Whether you’re on a tight budget or just frugal, buying used is a great way to score a high-quality bike at a discount price. Having said that, there are some risks. There are plenty of dishonest sellers, damaged or abused bikes, and even stolen bikes for sale. This guide explains how to buy a used bike. We’ll cover where to look, what to look for, how to inspect the bike, pricing, and more. This guide will help you score a great deal on a used bicycle whether you’re buying it from a bike shop, eBay, classified site, garage sale, or thrift shop.
Table of Contents
- Why Buy a Used Bike?
- Where to Look for Used Bikes
- How to Narrow Down the Search
- Questions to Ask Bike Sellers
- How to Inspect a Used Bike
- Things to Look for During the Test Ride
- Checking the Bike Fit
- Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Bike
- Tips for Buying a Used Bike
Why Buy a Used Bike?
The main reason to buy used is to save money. Used bikes are cheaper because they depreciate. Depreciation is the decrease in the value of the bike over time. Just like cars, bikes depreciate due to normal wear and tear as well as age. When you buy used, someone else pays the majority of the depreciation expense. You can pretty easily buy a gently used bike that is just over a year old for half of the original MSRP.
New bikes depreciate quickly. After you roll a brand new bike off the showroom floor, it has immediately lost anywhere from 10-30% of its value. It continues to lose value as it ages and parts wear. According to this article from Singletracks, mountain bikes lose about 45% of their value after one year. By year 2-3, the bike may only be depreciating at a rate of around 7% per year. The depreciation slows down considerably after the bike is a few years old.
Some bikes depreciate faster than others. How fast a bike depreciates depends on the condition of the bike, supply and demand, the type of bike, and a number of other factors. Once bikes reach a certain age, they pretty much stop depreciating. For example, you’re probably not going to save much by buying a 15 year old bike instead of a 10 year old bike. You can save a lot buy buying a 2 year old bike instead of a new bike.
Another reason to buy used is that you get more bang for your buck. For example, maybe you have $500 to spend on a bike. If you buy new, you can buy a $500 bike. This bike will be pretty low-end. If you buy used, you can buy an older bike that may have cost $1000 when new. The used bike will come with much higher-end components that will last longer and work more smoothly. You get more bike for your money when you buy used.
Where to Look For Used Bikes
There are always plenty of used bikes on the market. People commonly buy a new bicycle with big plans of getting healthy or getting into cycling only to let the bike collect dust in the garage. Some cycling enthusiasts upgrade often and sell their old bikes. If you shop around, you can easily find a well-cared-for bike for a reasonable price.
A few good places to look for used bikes include:
- Online classifieds (Craigslist, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, or your local equivalent)- This is the best place to find used bikes, in my opinion. The main benefit is that the ads are local. This way, you can meet with the seller in person and physically inspect the bicycle before you buy it. You can ask questions and negotiate in person and you can pay in cash. You know exactly what you’re buying. If you put in the effort to research and inspect the bike, your chance of getting ripped off is low.
- eBay- If you’re looking for a specific model, eBay is a great option. The selection is enormous. You can browse through bikes that are located anywhere in the world. You can also score some great deals due to the auction-style of selling. The problem is that you can’t physically inspect the bike. You have to trust the seller based on their rating as well as their photos and description of the bike. When buying on eBay, you should look at the seller feedback and avoid sellers with scores lower than 95% positive. Of course, eBay is very buyer-friendly. If you don’t get what you paid for, you can return the bike and ask for a refund. The problem is that shipping a bicycle is a hassle. The shipping expense is also worth considering. In the US, it costs around $100 to ship a bike across the country. You could use that extra money to buy a better bike locally.
- Bike shops- Many bike shops sell used bikes. The benefit of buying one of these is that they have probably been checked over and tuned up by a professional bike mechanic at the shop. They should have at least adjusted the shifters and brakes and replaced any wearable parts that needed to be replaced. The bike will be ready to ride when you buy it. Another benefit is that you know the bike is in decent shape. Most used bikes for sale in bike shops came in as trade-ins. The shop wouldn’t have accepted them if they had any major damage. You’re less likely to get ripped off. The drawback is that you’ll pay a bit more than you would by buying from a private party. After all, the shop has overhead and has to make a profit. If you don’t know much about bikes, this is probably your safest choice.
- Thrift stores- These are great places to look if you’re on a tight budget and you’re comfortable working on bikes. Thrift shops mostly stock older or vintage bikes from the 1980s-early 2000s. You won’t find any newer or high-end bikes at thrift stores. You should also be pretty comfortable making your own repairs because these bikes will need some work. They were donated, after all. In many thrift stores, you can find a decent bike for $20-$50. My friend bought an old Schwinn road bike from the 80s at a thrift store for $40 then greased the hubs and bottom bracket and installed new tires. He now uses it for touring.
- Garage sales- This is another great place to score a cheap bike that has been sitting around and collecting dust. Bicycles are a fairly common garage sale item. Particularly older and lower-end models. If you’re out driving around, it may be worth your time to stop by a few. You probably won’t find high-end or newer used bikes for sale at garage sales. The bike may also need some work.
Narrow Down the Search: Things to Consider When Buying a Used Bike
If you live in a big city, it can be overwhelming to sift through used bike listing simply because there are so many options. You might have to look through hundreds of ads before you find the right bike. Before you begin looking, you should consider what kind of bike you actually want. This will help you narrow down your search.
A few things to consider before you start looking for a bike include:
- Type of bike- Do you want a mountain bike, road bike, touring bike, commuter, hybrid, gravel bike, folding bike, recumbent bike, fat bike, electric bike, or something else? To help you decide, think about the terrain you plan to ride, the distance, how often you’ll ride, and where you’ll store the bike.
- Bike size- The bike needs to fit your height, inseam length, and reach. Fit is crucial. If the bike is too large, it can feel unwieldy and awkward to ride. If it’s too small, it can feel cramped and uncomfortable. You may also experience knee pain or discomfort during a long ride if the bike doesn’t fit properly. This great guide to bike sizing will help get you started. If a bike is slightly too small, you can install a longer seat post and stem to make it fit better. If it’s too big, there isn’t much you can do. Don’t buy a bike that’s not your size just because it’s cheaper. You’ll regret it later. Mountain bikes usually come in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes. Road bikes are measured in centimeters. Manufactures commonly offer a range of sizes from 46cm-64cm in steps of 2cm. Sizes can vary by brand as well. For example, a 60cm road bike from Specialized could be similar in size to a 58cm Trek. The best way to determine whether or not a particular bike will fit you is to sit on it and ride it.
