The urban bike magazine

How to Find an Affordable Second-Hand Bike

Whoever wants to buy a bike for little money looks around on the online second-hand market. Countless offers at various prices can be found quickly with just a click of the mouse. However, the terms "retro" and "vintage” unfortunately hide a lot of rust and bad material. So what do you need to consider when buying a second-hand bike?

David Zotter
Writing about, fine-tuning, traveling with and living of the bicycle. Most of the time I am doing this in my hometown Graz. And if it's for once not about the bike, I can be found at the university or on tour with my little son, well on the cargo bike.
Image © Infinity7664 [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

3 Steps to the Perfect Used Bicycle

A little patience and the desire to look into the bike a little are two important conditions on the way to acquiring a second-hand bike. In any case, though, with a little know-how, even a layman can find the right vehicle. We have summarised the most important tips.

First of all, you should know what kind of bike you want: city, racing bike, single speed… because there are several bicycle exchanges that partly specialise in the respective types of bicycles. Questions about the correct frame size, the intended use and the asking price should also be clarified.

The Search: What’s on the Market?

Once you’ve decided on a portal, it’s recommended to get an overview of the entire site. You may want to take a few days to do this, since new bikes are always being added to bike exchanges.
The more specific your search is, the faster you will get good results. Incorporating a clear idea of your desired bicycle in your search process reduces the amount of offers (which is usually gigantic), and this will help you reach your goal more quickly.

The bicycle’s age, the general condition and any damages should be clarified by using “remote diagnosis” – detailed pictures are very helpful in this process. You can only get an accurate idea of the condition of the bike by checking it out directly on the spot. It’s therefore always best to pick up the bike yourself and to avoid shipping.

Visual Inspection and Purchase: What Do I Have to Look out For?

During an appointment with the seller, a couple of attentive inspections can help you determine whether the bike lives up to the description. If defects are detected, that can serve as a starting point to negotiate the price.

First of all, you should inspect the frame carefully for any rust, dents, cracks or scratches. You should never let yourself be fooled by a well-polished and shiny frame.

second-hand bike

Image © David Zotter

Attentive inspections can be a starting point for negotiations.

What should not be loose/should not wiggle…

  • the bottom bracket: This is easy to see by moving the crank (in other words, where the pedals are screwed to the frame) laterally to the frame back and forth. Nothing should be shaky here.
  • the wheels: Lift the front and rear wheels and then move them transversely to the frame to eliminate the possibility of any play in the wheel hubs.
  • the headset: Hold onto the bicycle firmly at the handlebars and push against a wall with the front wheel. Nothing is supposed to shake where the handlebars and the fork come out of the frame.

What always has to be able to move well…

  • the wheels: They should turn with as little side contact and noise as possible.
  • the seat: This has to be adjustable in height.
  • the brakes: The brake handle should operate smoothly.
  • the gearshift: Changing gears should operate easily and without clicking.

The Wear Parts Determine the Value

It is essential to check the condition of the wear parts. If these are not too worn out, the future investment costs should be low. Therefore, they say a lot about the actual value of the bike. You should pay attention to…

  • the tyres: If the profile is worn down and the rubber is cracked (especially on the sides), the tyres have to be changed.
  • the brake pads: Almost all brake pads have a mark at the top that gives information about the wear.
  • the brake and gear cables: They can’t be rusty or “fray” at the ends.
  • the gears: You should check the front chain rings and (depending on the gear shift) the rear sprocket wheel or gear cluster. If the teeth are very sharp or even broken off and no longer nice and round, the material is worn down.
  • the chain: If the chain is up front on the largest chain ring and is in mint condition, it can only be taken off in the riding direction to the extent that the individual teeth cannot be seen completely.
  • the brake surfaces: These are located on the sides of the wheels and are still in good condition if no dents or cracks can be seen.

Finally, during an extended test drive, you should ask yourself the following question: Do I feel good on this bike and is it fun to ride? In general, it should be noted that a thorough inspection by a layman can never replace the trained eye of a bicycle mechanic.

Image © Roni Armin (CC BY-SA 2.0) / Flickr

David Zotter
Writing about, fine-tuning, traveling with and living of the bicycle. Most of the time I am doing this in my hometown Graz. And if it's for once not about the bike, I can be found at the university or on tour with my little son, well on the cargo bike.

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