Knowing how to buy a used bike can be a tricky endeavor particularly if you don’t know what to look for in a bike when analyzing it. One great thing with bikes is that you can generally see everything and how it works; as say, opposed to a car where you don’t really see anything that’s happening. If something is a bit off with a bike, you will be able to see it or feel it if you know what to look for. Asking the following questions to the owner and looking at some key points on the bike will help to ensure that you know how to buy a used bike and are making a good purchase.
How to Buy a Used Bike – Questions to Ask
- How old is the bike?
- Were they the original owner?
- Were any parts replaced?
- Were there any crashes on the bike and if so how bad? What was fixed?
- Does everything work on the bike? Gears, brakes, etc.?
What to Look at Specifically in Person
If you have the chance to see the bike in person before you buy, you should definitely do so. You likely can return items on ebay and other online sites but it is a hassle and you probably don’t want to go through the process again to find another bike if the one you bought doesn’t meet your expectations. Before you ride the bike you are going to want to look it over, up close and in detail.
With how to buy a used bike, start with the frame and ask if there are any spots that they would point out that may have been scratched or dinged. After that, look and make sure there are no deep scratches or cracks, especially on carbon, anywhere on the bike. Some key areas to look at are the joints, particularly under the down tube where it attaches to the head tube around the bottom bracket, as well as both the front and rear drop outs. (where the wheel attaches to the frame) If you do find any questionable cracks you are going to have to make sure they are just paint and not the frame itself. This can be tricky and requires a bit more knowhow but at least you know they’re there.
Shifter and Derailleur Scrapes
The next thing in how to buy a used bike is to look for scrapes on the shifter and brake levers as well as the end of the bars. Typically in the event of a fall this area is going to hit the ground and get scratched up. Also looking at the rear derailleur will indicate if it took a fall on that side. The outer face will be visibly scratched up and the derailleur could also be bent inward.
If any of these have scratches you will need to make sure that they all still work properly and are not compromised structurally. And if they do indicate a crash, you need to more thoroughly look over the rest of the bike to ensure that there is no other damage.
If the shift/brake levers are pretty banged up you need to make sure the handle bars are also still functional. Typically aluminum bars are pretty durable but give a good flex on both sides to make sure they are still good. If they are bent in any area then they will need to be replaced as they have been significantly weakened. If the bars are carbon, it is almost exclusively advised to replace them as even a small crash can compromise the integrity of the bars. This is especially so on a used bike since you don’t know how sever the crash was on it.
The first thing to check with the wheels is to spin them in the frame and see if they’re true. An easy way to do this is to hold a pen or other straight tool on the frame with the tip resting a millimeter or two from the rim. Spin the wheel and watch and see if the wheel has any wobbles in it. Anything more than a few millimeters left or right will require straightening and past that the rim may need replaced.
Also with the wheel, rock it from side to side toward the frame to feel if there is any play in the bearings. There should be some flex with the wheel but if you feel that it’s loose or you hear an abrupt hit or rocking in the bearings, it means that they are going to need to be replaced.
The Bottom Bracket and Crankset
The last thing to look at before you ride the bike is the bottom bracket and crankset. First, knock the chain off the gears to the inside so you can freely spin the cranks. If they don’t spin freely the bearings will need to be replaced. Also grab each crank arm and rock it from side to side to see if there is any play in the bearings. There should be no lateral movement past the flex of the frame and crankset.
How to Buy a Used Bike – Before you Test Ride It
After you have gone through the bike and have looked at the details of each part you want to make sure that it is safe to ride. Hopefully you caught anything that may fail when you ride such as a compromised frame or wheel. Also check the following.
Check the Brakes
Grab hold of both brakes and make sure they engage properly and stop the wheel. Pull tight on both levers as often the thing that is going to slip is the bolt that clamps down on the cable. This will test to see if it’s tight enough. If they need adjusting this article will help; “How To Adjust Your Brakes”
Check Bolt Tightness
The next thing to check is that the handlebars and stem are properly tightened. Take an allen key and make sure the bolts holding the handle bar to the stem are tight. Then make sure the bolt on the top of the steerer tube is tight along with the, typically two, bolts on the side of the stem that clamp down onto the steerer tube.
When Test Riding
Now you’re ready to test ride the bike. Go slow and easy at first getting a feel for everything and making sure the bike works properly.
Check the Brakes
Before you go too far, make sure the brakes stop you. Take note on how they are. Do they grab quick? Do they squeak? How hard are they to pull? Make a mental note of each.
Check the Gears
Now you’re probably riding a bit faster. Shift through the gears and make sure they all work. Also, make sure you pedal a bit in each one. If any of them slip, particularly the smaller ones toward the frame while pedaling a bit harder, the chain and cassette could be old and no longer match up. Measuring the length of the chain, which can be found under “Measuring Chain Wear” in the article”Bike Chain Maintenance“, will quickly show you if it is going to need replaced or not.
Check the Steering
Take a few turns on the bike and see how the steering feels. It should be smooth without any points that are harder than the other. If it isn’t smooth, either the headset could be overly tightened or the bearings in the headset need replaced.
Check the Feel
Overall how does the bike feel? Now the bike probably won’t be perfectly positioned to you but does it feel comfortable and work easily? Is it a bike that you would want to ride? You can make some changes after you buy it, such as a new saddle or doing a proper bike fit, but it should all be pretty close to what you are expecting.
Knowing how to buy a used bike can be a hassle in a few ways particularly dealing with another individual and not a business like a bike shop. Make sure you know why they are selling the bike and if you believe their story or not. If they just don’t ride it and want to get rid of it, then it’s probably a descent bike but it probably wasn’t maintained well so you may have to improve a few things on it.
If the person is upgrading to a new bike, it is likely that they rode it a descent amount and maintained it. The biggest thing here is to see if it has been crashed badly. If someone is just looking to get rid of the bike for no real reason, pay extra attention. There could be something wrong with the bike and they just want the problem off their hands. You don’t want to be stuck with a bike like this where you’re then left fixing all of its flaws. Do your homework on what to look for in how to buy a used bike and pay attention to the details when you’re inquiring and analyzing the bike.
Most of all make sure you enjoy the bike that you purchase, used or not.