Project Bike: Part 1

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks

Although we visually inspected and rode the bike before purchase, we prefer to make a more thorough mechanical inspection before riding it further.

Part I: Acquiring a Used Bike

Step 1: List Key Features Desired

Before beginning the search for a prospective touring motorcycle, we first established the key features we wanted the bike to have. Here are the 10 things we looked for:

  1. Comfortable Seat Height: A bike with a seat height of approximately 30 inches or less. (There are aftermarket parts that can be installed to lower the seat, if necessary.)
  2. Demonstrated Reliability: The hallmark of a good touring bike is that it must be mechanically reliable and not likely to leave its rider stranded somewhere in the hinterlands. We focused on a brand and a model with a reputation for reliability.
  3. Wide Dealership Support in the U.S.: If our ride has a mechanical problem while on tour, we want a bike with a wide dealership network across the U.S. and in any other countries we may ride in.
  4. Reasonable Refueling Range: For touring in the U.S., this means a range of 175 miles or more before refueling is required.
  5. Comfortable Ergonomics: We preferred a fairly upright seating position with a slight forward lean and foot pegs that are under the thighs, not the rear set.
  6. Capable of Light Off-Road Duty: Although this bike is intended mostly for paved roads, we wanted to be able to keep going if pavement turns to gravel. This doesn’t mean the bike had to be a dual sport, but it needed enough suspension travel to comfortably handle a little gravel and wouldn’t be too heavy.
  7. Touring Accessories Available in Aftermarket: Motorcycle models with large production runs usually will have more aftermarket touring accessories available.
  8. No Significant Mechanical Issues: Because we will be outfitting a relatively well-maintained used motorcycle for touring duty, we didn’t want any significant known mechanical issues to escalate the all-in cost of the project.
  9. Relatively Low Mileage: All other things being equal, low mileage usually equates to less likelihood of mechanical surprises after purchase.
  10. Not More than 10 Years Old: We also established a somewhat arbitrary line in the sand: We didn’t want a used bike more than 10 years old.

Any list of key features, admittedly, will be highly personal. The above 10 were ours, but yours could be substantially different. The important thing is to establish the key features that you will be looking for in a prospective touring bike before deciding on any particular brand or model.

Step 2: Deciding on Brand, Model, Production Years, & Price Range

Although there was certainly more than one bike that fit our list of key features, we decided on the following:

  • Brand: BMW, because the brand has an excellent reputation for building solid, dependable motorcycles, and their dealership network is strong in the U.S. and worldwide.
  • Model: F 650 GS, which is a relatively light motorcycle perfectly at home on pavement or moderate gravel roads, has a large number of accessories available in the aftermarket (including parts to lower the suspension and seat, if needed), has comfortable ergonomics (30.7-inch seat height), and has a cruising range of more than 200 miles (4.5-gallon tank and 50 to 55 mpg).
  • Production Years: In keeping with our 10-year cutoff, the used bike selected would be a 2002 or newer. However, we wouldn’t go any newer than 2007 because of model changes and higher used prices.
  • Price Range: Based on preliminary research of similar bikes selling on eBay, our target purchase price was in the range of ,000 to ,000.

Step 3: Finding the Right Bike

Because we wanted to personally inspect prospective bikes before purchasing one, our search area was limited to a 150-mile radius from our location. Our primary sources for finding a bike were: eBay Motors at, Cycle Trader at, and Craigslist at

Our search took approximately three months and resulted in several dead ends before we found a bike on eBay that met all our requirements. It’s a 2003 BMW F 650 GS, found 75 miles from home, in excellent condition with approximately 6,400 miles on the clock, and at a purchase price of ,400.

In our next issue, we will discuss in Part II what’s next after you take your prize motorcycle home.