Should You Buy Used Bike: A Guide to Used Cycle Shopping
When I first started cycling more seriously I (like many of you) had some sticker shock at the price of new bikes. Unless you are a high-earner getting into cycling after making a few bucks, it can seem crazy to spend as much on a bike as you would on a basic used car.
Naturally, I looked at used bikes. My first two “real” road bikes were used, and while they worked out fine, I learned a few things about used bike buying in the process.
The bottom line – buying a used bike can be a way to get more for your money, but don’t let the tail wag the dog when you start seeing discount prices. Don’t settled for the wrong bike!
Why Consider a Used Bike
Obviously, the whole point of buying a used bike is to save money. New bikes can be crazy expensive, even cheaper road bikes, whereas used bikes are often significantly cheaper. This means that I can get a better quality bike for my budget if I choose to go used instead. I might even be able to find a really good deal on a brand-name bike that’s been well-maintained by its previous owner.
It is pretty common for a 5-year-old bike to be about 40% the cost of what it was new….. and that is assuming it is still in excellent condition.
Shopping for used bikes could mean that your money will get you a road bike and a mountain bike, for example, instead of having to choose between one or the other.
Another reason I’d consider a used bike is that it’s an environmentally friendly choice. Cycling itself is already a green mode of transportation, but buying a used bike takes it a step further. When I buy a used bike, I’m helping to reduce waste and extend the life of a perfectly functional item. It’s a small step towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Used Bike
When I decide to buy a used bike, there are a few factors I need to take into consideration. I want to make sure I’m getting a good deal and a bike that will serve me well. The last thing you want to do is regret saving a few bucks because you get the wrong bike, or a defective bike.
Just like buying anything used – a car, or even a home – you want to be sure the bike is in the condition that works for you! Before purchasing a used bike, I always check the bike’s condition in detail (which makes it difficult to buy site-unseen on Ebay.) This includes inspecting the frame for any cracks – especially if carbon fiber, or any signs that the frame was damaged or bent in a crash. I like to look at metal parts like the chain for rust, as it can be an indication on how well the bike has been cared for.
Check to see if the wheels spin true and straight, or if there is a wobble. Then be sure that the brakes are working properly and don’t squeak. If the prior owner was content with poorly-fitting brakes, then he or she probably didn’t take perfect care of the bike.
I make a note of any parts that need to be replaced or repaired, as this will add to the cost of the used bike. If there are too many issues, I move on to the next bike. I am not looking for a fixer-upper.
One of the biggest advantages of buying a new bike is that you can get the size that fits you just right. Be sure that your buying used doesn’t compromise your ability to get the right fit!
I once bought a bike on Ebay that was a great deal, and a relatively new bike for the right price. But instead of buying the 58 that I should have gotten, this bike was a 56. It was fine for a summer, with the right adjustments, but it was never going to be the bike that I would grow to love, due to the sizing. I sold it a few months later.
In short, look for:
- Standover height: When straddling the bike, I make sure there’s about an inch of clearance between my groin and the top tube.
- Saddle height: I adjust the seat height so that when my heel touches the pedal at its lowest point, my leg is fully extended.
- Reach: Sitting on the saddle, I check that I can comfortably reach the handlebars without leaning too far forward or back.
Safety is crucial when buying a used bike. Here’s a list of safety checks I perform to ensure the bike is in good condition:
- Tires and wheels: I examine the tires and wheels for any damage, such as cuts or excessive wear. Don’t worry about tire pressure, you can pump it up, but do be concerned if the tire doesn’t hold air (which can be common with a tubeless tire that has not been used in a while). Then you need to decide if the tire just needs new sealant or a tube, or if there is a bigger issues. Also, be sure the spokes are all good and that the wheel spins straight.
- Gears: I shift through all the gears and make sure the gear changes are smooth and the bike doesn’t skip gears.
- Brakes: I test both the front and rear brakes to ensure they respond quickly and effectively.
- Handlebars and Stem: I make sure that the handlebars and stem are straight, properly aligned, have no bolt corrosion, and are securely fastened. While you are at it, be sure the tape is good and doesn’t need to replaced. If it does, that should be reflected in the price.
