How to buy a second-hand bicycle

The task of buying a second-hand bike may sound intimidating to people without much experience. How to spot a stolen product and avoid buying something dodgy? How can you ensure that you are not buying something that will soon need repairs and new parts or, even worse, has serious structural problems?

With a little information, it is possible to save a few pounds and grab a bargain though. We have 10 tips to help you out on this daunting task.


1) Ask the seller for the bike’s serial number. With this number, you can check the status of the bike in safety schemes such as the Bike Register or A reported stolen bicycle can be identified. Usually, the serial number is printed on the bicycle frame below the bottom bracket shell.


Serial number, usually under the BB shell

2) Avoid buying from markets infamous for selling stolen goods. You won’t be supporting an industry that could someday turn you into a victim.

3) If you smell something fishy, walk away. If you can post the information you have on groups of stolen bikes on the internet. Just make sure not to accuse anyone.

4) If possible, ask the seller if he still has the original receipt for the purchase.


5) Inspect the frame in detail. All the rest can be replaced on a bicycle. Except for the frame. Rust, dents, cracks and broken parts could mean the end of the line for the frame. Remember to pay special attention to parts subject to more tension, such as the connections of the different tubes. Remember that a new paint can hide defects.

6) Make sure that the seat tube can be removed, as well as the pedals. In extreme cases of rust, these parts can get seized in the frame and their removal gets nearly impossible.

You certainly do not want to be riding downhill at 30mph over a crack like this

7) Make sure you are buying an appropriated size frame. The options when buying something used decrease a lot. You can buy something heavier than you expected, with a color that is not your favourite or even a slightly different model than you planned and still live happily with it. But if you buy the wrong size frame, there is not much that can be done to repair this mistake.


8) Some parts of the bike need to be replaced more often than others. Tyres, brake shoes and chains wear out; brake and gear cables can seize up due to rust; rims and spokes need to be replaced. Check each of these components to see how soon they will have to be replaced.

9) Look at the wheels and the spokes. Turn the wheel and expect it to turn without wide lateral wobbles. Check if there are no missing spokes and whether or not they have similar tension. Spokes are like strings on a guitar: if you “play” them they will produce a sound. You want them to all sound quite the same.

10) It sounds obvious, but let’s remind you anyhow: go for a spin. 3 minutes around the block should be enough, but if the seller agrees with you, try and get a 15 minutes ride, so you can make up your mind.

And you – what is your opinion about second-hand bikes? What do you think is important to observe? Share your thought in the comment box below.

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