How to Purchase a Second Hand/Used Bike

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A used bike is the ideal choice when you don’t have a budget big enough to buy a new one. But a second hand bike is also useful when you want to start cycling, in which case it’s not worth spending so much money. There is always a risk of scratching or hitting your bike before you get some experience.

Though offers on used bikes seem to be attractive, purchasing one might be risky. In this article we’ll show you, in detail, what you should keep in mind when you decide to buy a used bicycle.

Since in most cases you cannot check the bike history, and its owner will not reveal the unpleasant events the bike had gone through, all you can do is to make use of cues that offered by  marks on the frame or on bicycle components. To make it easier for you, we decided to approach “checking” according to the material the frame is made of, and the intended use of the bicycle.

IMPORTANT: Buying a used bike is a good deal only in case you do not have to invest further amounts of money in replacing various components. But if you manage to buy it at a very low cost, then further investment could be worth. However, it is not advisable to buy a bicycle that requires many subsequent “upgrades” because in this case your “business” can become more expensive than you’d think. Ask the seller how old the bike is, so you get an idea of the durability of the frame or components.

Used mountain bikes with aluminum frame, alloy steel (CrMo)

Second hand bikes with such frames are among the most common, so you can find them on bargain, on ebay or on different sites ads. It is important to see the bike before you buy it, do not buy it blindfolded, just viewing some photos of it. Start by checking the frame, and go on with the components.

When checking the frame of a bicycle, you must keep in mind the following details: how many scratches there are and how deep they are (especially aluminum frames), the aspect of joints and welds (this is very important, as we saw many chrome or steel frames showing cracks in the welds). Areas most prone to cracks can be found in the front of the frame at the headtube joint which holds the steerer tube and in the swingarm. Remove the dust and look carefully at these joints.

Another key point where you can detect signs of intense or extreme exploitation is the chainstay. Turn the bicycle wheel up and thoroughly check the chainstay. Bruises on the “belly” of a bicycle are clear signs of highly intense exploitation (such as unsuccessful curb climbing etc). If the area is clean and has no bruises, it means that frame resistance was not affected, so it’s okay.

Do not forget to check dropouts (they hold the rear wheel in place). Here too, you have to check for cracks or blows. Next on the list is fork: being a vital component for your safety on the bike, it also requires scrutiny, especially if it is an older bike.

Checking a used bicycle components

If the frame is okay, the next step is checking the bicycle components. Many of these components can hide various flaws but we approach components that require special attention.

Let’s start with bicycle wheels: first check for plays, by moving the wheel left and right. If there is a certain play, most likely it is the hubs. Ideally, the wheel is not off center.

Meanwhile check out the wheels rims and see if maybe they received some hard blows. Most rims are made of aluminum, so powerful blows can not be hidden.

It would be ideal for the bike to be double wall rims, but it is not a prerequisite. Make sure you do this checking on both wheels.

Go on by checking your bicycle’s brake system. Most likely, it will be functional in most cases. However, you can check the play in levers, by moving them and the v-brakes up and down.  The smaller the play, the better the bike is. Check housing of the brake cables, as some of them may be cracked and require replacement. Replacing them will improve braking performance.

Checking the levers play holds good for disc brakes as well.  Also, check that rotors are okay and ask the guy who sells your bike when he last aerated the brakes and replaced the brake pads. Depending on how old they are, you can negotiate the price, as brakes are more than important components of your bike.

In general levers can show bruises or scratches that arise from improper exploitation or small accidents. When checking disk brakes, take a look at the calipers as well to see if they have a play or are severely hit. Ideally, they should not even be scratched.

Now let’s move on to the suspension fork: if the bike is equipped with something like that, make sure it is working properly. Check the play by pressing the left brake lever (front brake) and pushing back against the handlebar.

It is also worthwhile inquiring when it was last opened and cleaned.

If it works difficultly when damping, it might need an overhaul, which will cost between 15 and 30 euro, depending on the model. Make sure that the fork does not have strong dents and no rust spots (usually found on the upper arms of the fork).

If the fork is provided with preload, rebound and Lock Out function, check if they work fully.

Check the crankset: pull it towards you and then push it. Does it have a play? If it does, try to see where it comes from: the arm or the bottom bracket?

