Buying Used Frames
There are some good deals out there for used motorcycle frames if you know what to look for while at the same time being aware of what to watch out for.
Most of the things we'll discuss in this section apply to Big Twin Frames specifically but some things apply to almost any cycle frame in general.
The first thing you have to do when seeking out a used frame of any type is to admit your own limitations with respect to your particular area of expertise. I'm in no way qualified to go out looking to buy a Japanese bike frame since I know absolutely nothing about them. If I wanted one I would have to drag along a friend who had some firsthand experience with such bikes, knew how to spot the various models and had some idea as to their individual characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. You may be in the opposite position of wanting an old H-D frame but only having expertise with British bikes for instance. If this were the case you'd have to find somebody to tag along with who knew the Harley product lines.
I would say that about 75% of all bare frames being sold on the open market are being offered up because they have some deficiency or problem. Sometimes the problems are cosmetic or otherwise minor but other times the frame may have some serious structural or misalignment issues. In some cases the seller will be upfront and point out any problems the frame has but just as often the seller may try to conceal blemishes or other problems from an unsuspecting potential buyer.
Rule number one is to never buy a frame you can't see or touch in person. I wouldn't even buy a new factory frame if I couldn't personally inspect it with my own hands and eyes.
Rule number two is to never buy a frame that has been 'molded-in' since you can't tell what's under the body filler unless you know the seller and the history of that particular frame.
In the same vein it's probably not really a good idea to buy a frame that has been primed or still has paint on it since you can't discern the condition of the tubing surface and you can't spot old repaired areas if they have been done reasonably well sometime in the past.
A red flag should go up immediately if you spot an old beat up frame sporting a brand new rattle-can paint job.
Most good builders show their wares in the 'nude', that is, bare steel exposed without any primer so the buyer can see the condition of the welds and the tube surfaces firsthand.
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