- Types of components- Think about which wheel size you want. 650b, 700c, or 26″? Consider how many gears you need and what type of gearing. Do you want derailleurs, an internal gear hub, or a single speed? Do you want a 1x or 2x groupset? What kind of handlebars do you want? Drop bars, flat bars, or something different? Do you want disc brakes or rim brakes? What frame material do you want? Steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, or titanium? Some components like the pedals, seat, handlebars, and tires can be easily swapped out. Other components, like the frame, wheels, and groupset, are much more expensive and difficult to replace. Of course, swapping out components adds to the cost as well.
- Manufacturer- Maybe you’re a big fan of a particular brand because you’ve enjoyed their bikes in the past. Some brands have a better fit and finish than others. You can search by manufacturer to narrow down your search. You might also consider the brand of the drivetrain. For example, maybe you prefer Sram over Shimano drivetrains.
- Your budget- When searching online, you can filter your search with a price range. It’s important that you stick to your budget. You should also leave a bit of money for repairs and maintenance.
- Condition- If you’re comfortable working on your own bike, you can save some money by buying an older bike that needs some work and fixing it up yourself. If you don’t have any interest in working on your bike, you’ll want to choose a bike that’s in ready-to-ride condition.
- Mounting points- If you plan to mount racks and panniers, water bottle holders, or fenders, you’ll want to make sure the frame has the proper mounting points or braze-ons.
Tips for Sorting Through Used Bike Listings Online
After narrowing down the search, you’re ready to start sorting through ads. In this section, I’ll outline what to look for to help you further narrow down your search and avoid scams.
Read the Description of the Bike
Before contacting the seller, carefully read the description they have written. If the seller is an avid cyclist, they will probably write up a long description that details the exact specifications of the bike and all of its components as well as the condition. This gives you most of the information that you’ll need.
If the seller isn’t familiar with bikes, they may just provide a short description of the size and condition of the bike. This isn’t a bad sign. It just means that you’ll have to ask some questions and do some homework to get all of the information you need to make a decision.
Look at the Seller’s Photos of the Bike
Photos give you a lot of information about the bike. As the saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Look closely and zoom in to get a better view. Sometimes you can see brand or model markings on the components. This is useful if the seller didn’t include any specifics in the ad.
The photos can also give you a good idea of the general condition of the bike and how the owner has treated it. For example, if the photos show a dirty bike or rusty chain, you might assume that the rider didn’t take the best care of it. This isn’t always true but it’s worth considering. You don’t want to buy a bike that was neglected for years.
If you see stock photos, photos that are clearly old, or photos that were taken in a different city, you should be a bit skeptical. It could be some sort of scam. On the other hand, it could be a lazy seller who didn’t want to bother taking new photos. Honest sellers should provide recent photos and tell you about the overall condition of the bike and if anything needs to be repaired or replaced.
Research the Bike
While reading through the listings and looking at the photos, you may need to do some research. In cycling, there are so many different manufacturers, components, features, sizes, and standards that have been used over the years. A single model may have been available in dozens of different configurations.
Try to learn as much as you can about the bike you’re interested in. For example, maybe you see that the bike has thru-axles. If you don’t know what that means, look it up. Maybe you see a brand or model name that you’re not familiar with and you want to know if it’s any good. Just do a quick search. You might also want to compare the seller’s components list with the manufacturer’s original components list on their website to see which parts have been replaced. The more you know, the easier your decision becomes.
Check the Price
You’ll also want to make sure the asking price is fair. Bicycle Blue Book is a great resource for this. Don’t eliminate a bike if the asking price is too high. One of the best parts of buying used is that you can negotiate the price down if you feel that the seller is asking too much. Sellers expect you to negotiate.
After you find a couple of bikes that fit your criteria, come up with some questions and contact the seller for more information.
Questions to Ask the Seller When Buying a Used Bike
- How long have you owned the bike?
- Where did you buy it?
- Why are you selling it?
- Is there anything that needs to be repaired or replaced?
- When was the bike last serviced?
- Who serviced it?
- Do you have the receipt from the original purchase?- This proves that the bike wasn’t stolen. Some sellers won’t show the receipt because they don’t want to show how much they paid for the bike.
- Which components were repaired or replaced?- It’s nice to know what is original and what is aftermarket.
- Has the bike ever been in an accident?
- About how many miles are on the bike?- Most people don’t track their mileage. If the seller knows, you have a good idea about how much the bike was ridden.
- Can I see more photos?- If you’re communicating with the buyer online before going to see the bike, you can ask for photos of a specific part of the bike. This could be helpful if you spot some rust on the frame and you want to see how bad it is. Or maybe the seller isn’t familiar with a particular component but you could identify it with a clear photo.
- Ask about the rider’s height- If you have similar heights, there is a good chance that the frame will fit you.
- Ask about specific components- If you’re not familiar with something, maybe the seller can tell you more.
How to Inspect a Used Bike Before you Buy
When you go to look at the bike in person, you’ll want to closely inspect all of the components to make sure there is no undisclosed damage or excessive wear. Particularly on the parts that are expensive to replace like the frame and wheels.
In order to inspect a bike properly, you’ll need to have some basic knowledge about bikes, the names of their components, and how they work. In this section, I’ll outline a few of the more important things to look at when inspecting a used bike.
A thorough bike inspection takes around 10-15 minutes. Maybe a bit longer with a test ride. When performing your inspection, you’ll want to make sure you’re in a place with good lighting. Outdoors during the day is ideal. Also, consider bringing a flashlight just in case the owner wants to show the bike indoors or in a garage.
The Frame and Fork
The frame is the most expensive and difficult part to replace. After all, it is the main component that holds everything else together. If you don’t have a frame, you just have a pile of parts. The frame needs to be straight and solid. You should look for:
- Cracks- Look closely at the joints where the frame tubes meet as well as the tubes themselves. Pay special attention to the bottom bracket and rear dropouts. These parts take the most stress and are the most common places for cracks to form. Check for hairline cracks along the welds if the frame is metal. If the frame is carbon fiber, check for cracks on the joints as well as the frame tubes. Cracks can be caused by an accident, dropped bike, or fatigue over time. If the frame is cracked, walk away. It will be prohibitively expensive or impossible to repair. Cracks are also a safety issue. The frame could fail catastrophically and without notice if it’s weakened from a crack.
- Rust or corrosion- Rust is really only an issue on steel frames and components. If you see excessive rust, walk away. An indication of rust is peeling paint or bubbling under the paint. Rust weakens the frame and is difficult to repair. Small patches of rust may be okay but you are taking a risk. To repair small rusty spots, you can sand them down then paint them to prevent the rust from spreading or getting worse.
