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Mailbag: High Mileage Motorcycles | WhyBike? Motorcycle Blog

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Mailbag: High Mileage Motorcycles

By James - 9/5/2007

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Scott wrote:

Hi, I recently just got my motorcycle license, and I’m considering purchasing a 1998 Sportster 883 XLH…for what seems to be a great deal at $3,000. screaming eagle exhaust, chrome everywhere…(I’m in Rhode Island) However, it has 26,000 miles on it. What do you think? Is it worth $3k? Right now he is asking $3,500, but I wouldn’t pay that. Is it risky buying a bike with this many miles on it ? Any help is appreciated. thanks, newbie

This is an interesting question and one I have seen on a few forums recently. The proposition of buying a “high” mileage motorcycle is a mixed bag. On one hand, you are avoiding all the deprecation and costs associated with a brand new bike. On the other, a motor only runs for so long and an old bike can nickel and dime you to financial death. So is it worth saving a buck and buying a “high” mileage bike?

I would say it depends. In your situation, with limited experience a used entry level bike is perfect for you. You don’t know what will happen in the next year and you don’t want to hand over a wad of cash for a starter bike. You want a bike that is reliable, since as a novice you don’t want to have problems while you are riding it, and you probably don’t have the mechanical skills to fix a bike that breaks down. Your used bike will not have the cutting edge technology, the modern aesthetics, or the cool paint schemes that the new bikes have but as you ride you will figure out whether that is important to you. Once you have a couple years under your belt you will have a better idea of what kind of bike you want.

I love older bikes. If the engine still runs strong and smooth after 50K miles you can be sure it will run strong for another 50K with the right care. You also have to look at the person selling it. If they are doing wheelies and stoppies, the bike probably has a shorter life expectancy than if a retired auto shop teacher uses it on the weekend. If a deal is too good to be true, it usually is, so take someone down to look at the bike with you or take it to a mechanic. I hope you get a good deal and that you get a really good bike.

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    High mileage at 26,000 miles??? I gotta think NOT!

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    Ronn — 9/6/2007 @ 4:46 am


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    Agreed. 26K is nothing, and this is a pretty good price for a Sportster in good condition. Most sellers continue to ask close to retail bacause of the Harley name.

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    Mike — 9/10/2007 @ 11:16 am


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    26,000 miles on a Harley is barely breaking it in. They will run for 100K plus if you take care of them. Buy it, great deal.

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    07RoadKing60 — 9/27/2007 @ 1:22 pm


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    Being into the body and paint part of custom’s, I’m no motor expert. However, I did read somewhere that the newer Evo Harley motors used in the 883, and 1200, are the two most efficient harley “stock” motors. If I remember correctly, it has something to do with having 4 cams. I don’t know if efficiency has anything to do with relability, but I would assume they are jsut as reliable as they are efficient. I don’t believe 26k for miles is much on an 883, as long as the previous owner didn’t pound on it. Good luck.

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    Mr. Motorcycle — 3/24/2008 @ 10:06 am


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    he he he - based on the assessment of high mileage i may go trade in my 2005 harley today to avoid having my life come crashing down… keep in mind that someone that puts high mileage on a bike may be someone that also takes the time and energy to keep it running in top condition. i have a friend whose 2003 bike has only 2,500 miles on it (and only ever had the original hd break-in service performed). if i was used i’d happily take a bike that’s been broken in if the price is right - be sure to ask for service records.

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    Schu — 3/26/2008 @ 4:59 am


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    Harley’s last two motor designs are the Evo (Evolution) and the more recent and generally all around great Twin Cam (which is the one with all the cams, not the Evo). The Evo design was the first Harley engine to benefit from modern engineering and manufacturing techniques, and greatly improved Harley reliability. Plus it’s been around for a few years, so there are tons of books, mods and third party upgrades for it.

    Your 883 Evo is the smallest displacement Harley V-Twin currently made – it can be upgraded to a higher displacement 1200 with application of some wrenching and cash.

    Harley V-Twins have lots of torque at the low-medium RPM range – where most of us ride. The bike feels more powerful and more rideable than sportbikes in that range. Sport bike engines brag high hp, but its at high RPM. If you spend most of your time over 120 mph, a high rev, high hp engine is what you want.

    Personally, I love v-twins – tons of torque, tested design and you can always get parts, responsive, and they actually SOUND like a motorcycle. YMMV, there are lots of choices out there.

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    ScooterJ — 3/28/2008 @ 12:14 pm


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    An EVO big twin does have only one cam as opposed to the twin cam obviously having 2 cams. However, a Sportster engine is an EVO design BUT it has 4 cams as Sportsters always have had 4 cans. I have almost 24,000 miles on my 2003 883 and I still consider that to be low miles.

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    ironcast — 12/28/2008 @ 2:15 am


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    2005 1200 cc sportster
    have 51,093 miles on mine,changed filter oil 3,000
    miles. new battery ,tires.think i have a good one

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    Gary Whitehead — 1/19/2010 @ 1:51 am

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