A Complete Guide to Buying a Used Bicycle


Buying a used bicycle can be a daunting prospect. Making sure you get the right bike for the right price can be tricky, especially if you’re just starting out in the cycling world. But don’t worry, we have some actionable tips for you to help you get the used bicycle you want for the price you’re willing to pay. You’ll see some golden rules that have stood the test of time, and some new tips you won’t have heard of before to help you out!

Buying a used bike doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process starting first with knowing what you need and want. Here is where we’ll discuss the major ways to get your hands on the right bicycle for you. We’ll also cover some common warning signs that a used bike isn’t worth your money (as well as some mistaken warning signs that can be fixed quickly with little cost). Before you settle on a final price, you’ll need some negotiation tips, such as bundling some things together, looking for a win-win situation, and being willing to walk away. We also have some great general tips to get you the right price, including avoiding too good to be true prices which may leave you with a bike that isn’t *ahem* yours.

In this post we break down the process of buying a used bicycle into four key parts, and then provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to get the best used bike for you. Ready to learn more? Then let’s get to it!

Identify Needs and Wants

The first step to buying a used bicycle is knowing exactly what you want. Failing to do this will leave you at risk of being led up the garden path, purchasing a bike you don’t really want, or paying more money for the bike you want than is necessary. So, the first rule in our guide to buying a used bicycle is nailing down everything you want from your new bike! Here are our tips.

Local mechanic or bike shop

It sounds silly, but if you’re not sure what you want, take in your search results to a local mechanic or bike shop and have them discuss your options with you. They’ll be able to discuss what’s a fair price and talk about the type of bike you need (road bike vs BMX, mountain bike vs touring bikes, gravel bikes etc) based on what you want to use it for.

Your local bike shop knows a lot about bikes – that’s why they’re in business after all – so ask them for advice whenever you’re stuck. Trust us, most bike shops are happy to share what they know because they’re passionate about cycling.

Head to a local bike park

This essentially works on the same principle as the bike shop. If you don’t know much about bikes, ask someone who does. You can head to bike sellers (like your local bike shop) or bike users for advice.

If hearing what a bike is like from those that use them is important to you, then just head to a bike park. It’ll be filled with people of all ages using great bikes, and if any of them know of a great place to pick up used bikes for a reasonable price, they’ll let you know. The cycling community is a helpful one, so get involved for advice and insider tips and tricks.

Ask in a community

There are plenty of communities on the internet full of people passionate about bicycles. You can find them on Reddit as well as Facebook just to name the biggest ones. You can also reach out to the owner of a cycling channel on YouTube, who will be more than happy to give you some advice.

Know your bike size

Knowing your bike size is important because getting the wrong one will make cycling uncomfortable, and in some instances even dangerous. Our major tip here is finding out the right size bike for you based on the type of bike you want.

Be aware that different bike types will need to be sized differently for you to get the most out of it, and you should also head to more than one local bike shop to get an idea about the size you need (because they may get slightly different readings based on their way of sizing you up for a bike). This will narrow down your search for your new used bike and save you time and maybe even some money too.

Warning signs

Once you’ve decided what you want, but you don’t know if the bike you’re looking at is on its last legs. Look for the following used bicycle warning signs (and warning signs that aren’t really warning signs at all, just a small maintenance job). Stick to these tips, and I guarantee you’ll be in a much better position for picking up a good quality used bike.

Avoid damaged frames and wheels

The first thing you ought to do when you’re inspecting a bike in person (and you should ALWAYS inspect a bike in person) is kick the wheels. Seriously. This is one of those age-old tips that has stood the test of time for a reason.

Warped or damaged wheels – wheels, not tires – are going to make for an uncomfortable ride that’ll probably end up with you on the ground. Replacing wheels is pricey too, so it isn’t worth picking up a used bicycle with damaged wheels.

The same can be said for a damaged frame. Since the frame is the base of the bicycle, damage to this will prove impossible to fix without replacing it, something which will cost you more money than the bike is worth (you can read about fixing a damaged aluminum frame here). Especially since you’ll need to buy the part new too. By the time you’ve spent the money, you may as well have just bought a new bike.

Signs that look bad but are easy fixes

Below is a list of things that many people reject a used bike for, but are quick and cheap fixes to make:

– Worn tires – this will cost you only $40 or so, and it’s something many cyclists replace on old bicycles anyway.

– Chain – depending on the bike you’re buying for and the brand of chain you pick up, you could pay between 10 and 90 bucks. But this isn’t too bad if you get the bike at a reasonable price to begin with.

– Cables – new cables might set you back $25, but again, a lot of cyclists replace brake cables anyway for added reassurance.

– Small paint chips – you can usually pick up some touch up bicycle paint for less than $20. This is good to have anyway for further maintenance work that you might need to carry out as you use the bike yourself too.

Ask for additional pictures to save yourself time

Inspecting in person is great, but don’t waste your time going to see every bike you’re interested in. Ask the seller for some additional photos for you to look at.

This is great for two reasons. First, if they can produce them, then you get to see some more pictures of the bike to inspect its quality before deciding whether seeing it in person is worth it.

And second, it’s a good way to find out if the seller is legit or not. If they can’t send more pictures, why can’t they? A seller who isn’t doing everything they can to sell a bike to a potential customer isn’t a seller you want to buy from. This is a definite warning sign, so keep this in mind!