By taking the time to assess the bike’s condition, fit, and safety aspects, I can make an informed decision on whether buying a used bike is the right choice for me.
Where to Buy a Used Bike
The Pro’s Closet
The place I recommend cyclists check out first is the Pro’s Closet, an online dealer of used bikes. Disclaimer, they are a partner of ours so we get a small referral fee, but they are only a partner because we believe in the service they provide.
I like the Pro’s closet for road bikes, triathlon bikes, mountain bikes, and gravel bikes because they are selective in the bikes they take in, and they inspect and service the bikes before shipping them out to you. You don’t have to worry about buying a nice used bike with a cracked frame, because Pro’s Closet watches for things like that.
They are also great at shipping the bike, which can be a bit of a headache for people who don’t know what they are doing.
Local Bike Shops
In my experience, one great option for buying a used bike is visiting local bike shops. Many of these shops sell used bikes that have been thoroughly inspected and tuned up by their skilled mechanics. This ensures that the bikes are safe and ready to ride. Additionally, supporting local businesses benefits my community and the cycling community as a whole.
A local bike shop will get you on the right bike. Let’s say you are buying a new tri bike – you don’t want to start out with bike that is just a little too bit or small.
I like that I can test ride bikes at local shops to get a feel for their fit and performance. The staff can also help me find the right bike for my needs and answer any questions I have. They may offer a limited warranty, which gives me peace of mind with my purchase.
I’ve also found success with online marketplaces such as Craigslist, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace. These platforms provide a vast selection of used bikes, often at discounted prices. However, I need to be more cautious with this option, as the quality of bikes can vary greatly, and there’s a risk of scams.
To find the right bike online, I:
- Look for listings with clear photos and detailed descriptions
- Check the seller’s reputation and/or reviews
- Take my time to ask questions about the bike’s condition, history, and any known issues
- Ask for additional photos, close-up of key problem spots, so I can inspect it more closely
After finding a potential bike, I always try to meet the seller in person and inspect the bike carefully before making a purchase (harder to do with Ebay, which is why it is probably my last choice of this bunch). This also allows me to take a test ride and make sure the bike is the right fit for me.
Warranties and Repairs
When buying a used bike, I always consider whether any manufacturer warranties are still in effect. New bikes typically come with a warranty period, which could be anywhere from one to three years. However, these warranties sometimes have limitations or are non-transferable, which means they may not apply once the bike has been sold.
To find out if a warranty still applies to a used bike, I usually do the following:
- Check the original purchase date of the bike
- Verify if the warranty is transferable to the next owner
- Identify any limitations or excluded parts under the warranty
Assume that the warranty will not transfer. If it does, consider it a pleasant surprise.
Another aspect to consider when purchasing a used bike is the availability of local shop services. I like to research and see if there are any bike shops in my area that provide repair services or tune-ups for the specific brand or model I’m interested in. Buying a used bike that is supported locally by shop services ensures that:
- I can get help quickly if any issues arise with the bike
- The shop has the necessary parts and expertise to properly maintain the bike
If possible, I also prefer negotiating for a complimentary tune-up or service with the purchase of the used bike. This often gives me added peace of mind knowing that the bike has been checked and serviced by a professional.
Pitfalls of Buying Used Bikes
Purchasing a used bike has saved me money, no doubt. However, there are some potential pitfalls I want you to be aware of when considering buying a used bike.
Hidden Issues: One major concern is that the used bike might have hidden issues, such as a cracked frame or worn-out bearings. Sometimes these problems are not easy to detect at first glance, and they could lead to expensive repairs or even safety hazards.
Sizing: Getting the right size is important for my comfort and riding efficiency. With used bikes, I might find it more challenging to find the exact size I need, especially when specific models or brands have unique sizing systems. Don’t settle for the wrong size!
Component Wear: The components of used bikes, such as the chain, cassette, and brake pads, might be more worn than those of a brand new bicycle. This could lead to the need for replacements sooner than I would like.
Lack of Warranty: Another potential downside is the lack of a warranty. With a new bike, I have the peace of mind knowing that if anything goes wrong, I am entitled to repairs or a replacement. With used bikes, this is usually not the case.
