Buying Bikes at a Car Show

Words and Photos: John Gunnell

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BHL62 Photo 02Looking for a good buy on your next bike? Check out the offerings at a car show or swap meet. Gearheads are gearheads and large automotive swap meets are often loaded with motorcycles. So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a bike at a car show?

If the stars are in alignment and the vendor selling the bike doesn’t know a lot about motorcycles, you may wind up with a bargain. Many swap meet vendors travel around the country purchasing a variety of items along the side of the road or at garage sales or local household auctions. There may be a motorcycle mixed in with a batch of items they invest in. If they bought it low, they may sell it for a price that gives them a small profit, but is still under market value.

BHL62 Photo 03On the other hand, someone who knows nothing about an item might ask too much for it. If you’re interested in a merchant’s motorcycle, but think it is priced too high, it might pay to talk to him or her. If you are the one who knows more about motorcycles, you might be able to talk your way into a deal.

At a recent large swap meet in our area, most bikes for sale were metric motorcycles. You tend to see a lot of Hondas, Yamahas, Suzukis and Kawasakis at car shows. However, we have seen vintage Indians and Harleys, too.  Sometimes the bikes are out in plain view, but other times you have to look closely between the cars and car parts.

BHL62 Photo 04In general terms, the larger the car show is, the bigger the possibility that some vendors will travel long distances to be there. They may bring in motorcycles from states where prices tend to be lower. So, if they are setting prices depending on what they pay for something, you might be able to buy a bike for lower prices than you’ll find anywhere in your own state.

Vendors selling cars or bikes often  bring only a part of their inventory with them. When they get to a show, they will put up signs advertising what they have for sale back home. Such signs usually include pictures and descriptions of a vehicle and tabs you can tear off that have the phone number on them. Look for these. If the vendor doesn’t live to far away, you can go to his or her place for a closer look at what you’re interested in.

BHL62 Photo 05By and large, vendors tend to be honest about what they are selling. Dealing eyeball to eyeball often feels a little safer than dealing by telephone or over the Internet. And if you are dealing on a bike that’s on display at the show, at least you get to touch it, feel it and see it up close and personal. A trial ride during or after the show might even be possible.

While vendors at bike swap meets might carry all their goods in the back of a pickup, vendors at car shows tend to rely more on trailers to carry larger items. If the vendor is heading home on a route that goes near where you live, you might even be able to arrange free delivery of a bike that you buy. We actually did this with a 1984 Kawasaki KZ440 we once purchased.

BHL62 Photo 06If you are looking to buy a used bike, don’t avoid going to a motorcycle swap meet. On the other hand, if there are no motorcycle swaps scheduled for a certain weekend, you might want to see what car shows or swap meets are happening. You never know what you’re going to find where gearheads gather.



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This Honda Vindicator was offered for sale at the Jefferson Swap Meet in Jefferson, Wis.




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