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7 tips for buying a second-hand bike

© Ismael Ibañez
If you're looking to buy a second-hand mountain bike (or a roadie), then follow this step-by-step guide to get the best for your money, and stay safe online.
Written by James McKnightPublished on
While there are currently some superb deals on brand new bikes – particularly from direct-sales brands – the second-hand mountain bike market is also thriving.
With some mountain bikers changing bike more often than their socks, and resale values lowered by the influx of direct-sales bargains, it is a great time to get that top-dog rig you always wanted at a respectable price.
Where to look, what to look for, and how to close a deal on a second-hand mountain bike? We’ve put together a guide to second-hand mountain bike purchases (but a lot of these rules apply to road bicycles too).

Step 1: What to look for

First things first, identify what it is you want from a bike, and how much you have to spend. That way you can dive into the many online selling platforms with a manner of intent – sifting through hundreds of potential deals will be a lot easier.
  • Define your budget, and stick to it
  • Decide the style of bike or bikes that you are looking for; wheelsize, suspension travel, frame material etc. You’ll soon find out if you need to rethink your expectations
  • Go for the newest model year bike possible – technology such as Boost spacing, metric shock sizing etc. is important for resale value, although slightly out-dated bikes will of course come at a much lower price point

Step 2: Where to look

You can find ads on bike-specific websites such as Pinkbike, general-interest sites like Gumtree, Facebook buy-and-sell pages like ‘Bike Buy and Sell’, and Facebook Marketplace.
  • Bike-specific site have huge numbers of bikes for sale, but are sometimes a little disorganised
  • eBay is of course the classic go-to, but beware of stolen bikes
  • Gumtree sometimes hides some unbeatable deals where many mountain bikers might not think to look
  • Facebook buy-and-sell pages are great, but can be quite jumbled with no clear order to listings
  • Facebook Marketplace is a great tool to refine your search locally and to a set budget
  • Many bike parks and shops sell old demo bikes, so research to see if anywhere near you is selling

Step 3: Identifying the best ads

By knowing how to identify a legitimate ad from a phoney one, and a potential hidden bargain from a no-hoper, you set yourself on track to securing a great deal while minimising faff.
  • Seller history: if the seller is new to a platform and has few photos on their profile on the likes of Pinkbike, poor engagement on Facebook, or lower than a feedback rating of 10 or less on eBay, alarm bells should be ringing
  • Always check if the ad has a phone number. If yes, send the seller a message or call them straight away, and ask as many questions about the bike and its history as possible. If they can’t answer your queries, then it might be a stolen bike or a scam
  • If there’s no phone number, contact the seller with a pre-prepared list of detailed questions about the bike, where it’s been ridden, when and where it was bought, etc. If their answers are incoherent, beware
  • A bad photo and/or description don’t necessarily mean you should avoid. On the contrary, sometimes people don’t have time to take good photos and write a decent overview, and for that reason they’ll get little interest in the bike they’re selling. That means you could be looking at a bargain. Get in contact straight away for further images and with those pre-prepared questions
  • If a part on the bike is broken, that’s not necessarily a reason to avoid it. Small breakages (and even some bigger ones) can be replaced at low cost with second-hand parts, so check out the average pricing for a replacement part and weigh up your options
  • If you intend to buy from afar and get the bike delivered, make sure you consider the cost of postage when looking at pricing

Step 4: Making a deal

Once you’ve identified the bike or bikes that interest you the most and you’ve asked as many questions as possible, it’s time to strike a deal.
  • When you’ve decided on the bike(s) in your price range and asked some questions, go in with a low offer. Chances are the seller has listed the bike at a higher price than they’re expecting
  • Always try to meet up with the seller. You’ll have a pretty good idea straight away whether it’s the bike for you, and whether the seller’s answers to your persistent questioning match up in real time to those provided in your previous communications
  • Even if you don’t intend to pick the bike up personally, ask if it’s possible to do so. If not, those alarm bells should be ringing

Step 5: Checking it over

Now you’ve chosen the bike or narrowed down a shortlist, it’s time to meet up and check it for unseen damage – be thorough and don’t be shy!
  • Severely worn tyres, brake pads down to the metal and rubber-less grips are probably a sign that you’re looking at a heap;
  • Put the bike upside-down and check all welds and look for severe dents, particularly around the bottom-bracket (an area that takes a lot of hits)
  • Check the suspension for obvious damage to the fork stanchions and shock shaft – scratches and scrapes are bad news for longevity
  • Ensure there are no leaks from the brakes, that they engage well and don’t stick – if they do it’s a sign of poor-to-zero maintenance
  • Check the wheel spoke tensions – if they seem massively unbalanced then it’s a sign that the seller might have attempted to cover up wheels that are on their last legs
  • Even if you aren’t there to check the bike in person, you can still ask for photos of these key areas

Step 6: The purchase

Paying should be the easy (if slightly painful) bit, but there are ways to protect oneself and to help ensure the safest possible transaction.
  • To reiterate, always try to meet up to seal the deal. If you really can’t, then go in with as many more questions as possible, and ask for more photos. Get on the phone to the seller and ask yet more questions before proceeding with payment
  • Avoid any non-protected bank transfers unless you already have the bike in your hands (i.e. you’re with the seller). The likes of PayPal offer good buyer protection for online transactions
  • If you meet in person and you’re happy with the bike and trust the seller, then there’s little reason not to make payment on the spot
  • If you haven’t met up and you paid online, what happens if your bike never shows up? As long as you’ve paid through a secure service then you can raise a dispute against the seller. Make sure you keep all correspondences and provide everything – emails, text messages, notes from phone calls – to the payment platform (i.e. PayPal) when you do so. It can be a lengthy process to get your money back, but you’ll be glad you didn’t transfer directly from your bank account

Step 7: Go ride

Now ride away into the sunset on your perfectly functioning, all-singing, all-dancing, new (kind of) steed.
Heaven really is a place on earth
Heaven really is a place on earth
A huge thanks you to Peter Ballin for his help with this feature. Check out his books on mountain bike, ski and snowboard maintenance here.