Buying a second-hand bike can be a lottery; unfortunately, there are a number of people out there who, given the chance, will take you for a ride. If you’re looking to buy a second-hand bike and don’t feel like having to take it to a professional mechanic right after, follow these steps to make sure you get value for your money.
Check the frame
The frame is the heart of your bike, and therefore the most important part. Pretty much everything on your bike can be easily repaired or replaced, except your frame. If you’re buying carbon, you need to be particularly careful. Carbon is an extremely strong material until it’s structurally compromised. Keep an eye out for any cracks or rock strikes, especially at the joints. If you can find any significant damage, it’s best to give the bike a miss. On alloy bikes, frame damage isn’t as much of an issue, as damage to one section of the metal does not have as much of a significant effect on the overall strength of the bike. However, again, if you notice any cracks, it’s not worth the risk.
Give the whole bike a once-over
You’re buying a second-hand bike, so you can’t really expect impeccable quality, but what you can expect is a bike that runs well and components that you shouldn’t have to replace for a few months. Check the wear on the cassette and chainrings by looking for ‘shark toothing’ of the teeth, run through the gears and make sure everything shifts well and put the suspension through its paces and ensure all the dials and controls work. Grab the pedals and apply lateral force – if the cranks move more than a few millimeters, the bottom bracket is worn out and you’ll need to replace it. Not a huge deal, but something you’ll want to know about. The biggest thing you can’t miss is the design of your rear hub. If purchasing a cheaper, older commuter or road bike, the axle designs often don’t stand up to a rider weight of over about 80kg; there’s a risk it could snap within a few kilometers. So consider whether the bike is right for you specifically; even if it means spending a bit more money, it’s worth it to get one that’s safe to ride.
If you’re buying a mountain bike, pay special attention to the suspension. Look for vertical scratches at the lower end of the forks. If there are markings, it means the seals haven’t been kept clean, and that’s going to be an expensive fix.
Finally, check the bearings. Hold the frame and give the rear wheel a flex, if you feel lateral movement, it means either the hub or the bearings are on their way out. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but it may be something to factor into the price you agree to pay.
Check out the seller
Hone your stalking skills – if you’re buying on a Facebook group page, give the seller’s Facebook profile a look. If you think there’s anything suspicious, for example, if they’re selling expensive, top-end bikes and yet there’s nothing on their profile or photos that would indicate they are a cyclist, you can post what’s known as a ‘legit check’ on the group that you’re in. Post a photo of their profile in the group and people can let you know if they’ve bought from that particular seller before, and can either approve or veto them.
Reasons for selling, service history and questions about how the bike rides are important things to know before purchasing a bike. Not only will this help with checking out the seller, but it’s good to know if the chain has ever been replaced or not.
Bring a friend
If you know nothing about bikes, bribe your bike-fanatic mate with a beer to get them along. They’ll be able to tell you if the bike fits and might pick up on some things you’ve missed. Almost all sellers are fellow riders who are willing to help out, but it never hurts to have an extra pair of eyes.
Sellers often post the bike with a higher price than they are willing to accept, or the highest price they’re aiming to get. Don’t be afraid to ask for a slightly lower price. What’s the worst that could happen? It is, however, a faux pas to ‘lowball’ the seller, i.e if they are selling the bike for 1000 dollars, don’t offer 300 unless you genuinely believe the bike is not worth any more, it’s just poor form. Agree on a price before you meet up. Assuming the bike is up to scratch, it’s a great way to annoy a seller by trying to negotiate that late in the process. However, if the bike isn’t as advertised, or needs substantial money spent on it, don’t be afraid to negotiate a lower price to factor those expenses into your budget.
TIP: If you’re in Canberra and looking to get a great deal on a used bike, keep an eye out for Pushys Fyshwick swap meets!