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What To Look For When Buying A Used Bike

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Ready to score a great deal on a used bike?

Get ready to tackle the used bike market with savvy and grit.

Don’t let hidden faults, tired parts, or sketchy histories trip you up.

From hidden structural flaws and worn-out components to fabricated riding histories and potential stolen bikes, buyers must navigate the used bike market with utmost caution.

In this article, I’ll be dishing out key insights to help you master a used bike purchase, so you can enjoy your new-to-you machine (with no nasty surprises.

What Are The Benefits Of Buying Second-Hand Bikes

Affordability: Maximizing Value without Compromising Quality

One of the main advantages of buying a second hand bike is the significant cost savings you’ll enjoy.

Unlike brand-new models, pre-owned bicycles are often relatively affordable, allowing budget-conscious individuals to access high-quality rides without breaking the bank.

Cyclists who are willing to invest in a bike that’s a few years old can bag an exceptional machine for less money.

Sustainability: Reducing Environmental Impact through Reuse

In our environmentally conscious era, the sustainability aspect of buying a used bike cannot be overstated.

By purchasing pre-owned bicycles, you are essentially giving them a second lease on life and reducing the need for new production.

This practice minimizes the associated environmental impact, including raw material extraction, manufacturing processes, and transportation emissions.

Variety: Tailoring Your Ride to Fit Your Needs

Whether you’re a casual commuter, a mountain biking enthusiast, or a road cycling specialist, you’re likely to find a used bike that aligns perfectly with your preferences and riding goals.

By exploring the pre-owned market, you have the opportunity to discover hidden gems and uncover bikes that may not be available in current new model ranges.

An example of the above is a bike with rim brakes.

A rim brake bike is becoming rare among new models, but there are still plenty of cyclists that prefer rim brakes over disc brakes.

Naturally, you still have a ton of options if you’re looking for a used disc brake bike.

Financial Flexibility: Buy Now & Pay Later – Future Upgrade Options

A great thing about buying an old bike rather than a new one is that you won’t often be paying through the nose for features you don’t necessarily want.

You can buy a second hand bike at a low price and take your time in upgrading it with some new bike parts.

By avoiding the initial depreciation that occurs as soon as a new bike leaves the shop floor, owners of used bikes often experience less financial loss if they decide to later resell their bike.

This inherent value retention can be particularly appealing for those who enjoy experimenting with different bike models or anticipate future changes in their cycling needs.

Maybe it’ll be a second hand mountain bike or gravel bike you buy with a view to trying out local trails.

Access to High-End Bikes: Top Performance at Reduced Costs

The used bike market presents an opportunity to access high-end bikes that may otherwise be financially out of reach.

Cyclists seeking top-tier performance and cutting-edge technology can often find used bikes from premium brands at significantly reduced prices.

This allows enthusiasts to experience the thrill of riding top-of-the-line bicycles without the exorbitant cost typically associated with a brand new bike with all the trimmings.

Video: Should You Buy a Used Bike?

Where To Buy Used Bikes

There are numerous places you might look, either physically or virtually, to find a second hand bike. The most popular options are as follows:

Online Marketplaces

Online marketplaces have revolutionized the way we buy and sell used items, and used bikes are no exception.

Platforms like Craigslist, eBay, OfferUp, Gumtree, and Facebook Marketplace provide a vast selection of pre-owned bicycles from sellers across your country.

The benefit of online marketplaces is the sheer variety and the ability to search for specific makes, models, and price ranges.

However, it’s essential to exercise caution and thoroughly vet sellers, verifying the condition of the bike, negotiating the price, and arranging a safe transaction.

Stolen bikes are often sold online, and there are various scams you might encounter to relieve you of money.

If you suspect a stolen bike is being offered, don’t buy it.

Otherwise, you could well end up without either the bike or your money.

Additionally, be prepared to factor in shipping costs or plan for local pickup if you choose to buy from a distant seller.