- Bends in the frame tubing- This is an indication that the bike has been crashed or dropped hard. Bent tubing can throw off the wheel alignment. It also weakens the frame significantly. Minor bends can be hard to spot. Lean the bike up against a wall and take a step back to look at it from a distance. If anything looks wonky, crooked, or off, there might be a bent tube If you notice any bent tubes, walk away.
- Dents- These indicate that someone crashed the bike. Some dents make the bike structurally weaker and increase the likelihood of frame failure. Some are just cosmetic. It’s hard to tell the difference. If the frame is dented, it’s best not to buy the bike.
- Bad welds- If the frame is metal, inspect the welds at the joints to make sure they look uniform, smooth, and professional. If the weld looks rough or bad, there is a chance that the frame was repaired. You should avoid frames that have been repaired because you never know how long the repair will last. The frame could also simply be of low quality if the welds are poor.
- Scratches and chips in the paint- Most used bikes will have some scratches here and there. Pay special attention to the underside of the down tube and chainstays. It is common for rocks to get kicked up and scratch the bottom of the tubes. Usually scratches in the paint are just cosmetic. You can paint over them to seal them up if you like. If you want your bike to be pristine, excessive scratching may be a deal-breaker for you. If the frame is steel, you will want to make sure that there isn’t any rust forming in the scratches.
A note about inspecting carbon fiber frames
Buying a carbon framed bike is a bit riskier than a metal frame. The reason is that damage is harder to spot. Cracks can hide under the frame’s coating or paint.
Start by closely inspecting the joints where the frame tubes meet. These are the most common places for cracks to form. Also, inspect any scratches or marks on the frame that could have been caused by an impact. Knock around on the carbon fiber with a coin. If the sound changes as you move toward the scratch, there may frame damage underneath. You’ll hear a dull thud when you tap the coin near a cracked part of the frame. You can also gently press on the carbon fiber in an area that you suspect damage. If it feels soft, the material is damaged. It can also help to run a cloth over the frame tubes. Broken or loose fibers will catch on the cloth. This can indicate damage.
Wheels and Tires
The wheels are the second most expensive part after the frame. They also play a major role in the performance and ride quality of the bike. It is important that they be in good condition.
To inspect the wheels:
- Check how true the wheels roll- To do this, lift each wheel off the ground one at a time and give them a spin. Watch the wheel spin from the top and side. You’re looking for a wobble from side to side or a hop up and down. If the bike has rim brakes, it can help to watch the rim move in relation to the brake pad. You can also watch the rim in relation to the frame. This gives you a reference point. If the wheel moves 1-2 millimeters from side to side or up and down, it may need some minor adjustment to get it back to true. This involves adjusting the tension of the spokes. This isn’t a big deal. If there is extreme movement, there could be some major problems with the hub or rim. For example, the rim could be bent or warped. The hub could be worn out.
- Check for bearing play- With the wheels on the ground, grab the wheel at the top and gently push and pull it from side to side. Do this with both wheels. You’re trying to feel if there is any play in the bearings. The wheels shouldn’t move back and forth. They should feel solid. If there is some play, most likely the bearings need to be greased or replaced. This is a fairly simple job. Worst case, the hubs could be worn out. Replacing them is expensive and complicated because the whole wheel will need to be rebuilt.
- Check the spoke tension- Gently squeeze adjacent spokes together. They should feel tight and not move too much. At the same time, check for broken spokes. If there is a loose spoke, it can be tightened easily with a spoke wrench. If a bunch of spokes are loose, the wheel probably needs to be re-tensioned. You can easily replace a broken spoke.
- Inspect the braking surfaces for wear if the bike has rim brakes- The brake pads wear down the sides of the rims over time. Every time you brake, some material rubs off. Check for grooves or scratches on the sides of the rim. Make sure the braking surface is flat, not concave. If the rims look scratched or concave, they are getting worn out. Some rims have a wear indicator that lets you know when it is time to change the rims. This is usually a groove or small hole in the side of the rim. When the groove or hole becomes shallow or disappears, it’s time to replace the rim.
- Look for cracks in the rims- Cracks most commonly form where the spokes enter the rim. They can also form on the sides of the rims where the brake pads rub. If the rim has a crack, it needs to be replaced. This is an expensive job because the entire wheel needs to be rebuilt.
- Check the condition of the tires– Look at the tread to see how worn down it looks. If the tires are bald, they need to be replaced soon. Also look at the sidewalls for cracks, holes, cuts, or tears. Even if the tread is still in good condition, the tire may still need to be replaced if the sidewalls are weathered or damaged. Tires are a wearable part that needs to be replaced periodically. They are relatively inexpensive to replace.
Drivetrain Components: Chain, Derailleurs, Cranks, Chainrings, Cassette, and Shifters
The drivetrain is the series of components that transfer power from the pedals to the rear wheel. A standard bike drivetrain includes the crankset, chainrings, front and rear derailleurs, shifters, chain, and rear cassette or freewheel. The chain, cassette, and chainrings are wearable parts that need to be replaced periodically. They wear as the chain rubs against the teeth of the gears. The chain stretches and wears over time.
To inspect a bike’s drivetrain, start by looking at the general cleanliness of the components. Check whether the chain, rear cogs, chainrings, and derailleurs are relatively clean or caked in grime. Look closely at the chain and derailleurs. They tend to collect dirt. Also, look for rust on the whole system. If the components are too dirty or rusty, this is a sign that they may have been neglected. The chain and gear teeth should have grease on them. If they are perfectly clean, the seller may have cleaned them for the sale.
Next, you’ll want to check for wear. Start by shifting the chain to the big chainring and largest rear cog. Grab the chain from the side of the big chainring facing the front of the bike and pull the chain away from the chainring. If you can pull it more than about 0.5 inch, some of the drivetrain components may be worn. Most likely the chain. You may need to replace the cassette or chainrings soon as well if the teeth look worn down.
To inspect for wear on the chainrings and rear cogs, look at the teeth of the gears. If they are pointy, they are starting to wear but may still have some life in them. If the teeth are starting to wear down to nubs, the cassette or chainring will need to be replaced soon. Also, look at the chainring teeth from the top or bottom to make sure they aren’t bent. While you’re at it, look a the jockey wheels. These are the small gears that the chain rolls over in the rear derailleur. If they’re worn, the drivetrain may have been neglected.
Next, you’ll also want to inspect the shifters and cables. Make sure the cables aren’t fraying or corroding. Visually inspect the shifters for rust, scratches, cracks, or broken parts. Test the shifters by shifting through the gears. They should shift smoothly. If you feel some friction in the system, the cables and housing may be gummed up with dirt, debris, or rust. In this case, they’ll need to be cleaned or replaced.
