expense of all these bolt-on extras on a bike that’s already costing you a fortune?

Secondly, has it got enough legroom? If you find you’re cramped up as soon as you go out, it’s probably not going to work for your particular body shape in the long term.

And how about the screen? It might be that no matter what position you put it in, you seem to get disproportionately blasted by the wind at high speeds.

bmw motorcycle twisty road
Comfort is probably the pinnacle of any new touring motorcycle choice (image via RiderX / Pixabay)

The Layout

On paper, an electronics ‘suite’ can sound tempting. But in reality, how do you get on with it? Is everything intuitive and easy to find?

Or do you need to get off and start looking for YouTube tutorials every time you want to switch on the cruise control?

Most of it, you’ll learn over time. But with some bikes, everything just feels like it’s in the wrong place.

bmw display - test ride a motorcycle
Have a proper look at the tech suite when taking a motorcycle on a test ride (image via Cicero7 / Pixabay)

Check Ancillaries

If the bike you’re testing is going to be used for touring, does it come with a sat nav? Because if it doesn’t, there’s another £500 you’ll have to spend.

And what about mounting it? Is there a practical space for you to put your sat nav that won’t clutter up the dash and get in the way of the dials?

How about heated grips? Do they come with the package, or will you need to pay for them?

And what about space for other ancillaries such as a USB mount? Is there space under the seat to mount a PDM?

Things like this seem insignificant at the time. But in the real world, they’re important.

garmin sat nav on motorcycle
Is there room for your sat nav, PDM, heated jacket etc?

Financial Commitment & Range

If the dealership gives you a bike with three-quarters of a tank of fuel, scroll through the menus to see how many miles you have remaining to empty.

If it says 100 miles, then with the use of some crude maths, you know you might only get 125 miles to a tank. And that simply isn’t good enough for a touring machine.

You can – if you want to be super precise – check the miles per gallon before you set off. If you then take a second reading when you return from your ride, you can work out the bike’s fuel economy.

And what about the insurance and servicing costs? If the bike is at the top-end of your budget, can you afford expensive insurance premiums and high-performance servicing costs?

If there’s one thing that can ruin the ownership of the perfect bike, it’s not being able to afford it once you’ve got it home.

bmw tft display - test ride a motorcycle
When taking a motorcycle on a test ride, take the time to check the information on the computer (image via BMW Press)

Never Buy A Motorcycle Straight After A Test Ride

As mentioned at the head of this post, the romantic notion of a new motorcycle takes over on any test ride. So don’t walk back into the dealership with your cheque book in your hand. (Do cheques still exist?!)

Go home and sleep on it. Do some further research. Watch review videos on YouTube and read owner reviews.

And don’t let the salesperson bully you with scare tactics. They’ll say things like “we might not have any left next week” or “this offer ends tomorrow.”

If that’s the case, then so be it. There will be another dealership with a similar offer elsewhere.

harley-davidson on country road
Buying a new bike after the first test ride could be a mistake! (Image via Harley-Davidson / Unsplash)

Go For Another Test Ride!

Once you’ve thought about it, ask for another test ride on the motorcycle in question. Because this time it will feel different.

The novelty would have worn off by now and your review of it will be so much more subjective than on your initial test ride.

In the time you had away from the bike, you’ll think of things you wished you’d checked the first time around.

Maybe you forgot to test the bike in town traffic. Or perhaps you forgot to scroll through the menus to see if you like it or not.

And if you take the motorcycle in question out for a second test ride, the salesperson will know you are serious. So they might then agree to let you take it for a full day or even a weekend.

bmw at sunset - test ride a motorcycle
Always go for a second test ride (image via Cicero7 / Pixabay)

Test Out Rider Modes

One thing I’ve never done on my own bikes is change power modes – because they never seem to do anything in the real world (on my bikes, at least.)

But if you’re testing something like a KTM 1290 Superduke GT, try riding it in rain mode. If it makes a noticeable difference, then great.

However, if everything feels the same, then maybe the extra money they’re charging you for this luxury could be better spent on a different bike.

ktm tft display
Try the different rider modes when taking a motorcycle out for a test ride (image via Sumit Saharka / Unsplash)

Our Top 10 Motorcycle Test Ride Cheat Sheet

So as you can see, there’s a lot to consider when trying to separate your head from your heart on a motorcycle test ride!

But remember these 10 tips and you’ll do just fine.

  1. Don’t let the excitement of testing a new bike cloud your judgement.
  2. Despite saying not to get caught up in the moment, you will do – so book a second test ride to trial the motorcycle again!
  3. Negotiate longer test rides – a full day or even a weekend. And test on a variety of road types. Simulate the normal use of your riding habits.
  4. Test ride the motorcycle in real-world settings. Does it do what you need it to do? It needs to be practical.
  5. Comfort is key – don’t compromise.
  6. Check competitor models – and don’t be afraid to tell the salesperson that you’re taking another motorcycle out for a test ride elsewhere.
  7. Research owner reviews.
  8. Be realistic with the dimensions of the bike. If it’s too heavy or too tall for you, it will always be too heavy and too tall for you. Move on.
  9. Does it make sense financially when you add on the insurance and servicing costs?
  10. Are you comfortable with the menus, gadgets, rider modes, and ancillary capabilities?

If you can satisfy the above criteria or at least compromise on them, then you’re rocking and rolling.

Enjoy your new bike!


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Top image via Jimmyweee / Wikimedia Commons

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