Buying a used KTM motorcycle in Mexico was quite easy. Here’s what I learned
I’ve never liked the term digital nomad, yet it best describes my way of life. I’ve taken 44 flights, lived in 10 countries and made countless border crossings since leaving my native Ireland four years ago. You and I may have met before. We could have stayed in a luxurious villa in Crete or tried to doze off next to each other in an airport in China.
This lifestyle creates wonderful experiences, but there are things you miss: celebrating engagements, watching nieces grow, and supporting parents as they grow. And though it may seem superficial to add motorcycles to the previous list, for me they belong there. I surrendered my tourist visa six months ago and have moved to Guadalajara, Mexico for good to see what grows. And I knew the bike would be the foundation of it all.
I have a love affair with motorcycles, I first threw a leg up when I was 12, but in my early 20s I realized that love was more like an infection. I have an incurable virus. Before traveling forced me to take a breather after riding, I did my Yamaha TDM 850 dances through Dublin city traffic like an overweight ballerina and zips around the edges of Ireland on my Suzuki SV 650. Commuting and exploring was my groove. But now, older and with a different outlook on life, I don’t want to find my rhythm, I want to create a new one that lasts longer and deeper.
Basically, I want to learn how to drop my elbow, do crazy wheelies at will, and spit roost lines for as long as my dream garage wishlist. I had planned to learn these skills by taking all the riding lessons I could find in Mexico, but first I had to buy a motorcycle. Although Spanish is not my first language and I am still learning to perfect it, the process turned out to be quite easy. Provided you do your research and use Google Translate, of course.
Irish looking for a Bavarian in Mexico
I didn’t know much about Guadalajara before moving here, but the delicious food, friendly people, and beautiful scenery quickly sold me. Temperatures are also just below the level where my milky Irish skin turns lobster red. Using Reddit and Airbnb, I rented an apartment in a nice, walkable neighborhood. And then there was the matter of learning enough Spanish to navigate Mexican life. This is a problem I’m still working on. But once my confidence grew, so did my need for personal transportation.
As a tourist in Mexico, I couldn’t legally own a vehicle, so I drove a electric scooter to feed myself enough two-wheeled action until I can become a resident and choose the right bike.
To ensure that I acquire the skills that would qualify me for a MotoGP before I turned 40 (not really, but one can dream), I knew I had to get myself a motorcycle that would accelerate my growth as a motorcyclist. I needed a chassis with capabilities far beyond my abilities and a fun engine that left me with nothing to hide behind. I also wanted the bike to be nimble enough to practice tricky low-speed maneuvers. Cough…wheelies…cough.
KTM launched the updated Duke 390 in 2017, and since then it has received rave reviews from some of the biggest. best motorcycle publications. Confidence-inspiring handling, lively but not overpowering 43 horsepower engine and hooliganism-inspiring ergonomics make for a peppy package. And it met my requirements perfectly. Compared to my previous bikes, you could say that I took a step back, but I consider it a step back to move forward.
Dealerships vs Private Seller
It was time to go shopping. Props to dealers, (the first one and last time anyone can say those words) because when I contacted them the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. Private sellers, on the other hand, have been hit and miss.
To private sellers, I sent an opening message which consisted of various questions about service history, receipts, and paperwork. Some sellers have assured me that they have everything but will not send photos of the documents. But the Duke 390 is a popular bike to steal here, so I wasn’t taking any chances. I only moved forward with people who came back to me with solid answers.
Despite what my childish beauty will have you believe, I am not naive. Meeting a private seller, no matter what country you live in, can be dangerous. Although I followed the same general safety precautions as everywhere else, it was made clear to me that the consequences of a mistake could be more serious here than at home. “You could be fine,” my local friend Tato told me, “or you could be kidnapped.”
For a fee, some motorcycle dealerships will allow you to use their property as a safe space to meet with a private seller. These dealerships usually have a mechanic who will examine any bike for around $60, but you must book ahead. It was a good option for me to keep in my back pocket.
A bag full of money and a little hope
I saw a freshly listed 2019 KTM Duke 390 on Facebook Marketplace, and it got me excited. Unlike most 390s on sale, it was dripping with aftermarket parts, including handguards, a K&N air cleaner, exhaust, frame sliders, crash bars and steering damper. I was a little hesitant about the 22,000 miles on the odometer, since this is a small, high-compression, single-cylinder thumper, and that mileage is close to justifying a valve adjustment job. The private seller, a mechanic at a local Bajaj dealership, responded quickly with all the information I needed, so we agreed to meet the next day.
I checked the bike and the papers while my girlfriend, Pau, waited in her car with a literal bag full of cash. The camouflage green backpack had five piles wrapped in rubber bands, each containing 20,000 pesos, for a total of about $5,000. We had done it once before with another bike I had seen, so we had done the sequence pretty well. She would park a few blocks away, I would pick up the vendor alone, then return for her, the cash, and my riding gear if it was safe.
While she waited with the money, I made sure the seller had the Driving license (circulation permit) for the bike, which is green and the size of a credit card. In the United States, this is equivalent to having the vehicle registration. In Ireland we call this a logbook. I checked that the motorcycle’s license plate, frame and engine numbers all matched the corresponding fields on the map.
The seller must also have the endorse (endorsement), which is usually on the back or attached to the original invoice. This shows the ownership history of the motorcycle and the names of everyone who owns it. the endorse also serves as proof that the motorcycle was given to you by the previous owner, and you will need it when you want to register the motorcycle in your name with the Secretaría de Movilidad y Transporte, or SMT. It is the Mexican equivalent of the DMV.
If there are any taxes or fines to be paid on the plates of the motorcycle, you will owe them when you take possession of them. I made sure everything was paid in full.
I took the bike for a test drive and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. The only haggling point I had was a missing valve stem cap on the front tire, which the salesman quickly replaced with another bike from the dealership. Then it was time to pay.
Snap went the rubber bands as I sat across from some new faces, who I assumed either worked at the dealership or were friends with the salesman. They counted all 96,000 pesos (about $4,800). Once they gave the seller the green light, the bike was mine.
Since the seller worked at a Bajaj dealership, I chose to use their in-house services to register the bike. This is something I could have done at SMT. My lackluster Spanish and patience, however, would have made it difficult. Registering the bike with the dealer added about $30 to the process, bringing the total registration fee to about $180. I had to give the dealership my Mexican resident card and proof of address. Two days later I had a little green card with my name on it.
It’s mine, all mine
Before I could participate in the Guadalajara traffic dance, I needed riding gear. Motorcycle gear in Mexico is more expensive than in the US, and some of my options were quite limited.
I managed to get one thing I wanted for a reasonable price, the Rev’It Eclipse Jacket. And even if I would have liked a VAG-K6 helmet, none of my local dealers carried it, so I picked up a K3. I will not apologize for its graphic design.
I received a pair of black riding jeans with CE level 1 knee and hip inserts and Kevlar lining to protect my back. If I was in the United States, I would have bought the Jean Klim K Fifty 2. Help me click around the Duke’s gearbox are Forma Hyper Shoes, which are arguably more stylish than the shoes I usually wear. I will pick them up Dainese Carbon 3 Gloves as soon as I can find them.
And finally, I’m ready to roll.
I hope this story of buying my first motorcycle in Mexico is one of many I can share with you. Now is the time to explore what is offered to gearheads, as well as the level of courses and instructors, south of the border.
The reader and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
Do you have any advice? Email [email protected]