To check the derailleurs, you’ll want to take the bike for a test ride. Shift through all of the gears to see if the bike shifts smoothly. Go through all of the rear cogs and the front chainrings. Shift up and down through the entire gear range. If everything shifts smoothly, the derailleurs are probably in good shape.
If there is ghost shifting, grinding, or if you can’t shift into a particular gear, the bike might need some maintenance. Most likely, the derailleurs just need to be adjusted. The shifter cables could need to be replaced as well. These are easy jobs.
To further test the derailleurs, you can also gently move them back and forth with your fingers to see if they move smoothly. You can also visually inspect them to check for damage or rust.
The chain and cassette or freewheel are wearable parts that need to be replaced periodically. If they are worn out, it’s not that big of a deal. They are relatively easy and inexpensive to replace. The chainrings are more expensive to replace.
Some bikes use an internal gear hub instead of derailleurs. These are much harder to inspect because they are completely sealed closed. If they fail, they usually need to be replaced. The best thing you can do is to shift through the gears to see if they work smoothly. Ask the seller if the hub gear is still under warranty and if it has been properly maintained. Some models require periodic oil changes. For more info, check out my internal gear hub vs derailleur guide.
Bearings: The Headset and Bottom Bracket
The bearings in the headset and bottom bracket ensure that the bike steers and pedals smoothly. The headset is the steering mechanism where the fork meets the frame at the head tube. The bottom bracket is located at the bottom of the frame where the cranks spin in the frame. You’ll want to check both the headset and bottom bracket for excessive play or rough movement. These are signs that maintenance is required.
You can easily check the headset bearings with a simple test. Start by straddling the bike like you’re about to ride it. Place your hands on the handlebars and apply the front brake so the bike won’t move. With the front brake applied, rock the bike forward and backward. Try to feel for play or movement in the headset. Next, lift the front wheel off the ground and turn the handlebars from side to side as far as they will go. You want to make sure the handlebar movement feels smooth throughout the entire range of motion.
If there is excessive play in the headset, if you feel a knock, or if the headset doesn’t operate smoothly, there may be an issue. Sometimes you just need to tighten it. More likely, the bearings need to be re-greased or replaced. In some cases, the entire headset may need to be replaced.
Most headsets use cartridge bearings. These can be removed, re-greased, and replaced. If the bearings are worn out, you can buy a new cartridge. Some headsets use sealed bearings. In this case, you’ll need to buy a new sealed bearing to replace the old one. Re-greasing or replacing the bearings is an easy and inexpensive job. If the headset is really rough, it may be best to replace the whole unit. This is more involved because it requires special tools.
Next, you want to check the bottom bracket. You can do this with another simple test. Start by spinning the cranks so the arms are vertical. Grab the crank arm nearest you and hold the frame with your other hand. Push and pull the crank arm to feel for lateral play in the bottom bracket. There shouldn’t be any movement. It should feel tight. Also, spin the crank with your hands to make sure it operates smoothly.
If there is play in the bottom bracket or if it doesn’t move smoothly, it may need maintenance. Sometimes the cranks or one of the cups just needs to be tightened. More likely, the bottom bracket bearings need to be re-greased or the bottom bracket needs to be replaced.
Most modern bottom brackets are sealed units. You just replace the entire unit when they wear out. Some use cartridge bearings. You can simply clean then re-grease these and reinstall them. If they are worn out, you can replace the cartridge. If the bearings are sealed, you can replace the bearing unit. Older bikes may use loose bearings. You can remove these, clean them, then replace them if they are in good condition. Re-greasing or replacing a bottom bracket does require some special tools like a crank puller and bottom bracket wrench.
Greasing or replacing bearings is standard bicycle maintenance. Headsets, bottom brackets, and bearings are affordable parts. The problem is that it takes some special bike tools to work on them. You may need to take the bike to a bike shop to have the work done for you. Also, the bearings last a long time without needing maintenance. A new headset or bottom bracket should last at least 10,000 miles. You may want to pass on a bicycle that needs bearing maintenance for this reason. If the bearings are in good shape, you shouldn’t have to worry about them for many miles.
How to Inspect the Brakes
Start by visually inspecting the general condition of the brake system. The brake levers should be in good shape without any serious scratches, cracks, or bends. If the levers are bent or scratched, the bike was probably crashed. The brake calipers should be in good condition without any rust or broken parts. The cables shouldn’t have any rust, fraying, or crimps. The cable housings shouldn’t have any cracks. Inspect the brake pads to check how much life they have left in them.
If the bike has disc brakes, make sure the rotors are not bent or warped. You can check them by spinning the wheel and looking straight down at the rotors as they spin. If they appear to wobble, they are probably bent.
Next, test the brakes out by giving the levers a squeeze. While you’re squeezing the brake levers, watch the calipers actuate. The brakes should operate smoothly. You shouldn’t feel any catches, rough spots, or hangups. Quickly let go of the lever. The brakes should immediately disengage.
If everything appears to be in good condition but the brakes don’t operate smoothly, most likely the cables and housing are contaminated with debris. This creates friction, which causes the brakes to operate roughly. The bike may need new cables and housings. If the bike has been sitting for too long, the calipers can get gummed up or rusty. You may need to clean or replace them. The pivot point may also need to be greased. In some cases, simply applying some oil to the cable in the housing can help make the brakes operate more smoothly.
If the bike has hydraulic disc brakes, inspect the hoses and fittings for leaks. Look around the levers and where the hoses meet the calipers. Leaks can be hard to spot. Dirt and grime tend to build up where there are leaks. That’s one indication to look for. Give the levers a squeeze. If the levers feel spongy, there could be air in the hydraulic brake lines. In this case, you’ll need to bleed the brakes. This removes the air bubbles and fills the brake lines with new fluid. This is standard maintenance that needs to be done to hydraulic disc brake bikes every couple of years.
After testing the brake levers and calipers, lift each wheel off the ground and give it a spin. Make sure the brake pads don’t rub the rim or rotor. If they do, the brakes probably just need to be adjusted. The rotor or rim could also be bent.
The cables and brake pads are wearable parts that need to be replaced periodically. Over time, the cables stretch and eventually break. The brake pads wear down as they rub against the braking surface. Replacing cables and pads is an inexpensive and easy job. If these parts are in poor condition when you buy the bike, it’s no big deal.
The Contact Points: Saddle, Grips, and Pedals
Most riders end up replacing all of these parts to suit their personal preference. Some sellers don’t even include a saddle, pedals, or grips because they want to keep them to install on their new bike. This is fine. You’ll just have to factor in the cost of buying these parts. Maybe you even have your own to transfer over from your old bike.