In some very old aluminum cranks there are risks of cracks. These cracks are most common at the inners side of the crank arms right next to the chainrings.

Now for the transmission system: what about the derailleurs? Working properly? A poor functioning of these can be caused by several strokes.

In the picture you can see a derailleur having suffered many blows, causing faulty operation. In most cases, front derailleur is protected from blows, but it’s good to see whether it has a play.

High degree of chainrings or sprocket wear can lead to “ghost shifting” (shifting to a sprocket without the user’s having operated it) and malfunction of the entire transmission system.

If these parts need replacement, your bike could become an expensive purchase, and you’ll have to change both sprockets, and chain sheets.

Ideally tires should be as little exploited as possible. If replacement is required, do negotiate the price.

Full suspension used bikes

In addition to the above mentioned checkouts, a rear suspension bike also requires detailed checking of both the rear triangle and the shock asorber.

The rear triangle should not have play (left-right) and the damper should work smooth.

Swing play can occur in various joints. Also, lean on the back of the bike and try to identify any odd sound produced.

Used city bikes

City bike sites do not require a detailed verification, but there are several issues on which you should insist. Check play in the wheels, the front frame joints to identify any cracks, forks, brakes, shifter (especially for internal gear hub) and bicycle lighting system (if provided).

Internal gear hub functionality is essential because repairs can become quite expensive. Even worse is if the hub needs replacement.

Conclusion

If all the components listed above are in good condition, try to find the initial cost of the bike. If the bike is older than 2-3 years, the right price is about 50% of the new bike price. A used bike that requires no further investment can be considered a good deal, especially because you can buy one with a top configuration but aged 3-4 years.

Now let’s recap the most important aspects of verification:

1. Frame, swingarm and frame pipe joints

2. Wheels and tires and their degree of wear.

3. Brakes and their functionality.

4. Fork and the damping of the swingarm (if it is a full suspension)

5. Crankset and entire transmission system.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I love this site for all its great independant reviews of bike components but I do feel I must add something to this article. I agree that all these checks and probably more are necessary when buying second hand but if you buy an ex-rental bike, most of the risk is removed.

    A good rental store will want the customer to leave the shop happy with his or her purchase, and so the shop will not only prepare the bike for the sale to be sure that it is functioning the best that it can, but he also has detailed knowledge about his bikes that he can impart to his customers.

    There’s all the manufacturers blurb that any retail bike shop should know but also the bikes intimate rental history : its service history, parts that have been changed, the limitations of the bike, where it’s been, how many bums have been on the seat .. etc. There might also be the opportunity to rent before you buy, so that you can try the exact same bike that you wish to purchase for a weekend or a week before you commit a relatively large sum of money on it.

    I have found, in my 25 years of renting and consequently selling rental bikes, that the more honest you are during a sale, the more solid a relationship becomes with the customer, and they will further recommend you to their friends and much good can come from that. Honesty can also loose you a sale of course, but at least the customer wasn’t pressured into making the wrong purchase, leaving him unsatisfied and having the difficult task of bringing the bike back to complain. I’m sure that person will find joy elsewhere for his own personal set of bike buying criteria.

    Here at Bike Bus, we have a hi-grade fleet of mountain bikes, city bikes, road bikes, tandems and children’s bikes that we will sell off every year at 50% of their retail cost. Every bike has had a 9 point check before every rental because I will not let a bike out the door in a substandard condition and when I sell a bike, it has a 22 point check and a 6 month guarantee.

    Our passion and drive for all things bike have meant that we have become benchmark for all bike rental and sales here in the Dordogne, but I’m sure there’s a whole plethora of bike rental stores like mine elsewhere around the world, and so surely any would-be second buyer should have at least a few on their doorstep to choose from.

    Conclusion :
    Ex-rental bikes are so the way forward for second-hand buyers ..

  2. Yeah, like Bike Bus wrote, I bougt an end of season rental bike for my elder kid last year. I just went back to buy two more – unfortunately those Kross Hexagons were sold out, but I could land two used ones that were traded in purchases. One was dirt cheap with chromoly frame and lots of new parts, the other is a very low mileage 28er alu-frame trekking at 60% of its new price. I’m sort of a regular at that rental/shop, due to the same reasons – openness, honesy, flexibility in deals.

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