What to Look for When Buying a Used Bike

Everybody loves a good deal, and purchasing a gently-used bike can be a fantastic bargain. Many people think they are going to embrace the sport of cycling, so they purchase brand new bikes. For one reason or another, the bikes just don't see many miles. As dust collects and tires flatten, their failed attempts to cycle regularly forces the owners to sell their bikes. Whoever purchases these bikes second-hand scores a fantastic deal because the bikes are low-mileage, high-quality rides.

However, for every great used bike on the market, there exists a lemon. Buying a used bike requires more than a kick of the tires to ensure you're getting the best deal possible.

More: 8 Tips to Lose Weight From Cycling

Do you know what you're doing?

If you have no idea what to look for in a used bike, recruit a bike-smart friend to help you. If you don't have a friend with this kind of knowledge, check with your local bike shop to see what they would charge to give the bike an inspection. Also, speak with the seller, as he or she might agree to split the cost of an inspection with you.

Know the size you need

If the bike doesn't fit you, it's not a good deal. Bike fit is incredibly important when on the hunt for a new purchase, and if you don't know what size bike is best for you, getting that metric should be step one of your journey. If you are someone who is between sizes, it's best to buy a bike that is slightly too small than one too big.

Inspect the frame

A few scratches and paint nicks on a bike frame or fork are considered normal wear and tear. However, if the nicks have spider cracks reaching out from the impact mark, it could be a sign of trouble. In fact, anytime you see a crack on any part of the bike – particularly at the intersection of two frame pieces – consider this defect to be a major red flag. A crack in the frame or fork is the sign of a stress fracture and could be a catastrophe waiting to happen. A small fracture can easily become a broken frame if you are traveling at high speeds over rough terrain.

Handlebars

Look at the tape on the handlebars. Is it brand new? If so, ask the seller why he or she replaced the tape. Be certain the reason was not due to a crash. A crash can cause cracks on the handlebars that the owner can conceal with new tape. Also, look to be sure the handlebars are straight. Bent or uneven bars can be a sign of trouble.

More: A Beginner's Guide to Buying a Bike

Drivetrain

The drivetrain is the system that transfers human power into bicycle power. This system includes the front big and small chainrings, pedals, cranks, bottom bracket, front and rear derailleurs and the chain. Look for high wear on the big and small chainrings. If the teeth are shaped like shark fins, the chainrings are worn and need to be replaced. Get on the bike and take it for a spin. You should be able to shift through every gear on the rear cassette when the front derailleur is in the small ring and again in the big chainring. Replacing pieces of the drivetrain can be expensive when considering parts and labor, so be sure the entire drivetrain is in good working order.

Brakes

Are the brakes in good working order? Can you easily slow the bike down and bring it to a stop at the end of a ride? If the brake pads are thin or you can't easily stop the bicycle, this is troublesome. Difficulty braking could mean you will need to replace the cables, pads or both.

Tires

Are the tires cracked or showing high wear? If so, you need to add a set of tires and tubes to your expense list.

If you're purchasing a used bike via Craigslist, the classifieds or from your local bike shop, be sure to thoroughly inspect the above equipment. It's also good to ask the seller why they are selling the bike, how long they have had it and if it has ever been in a crash.

Add the cost of the bike to the cost of repairs and replacement parts. Sometimes the total of these two expenses can still mean a good deal for you. If the bike fits, is in good working order and the seller checks out, you might have found your new ride.

More: 5 Quick Tips to Keep Your Bike Running Its Best

Active logoReady to ride? Search for a cycling event

About the Author

Gale Bernhardt

Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. She's worked as one of the few World Cup coaches and delivered coached education training for the Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. She has coached Olympic road racers, World Cup mountain bike riders and Leadville 100 racers. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's ready-to-use, easy-to-follow training plans.

Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. She's worked as one of the few World Cup coaches and delivered coached education training for the Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. She has coached Olympic road racers, World Cup mountain bike riders and Leadville 100 racers. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's ready-to-use, easy-to-follow training plans.

Discuss This Article