Used Bicycle Checklist

The internet has made it possible to buy a bicycle and have it shipped directly to you from pretty much anywhere in the world! Gone are the days of being limited by your local bike shop. However, the same rules still apply when buying a used bike anywhere at any time, whether online or in person.

Our years of experience in cycling and the cycling community have taught us a thing or two about what to look for when purchasing a used bike. If you’re thinking about purchasing a bike from a seller on Secondhand Cycle, it’s a good idea to scour the listing and ask questions about the bike. Since you’re not there in person to view it, make sure there are enough pictures available to your satisfaction. You can even ask the seller to provide a video of the bicycle. 

Before you start looking at the bike itself, make sure you get the serial number of the bike from the seller. Almost all bikes come with a serial number. Check out this great page from bikeindex.org on finding a bike’s serial number. You can ask the seller to provide this so that you can check against the database at bikeindex.org to ensure it’s not listed as stolen. Learn more [LINK] about our fight against stolen bicycles.

So now you’ve found that perfect bike on Secondhand Cycle and you’re considering a bid or an outright purchase. There are specific and important things you’ll want to note when virtually inspecting a used bicycle. We’ve compiled them for you here. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a bike mechanic 🙂

First things first - potential deal breakers

These may not be a dealbreaker for everyone, but you should consider walking away from the deal if any of the following are true:

  • The frame or fork of the bike is bent
  • Severely worn out components on the bike (it depends on the component)
  • The bicycle has been repainted (potentially stolen) – inquire more about this
  • The bike appears to have been in a crash or has been dropped
  • There is large amounts of rust or corrosion on the bike

If everything checks out with the above, then you can move on to the next set of checks.

Overall Condition

Ensure that there are lots of good, high-quality pictures of the bike as a whole. Look at all the frame tubes and the fork for any signs of dents, damage/cracks, or corrosion. Cracks in a carbon frame are a major issue and you should not purchase that bike. 

When a bike is crashed or is dropped, there are a few areas that tend to hit the ground first. Check these for any signs of damage – the edges of the handlebars, the pedals, the rear derailleur, and the sides of the seat. Damage to these components can mean a bike has been dropped or crashed. Proceed with caution if you aren’t satisfied with a seller’s explanations. 

Communication with the seller here is key. Since you can’t see and test the bike yourself, you’re relying on pictures/videos and your own sense about the seller’s honesty. At Secondhand Cycle, we do everything in our power to ensure that low-quality, dishonest sellers are never able to transact on our platform.

The Wheels

Check to see if the wheels have any “play” to them – that is, do they wiggle or move when jostled? They shouldn’t. You can’t test this yourself, but you can ask the seller to provide a video. Make sure you have the seller test both wheels. Next, have the seller lift up each end of the bike (not simultaneously) and spin the wheel that is lifted. Does it wobble at all? It shouldn’t. If it does, it’s a sign that some work will have to be done to the wheel. 

Lastly, inquire about the state of the rims on the wheel. Look for any cracks and ensure there is a smooth surface along the rims. You don’t want to be stuck with having to replace the wheel(s) once it arrives. As for the tires – hopefully you can still get some mileage out of them when you get the bike. Tires aren’t exactly cheap, so check to see if the tires on your potential new bike are bald. If they are, you might be able to get the seller to drop the price.

The Drivetrain

This is usually the most complicated part of any bicycle. You’ll want to make sure there are good pictures of the whole area where the chain meets the derailleurs and the pedals meet the crankset. Check for wear and tear here. These parts tend to wear out a little bit with each revolution of the chain, but ideally you’ll find a bike that doesn’t show too much wear. 

Things to keep an eye on here: lots of dirt and grime on the chain, filed down teeth on the sprocket wheels on the cassette, and build up of gunk on the derailleur pulleys. When assessing the drivetrain, it’s totally fair and smart to ask the seller how many miles have been put on the drivetrain components. The seller might not be keeping detailed logs, but they should have a general sense.

The Bearings

The wheels have bearings, but you already checked those earlier. Now it’s time to ask the seller to check or confirm that the rest of the components with bearings are good to go. These items are the bottom bracket bearings, the handlebars/headset, and pedals. There should not be any play when testing these bearings and the seller should notify you if they believe any of the components with bearings will need some additional work. Have the seller perform some tests on the bearings, with video, if you are not satisfied with the information that has already been provided.

Brakes and Gears

This one is difficult to completely test without riding the bike yourself, but an honest seller will not do you wrong here. Ensure there are pictures of the brake cables and check to see if there has been any bending or fraying or corrosion. The brake calipers should look relatively fresh and should show no signs of damage or heavy wear. 

REI (a well-known sporting shop in the United States) has a good guide on checking and maintaining disc brakes, so I recommend you check it out if you’re considering a modern road bike with this type of brake.

If you’ve noticed any issues with the bike after going through this checklist, you have a few different options. You could move on and start looking for another bike, or you could use some of the “faults” of the bike as a bargaining chip with the seller. The seller may be willing to drop the price of the bike. 

Everyone has a different level of tolerance. Some might want a bike that is essentially “like new,” while others are more willing to invest in some replacement parts if the rest of the bike is in good shape at a great price. If you’re ever unsure, it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion from someone who knows bikes. You can even ask the seller to review this article and confirm that all components are in good shape.

If you’ve found a bike you like and you’ve decided to purchase it, I recommend using PayPal. PayPal offers Buyer Protection, which can help you get your money back if the bike that you receive is not as described.

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