How To Buy A Used Bike


If you’re shopping for a new bike right now, the best of luck to you. If you’ve shifted your efforts to finding a new-to-you bike, then here’s a quick guide on how to get the best bang for your buck!

Not only are shops having a tough time getting new bikes onto the sales floor right now, but it’s also a problem that’s expected to continue well into next year. Some of the local shops in our neck of the woods have even advised customers to start planning on a new bike in 2022, pushing riders to watch for product announcements and pre-order as much as possible to help fill what shops ask for heading into fall and winter.

That’s a long time to wait, and if you’re looking for a different bike now, there’s a lot of prime riding season left. While those who have been riding a while probably have a bike that suits what they do, newer riders are in a tough spot. Either they’re on a bike not suited to what they really want to do (we’ve noticed a lot of hybrid bikes braving the trails right now and struggling on roots and in sand) or they have a bigger problem: they don’t have a bike at all.

Used bikes can be a great way to get a nice bike for less money than new ones, but it does take a little thinking and asking a lot of questions.

Size Matters. You wouldn’t buy the wrong size shoes, so why would you pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a bike that doesn’t fit correctly? Don’t ‘settle’ for a bike that only sort of fits. Riding a frame that is too big or too small can cause injury and make longer rides painful. Some of us are in-between sizes and can get away with riding a 56 when we might normally ride a 54, for example. Still, take careful note of contact points and take precise measurements of seat fore-aft, reach, stem length, and other little numbers that can add up to impact fit, comfort, and performance.

Bring A Chain Tool. A chain gauge is a great way to see how much wear and tear the bike’s drivetrain has before you buy it. A well-worn chain, which would be more than .75 out, means that most of the drivetrain components probably need replacing. Replacing a chain and cassette alone can quickly jump over $100 or $150 dollars, so make sure that plays a part in determining a fair price.

Metal vs Carbon. Carbon is much more likely to have visible cracks which raise the risk of failure. Even if brands have three, five, or even lifetime warranties on carbon frames, that warranty is almost always exclusive to the original owner. Take the time to examine the frame closely and don’t give in to the urge to “risk it” on a small crack unless you or an expert determines it’s only a paint scratch.

Metal frames might be more resilient to damage, but they’re not immune. We recommend asking the owner aluminum or steel bikes have been crashed or repaired. Additionally, it’s worth knowing how much time a bike may have spent on an indoor trainer. The strain of a trainer is very different from outdoor riding, and there’s also the risk that the frame itself is compromised from sweat in the tubing.

Ride It. Sometimes the best way to really understand a bike, and dig into the issues listed above, is to ride it. Especially if the bike you’re looking at belongs to a friend or acquaintance, ask them if it is okay to meet you at the trailhead and go for a ride. You’ll get a lot of immediate feedback on fit, drivetrain, components, and the overall experience by just pedaling it!

Other questions to ask:

  • If a local shop typically works on the bike (they may have a repair history)
  • If the tires have tubes or are set up tubeless
  • How many owners the bike has had
  • What parts have been replaced or upgraded, or any parts that may not be the original spec

You can buy a used bike and get years of enjoyment and miles out of it, but just like buying a new bike, don’t rush the process. Think, ask questions, and don’t let the thrill of squeezing brake levers push you into making a rash decision!