With bikes, frames and tech in the cycling industry continually updating, and prices elevating as a result, buying a used bike is a fantastic way of saving a little cash, but there are risks involved. As such there's a few tips and tricks you need to take into account before laying down your money on a pre-loved steed.
In this article, we'll take you through all you need to know about purchasing a second-hand bike. Including what to look out for, the important questions to ask, and how to get the most out of your budget.
Short on time? Jump to each section below;
There's nothing wrong with getting a good deal, of course – we'd all like to pay less – but you should make sure that your good deal doesn't turn out too good to be true. As with anything, there's a tipping point at which the money you are saving initially with a cheap purchase will end up costing you more in repairs and wasted time.
With any purchase, it pays to do your research first. If you have a specific model or manufacturer in mind, jump online and look for reviews or 'first-look' articles which summarise the pros and cons of the bike, and be sure to pay particular attention to performance, comfort and safety aspects. YouTube is a great source of easily consumable information, so look for videos from manufacturers for specifications and technology information but also look for impartial people or companies providing their opinions.
If you are not after a specific bike but rather a type of bike, there are plenty of 'best of' lists such as our best budget mountain bikes for AU$500 to help you know what to look for and the options available to you. Buyer's guides, such as our road bike buyer's guide are a handy resource as they provide comprehensive information on what makes a bike better than another and goes into detail on each aspect of a bike such as a frame, wheels, and drivetrain.
Additionally, if you’re after a little more security with your used bike purchase, second-hand bicycle dealers such as Alchemy Cycle Trader take all of the fuss out of buying a pre-loved steed. All bikes purchased through a reputable trader such as this are checked over, serviced, cleaned, come with a limited warranty and a roadworthy certificate for peace of mind.
Buying anything second hand has always been an excellent way to save a few dollars, but such a saving is not without risk.
When buying a second-hand bicycle, be sure to ask a lot of questions. Why are they selling it? What parts have been changed? What is its usage history? Has it ever been crashed? When was it last serviced? Who did the service? Where did they buy it from? The list goes on.
If the seller gets touchy about any of this, then question the purchase. Knowing how to check over a bike for damage and wear takes experience, and it's something that good bike shops will typically offer for a small fee. If this isn't an option, a list of common issue areas to inspect are outlined below.
What to Inspect
- The frame: The frame is the foundation of the bike, so ensuring it is sound and without fault is crucial. Also, if the frame is in good working order, getting other parts such as chains, tyres, brakes etc... are far more inexpensive than replacing the frame. When assessing whether or not a frame is in good working order, check for any scratches, dents, chips, or unusual bends. These are likely the result of a crash or dropped bike. This is especially important if you are looking at a carbon frame as a small crack could lead to catastrophic failure of the frame and a lot of damage to you. If you are inspecting an alloy bike, look for any signs of rust or paint bubbling which could indicate corrosion.
- Drivetrain: The drivetrain is a closed circuit that propels the bike and consists of the cranks, chainrings (front cogs), chain, cassette (rear cogs), derailleurs and shifters. It directly influences the efficiency of your shifting and generally, the more it costs, the more durable it is. All of these components can be replaced, but at a cost, so it's worth assessing their condition as it may end up costing a significant amount. While a single deteriorated component isn't 100% indicative the whole drivetrain needs replacing, it's more likely than not that if one part needs replacing, the other components do too. To start with, check the cranks for any damage similar to what you are looking for when checking the frame; scratches, dents, chips or bends.
The chainrings and cassette are next, and here you are checking for sharpened teeth, similar to a 'shark tooth' profile, which indicates excessive wear which will lead to poor engagement with the chain and your gears slipping. The chain comes next, and here you are checking for 'stretch' - the chain doesn't actually stretch, the pins that join the links together become worn and the chain grows in length. Here's an in-depth guide on how to check a chain for wear and replace if necessary.
Finally, derailleurs and shifters should move freely without resistance. For more on drivetrains, read through our guide to road bike groupsets.
Brakes: The brakes should behave similarly to the derailleurs and shifters, moving freely without resistance. If you squeeze the brake callipers (the part that mounts to the frame and contacts the wheel) and there is resistance, or they get stuck once closed, they may need to be replaced.
Wheels: Few components influence ride quality more than the wheelset, and few that will cost you more to replace, so pay particular attention when assessing the hoops. First of all, give them a good spin and make sure they spin straight. Any bowing or movement could be a deal-breaker if it's any more than a few millimetres. After that check the rim braking surface for a concave shape which indicates it has been worn down and is at risk of failure.
Tyres: Tyres can easily be replaced but at a cost, so ideally they will be in good condition when you purchase the bike. Look for a square or flat section down the middle of the tyre which indicates it's probably due for a refresh. Most tyres will have wear indicators in the form of a small hole in the centre of the tyre. When you can no longer see this hole, it indicates there is not sufficient tread left, and they need to be replaced.
Check for any unusual noises or movement: Any usual sounds or movement in a bike is most likely due to poorly maintained bearings. This is especially prevalent at the front of the bike at the headtube, and at the bottom bracket (where the cranks are). One quick way to tell if the bearings at the front of the bike are shot is to apply the front brake and rock the bike back and forth. Any knocking indicates a problem. TA similar test is applicable at the bottom bracket; hold onto the cranks and try to move them side to side. If there is any lateral movement, it indicates a problem.
Bikes with suspension: Suspension is a wear item and needs regular servicing. Push on the suspension, feeling for any sticking or excessive resistance, and also listen for any squeaking. It's also worth asking when did the owner last have the suspension serviced?
Doing these basic checks will help to ensure you're not buying into someone else's negligence. The critical thing to remember here is that if you're buying a cheap bicycle, it's because you want to save some cash. A cheap bike requiring a lot of repairs is not a cheap bicycle.
Other expenses to consider
Every new bike sold in Australia should come with reflectors, a 'warning device' of some kind, usually in the form of a bell, and pedals. Aside from those items, you need to set some money aside for other essential things like a helmet, front and rear lights (for riding at night or low light), pump, puncture repair kit, spare tube and bottle cage to carry water.
If you are keen to improve comfort and performance, investing in some quality cycling-specific clothing and clipless (aka clip in) shoes and pedals will make a world of difference.
Be sure to factor in these additional costs when purchasing a bike, so you don't get a nasty surprise.
Hero image courtesy of Alchemy Cycle Trader
Browse the wide range of used bikes for sale right here at Australia's number one online bike marketplace, BikeExchange.