When inspecting the bike, you should look at the condition of the saddle, grips, and pedals if the bike has them. This can tell you a lot about how the bike was treated. If you spot deep scratches on the sides of the pedals and tears in the grips or bar tape, the bike may have been laid down. If the saddle looks weathered, the bike may have been stored outside. These aren’t necessarily deal-breakers but they’re worth considering.
Most used bikes come with grips or grip tape installed. You may need to replace them if they’re in poor condition. This is no big deal. Many riders replace the grips with their preferred style anyway. They are inexpensive and easy to replace. For more info, check out my guide to the different styles of handlebar grips and grip tape.
Suspension components are expensive. If you’re buying a bike with suspension, you’ll want to make sure the system is in good working condition. You’ll also want to make sure that it has been properly maintained so it doesn’t fail prematurely.
Most bike suspension systems contain oil. This oil lubricates the system, which slows down wear and tear. The oil degrades over time. It can also leak if the seals wear out. This affects the performance of the suspension system. If the system was used with old oil or if there wasn’t enough oil, the components could be worn.
Suspension systems also require seals. These keep dust and debris out of the system. They also keep the oil in. If the seals wear out, you might experience oil leaks. The system can also become contaminated with dirt and grime. This can cause unnecessary wear and tear.
Try to find out when the owner last service the suspension system. If the seller doesn’t know, look up the suspension model to find out how often it should be serviced and what kind of maintenance it requires.
Most manufacturers recommend that you perform maintenance on suspension components once per year. Air suspension components require more frequent maintenance than coil suspension components. Regular maintenance can extend the lifespan of bike suspension components. If the seller never had the system maintained, you might want to pass on the bike. At the very least, you’ll want to factor in the cost of having the suspension components inspected or rebuilt by a professional.
When checking the fork suspension, start by visually inspecting the system. The most important part to look at is the stanchions. Make sure they aren’t scratched or damaged. If you see oil on them, the fork seals may need to be replaced.
Next, push down on the handlebars with your body weight to compress the fork suspension. You want to make sure it operates smoothly without any excessive resistance or stickiness. When you let go of the handlebars, the suspension should pop back up quickly. Also, listen for squeaks or strange noises.
If the bike has full suspension, you’ll want to perform a similar inspection of the rear shock. Look for oil leaks or obvious damage to the system. Push down on the seat to compress the shock. Make sure it operates smoothly and quietly. It should pop right back up when you let go.
Full suspension bikes also have pivot points where the frame pivots on bearings. These are usually cartridge-style bearings or sealed bearings. The shock attaches to the frame with bushings. These reduce play in the frame and reduce vibrations.
If the bearings or bushings wear out, they can cause the frame to feel loose or unstable. They can also create a rattle while you ride. In this case, they’ll need to be replaced. Bushings are fairly inexpensive. Bearings can be pretty costly depending on the frame. If the suspension feels loose, it could just be that at bolt in the pivot is loose.
You’ll also want to make sure the suspension works for your bodyweight. Most bike suspension systems offer enough adjustment for a range of rider weights. If you’re particularly heavy or light, the suspension may not work for you. For example, if you’re too heavy, the suspension could bottom out when you hit a big bump or drop. For more info, check out this guide to adjusting mountain bike suspension.
A Note About Consumable Bike Parts
Some parts wear down from use and age and need to be replaced once in a while. These are called consumable parts. If any of these parts are worn out on the used bike that you’re looking at, it shouldn’t be cause for concern. In fact, when buying a used bike, you should expect to have to replace a few parts to get the bike into reliable and rideable condition.
Consumable bike parts include:
- Tires- Friction from the ground causes the tread to wear down. Sunlight and weather can also cause cracking over time. Bike tires last anywhere from 1,000-10,000 miles depending on the type of tire and terrain that you ride.
- Brake pads- Friction from the pads rubbing on the rim or rotor wears the pads down over time. They need to be replaced every 500-2000 miles.
- Cables- Over time, cables stretch. Eventually, they fail. For most riders, cables last years.
- Chain- Chain components including rivets and rollers wear out over time as they rub against the chainrings and cogs. This makes the chain appear to have stretched. Bike chains need to be replaced every 1500-4000 miles depending on the type of chain, conditions it was used in, and how it was cared for.
- Freewheel or cassette- Friction from the chain causes the teeth on the cogs to wear down over time. Usually, you’ll have to replace your freewheel or cassette after every 2 or 3 times you replace the chain.
- Chainrings- The teeth wear down over time as the chain rubs against them. Chainrings are made from harder metal than cassette cogs. They are also larger. For these reasons, chainrings can last the same time as around 6 chains.
- Grips or bar tape- The tread on grips wears out over time. Grips sometimes begin to slip on the bars when they wear out. Bar tape wears out and begins to unravel. If the grips are in poor condition, they may need to be replaced.
- Bearings- The headset, bottom bracket, hubs, and pedals have bearings that need to be greased once in a while. These can last 10,000 miles or more before they need maintenance.
Taking A Used Bike for a Test Ride
After thoroughly inspecting the bike, you’ll want to take it for a test ride. The goal is to make sure the bike rides, shifts, and brakes smoothly and doesn’t make any strange noises.
Before you begin the test ride, perform a quick safety check to make sure the bike is safe to ride. Basically, you want to make sure everything is tight and securely attached. Check the axles to make sure the wheels are locked tightly in place. Test the brakes to make sure they work. In addition, you may want to pull on the handlebars to make sure they’re tight.
Try to find a flat, smooth place without any traffic to ride the bike around. This allows you to feel and listen to the bike. As you ride around, listen for squeaks or creaks. These could indicate problems with the frame or bottom bracket. Get the bike up to speed to make sure it steers straight and doesn’t wobble. If it does, there could be an issue with the fork, headset, or wheels. Shift through all of the gears to make sure they all work. If you can’t get into a gear, the derailleurs might need to be adjusted. Test the brakes to make sure they provide enough stopping power.
While going for a test ride, don’t be afraid to put the bike to the test. Mash down on the pedals, take a hard corner, and stop fast. You want to make sure the bike feels sturdy and can handle a bit of abuse. Of course, you don’t want to ride too rough while the owner is watching you.
Another Option: Have the Bike Professionally Inspected
If you’re not too familiar with bikes or you don’t trust yourself to perform a thorough inspection, you can ask the seller if you can take the bike to a bike shop to have it inspected by a professional. Keep in mind that this will cost you a bit of money. It will only be worth it if you’re buying a high-end used bike. It may also be a good idea if you’re buying a bike with a carbon fiber frame.
