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Buying a Bike Second Hand

Finding a second hand bike that's right for you can be a real challenge - here are our tips on how to be a savvy second hand buyer.

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WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN BUYING SECOND HAND

Owned from new. One careful owner. Light use only. Regularly shop serviced. Phrases you’ll doubtless have seen repeated across online auction sites, social media market places and specialist ‘pre-loved’ forums. With new bikes still hard to source due to material and component shortages resulting from the Covid pandemic, more people than ever are looking to buy secondhand. But it can be a bit of a minefield, especially for the uninitiated, so we’ve pulled together a quick guide to the most important things to look out for. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it very likely is.

FRAME

By far the most important consideration is the condition of the frame as everything else is potentially replaceable (though it might not make financial sense to upgrade too much). Steel and aluminium frames are usually the best bet secondhand, as they’re generally the most robust and can take more of a hammering; carbon is more of a gamble unless buying from a reputable dealer or there’s a guarantee involved. When inspecting the frame, look for dents and dings. Smaller dents shouldn’t be anything to worry about and are unlikely to affect performance. Marks and scratches caused by cables rubbing at the head tube, or where the chain knocks against the chain stay, are very common and again shouldn’t be an issue. However, larger dents are worth investigating carefully. They’re usually caused by the rider having had a crash, the bike having been dropped, or it’s sometimes the sign of a stolen bike (where a thief has used a levering tool to prise off a lock). So inspect the general area, tap it, twist it, apply the brakes and rock the bike back and forth to see if there’s any telltale signs of unwanted flex. If you’re new to buying secondhand, take an experienced friend with you.

FORKS

These need the same sort of close appraisal as the frame. Both legs should be symmetrical, with no significant dents. Suspension forks are harder to assess than rigid forks; at very least they should be able to move up and down through their appropriate amount of travel. If they feel sticky, then they’ll likely need a clean and service.

WHEELS

Make sure these are spinning freely, by lifting the bike and rotating each wheel in turn. Ideally look directly down on each wheel while it’s spinning to see if it’s straight. If there’s any movement, check that the wheel is seated in the frame/fork dropout correctly. If a rim is very slightly out of true, then it might be possible to rectify by adjusting spoke tension.

TYRES

Check for obvious signs of wear. Is there much tread left? Are there any lumps in the side of the tyre? Luckily tyres can be easily swapped out, for relatively little expense, and are the single best upgrade you can make. If a tyre feels a little soft it might just need a bit more air in the inner tube. Lots of secondhand bikes seem to be sold with flat tyres, but it’s a quick fix.

BRAKES

This is a two-part check: first the levers and then the calipers. Check that you can pull the brake levers in and they spring out again after released. If they barely move, or pull too close to the handlebar, then the cable will either need adjusting or replacing (or servicing if they’re hydraulic disc brakes). Now check the brake pads for wear. This is easier for rim brakes where you can see the pad clearly, less easy for disc brakes where the pads are hidden inside the caliper. If in doubt, pull the front brake (the right-hand one on UK bikes) and rock the bike to see if the wheel holds. Then repeat for the rear brake (left-hand lever). New brake pads are also relatively cheap and worth upgrading from the get-go for peace of mind.

GEARS

As with brakes, this is a two-part check. If your bike only has one chain ring at the front (the ring the crank arm and pedal are attached to) then you’ll only have one gear shifter, usually on the right-hand side of the handlebar. If the bike has two or three chain rings, then you’ll have a second gear shifter on the other side of the bar. Ride the bike up and down the street, changing into every gear and checking that the changes are as fluid as possible; you shouldn’t need to force any gear changes, they should only require a simple push or pull with your thumb or index finger. As with brakes, minor cable adjustments may be needed if you find any slipping or noisy grinding. Sometimes a derailleur has been knocked and needs a slight realignment, which is a very quick job for a mechanic. But very often gears feel sticky and don’t run smoothly simply because the derailleur, chain and cassette are dirty and just need a proper scrub and degreasing.

SADDLE

What makes a saddle comfy really comes down to an individual’s personal preference – some cyclists prefer a slimmer, sportier model, while others prefer a wider, well padded perch. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just worth bearing in mind that a secondhand bike might not have your ‘perfect’ saddle. And that’s no reason not to buy it if it otherwise fits and feels right. Try a few saddles at your local bike shop and ask them to fit it to the bike for you.

SEAT POST CLAMP

These smaller collars hold the seat post in place and either have a quick-release lever or need an allen key to loosen/tighten. It’s worth a quick check to ensure the seat post can freely move up and down, otherwise you might be stuck with the saddle at an unsuitable height.

GRIPS & BAR TAPE

Perished, poorly-fitted grips (and bar tape) are no use to anyone and can be a real hazard in the wetter months. If the grips look past their best, change them – they’re another easy upgrade. Every hand is different so, as with saddles, it’s worth trying a few to find something you’re happy with.

GET A TEST RIDE

It should go without saying that you should always get a test ride of any bike you buy, especially secondhand ones. You might like the look of something, but only when you ride it can you tell if it fits and feels right. Too long, too short, too heavy… try before you buy!

GET A GOOD SERVICE

We can’t recommend getting a proper service highly enough. And the £30-£50 cost of a very basic shop service should be factored into the cost of buying a second hand bike. A trained mechanic can quickly spot any issues. If you’re an LCC member, you can get savings on servicing and parts from the shops in our retail network – head to lcc.org.uk/membership for details.

BE SENSIBLE WITH UPGRADES

If you’re only spending £100 on a bike, then you don’t want to be spending another £100 on new parts. Factor in a service and leave it at that for now. For more expensive bikes, £300 upwards, it makes sense to consider new grips, tyres and inner tubes, possibly a new chain and saddle – they’re the cheapest and quickest upgrades, will improve the ride no end and should last a couple of years.

GET A GOOD LOCK!

Finally, don’t splash out on a new bike and then leave it unlocked. Get the best Sold Secure Gold rated lock(s) you can afford and remember to always secure both frame and wheel (ideally both wheels) to a stand when left unattended.

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