On some used used-bike websites like buycycle, the owners of the platform arrange shipping and provide shipping materials for the vendor.

Local Bike Shops: Expertise and Assurance

For a more personalized and reliable experience, consider visiting local bike shops that offer used bike sales.

Many bike shops do not only deal in new bikes.

They also trade in used bikes, either through trade-ins or consignment.

The advantage of buying from a local bike shop is the expertise and assistance provided by knowledgeable staff.

They can help you find the perfect bike for your needs, ensure proper sizing and fit, and offer guidance on maintenance and repairs.

Buying from a shop also often includes a warranty or guarantee of some type, giving you peace of mind knowing that the bike has been inspected and serviced by professionals.

With a private seller, you have to establish trust that should already exist in a shop.

Furthermore, supporting local businesses fosters a stronger cycling community and allows you to contribute to the local economy.

Garage Sales and Flea Markets: Hidden Treasures

Don’t underestimate the potential of stumbling upon a hidden gem at garage sales or flea markets.

This is where a dirt cheap bike could be a cracker, even if it needs a tune up.

Sometimes, the frame alone might be worth the price asked for the whole bike.

These events often have sellers offering used bikes at low prices.

While the selection is typically random and unpredictable, you may find unique vintage bikes or unexpected deals.

It’s important to carefully inspect the bikes and inquire about their history, maintenance, and any potential issues.

Look at all the details.

Bargaining is also common at such events, allowing you to negotiate a better price.

Keep an eye on local listings or community bulletin boards for upcoming garage sales and flea markets in your area.

An obvious benefit of buying a bike locally is that you can inspect it and get a better feel for the seller’s honesty and character.

Plus, you avoid paying to get the bike shipped, which is a significant factor if you’re after a low-cost machine.

Video: Flea Market Bike Find

Cycling Clubs and Organizations: Community Connections

Cycling clubs and organizations often have their own networks for buying and selling used bikes.

These communities are passionate about cycling and are eager to connect fellow riders with suitable bikes.

Some clubs may have classified sections on their websites or dedicated social media groups where members can post listings of all the bikes on sale.

Engaging with these communities can provide valuable insights, recommendations, and potential leads on well-maintained bikes.

Attending cycling events or swap meets organized by these clubs can also offer opportunities to interact with sellers directly, inspect bikes in person, and negotiate prices.

A bike purchase from your local club should instil more confidence than buying from a stranger, too.

Bicycle Co-ops: Affordable And Supportive

Bicycle cooperatives, or co-ops, are community-based organizations that promote cycling and offer affordable options for buying used bikes.

Co-ops often have workshops where volunteers provide assistance with bike repairs and maintenance.

Some co-ops also have bike thrift stores, where you can find a range of affordable used bicycles.

These organizations are not only a great resource for finding budget-friendly bikes but also foster a sense of community and shared knowledge.

By purchasing from a co-op, you support their mission of promoting cycling accessibility and sustainability.

Online Cycling Forums and Classifieds: Niche Networks

Cycling forums and online classifieds cater specifically to the cycling community.

Websites like Bike Forums and the Pinkbike Buy & Sell List are potential hunting grounds for used bikes.

Cycling equipment may also be sold through Facebook groups.

These platforms provide a niche network of cycling enthusiasts who are knowledgeable about bikes and can offer valuable insights and advice.

Engaging with these online communities not only expands your options for finding used bikes but also allows you to tap into a wealth of expertise.

When using online forums and classifieds, exercise caution and thoroughly vet sellers, asking detailed questions about the bike’s condition, history, and any potential issues.

Be prepared to negotiate prices and arrange a secure transaction method.

When Are The Best Times To Look For A Used Bike?

Timing the purchase of a new bike can reap dividends, but does the same apply to used bikes?

For sure it does.

Here’s when you can catch the best buys:

Read more: The best times to buy a bike

During The Fall

The single best time to buy a used bike is exactly the time when the latest new models appear on the market, which is during the fall, or autumn if you’re British.