If the seller doesn’t want to take the bike to a shop, you should be a bit wary. They may be hiding something. On the other hand, they may just not want to deal with the hassle of transporting the bike to a bike shop and waiting around. As an alternative, you could bring friend who is more knowledgeable about bikes.
Make Sure the Bike Fits You
The test ride is a good time to make sure the bike fits you properly. You can’t really go by the frame size alone because every manufacturer is a bit different. If your bike doesn’t fit properly, you may experience back, knee, elbow, or neck pain while riding.
Start by checking the standover height. With the bike between your legs, you want to make sure you can stand with your feet flat on the ground. Ideally, you want 1-2” between the top tube and your body. If you can’t stand with your feet flat with the bike under you, the bike is too big. It will be dangerous to ride because you could injure yourself if you have to put your feet down suddenly. If the top tube slopes down toward the seat, this test won’t tell you much.
Next, check the seat height. When your leg is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, it should be about 80-90% extended with just a slight bend at the knee. Adjust the seat height to achieve this position. You may need a wrench to do this if there isn’t a quick-release lever. Make sure you don’t raise the seat above the maximum position. Usually, there is a mark on the seat post to indicate how high the seat can safely go. If the seat won’t go low or high enough to put your legs in the ideal pedaling position, the bike is not your size. You’ll probably want to pass on it. You could install a longer seat post if the seat won’t go high enough.
Next, you’ll want to consider your upper body position. Make sure you feel comfortable when reaching the handlebars while you’re sitting on the seat. This comes down to personal preference. If you’re buying a racing bike, you’ll want your torso at about a 45-degree angle relative to the ground. For mountain bikes, city bikes, and hybrids, a more upright riding position is preferable. If you’re not happy with the reach, you can install a different length stem to move the handlebars a bit closer to or further from the seat. Keep in mind that the stem length does change the handling dynamics of the bike. You can only adjust the stem 20-30mm on most bikes. You may also be able to shift the seat forward or backward a couple of centimeters. This can affect your pedal stroke.
If the frame is slightly too small, you can usually make it fit by raising the seat and installing a longer stem. If the frame is too large, there isn’t much you can do. For more info, check out this guide to bike fit.
Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Bike
Buying a used bike is an excellent way to save some money or to get a higher end bike than you could afford to buy new. That said, it isn’t for everyone. There are some risks. This section outlines the pros and cons of buying used.
- Cheaper- This is the main reason to buy used. You save money. Older used bikes in decent condition start around $150. If you’re handy, you can get a used bike for less than $100 and make some repairs and upgrades. You can’t go into a bike shop and get a bike for that price.
- You get more for your money- Maybe you have $500 to spend on a bike. If you were to go to a bike shop and buy new, you’d end up with a lower-end bike. If you take that same $500 and buy a used bike that is just a few years old, you’ll get a nice mid-range bike that originally cost well over $1000. It will be lighter and have much better components than an entry-level bike. If a bike is taken care of, it will last decades. You shouldn’t be afraid of a bike’s age.
- Better for the environment- Buying used is kind of like recycling. It keeps the bike out of the landfill and means there is one less new bike that needs to be built. It’s better for the environment to ride a bike that already exists than to manufacture a new one. Buying used is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
- No warranty- If a part unexpectedly fails the day after you buy the bike, you’re on your own to get it repaired. You can’t return it. New bikes usually come with some kind of guarantee against defects.
- Fewer choices- There are a limited number of used bikes on the market. You may not be able to find the exact model, size, brand, color, or configuration that you wanted. You might have to buy a model that is a few years old. Maybe you have to settle for a color you don’t like. When you buy new, you get exactly what you want. If it’s not available in the shop, you can order it.
- Dealing with scams and dishonest sellers- You have to put in your due diligence when buying a used bike. To make sure you’re not getting ripped off, you have to look over all of the components so you know exactly what you’re getting. For example, while shopping for a bike on Craigslist, I encountered a seller who had replaced the bike’s nice original wheels with cheap Chinese knockoffs. I suspect that he was keeping the nice wheels to install on his next bike.
- You may need to make some repairs and do some maintenance- Most used bikes need a bit of work. A few common jobs include greasing the hubs, replacing brake pads, replacing cables, installing new tires and tubes, adjusting the derailleurs, etc. New bikes are ready to ride off the showroom floor and require less maintenance because everything is brand new.
- Safety- Some components can wear out and fail catastrophically without warning. Particularly those made from carbon fiber or aluminum because these materials can fatigue over time. If a frame or handlebar splits in half while you’re riding, you could end up with a serious injury. When buying a used bike, it would be easy to miss or not notice a part that is about to fail. When buying new, you know that every component is sturdy and safe to use.
- You can buy a lemon- Even if you do all of your homework and inspect the bike properly, it’s possible to end up with a bad bike. Maybe the frame develops a crack or a wheel starts breaking spokes. Maybe a shifter or derailleur fails. This isn’t the seller’s fault. It’s just bad luck. All parts eventually break after enough use.
- The bike won’t be perfect- Pretty much every used bike has some flaws. It won’t be shiny and pristine like a new bike. The frame may have a few cosmetic scratches. Maybe a fender is cracked. You’ll just have to deal with the defects.
Tips for Buying a Used Bike
By now, you should have a good idea about what to look for in a used bike and how to inspect the bike. In this section, I’ll share a few helpful tips to help make the process of buying a used bike a bit easier and safer.
1. Make Sure The Bike Isn’t Stolen
Bike theft is a major problem in many cities around the world. Stolen bikes often end up for sale online. If you suspect that a bike was stolen, you should check to make sure that it wasn’t before you buy it.
A few signs that a bike may be stolen include:
- The asking price is way below market value
- The seller is clueless about the bike’s history
- Inaccurate listing
- The bike was recently painted
- Identification or serial numbers were removed from the frame
To verify that a bike was not stolen, you can ask to see the original purchase receipt. If the seller doesn’t have the receipt, you could ask for the bike’s identification number. On most bike’s, the identification number is stamped on the frame, usually on the bottom bracket shell.
You can run the ID number through the national database here to see if the bike has been reported stolen. If it has, consider calling the police so they can get the bike back to its original owner. If you have reason to believe the bike was stolen, you should probably pass on it. You don’t want to buy a stolen bike.
2. Check the Shipping Cost if you’re Buying Online
Bikes are heavy and bulky. The shipping cost can be high. If you’re buying a bike that’s located across the country or on the other side of the world, you’ll want to check the shipping cost before you buy. You don’t want to end up paying more for shipping than the entire value of the bike.
