6 Things to look for when buying a second hand bicycle

Bicycle sales worldwide have shot up over the past few years; and are predicted to reach nearly $80 billion by the end of 2015. The surge in bicycle sales can be attributed to a number of different things which make bicycles a favorable mode of transportation: riding a bicycle improves cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and overall health. It’s a sustainable form of transport which helps to reduce green house gas emissions. And with an increase in petrol prices, it is one of the most affordable ways to get around.

If you want to give biking a go but don’t have much money to spend on a bicycle, a great option is to buy one second hand. New bikes can be expensive, but if you know where to look, and what to look out for, you can get a quality bicycle for a fraction of its original selling price.

old bike

Research is vital in finding a quality used bike which is still in useable condition. The first step is to identify what type of bicycle you are looking for. Make a checklist of the things you want in a bicycle, and keep in mind what it will be used for majority of the time eg: commuting to work, extreme bike racing, or weekend cruises along the beach, etc. You should have a clear idea of what you want; this will make it easier to find the right bike.

The next step is to determine where to get a quality used bike. These days, thanks to the internet, you can view a wide range of used bikes online. Check out your local online classifieds or auction sites like Quicksales and Craigslist. If shopping online is not your thing, local bike shops are a great place, as are thrift shops or car boot sales.

Once you have found the pre-loved bike you think you want to get, here are some things to look for in a used bike:


1. Make sure the bike is not stolen

To avoid purchasing a stolen bicycle, ask the seller several questions before making the purchase. Ask where they originally purchased the bicycle, how long they’ve had it, and what the frame number is. This serial frame number is usually located on the label of the bike, and you can check if it has been stolen by contacting your local police station, or searching on the National Bike Registry website. However keep in mind that if the bike does not have a serial number, it does not automatically mean it was stolen.

If buying online, check to see if the listing uses a genuine photo of the actual bicycle, or a catalogue or stock photo. Also keep a look out for anything that looks too good to be true – as it usually is!

rusty bike


2. Make sure the bike fits

Just because the bike has a good price does not mean it’s a good deal. Get on the bike and ride it. Is it comfortable? If it’s not comfortable, you won’t ride it, so it’s not worth getting.


3. Check the tires and the inner tubes

When buying a used bicycle, it is important to check that the tires are well inflated and barely give way when squeezed. If the tires have dry rot (which commonly occurs in tires which have been left deflated for a long period of time); and if the sidewalls are cracked and bald, the tires will need replacing. New tires and tubes are fairly cheap and easy to replace so replacing them is not difficult or costly, but it is something you should check when you purchase the bike as it may be a way to bargain on the price.


4. Check the frame

Make sure that the frame is not bent and has no dents or cracks. Patches and dents can be a sign that the bike has been involved in an accident or collision. Try to avoid purchasing a bicycle with a bent frame as it will usually need to be repaired and may cause safety problems in the future.


5. Check the wheels and rims

It’s vital that you make sure that the rims and wheels of the bike do not have rust. To check the wheels for any problems, simply spin a wheel and check if it wobbles, or does not spin at all. If this happens, it means the wheel will have to be replaced, which is expensive. Also, make sure the rims are not worn down – the braking surface should be flat rather than concave.

rusty bike chain


6. Check the brakes

It is vital that worn brake pads be replaced; the cables should not be frayed and rusty. In addition, make sure that the brake levers are not cracked or dented. Pull the brake levers to make sure the cables are sliding smoothly and bouncing back to position rapidly. Replacing brake cables is not that expensive or difficult if you can do it yourself, but the cost will add up quickly if you need to have a professional do it for you.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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2 Responses to 6 Things to look for when buying a second hand bicycle

  1. Erica October 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Thanks for this. I was given a bicycle a couple months ago by one of my customers at Walgreens. I found out later it had been sitting in her garage for over 5 years. No rust, but the tires probably had dry rot. One tube was completely missing. After just looking at it for a month, I put it out by the dumpster. Someone picked it up. Let them deal with it!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      @Erica, Sometimes it’s cheaper to just buy a different bike than to fix up an old one. If you can do the work though, you can get a really, really good old bike for cheap and fix it up to make it an awesome bike.

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