What To Look For When Buying A Used Bike

Are you currently in the market for a used bike—a bike that you will either use for recreational purposes or as a transportation source? Do you know exactly what to look for when buying a used bike, along with the questions you will need to ask?

Buying a used bike can be a very exciting proposition. However, it can also be fairly scary if you think about everything that could possibly go wrong with this type of sale.

Getting a good deal on a quality used bike takes a little bit of know-how and savvy. And unless you know how to inspect the bicycle and ask all the right questions you might end up getting burned.

To help you avoid getting a lemon with your next bike purchase, below we have outlined several steps to follow when purchasing a used bicycle. Following each of these steps will enable you to get just the right bike for your needs and preferences and help you avoid sellers with less than honest motives and a shady selling history.

Why Buy Used?

One might think that the process of purchasing a new model would not be all that difficult—certainly not difficult enough as to require a manual like the one we have created below—but when you consider that many of the top used road bikes today can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, the need for such a tutorial becomes much clearer.

Buying a used bike involves much more than just finding someone with a bike to sell and forking over the cash. No, you will need to check the bike out thoroughly to ensure it is in good working condition, and even check out the buyer to make sure he or she does not make a habit of engaging in shady, not-so-honest deals.

Buying a used bicycle makes sense for a lot of reasons.

If you are just purchasing the bike for recreational purposes, why spend an arm and a leg to get a new one when you can just as easily buy a gently used bike that works perfectly fine. Of course, you cannot merely take the seller at his or her word that the bike runs fine; you will need to look it over carefully, checking all of the various parts of the bike to ensure they are all in top working order.

Tip: Prefer a budget-friendly new bicycle? Check out our recommendations for cheap road bikes.

To help take some of the hassle and worry out of the used bike buying process, below we have listed several strategies and steps toward proceeding with confidence, beginning with creating a pre-buying checklist of just what you are looking for.

Creating a Pre-Buying Checklist

Before you even set out to purchase a used bike, it is always wise to make a checklist of just what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend.

This will help you navigate the various stores and websites in search of your new bike—a bike that meets all of your preferences and requirements.

So what should be on your pre-buying checklist? Here is just a sample of items that we suggest:

  • Type of Bike. Bikes comes in a variety of types, from road bikes to mountain bikes to beach cruisers to BMX bikes. Having a good idea regarding the exact type of bike you are looking for will really help to narrow down the available options. A road bike, for example, would be ideal if you plan to use your bike to commute back and forth to work; while a mountain bike is more suited for rugged terrain. Beach cruisers are ideal for some Sunday afternoon pedaling around the neighborhood and for exercise, and BMX bikes, which are best suited for children and teens, are great for performing tricks and riding on designated tracks.
  • Size. Just as bikes come in a variety of types, they also come in a wide range of sizes. A bike that would be ideal for a shorter rider, will not work well for someone who is tall, and vice versa. Bikes have to be fitted to people—and not the other way around. So understand the size of bike you are looking for before you even start to visit potential sellers.
  • Acceptable price range. You need to determine your maximum price range before you start shopping for used bikes. These days, there are literally thousands of used bicycles being sold through any number of channels and mediums, but it makes no sense to start shopping until you know exactly what you are willing to pay. Once you have determined your price range, you can then start filtering search results by price and therefore narrow down the possibilities that much faster.
  • Features. Make a list of all the features you are looking for on a used bike and only settle for bikes that possess those features. From lights, to a specific number of gears, and even to the color of the bike, if you are going to spend money on a used bike you might as well get exactly what you are looking for.
  • Where to look. Where do you plan to look for this used bicycle? Obviously, it is not very efficient to just drive around aimlessly hoping to just stumble upon your dream bike being sold in someone’s driveway (although that could happen). Instead, you should make a list of the places you plan to look for the best available bike in your price range. Online auction sites are good, but because you NEVER want to buy a used bicycle sight unseen, stick only to local online sales and always insist on seeing the bike before you make any commitments. Other places include bike shops in your area, garage sales, flea markets and online forums dealing with bicycles.

Once you have taken all of these steps, you can start making a list of potential sellers with their phone numbers and addresses next to their names.

Start with the most promising leads, and then list the others in descending order based on the bike’s attractive features, the price and even the distance of the seller from your home.

Then you can start making calls and setting up appointments to come and look at—or rather fully inspect—the used bicycle.

Inspecting A Used Bike

Once you’ve made an appointment with a potential seller, and come across a bike that you really like the looks of, it is now time to inspect that bike to ensure it is structurally sound and fully operational.

These inspections do not have to take a long time, but they should be very thorough.

Here is just an abbreviated list spelling out some of the things you should check out on what might be your new bike.

  • Frame. Carefully inspect the frame of the used bike to ensure it has no cracks or fissions in it. Go as far as to run your hand over the frame as you check for defects. Keep in mind that even the smallest crack can become a big one, and pass over any bikes that have a major crack in the frame.
  • Frame attachments. In addition to checking the frame, check all the pieces connecting to the frame for cracks or corrosion. Surface corrosion is usually not a big deal, but if the rust has rotted all the way through these frame pieces, it’s time to walk away.
  • Seat Post. Check the adjustable seat post to ensure it actually adjusts as it should. Inspect the clamp that actually locks the seat into place and always sit on the bicycle to make sure the post can hold your weight when sitting on it.
  • Steering system. Inspect the steering system against the one that is “supposed” to be on the bike according to the manufacturer. If there are differences, such as a different fork, ask the seller why it was replaced. There are no stupid questions when inspecting a used bicycle, and any information about potential wrecks or defects can usually be determined by how the seller responds.
  • Wheels. Make sure the wheels are straight and true, with no bends or missing spokes. You might have to actually roll the bike to pick up on any dents in the wheels. Also “kick the tires,” as they say to make sure they are inflated and still have a lot of tread on them. Often times you can negotiate a better price if the tires need to be replaced.
  • Drive train. Using your hand or a dedicated chain checker, lift the chain to ensure it is taught. Inspect the chain for rust and proper lubrication.
  • Cables. Work on the cables to ensure everything shifts without a hitch. Make sure the cables don’t hesitate or rub when you play with them, and that they do not rub on the frame pieces.

And that’s the process for inspecting a used bike! Of course, if everything checks out to your satisfaction, you should still ask the seller for permission to test drive the bike.

Be sure to ride it in various gears to make certain the drive train is working correctly, and always test the steering at various speeds.

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