Shipping a bike across the United States usually costs around $100 with a service like bike flights. International shipping could cost $200-$500+ depending on the origin and destination as well as the size and weight of the bike.
Another issue is returning the bike if it wasn’t what you expected. This is another major expense. Before you buy online, check who is responsible for return shipping.
When having the bike shipped, you’ll also want to make sure that the seller properly packs the bike and ships with a reputable company. You should also insure the bike for its full value in case it gets lost or damaged in transit. If the bike arrives damaged, you’ll have to deal with filing an insurance claim.
If at all possible, you should buy a bike that you can pick up in person. This way, you get to inspect. You avoid paying expensive shipping costs. Instead of paying $100 for shipping, just use that money to buy a better bike from a seller who lives nearby.
3. Be Aware of Counterfeit Bikes and Other Scams
These days, scammers counterfeit everything, including bicycles. Not surprisingly, most of these counterfeits come out of China. They buy cheap carbon fiber frames from Alibaba or Aliexpress then disguise them as genuine high-end bikes. More sophisticated scammers take a mold of a genuine frame then build an exact copy out of lower-end carbon fiber. These counterfeit bikes often pop up on eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist. Commonly counterfeited bike brands include Pinarello, Cervélo, Wilier, BMC, and Colnago.
When shopping for a higher-end bike that could be counterfeited, spend a bit of time looking around on the manufacturer’s website and cycling forums like the BikeRadar forum to learn about the frame. Look closely at the photos to see if you spot any inconsistencies. This should usually give you enough information to avoid accidentally buying a counterfeit. In some cases, the counterfeits are so good that only the original manufacturer can tell the difference after a close inspection.
For more info, check out this excellent article about counterfeit bikes from Cyclist.co.
There are also a number of scams to look out for. By meeting in person, you can avoid the vast majority of scams.
4. Save the Search and Ads of Bikes that Interest You
eBay allows you to create a saved search. This feature lets you select all of the criteria that a used bike has to meet then notifies you when a new ad that meets your requirements pops up. This saves you some time so you don’t have to input the same info every time you search. It also gives you a bit of a head start to jump on any good deals that come up.
You should also save individual bike ads that interest you. Pretty much every site that sells bikes offers this function. This way, you can easily keep an eye on them. Maybe the seller lowers the price or adds additional photos. It can also help you compare bikes more quickly if you’re trying to decide between several options.
Tip: Before you buy a used bike, save the ad to your computer or print it out. The reason is that it can provide evidence to the police or the court if you get scammed. Ever watch Judge Judy? If you do, you’ll know the original ad can come in handy to prove your case.
5. Check Parts Availability and Compatibility
Some bikes use proprietary parts, odd-sized parts, or parts that are no longer made. These can be hard to come by. If you’re buying a vintage bike, recumbent bike, folding bike, e-bike, or a bike made by a manufacturer that is no longer in business, it can be hard to find replacement parts if a non-standard-sized part breaks.
Before you buy a bike, you may want to spend some time researching the components that it uses. You’ll want to research parts cross-compatibility as well to see if you can use parts from other manufacturers. In general, bikes offer excellent cross-compatibility. Most older designs are compatible with modern alternatives.
For example, I bought a Schwinn High-Sierra from the 80s to convert into a touring bike. The Schwinn uses an older style of brakes called roller cam brakes. These are no longer in production. They can be a bit hard to find used. Luckily, modern U-brakes fit the same brake pegs so parts availability is not an issue.
If the parts are all standard sized, you should be able to easily replace them with parts from other brands. If the bike requires proprietary parts that are hard to find or odd sizes that are no longer in production, you might want to pass on the bike.
6. Look for Signs that the Bike was Neglected or Damaged
A rusty chain, worn-out gear teeth, or bald tires indicate that the bike wasn’t well maintained. It may have had a hard life. Chances are, other parts are worn out as well. You’ll want to avoid neglected bikes if possible. Of course, if the bike is priced appropriately for the condition, it may be worth considering.
When considering a bike, you should also check to see which parts are original and which have been replaced. This can tell help you determine if the bike has been in an accident. For example, if you’re looking at a 2 year old bike and the rear derailleur has been replaced, it’s probably safe to assume that the original got broken. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. A minor accident could destroy a derailleur but leave the rest of the bike unharmed. That said, it’s still worth considering. In this case, you might want to ask the seller what happened to the original.
7. Make Sure the Bike is Legal Where you Plan to Ride it
Laws vary by city and country. Some jurisdictions legally require that bikes have reflectors. Some regions require that the bike has a ‘warning device’ like a horn or bell. Many places also require that you use lights if you’re riding at night. You can always add any of these things later if they are required. You’ll want to consider the extra cost.
If you’re buying an electric bike, some regions have laws that limit the motor size. Some regions only permit pedal-assist electric bikes. There may be a top speed limit. You’ll want to look into the local laws before you buy. You could get a fine if you’re caught riding an illegal bike. For more info, check out my guide to different types of e-bikes.
8. Negotiate the Price
The price of used bikes is always negotiable. Oftentimes you can settle on a price 10-20% below the original asking price. Before negotiating, you should know the rough value of the bike. One way to do this is with Bicycle Bluebook. You can also look for similar bikes to see how much other sellers are asking.
To get the best deal, you should negotiate in person. If you’re already there with cash in hand, the seller will be more likely to accept an offer because it means they don’t have to take the time to meet with anyone else.
When inspecting the bike, look for some bargaining points. These are minor defects that you can point out to the seller. Maybe you see some scratches in the paint. Maybe a cable is worn out and needs to be replaced. You don’t want to be mean about it but pointing out a couple of problems can help in the negotiation.
If the asking price is within reason, start by offering around 15%-20% less. You can usually meet around 5%-15% off depending on your negotiation skills. If the asking price is way over the value of the bike, you can ask for a bigger discount. Some sellers overprice the bike on purpose because they anticipate bargaining. If the seller is already asking a reasonable price, avoid lowballing so you don’t insult them. You should still negotiate regardless.
9. Set Some Money Aside for Maintenance, Repairs, and Upgrades
When buying a used bike, chances are you’ll have to spend some money on it to get it into safe and reliable condition. For example, maybe the bike needs new tires, bar tape, or brake pads. Maybe you need to take it to a bike shop for a tune-up or minor repair. This all costs money.
You’ll want to make sure you have enough money left over after buying the bike to cover these expenses. It’s also a good idea to set some money aside for any unexpected repairs that may pop up. Because used bikes don’t come with any warranty, you’ll have to cover the cost of fixing any unexpected issues that arise.
You might also want to spend some money to improve comfort or fit. For example, maybe you need to buy a different sized handlebar, stem, or seatpost because the bike feels a bit cramped. Maybe you want a more comfortable seat or different pedals.
