Whether you’re looking to grab a bargain second-hand bike from a bike shop, an online auction site such as eBay or a classifieds site such as Gumtree or Craigslist, and more recently Facebook Marketplace, make sure you read our advice first. It could save you a wad of cash in the long run, or keep you from falling into the pitfalls that surround making such a purchase.
There’s no doubt that you can find a lot of good deals online and potentially in an auction, but, generally speaking, we wouldn’t recommend buying your first bike online unless you’re an experienced mechanic or able to get someone who really knows bikes to look over your potential purchase.
Some bike shops do sell second-hand bikes and those bikes should have been checked over by the shop, and while they could be slightly more expensive than online, you should have more peace of mind that the bike’s in good working order.
If you’re new to the second-hand market then a traditional brick and mortar bike shop is a good place to start looking at used bikes, until your knowledge and confidence increase.
What questions should I ask when buying a second-hand bike?
Bicycles can bring a lot of emotion out of people, and listings often contain people’s pride and joy, so it is common to see lengthy and detailed descriptions – these are good and should inform you well as a buyer.
However, if the seller’s description doesn’t give you all you need to know about the bike you intend to buy, be sure to ask any questions you want the answers to.
The more detail the better, and while a particularly sparse advert shouldn’t put you off, you will need to do the legwork to find out the information you need to know.
Before you commit to buying, be sure you find out the general condition of the bike, including any parts that are broken or may need work. Many owners keep receipts from maintenance work or parts, just like they would do with a car’s service history.
Questions you should consider asking when buying a second-hand bike
- How long have you owned the bike?
- Have you got the original purchase receipt?
- When was the last time the bike had a service, where was it serviced and what work was carried out?
- Has any component or the frame ever been replaced or repaired under the manufacturer’s guarantee?
- Is anything currently not working as it should?
Good pictures make a big difference
Decent quality images are what you should be looking for – do not trust sellers that use stock photos. If you can’t see all that you need to in the supplied listing photographs then don’t be afraid to ask for more.
Photographs are also a good opportunity for you to get an idea of how the owner treats the bike. Plenty of owners will, for example, photograph a dirty bike. This lazy approach can often be a reflection of an owner’s maintenance schedule.
On the flipside, bikes that look immaculate in photos are usually the best cared for – but this isn’t always the case.
Keep some money aside
Try not to blow your entire budget on the bike itself. Think about setting aside around roughly 10 per cent of the bike’s value for potential maintenance costs.
A second-hand bike bought from a private seller won’t come with a warranty, so if it develops a fault you’ll need to cover the cost of repair.
Look out for signs of neglect or damage
Make sure the bike hasn’t been subjected to neglect and check whether the frame has been damaged. These are two of the most important things a second-hand bike buyer can do. However, looking for these things can be tricky and daunting, especially if you’re new to buying used bikes or aren’t an expert.
It’s important to begin your checks with the most expensive components first, working your way over the bike to its cheaper parts.
Take the frame for example: are there any cracks or dents? If there are any visible defects, we recommend not buying that bike.
Pay particular attention to carbon frames because cosmetic damage could well be hiding a structural issue that wouldn’t be as obvious as on a metal bike.
On metal bikes, check the welds for small hairline cracks that follow the shape of the weld. If there are cracks around the welds, we recommend you consider not buying that bike.
There’s no harm in asking how many miles the owner has clocked on the bike. Remember that no matter how well a bike is maintained many items are consumables and will wear out.
On the other hand, if a bike looks or is described to be in ‘as new condition’ then check its specification against how it was sold – it may even be wearing its original tyres and brakes and they could be due for replacement if they’re worn (especially disc brake pads).
Some bikes have obviously had a hard life. A rusty chain and bald tyres are obvious signs of neglect, and these sorts of bikes should be avoided unless their condition is reflected in the price and you’re confident about doing them up yourself.
Second-hand suspension – what to look for
If a bike has front and/or rear suspension then find out when it was last serviced.
Suspension forks and shocks rely on lubrication oil (much like a vehicle’s engine) to prevent damage and reduce wear and tear. The condition of the oil also affects performance; as the oil degrades over time performance is reduced.
Recommended suspension service intervals can be found on the respective shock or fork manufacturer’s website and, if followed, should extend the lifespan of a shock or fork.
