This is in response to those wanting a sticky for general bike buying info (especially when looking for a first bike). Hopefully it'll help people out in thier searches. I'm not going to go over specific bikes here, just general guidelines from experience in the area. In no way am I trying to push anyone towards one bike or another, just a helping hand in what to look for to help them along the way. If the mods want to sticky it, so be it, if they want to delete it, that's fine too. Anyway, here we go:
There seems to be alot of people wanting opinions on bikes around here lately. Honestly, I think people are asking the wrong questions. It shouldn't be "what's the best", it should be "I want a bike that does this, this and this", or "doesn't do this", "what would be a good direction to look in". Most of the modern sporkbikes (since that's what most people here ride and/or are looking for) are so close performance wise that 99% of the street riders could never tell the difference beyond seating position and things of that nature. Everyone has thier likes and dislikes. If people would give more information (what are you wanting to do with your bike is a good example). You can get better info than just asking "what's the best bike i can get for such and such money". "Best" is a relative term.
Alot of riders have a superiority complex when it comes to thier bikes. Everyone's gotta have the biggest, fastest, shiniest, whatever. Then there's the whole brand loyalty thing, and alot of people will only reccomend the brand that they ride, since it's "obviously" the best, even though they have little to no real experience with bikes across the board. There's alot of choices out there, get what makes you happy. No matter what you do, there's gonna be haters.
I hope that didn't come across wrong, not trying to be an ass, just trying to help people get what they're looking for in buying a bike.
Bikes are only as safe as the person on it.
I'm not gonna say that you should go for a 600/750/1000/etc, that's completely up to you. If you're level headed enough to respect the power of a liter bike, have at it. Just keep in mind that it's a bit easier to get yourself into a bad situation with 170hp than it is with 120hp. If only because it takes experience to be smooth enough with your inputs to the bike to use it to it's advantage. The typical street rider, honestly, doesn't have the ability to use a 600 to it's potential, let alone a 1000. That's not a shot at anyone, it's just how it is. I've noticed that the twistier the roads are in a particular area, the smaller the bikes you tend to see in that area. Smaller/less powerful bikes are easier to ride faster thru the twisties because the problems that not being smooth cause are less aparent on a 600 than a 1000. That's just the way it is. I guarantee if you had a chance to ask a moto gp rider what it's like to ride thier bikes, they'd say it was freakin scary, and they do it for a living!!
As for bike recomendations, above and beyond what particular bike to get, concentrate on getting something that isn't beat on. Unfortunatly, used sportbikes that HAVEN'T been dropped are a rarity. Look around for something that is in good shape to begin with, and you'll be much happier, especially with little to no riding experience under someone's belt. A beat up bike may be a better deal, and alot of people say to get something "less pretty" b/c you'll probably drop it, but a beat up bike probably has problems more than skin deep, and i don't mean just the motor. Worn bearings in suspension parts, leaky fork seals, etc can be alot more unsafe than a poorly running motor. Your best bet is to have a knowledgable friend come along and look at/ test ride the bike with you. An experienced opinion goes a long way. I've seen some people buy some really ratty bikes for way too much money because they didn't know any better. A shiny paint job doesn't mean much if things under that plastic aren't right. ( "chrome don't get ya home" )
Everyone has thier opinions, every bike has it's plusses and minuses. Get whatever makes you grin. In the end, it's your bike, and you're the one riding it.
With that being said, here's a few key things to look for when buying a bike:
First and foremost, make sure it's got a legit title. There are alot of scam artists in the world. Check the vin number on the bike (on the steering stem of the frame) against the numbers on the title. If the vin on the bike looks like it's been stamped by hand, turn around and walk away, you don't want that drama.
As far as mechanicals, look for anything obviously damaged, bent, leaking, etc. Look the bike over for broken or missing bolts and hardware. Check all the lights, tires, brakes, etc. Basically like would be done in a state inspection. I know alot of people don't know how to check brake pads, but it's very simple. On most bikes if you look down the middle of the brake caliper from the front or rear of the bike, there's enough room to see the pad and how much life is in it. A flashlight comes in handy here. Threads showing in tires are a no-no. Look down the front of the bike front the riders viewpoint. Straighten the bars. Is the front wheel pointing straight? If it's tweaked to one side or the other, that could be a sign of a decent hit in the front end. A small amount of tweak may just be forks not properly aligned in the triple clamps. More extreme tweak could be alot of things (or a combination of things) like bents forks, axle, triple clamps, handlebars, or even the frame.