It’s a good idea to save around 10% of the bike’s value or $200 so you’re ready to cover any of these expenses. This may mean buying a slightly cheaper bike. If you can do all of your own maintenance, you’ll spend less.
10. Shop for a Used Bike During the Fall and Winter
Fall is the best time to buy a used bike because manufacturers release their new bikes during this time of year. Cyclists often sell their old bike before they upgrade. This is a great way to score a deal on a high-end bike. Bike shops also sell off their old floor models during this time of year to make room for next year’s models. You can score a deal on an almost new bike this way.
Winter is also a great season to buy a used bike. Demand is lower during the cold months because fewer people are riding. Winter is the off-season. This means sellers are more desperate to make a sale. You can often negotiate a low price during the winter months.
11. Check Feedback or Read Reviews
If you’re buying a used bike on eBay, take some time to look at the seller’s feedback. Ideally, it should be at least 95% positive. This way, you know the seller probably won’t try to scam you. Also, check their return policy. eBay is very buyer-friendly so you shouldn’t have any problem making a return if the bike wasn’t as advertised. If you just don’t like the bike, you’ll probably have to pay return shipping.
If you’re buying from some other online shop, try to read some reviews about their business to make sure that they’re legit. Look at their return policy as well.
12. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Trust your instincts when buying a used bike. If the seller seems sketchy or if something about the bike looks off, it’s better to just pass on it. It’s a pretty big purchase to take a risk on. There are so many used bikes for sale that a better one will probably pop up shortly.
Staying Safe While Meeting the Seller
If you’re buying from a private party and meeting in person, you’ll want to take a few precautions when meeting up, just to be safe.
- Bring a friend- There is safety in numbers. If you meet with a shady character, they’ll be less likely to attempt to victimize you if you’re not alone.
- Meet somewhere public- This way, there are people around. There are also cameras. The seller will be less likely to try anything funny. Gas stations or grocery store parking lots work well. If you’re really paranoid, you could also meet outside of a police station. These days, some police stations even have special parking spots designated for Craigslist or other online transactions. These are often called SafeTrade Stations.
- Tell someone where you’re going- Text a friend or family member that you’re going to look at a used bike. Tell them exactly where you’re meeting the seller. This way, someone will know where you were if something were to happen.
- Keep your cash hidden until you decide to buy the bike- Don’t let the seller know you have cash until you’re ready to make the purchase. Another idea is to not bring cash. If you like the bike, tell the seller that you need to run to the ATM or Bank. If you’re in a city, chances are there is an ATM just a couple of minutes away.
A Note About Selling Your Old Bike
If you’re upgrading to a better bike, you may want to sell your old bike first so you can put the money toward buying a new one. There are a number of ways to sell a used bike. Some will net you more money but take more of your time. Others are more convenient but come at a cost.
If you want to get as much money as possible for your old bike, the best place to sell it is on an online classified site like Craigslist, Gumtree, or Facebook Marketplace. You’ll end up with more money because there is no listing fee taken out of the selling price and there is no middleman to pay. The drawback is that it is a bit less convenient and more time-consuming because you have to meet with buyers, answer questions, and facilitate the sale by yourself.
Another option is to sell your bike on eBay. This is slightly more convenient because you don’t have to meet with anyone in person. You also reach buyers around the entire world. The problem is that eBay charges fees for using the service. You won’t get quite as much for your bike. You also have to deal with the hassle of boxing and shipping the bike.
The most convenient option is to trade your old used bike in or sell it at a bike shop, sporting goods store, or pawn shop. You can walk in with your bike and walk out with cash in your hand. This will net you the least amount of money. You may only get 50% of your bike’s value because the buyer needs to resell your old bike to make a profit. Another problem is that these places won’t buy just any bike. It would need to be a desirable model in good condition. You may be able to negotiate a good deal on a trade-in if you sell your old bike to a bike shop and buy one of their new bikes.
Buying a Used Bike Vs Buying a Cheap Department Store Bike
If, after reading through this guide, you don’t like the idea of buying a used bike but you’re still on a tight budget, there is another option. Most department stores like Walmart as well as sporting goods stores sell inexpensive new bikes.
The main benefit of buying one of these bikes is convenience. You can go into a store and just buy the bike off the shelf. You don’t have to shop around or meet with private sellers. They are also affordable. You can buy a decent bike for $150-$300.
The drawbacks of buying a cheap new bike is that the quality and reliability of the components is generally pretty poor. Low end groupsets don’t shift smoothly or quickly. Cheap bearings and cables don’t last very long. You often end up spending more time and money in repairs and maintenance than if you had just bought a better bike in the first place.
For more info, check out my guide: Are Walmart Bikes any Good?
My Experience Buying Used Bikes
I bought my last two bikes used and ended up saving a good amount of money. Particularly on my touring bike. At the time, I was just getting into bicycle touring but didn’t want to shell out thousands of dollars on a new bike and gear. I researched touring bikes then started looking for deals on a used one on both eBay and Craigslist.
After a few days of shopping around, I found a Fuji Touring Bike listed in a nearby city. In the photos, it looked brand new. It was less than a year old. The size was right and the price was reasonable. I decided to go check it out.
When I met with the seller, he explained that he bought it then immediately decided he wanted a touring bike with disc brakes. He bought a Trek 520 and decided to sell the Fuji. Strange story but I believe he was telling the truth because the Fuji looked absolutely pristine. He told me it only had 60 miles on it and I believed him.
I inspected the bike and took a quick test ride. I couldn’t find a single issue with it. It was basically a new bike. I bought it for about half of the original price. I ended up saving $500 by buying used.
Final Thoughts About Buying a Used Bike
If you’re on a tight budget, buying used is a great way to score a high-quality bike at an affordable price. You can save hundreds or thousands of dollars off the retail price by avoiding paying the majority of the depreciation expense by buying used. There are plenty of gently used bikes on the market that still have thousands of miles of good use left in them.
One nice thing about bikes is the simplicity. Buying a used bike is not like buying a used car. The risk is much lower because you can inspect every single component to determine its general condition. As long as you do your homework and properly inspect the bike, you can be confident in your purchase. The risk of getting scammed or buying a lemon is minimal.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to buying used. The main one being that the bike probably won’t be in perfect shape. There may be some scratches and scuffs. You’ll probably have to make some minor repairs or replace a couple of parts to improve the comfort. You also have to meet up with a private seller and negotiate. Personally, I think it’s worth the extra effort. Hopefully, this guide helps you score a great deal on a used bike.
Have you bought a used bike lately? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!