This is the end of the cycling season, when many riders may choose to sell their bikes in anticipation of upgrading or shift their focus to other activities.

Keep an eye out for clearance sales at your local bike shop, as it may offer discounted prices on its remaining used inventory to create space.

The Lead Up To Christmas

As people look to fund Christmas and the holiday season, it’s only natural they look for items to sell.

There’s always a fair chance of finding a second hand bike bargain during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

During these times, it’s a buyer’s marketplace, so you may be more successful in negotiating a low price than when bikes are scarce (as they were during the height of the Covid pandemic, for instance).

All The Time (With Persistence)

One thing you don’t want to do if you have a particular model of bike in mind is restrict your search to specific times of the year.

Persistence should eventually pay off.

Do a regular search of online platforms, local classifieds, and nearby bike shops, and you’ll increase your chances of finding the right bike at a favorable price.

Consistent and diligent searching throughout the year can also yield excellent results.

Of course, your chances of success are greater if you keep an open mind as to what bike you want, or at least be prepared to compromise on some of the details.

Searching for a specific size, color, and year of bike makes the task much harder.

Inspection Tips And What To Look For When Buying A Used Bike

There are many things to think about when buying a used bike, and it’s useful to think about them before you make any purchase or offer.

What Questions Should I Ask When Buying A Second-hand bike?

When purchasing a used bike, it’s crucial to gather as much information as possible to make an informed decision.

Asking the right questions can provide valuable insights into the bike’s history, condition, and any potential issues you need to be aware of.

Here are some key questions to ask:

  1. How long have you owned the bike? Knowing the duration of ownership provides insight into how well a second hand bike has been maintained and used.

  2. Can you provide the bike’s complete maintenance and repair history? Knowing the maintenance and repair history helps you evaluate the bike’s condition, identifying any recurring issues or specific parts that have been serviced or replaced.

  3. Has the bike ever been involved in an accident or suffered significant damage? Inquiring about accidents or damage helps assess the bike’s structural integrity and potential hidden issues that may affect its performance and safety.

  4. Are there any mechanical or functional issues with the bike? This question aims to uncover any current problems or non-optimal functioning of components, allowing you to assess the level of necessary repairs or replacements.

  5. Have any parts of the bike been replaced or upgraded? Knowing if any parts have been replaced or upgraded provides insights into the bike’s customization, performance enhancements, or potential compatibility concerns.

  6. How frequently was the bike ridden and for what purposes? Understanding the bike’s usage patterns helps gauge the level of wear and tear it may have experienced, especially if it was regularly used for intense or demanding activities.

  7. Can you provide the original purchase receipt or documentation? Having access to the original purchase receipt or documentation verifies the bike’s authenticity, helps validate ownership, and may be useful for warranty claims or potential resale.

  8. Are there any specific quirks or unique features about the bike? This question aims to uncover any distinctive characteristics, modifications, or customizations made to the bike, providing additional insights into its history and individuality.

  9. Why are you selling the bike? Understanding the seller’s reason for parting with the bike can offer insights into their motivations, potential issues with the bike, or their need for an upgrade.

Asking these questions allows you to gather crucial information about the secondhand bike’s history, condition, and potential concerns.

It is essential to combine these inquiries with a thorough visual inspection and, if possible, a test ride to ensure the bike meets your expectations and requirements.

Negotiating The Price

You can’t negotiate a price unless you have some idea of the bike’s second hand value.

An online resource like the bicycle blue book can give you an idea of the base price.

Of course, you also have to take into account any upgrades that may have been added.

In particular, upgraded wheels or higher quality drivetrain components would bump up the worth of a used bike.

The value of the upgrade obviously depends on how old those added components are.

Like the bike, they depreciate over time.

If you’re unsure of a bike’s worth and don’t know the value of components you’re looking at, go away and ask some people in the know.