Negotiation tactics

By now, you should hopefully be settled on a specific type of bike, and maybe even have your eyes on a specific bicycle from a specific seller. Well, no matter if you’re buying from a local shop, online, or from a private seller, there are some negotiation tips that can help you get a better price. Some of the following tips are just general good practice in negotiations, and others are bike specific.

Try to get a bundle by asking what else they can include

One great negotiation technique is bundling. You basically pay the price your seller is asking for (so long as it’s reasonable) but you ask for them to sweeten the deal by throwing in a few extras.

Look for things that you’ll need too – there’s little point in getting a bundle if the items that are offered are useless to you. Think about tools, spare parts, panniers or baskets, even clothing if they’ll fit.

Research facts about similar bike prices

The worst thing you can do before entering any negotiation is going in unprepared. Head to other local bike shops, look at online stores selling used bicycles, and scour the ads in your local newspapers.

If people are offering similar makes and models in similar conditions, then take those numbers and use them to help bring the price down of the bike you want. Whatever you do during this, don’t lie!

Doing so can damage seller trust and they’ll just move on to the next customer. If the seller is offering the best price for their used bicycle, then be fair with them too.

Know what you want to pay (and what you absolutely WILL NOT pay)

This is a very common mistake in all negotiations. Knowing your topline and your bottom line is important to keep you within the bounds of your budget.

The problem when selling used bicycles is that private sellers often overestimate how much it is worth, and buyers often underestimate it. Reaching a middle ground is key, but you should still only be willing to pay for something if it is a reasonable price for you.

Look for a win-win scenario

Win-win scenarios keep everyone happy, especially in the used bicycle selling world. Why? Well, selling a used bicycle can be a real pain. Finding potential customers is hard, shipping it to them can be costly, and some conscientious sellers even perform services and maintenance work before selling their bike, so their costs in terms of time and money stack up too.

So, use this to get a deal that works for both parties. If, for example, a seller offers delivery, see if you can get a better price by picking up the bike yourself. Sure, you’ll have to pay a little in gas money, but you’ll probably still end up with a better deal.

Don’t be afraid to walk away

A willingness to walk away is the key to any successful negotiation. You don’t NEED this one particular bike from this one particular seller, you just want it.

Being willing to walk away, and actually doing it if it isn’t the right price or bike for you, is important. It shows sellers you’re not somebody to be messed with, but it can also make them come around to your way of thinking.

Used bicycles are a dime a dozen, but people willing to buy one, that’s much rarer. Seeing you walk away might just make them bring their prices down.

General tips for the best price

This last section is a bit of a catch-all for all remaining tips to do with buying a used bicycle. It has a little of everything from telling you when to buy your bike, who to buy from, and how to avoid being scammed. Want to find out more? Read on to the end of this post so you’re fully prepared before attempting to buy your next new used bicycle!

What time of year is best to buy a bike?

There are two times of year that work well for buying a used bicycle. The first is Autumn/Fall. During this time, lots of new models have been released, so the used bicycle market is inundated with new old bicycles for you to look at. Fall is the best time to pick up a bicycle if you want to see a lot of variety, so you have a lot of options to choose from.

The other great time of the year if you’re looking for the best price, look at buying a bicycle in January or February. This is a great time of year because few people are looking for bikes during Winter/so soon after Christmas, so it’s a great time to capitalize on the fact that there aren’t many customers for used bike sellers to choose from. January and February are the best months for buying a bike if you’re looking for a great price.

Don’t be afraid of beaten-down bikes

Beaten-down bikes aren’t a problem, but broken ones are. If something can realistically be fixed up to a high standard, even if it looks pretty bad, then pick up the bicycle.

You’ll get a killer deal, pay far less than it’ll cost you to fix it up (especially if you or a friend can fix it up yourselves), and it can be a good way to learn more about bikes and how they work too! Just make sure you know what you’re doing on this one, or this fun project might become an impossible task.

If it’s too good to be true, IT IS

This is why knowing the market value is so key. Yes, some people will offer better deals to shift an unwanted bicycle quicker, but nobody will offer a bike at a price significantly below the market value if they don’t have to.

If it’s too good to be true, it usually is, and it’s usually because it’s an online scam or the bike wasn’t the sellers to begin with. That’s right, stolen bicycles pop up in the used bike market all the time, so avoid purchasing from someone who is trying to move a bike on quickly, because it might be stolen.

Build relationships in the bike world

This is so important! Get to know prolific sellers in the used bicycle world. Whether it’s an online shop, a private seller, or your local used bike shop, look out for those people who are selling the most used bikes and get friendly with them.

Deals and negotiations are much more likely to be successful if you are buying from someone you have a past relationship with. And remember, if you find the right guy to buy a used bicycle from, remember them. Repeat customers often get better deals from sellers too!

Your take-home message today

So there you have it – everything you need to know about buying your next used bicycle. Stick to these tips and you’ll be guaranteeing yourself the best chance to pick up a used bicycle for a brilliant price. Used bicycles are amazing, but a used bicycle that has been picked up for a reasonable price? Well, nothing beats it!

Happy pedaling!

Bike Commuter Hero

When it comes to Cycling to Work, SAM IS THE MAN because he doesn't just talk the talk, but he also walks the walk - or rides the ride, to be more precise... Come, pedal with me and be a HERO!

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