Stolen Bikes: One more thing to consider is the possibility of purchasing a stolen bike. It is crucial for me to do my due diligence, such as checking the bike’s serial number and asking for proof of ownership, to avoid buying a stolen product.
In my experience, buying a used bike can be a smart and cost-effective decision, as long as you take the time to research and inspect the bike thoroughly. I’ve found that used bikes often offer great value for money and allow you to get a higher-quality bike for less than you would pay for a new one.
When I look for a used bike, I make sure to consider the brand and model, frame size, and overall condition of the bike, as well as look for any signs of excessive wear or damage. It’s essential to check the brakes, gears, tires, and other components to ensure they’re in good working order before making a purchase.
If possible, I always test ride a used bike to get a feel for how it rides and handles. This helps me to determine if the bike is a good fit for my personal riding style and needs. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price as well – you’d be surprised at how much you can save!
It’s important to remember that buying a used bike comes with some risks—if you’re not careful, you could end up with a bike that needs expensive repairs. But by doing your homework and being vigilant in your inspection and evaluation of potential bikes, you can significantly reduce these risks and end up with a reliable and enjoyable ride.
Just remember to be thorough in your research and inspection process, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful purchase. Happy riding!
Frequently Asked Questions
What factors should I consider before purchasing a used bike?
When I’m considering a used bike, I look into the following factors:
- My budget: The price of the used bike should be within my budget.
- The type of bike I need: Road bike, mountain bike or a hybrid.
- The bike’s size and fittings: It should fit me comfortably.
- The bike’s condition: Overall wear and tear, rust, and functioning parts.
- The seller’s reputation: I make sure to buy from a trustworthy source.
What questions should I ask the seller while purchasing a used bike?
When talking to the seller, I usually ask these questions:
- How long have you owned the bike?
- Did you buy it used or new?
- Why are you selling it?
- Have there been any accidents or crashes with the bike?
- What maintenance has been done so far and do you have any records of it?
- Who does the maintenance?
- Are there any known issues, or parts that need replacement soon?
- Can I test ride the bike?
What essential checks should I perform when buying a used bike?
Before purchasing a used bike, I always perform these essential checks:
- Inspect the frame for cracks, dents, or bends. Do this with your finger, and with a careful eye. Insist on the bike being clean so you can more easily see issues.
- Check the wheels and tires for any damage, wobbly rolling, or wear.
- Test the brakes and gears to make sure they function properly.
- Examine the chain and sprockets for signs of rust or excessive wear.
- Inspect the cables and housing for fraying or damage.
How can I decide between a new or used bicycle?
I usually go for a used bike if:
- Budget is a concern: Used bikes are often more affordable than new ones. Or, said a different way, for the same money, you can get a higher-end bike.
- I’m new to that type of bike: A used bike lets me explore the sport without a significant investment. Say I want to try gravel biking, but not sure if I will like it. Better off not dropping a ton of cash.
I opt for a new bike if:
- I’m an experienced cyclist with specific requirements.
- I can’t find the right size in the used options. Again, never settle on sizing.
- I want the latest technology and features.
- I prefer the peace of mind with warranties and support.
How do I find a reliable second-hand bike shop near me?
To find a reliable used bike shop, I do the following:
- Ask friends or fellow cyclists for recommendations.
- Check online reviews and ratings of stores in my area.
- Visit different shops and talk to the staff to gauge their expertise and credibility.
What is the best time of year to buy a used bike?
In my experience, the best time to buy a used bike is either early spring or late fall. During early spring, people may be selling their old bikes to upgrade. In late fall, sellers might be looking to offload their bikes before winter. These periods could provide better deals and more options.
Jim is an accomplished triathlete and endurance cyclist, and has raced in more than 3 dozen USAT-certified races. He is also an avid trail runner and gravel bike rider.
His areas of expertise are in endurance training, cycling, triathlon technique, race direction, and training plans. In addition to writing extensively about the endurance world, he has managed gyms and fitness centers in the US. Jim is a longtime writer for Complete Tri, Compression Design, and his work can be found on the resource pages of many triathlon and cycling clubs in North America.