Your local bicycle shop may offer an opinion if you’re a regular customer, or an online cycling group.

In any case, the willingness of sellers to negotiate varies.

Some are already offering their bike at the lowest price they are willing to accept.

How To Spot Stolen Bikes

There are various ways to detect a stolen bicycle when you’re in the secondhand market.

Here’s a brief list of the main methods:

  • Seller history: check the online reputation of a seller and pay close attention to negative reviews, even when they’re in the minority. A dishonest seller can easily build a mostly good reputation with minor sales.

  • Bike’s serial number: most bike frames have a serial number stamped or stuck on them. Ask the vendor for a photo of this serial number. Unfortunately, this is not foolproof as a fake or altered number can be provided, but a delay or reluctance to do this is a red flag.

  • Low price: if the price is suspiciously low, trust your instincts and walk away from it or investigate it further. Look on the Bike Index website or similar to see if an identical bike has been stolen. If you buy a stolen bicycle, you may lose the bike and your money.

  • Documentation: like I said elsewhere, ask for receipts or any original documentation if the seller if claiming to have owned the bike from new. Honest sellers shouldn’t mind providing this.

  • Seller Behavior: be wary of any bike vendor that is either reluctant to answer questions or tries to push you into a quick sale. For obvious reasons, bike thieves don’t like a stolen bike to be hanging around online for long.

Buying A Used Bike Checklist

Buying a secondhand bicycle requires a thorough inspection to ensure you’re getting a bike that is safe, reliable, and meets your needs.

Use this checklist to guide you through the process before making a purchase:

1. Frame and Fork

  • Check for cracks, dents, or signs of damage on the frame and fork.
  • Look for any visible rust or corrosion, particularly in areas prone to moisture exposure.
  • Ensure the frame and fork are aligned and not bent or misaligned.
Video: How To Check For Cracks On A Second Hand Carbon Bike

2. Components and Drivetrain

  • Examine the condition of the chain, cassette, and chainrings. Look for wear, rust, or damage.
  • Test the shifting and ensure smooth transitions between gears.
  • Check the condition of the brake pads or rotor discs, inspecting for wear and alignment.
  • Verify that the brakes engage and release smoothly without any excessive resistance or squeaking.

3. Wheels and Tires

  • Spin the wheels and check for any wobbling or unevenness, indicating potential issues with the rims or hubs.
  • Inspect the tires for tread wear, sidewall damage, or punctures.
  • Ensure the wheels are securely fastened and that there are no loose or broken spokes.

4. Suspension (If Applicable)

  • Inspect the suspension fork or rear shock on mountain bikes for signs of damage or leakage.
  • Test the suspension’s compression and rebound, ensuring it operates smoothly without any unusual noises.

5. Handlebars, Stem, and Headset

  • Verify that the handlebars are straight and properly aligned.
  • Check the stem for any signs of cracks, damage, or slippage.
  • Test the headset by turning the handlebars from side to side, checking for smooth movement and no play or looseness.

6. Pedals and Cranks

  • Examine the pedals for wear, damage, or play.
  • Check the crankset for any signs of bending, cracks, or looseness.

7. Seat and Seatpost

  • Inspect the seat and seatpost for any damage, cracks, or excessive wear.
  • Adjust the seat height and ensure it securely fastens without slipping during use (use the test ride to do this).

8. Cables and Housing:

  • Check the condition of brake and gear cables, looking for fraying, rust, or kinks.
  • Inspect cable housing for any signs of cracks or damage.

9. Accessories and Extras

  • Ensure any additional included bike gear, such as lights, cargo racks, or fenders, are securely attached and in good working condition.

10. Test Ride

  • Take the bike for a quick test ride to evaluate its overall performance, including handling, shifting, braking, and comfort.
  • Pay attention to any unusual noises, vibrations, or discomfort during the ride. Loud creaking noises might come from wheel hubs or the bottom bracket, which are notable repairs. Any such noise requires explanation if possible.

