Given the pandemic-induced surge in demand for bikes over the past few years, coupled with global supply issues, it has become surprisingly difficult to purchase a good quality, reliable bicycle at a reasonable price.
Have no fear! We’re here to help with a few handy tips on what to look for (and what to avoid!) so that your next ride is hassle-free and keeps you rolling safely, day after day.
Buying in Person
First things first - it goes without saying but if you’re buying a second hand bike in person from somebody you don’t know, consider taking precautions such as meeting in a public place, taking someone with you etc.
- There’s the old cliche of a used car’s tyres being kicked, as if that’s some indication of the condition of the vehicle. However, tyres are a good place to start. Check that there’s still some life left (some brands include wear indicators to look out for) and that they’re appropriately inflated. A bike which has been ridden with a tyre pressure that is too low for some time, may have some damage to the wheel rims or spokes - something which could end up costing more than the value of the bike itself to replace.
- Next you’re going to want to ensure the brakes work properly. Grab one of the brakes and gently roll the bike forward. If the wheel locks up without you having to use excessive force, it’s a sign that the brakes are working effectively. Repeat for both brakes. If the wheel continues to turn during braking, it’s not necessarily a bad sign - the brakes may require recalibration or the brake cable may need replacing (or brake hose bleeding if the bike has hydraulic brakes) - just don’t ride it until it’s sorted. Both are relatively inexpensive tasks. Alternatively, it could mean that the braking surfaces are contaminated and need cleaning - again an easy fix! Check the brake pads themselves for wear, as these can also contribute to poor braking but aren’t too costly to replace.
- Usually more a concern with carbon bike frames than aluminium or steel (but still relevant for both!) but it’s a good idea to check the frame for damage. Shallow scratches are usually just cosmetic but if there are more significant dents or cracks, the bike may be unsafe to ride. It’s always worth quizzing the current owner about how these marks came to be as if the bike has been crashed or dropped, it’s possible that there’s underlying structural damage which could compromise the integrity of the frame.
- You’re also going to want to check that the handlebars, saddle, stem and pedal cranks are all properly attached and tighten so put a small amount of force through each and check that there’s no play.
- Once you’ve verified that the bike is safe to ride, and if the current owner is happy for you to do so, take the bike for a quick spin around the block. Do some harder braking, listen out for any unusual noises whilst pedaling and freewheeling and, if the bike has more than one gear, change through all the gears, one at a time, to make sure you have access to the full gearing range.
All of that is very well but what happens when the bike you want is listed online, for delivery only? Well, whilst you can’t independently check that the brakes work or that each component has been correctly installed or maintained, you can often pick out a few telltale signs if something is awry.
- Firstly, inspect any images closely - be on the lookout for frame damage and rust - signs that the bike might not have been well looked after. Don’t be afraid to ask for more images if there’s something you can’t see clearly or if you want to inspect something in closer detail.
- Feel free to ask as many questions about the bike as it takes to make you feel confident enough that you’re making a good purchase. Don’t be pressured into buying if you’re not 100% sure.
- A lengthy description of the bike, so long as it hasn’t been copied from a retailer or brand product page, with a history covering any replaced parts is usually a positive as it suggests the owner has taken good care of the bicycle. If using a social media marketplace, check out the owner’s social media profile - if they’re a member of a cycling club or other cycling community, that’s also usually a good sign.
Ultimately, buying a used bike - like buying anything second hand, comes with its risks. It’s a great way to practice sustainable living, it’s usually cheaper than purchasing from new and it’s a cool way to give a new lease of life to an item pre-loved by someone else.
If you’re not confident in your mechanical bike knowledge or if you are concerned that the used bikes you’ve shortlisted to buy might have been stolen, check out our fleet of pre-owned bikes - all of which have been safety checked by our accredited mechanics, come with a 7 day return policy and a 3 month warranty. They are also verified by our in-house experts so we can confidently say that they have been purchased legitimately. We’re always happy for you to come and test ride our selection of pre-owned bikes to make sure you’re 100% satisfied with your purchase.