Buying a Used KTM Motorcycle in Mexico Was Pretty Easy. Here’s What I Learned

Curious about buying a motorcycle if you're living in Mexico? This is how I acquired my used KTM Duke 390 while living in Guadalajara.
KTM Duke 390
Robert Bacon

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I’ve never liked the term digital nomad, and yet it best describes how I live. I’ve taken 44 flights, lived in 10 countries, and completed countless border runs since I left my homeland of Ireland four years ago. You and I may have already met. We could have been staying at a luxurious villa in Crete or trying to doze off next to each other at an airport in China. 

This lifestyle creates wonderful experiences, but there are things you miss: celebrating engagements, watching nieces grow up, and accompanying parents as they grow older. And while it may sound shallow to add motorcycles to the preceding list, for me, they belong there. I handed in my tourist visa six months ago and permanently planted myself in Guadalajara, Mexico, to see what grows. And I knew motorcycling would be at the root of it all.

I have a lifelong love affair with motorcycles, first throwing a leg over at the age of 12, but in my early 20s, I realized this love was more akin to an infection. I have an incurable virus. Before traveling forced me to take a breather from riding, I made my Yamaha TDM 850 dance through the Dublin city traffic like an overweight ballerina and skirted 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 groove again—I want to create a new one that runs longer and deeper.

Gerardo Rocha

Basically, I want to learn how to get my elbow down, pop sick wheelies at will, and spit lines of roost as long as my dream garage wish list. I planned to learn these skills by taking all the riding courses I could find around Mexico, but first, I had to buy a motorcycle. Though Spanish isn’t my first language, and I’m still learning to perfect it, the process actually turned out to be pretty easy. Provided you do your research and use Google Translate, of course.

Irishman Seeking Bavarian in Mexico

I didn’t know much about Guadalajara before I settled here, but delicious food, friendly people, and beautiful landscapes 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 pleasant, walkable neighborhood. And then there was the issue of learning enough Spanish to navigate Mexican life. It’s 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 rode an electric scooter to drip-feed me enough two-wheeled action until I could become a resident and choose the right motorcycle.

To ensure I’d learn the skills that would qualify me for a MotoGP team before turning 40 (not really, but a person can dream), I knew I had to get a bike that would accelerate my growth as a motorcyclist. I needed a chassis with capabilities that far exceeded my abilities and an engine that was fun but 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’s received rave reviews from some of the world’s top motorcycle publications. The confidence-inspiring handling, lively but not too-powerful 43-horsepower engine, and ergonomics that inspire hooliganism make it a peppy package. And it perfectly fulfilled my requirements. Compared to my prior bikes, you could say I took a step backward, but I look at it as taking a step backward to move forward.

Dealerships vs. a Private Seller

It was time to go shopping. Props to the dealerships, (the first and last time anyone may say those words) because when I contacted them, the employees couldn’t have been more helpful. Private sellers, on the other hand, were hit and miss.

To the private sellers, I sent an opening message which consisted of various questions about service history, receipts, and paperwork. Some sellers assured me they had everything but wouldn’t send pictures of any paperwork. 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 got back to me with solid responses.

Despite what my boyish good looks will have you believe, I’m not naive. Meeting a private seller, regardless of what country you live in, can be dangerous. Although I followed the same general safety precautions that I would anywhere else, it was made clear to me that the consequences of a slip-up might be more severe here than back home. “Everything could be fine,” my friend Tato, a local, told me, “or you could be kidnapped.” 

For a fee, some motorcycle dealerships will let you use their property as a safe space to meet a private seller. These dealerships usually have a mechanic that’ll look over any bike for around $60, but you need to book in advance. It was a good option for me to keep in my back pocket.

A Bag Full of Cash and Some Hope

I saw a freshly listed 2019 KTM Duke 390 on Facebook Marketplace, and it got my excitement flowing. Unlike most of the 390s on sale, it was dripping with aftermarket parts, including hand guards, a K&N air filter, an exhaust, frame sliders, crash bars, and a steering damper. I was a bit hesitant about the 22,000 miles on the odometer, as it’s a high-compression little single-cylinder thumper, and that mileage is close to warranting valve adjustment work. The private seller, a mechanic at a local Bajaj dealership, responded quickly with all the info I needed, so we agreed to meet there the following day.

I checked the bike and paperwork while my girlfriend, Pau, waited in her car with a literal bag full of cash. The camo green rucksack had five stacks wrapped by rubber bands, each containing 20,000 pesos, which roughly totaled $5,000. We’d done this once before with another motorcycle I viewed, so we had the sequence worked out pretty well. She’d park a couple of blocks away, I’d go alone and suss out the seller, then head back and get her, the money, and my riding gear if it was safe.

As she waited with the cash, I made sure the seller had the permiso de circulación (circulation permit) for the bike, which is green and the size of a credit card. In the United States, this is the equivalent of having the vehicle’s registration. In Ireland, we call it a logbook. I checked that the bike’s license plate, chassis, and engine numbers all matched the corresponding fields on the card. 

The seller also needs to have the endorso (endorsement), which is usually on the back of or attached to the original invoice. This shows the motorcycle’s ownership history and the names of everyone who’s owned it. The endorso also serves as proof that the motorcycle has been signed over to you by the previous owner, and you will need it when you want to register the bike in your name at the Secretaría de Movilidad y Transporte, or SMT. This is the Mexican equivalent of the DMV.

If there are any outstanding taxes or fines to pay on the motorcycle’s plates, you’ll owe them when you take ownership. I made sure everything was paid in full.

I took the bike for a test ride and couldn’t fault it. The only haggling point I had was a missing valve stem cap on the front tire, which the seller quickly replaced from another motorcycle in the dealership. Then, it was time to pay up. 

Snap went the elastic bands as I sat across from new faces, who I assumed worked at the dealership or were friends with the seller. They counted all 96,000 pesos (approximately $4,800). Once they gave the nod to the seller, the bike was mine.

Since the seller worked at a Bajaj dealership, I opted to use their in-house services to register the motorcycle. This is something I could’ve done at the SMT. My lackluster Spanish and patience, however, would’ve made this difficult. Registering the bike through the dealership added about $30 to the process, bringing the total registration fees to about $180. I needed to give the dealership my Mexican residency 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 join Guadalajara’s traffic dance, I needed some riding gear. Motorcycle gear in Mexico is more expensive than in the U.S., and some of my options were quite limited. 

I did manage to get one thing I wanted for a reasonable price, the Rev’It Eclipse Jacket. And although I would’ve liked an AGV K6 helmet, none of my local dealers carried it, so I picked up a K3. I won’t be apologizing for its graphic design. 

I got a pair of black riding jeans with CE Level 1 knee and hip inserts and a Kevlar lining to protect my backside. If I was stateside, I’d have bought the Klim K Fifty 2 Jeans. Helping me click around the Duke’s gearbox are Forma Hyper Shoes, which are arguably more stylish than the shoes I usually wear. I’ll be picking up these Dainese Carbon 3 Gloves as soon as I can find them.

And finally, I’m ready to ride.

I’m hoping this tale about the purchase of my first motorcycle in Mexico is one of many I can share with you. Now it’s time to explore what’s offered for gearheads—as well as the standard of the courses and instructors—south of the border.

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