Bounce the suspension up and down a few times, does it feel smooth? After bouncing it a few times, run your finger across the forks near the seal, if you get a bunch of oil on your finger, the seals are shot. If thiers surface rust in the general area of the fork seal, you're gonna have continuous fork seal problems in the future unless you replace the tube itself, and they're not cheap. Do the same on the rear shock if you can get your finger in there. Any oil or greasy build up is a good sign of a leak.
Sit on the bike, and roll the bike back and forth while tapping the front brake. Any play in the steering stem bearings usually shows up as a "clunk" in the front end, sometimes you can even feel it in the handlebars. That's usually a sign of poor maintenance, or a wheelie happy owner (but not always). While your on the bike turn the bars back and forth, they should move easily from one side to the other smoothly, without binding on anything. Also, the bars should never come in contact with the gas tank. (Though sometimes it may pinch your hand in between the bar and the tank, some bikes are just like that).
Have someone hold the bike straight up and down, and grab each one of the wheels from the top (or as close as you can get) and try to move the wheel side to side in a way that it's not meant to move (like trying to "rock it" on it's axle, if that makes sense). Any play at all is too much and may require new wheel bearings. Also, while the bike is straight up anyway, check the oil level. (level is always checked with the bike straight up). Is it at the proper level? Does it look relatively clean? A low oil level could be from a leak, or it could be burning oil while it's running (expensive), or it could have just not been changed regularly, or properly. There's alot of variables there. Check all the other fluids while your at it. Radiator fluid should be clean looking and at the proper level, brake and/or clutch fluid should look almost clear, not black or dirty. Check out the brake lines for any pinches or dry rotting. Brakes aren't something you want to be "iffy".
Check the chain and sprockets. Any teeth missing? (aluminum sprockets pop teeth when they get very worn) Any obvious wear on the sprocket? Are the teeth starting to "arc" over? Is the chain loose and/or dry and rusty? Any visible kinks in the chain? Any of that and you'll need a new set. How soon that may be depends on the extent of the wear.
Ok, now that that's out of the way, go ahead and start the bike. Did it start? (dead givaway there people) Did it start easily or take a while to fire? Hard starting could be numerous different things. Anything from dirty carbs to bad plugs, bad gas, weak battery, etc. After the bike warms up let it sit and idle for a while. Does it idle? (especially off the choke) Is the idle smooth or erratic? Does it sound like it's running on all cyclinders? Any smoke from the exhaust? Dark smoke is usually burning oil or a very rich carb setting, white smoke is usually burning water (coolant) and is a good sign of a blown head gasket. If the bike smokes alot for a minute or two then clears up, it may be in need of valve guide seals. If the bike hasn't been started in a while and you see a puff of smoke from the exhaust when you FIRST fire it up, i normally wouldn't be too concerned about that.
While it's sitting there running for a while, check for leaks again. Pressure builds up in the motor and cooling system as the bike runs and will reveal leaks you may not have seen before. Let the bike run for a good while and keep a check on the temp guage (or idiot light). Most cooling fans don't come on till around 220 degrees. Let the bike get up in that range and make sure the fan kicks itself on. There are alot of bike running around with the fan on a toggle switch to keep cool better when in traffic for long periods. If so, flip the switch and make sure the fan comes on.
Almost time to ride, but FIRST..... check the tire pressures.
As for the test ride, there's alot of things to keep an eye out for. Do the wheels feel wobbly? Could be bent if so. Do the brakes work smoothly or do they pulse or shake when you use them? Warped or bent rotors can cause both. A small bend or warp will be more noticable at a higher speed. The steering should be fairly nuetral feeling, and respond to what you do without alot of fuss. Shift thru all the gears, it should go into every gear relatively easy. The clutch should work smooth and not be jerky when taking off from a stop or when shifting. (alot of that will be about the rider's ability though). The bike shouldn't pop out of any gear when you give it gas. That's usually a sign of transmission problems (bent shift forks, bad shift drums, etc). Run the bike down the road at a normal pace, but shift a gear or two high, and give it a handfull of gas. A slipping clutch will become more apparent like that. If the bike revs high for a secong, then comes back down, but doesn't accelerate much, it may soon be time for a new clutch.
Generally just put a few miles on the bike and see if you notice anything you feel as abnormal. (You did take the msf right? you should have SOME idea what "normal" is
If everything checks out, ride back to the seller and start haggling. Anything that has come up in the inspection and test ride can be used to try and get the seller down on his price. Keep in mind, anything can be fixed, for a price. It's up to you to decide if any other money that would have to be put into the bike is worth it or not.
I'm sure I missed a few things in writing this, feel free to add to the list. It's taken me a while to write this, and I'm tired, so anything else anyone wants to add is ok by me.