Bikes with rear suspension systems usually pivot on bearings (cartridge-style ball bearings with in-built seals) and the rear shock is frequently attached to the frame using bushings (small nylon- or Teflon-coated metal tubes) that stop play when they’re new.
Both bearings and bushings are consumable items and if worn can be the cause of knocks and rattles, making the rear of the bike feel loose.
If the shock and pivot bolts are tight and rear suspension is rattling or feels loose, the bearings or bushings are most likely worn and will require an overhaul.
Bushings are inexpensive to replace (around £20), but a full set of frame bearings can be near £100. Factor in a shop’s labour costs too when considering these repairs.
Make sure it’s the right size
Another obvious thing to bear in mind is to make sure you’re getting the size that’s right for you.
If possible, check out the size of the same (or a similar) model of bike before buying to make sure you’re choosing the correct frame size. Don’t be tempted to buy a bike that’s too big or too small just because it’s a good price.
If you can take it for a test ride, all the better, but expect to be asked to leave your phone, wallet or ID with the seller.
Could it be a stolen bike?
Frame identification numbers can often be found stamped into the bottom bracket area.
It is prudent to check that a bike has not been stolen before buying it.
If a bike is being sold way below market value, ask yourself why. Does the owner not know the bike’s full history? Is the bike listed incorrectly? These are all warning signs.
An original purchase receipt is a great thing to ask for. Each frame holds a unique identification number: ask for a picture of it.
These can be checked against numbers on the national database to find out whether a bike is stolen. If you have doubts, don’t purchase.
Is the seller reliable?
On eBay, it’s relatively easy to view a seller’s feedback and their selling history. Lots of satisfied previous customers are ideal, and you can scrutinise any negative feedback before making your purchase decision.
On classified websites you may not have this luxury, so take extra care.
Buying from a reputable bike shop reduces the risk of a dodgy seller, especially if you’ve already got a relationship with a shop and are on good terms.
Check the postage
First of all, we’d recommend collecting the bike in person – it’s a more personal experience and if there are any big issues you can deal with them at the time.
Collection in person isn’t always possible and if you do go the postage route, be careful. The bike needs to be well packed and travel with a reputable firm to prevent damage in transit.
We also recommend insuring the bike for its full value in case it gets damaged in transit or goes missing. This might cost a bit extra but is worth it.
Meeting a second-hand bike seller
If you do decide to meet in person to do a deal, make sure you take reasonable precautions in order to stay safe.
While it might feel sensible meeting them at their house or having them come to yours, a public place – like a supermarket or petrol station – is a better bet. It’s more likely to have CCTV coverage and there’ll be plenty of strangers and witnesses around should something untoward happen.
It’s wise to take a friend with you, if possible. If that’s not feasible tell people where you’re going, who you’re meeting and what time they can expect you to check in to confirm everything is okay.
If you’re paying with cash, make sure you keep it in a safe and hidden place until you’re happy with the bike and want to buy it.
Trust your instincts
If something looks too good to be true then it probably is. Seriously – if a seller isn’t making the situation easy for you, or anything is even slightly suspect, then turn away. Chances are you’ll find a similar bike from a better seller at some point in the near future.
If this is the case, be patient and try to keep your cool. Making rash decisions based on desires to buy a bike from someone dodgy can spell disaster.
Beware of fakes and scams
The sad truth is that there’s plenty of counterfeit product out there, and that includes bikes.
Classified sites are actually littered with fake frames from the likes of Look and Pinarello. If you’re considering buying a product that you know people have faked before, then get on BikeRadar’s forum, owners’ forums or manufacturers’ websites, which should hold the information you need to determine whether a bike is real or genuine.
Similarly, the web is full of scams, so try and ensure your payment methods are protected.
Save that search
Nobody has enough time to be constantly scanning the likes of eBay for bikes, no matter how much we try!
Thankfully, eBay’s saved searches can do that for you. Simply set up a saved search (here’s how) and let the website alert you when new products that you are interested in have been listed.
Don’t drink and buy
Finally, don’t purchase anything when affected by alcohol. Seriously. We know plenty of people who have bid more than they really wanted to after a couple of drinks. Set your maximum bid limit and stick to it.