Of all these things, by far the most important is the condition of the frame.

You can’t go anywhere on a bike with cracks in it.

Structural damage can be harder to spot in a carbon frame, so that’s where the bike’s crash history and a trustworthy seller are useful.

Aluminum bikes have a finite lifespan because aluminum doesn’t have a fatigue limit.

You’d ideally want a used aluminum bike to have only seen moderate use or not be ancient.

Steel, titanium or carbon frames have indefinite lifespans if they’re not misused or crashed.

After You Buy: What Costs Should I Expect After Purchasing A Used Bike?

If you’re lucky, you may not need to pay for anything immediately after buying a secondhand bike.

However, some new items are always fairly likely to be needed.

New Saddle

A vital contact point with the bike is always the saddle or bike seat, and saddles are never universally comfortable.

That’s because we’re all anatomically different and have different physiological biases and weaknesses.

Be ready to buy a new saddle!

New Tires

If you’re lucky, your used bike will still have mileage left in its tires.

However, any bike that’s been siting around doing nothing for a couple of years or more is likely to have degraded tires.

They may even have cracks in them.

It’s time to replace those tires!

New tires needn’t be expensive and they can offer a good boost in comfort, speed, or puncture protection (not usually all three in my experience).

New Cables

It’s often said that changing a bike’s cables and cable housings makes it perform like new again.

This is the case on any bike with mechanical gears and brakes.

A mechanic will also index your gears while doing this, so it’s a double win that isn’t usually too expensive.

New Handlebar Tape

If you’re having the cables replaced on your bike, which may not be necessary, it’s the ideal time to also replace the handlebar tape if your bike has a drop handlebar.

New bar tape can improve the comfort of the bike, either with padding or through being double-wrapped (or both).

New Chain & Cassette

If the previous owner hasn’t paid much heed to chain wear, you’re quite likely to need a new chain.

And if that’s true, you’ll probably also need to replace the rear cassette or freewheel if the bike has one.

Read more: How much are bicycle chains?

A worn chain wears down the cassette at an accelerated rate, and if you only replace the chain it won’t work well with the worn cassette.

Front chainrings wear down more slowly and don’t usually cause the same degree of problems.

Rust on chains or cassettes is usually only superficial on a reasonably maintained bike.

Full Service

If you’ve bought a premium secondhand bike and want it to run as smoothly and comfortably as possible, it makes sense to take it to your LBS (local bicycle shop) for a full service.

The mechanic there will recommend replacement parts.

This is a luxury as long as you buy a reasonably functional bike, but it’s an option.

You can also gradually improve it yourself at a pace agreeable to your budget.

Frequently Asked Questions When Buying Second-Hand Bicycles

What Type Of Bike Should I Choose Based On My Needs?

Consider factors such as your riding style, terrain, distance, and intended use to determine whether a road bike, MTB, hybrid bike, or other specialized bike suits you best.

For speed and distance, pick a road bike, or choose an off-road bike depending on the nature of local trails.

What Are The Legal And Safety Considerations When Buying A Used Bike?

When buying a used bike, it is wise to ensure the bike has not been reported stolen and that the transaction is carried out securely.

Safety considerations include checking the bike is structurally sound and that crucial parts like brakes are working.

Should I Buy A Used Bike Or A New One?

Buy a new bike if you can’t resist the latest technology, or if you want a bike with a warranty (not usually transferable).

Get a secondhand bike if you’re on a budget and want something decent for less money.

Maybe you like old bikes or vintage steel bikes?

Can I Modify A Second-Hand Bike To Suit My Preferences?

There are many ways you can modify a secondhand bike to suit your preferences, though some major conversions are extremely expensive (e.g., rim brakes to disc brakes).

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Glenn Harper
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When Glenn isn't writing for BikePush, he can often be found cycling on his local rural roads. If he can help you benefit from bicycling in some small way, He’ll consider it a win.

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