What to Look Out for When Buying a Secondhand Bike

There has always been good reasons to think about buying a second hand bike; getting more for your money and it being better for the environment are just two that jump to mind. But with some bike retailers reporting a 200% increase in demand, COVID-19 has presented a whole new reason to think about buying pre-used.

According to the Association of Cycle Traders, ‘sudden demand from essential workers and the significant adoption of cycling for exercise, travel and family leisure during the pandemic, further fuelled by good weather, is putting an extreme demand on the industry’. In other words, it’s now become very hard to get your hands on a new bike for anything less than £1,000, which is of course prohibitively expensive for lots of people.

But don’t let the current high demand for new bikes deter you from getting a set of wheels. Here’s a list of do’s and don'ts to think about before making your second hand purchase.


Do buy from a dedicated platform

There are an awful lot of scams out there so the first place to start is with a dedicated sale platform, the obvious one’s being eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. Whilst these sites rarely require proof of purchase, they do allow you to see a lot of information about the product and the peer-review systems mean you can quickly get an idea of how trustworthy the seller is. It’s also worth visiting sites such as Singletrack,, Pinkbike and BikeRadar. These all have forums full of passionate cyclists looking to offload old bikes. Buying from sites such as this are going to save you a load of hassle when buying the bike in the first place, and even more should a dispute arise. But remember, just because the bike is on a respectable forum, doesn’t mean it’s not dodgy. So read on for more helpful tips.

Do ask for more details

Most bike listings will include a decent amount of information about the bike. For example, this might include the bikes component specification, the frame size, the last time it was serviced, how frequently it was used and what it was used for, as well its age. But if you’re not happy with the level of info provided, don’t be afraid to ask for more. You’re entitled to know more about something you might be spending a couple of hundred pounds on. Plus if the seller doesn’t know or seems reluctant to answer your questions, it could mean the bike is stolen.

Do make sure it’s the right size

It sounds obvious but make sure you check your buying the right size bike for you. It’s normally the frame size you’re interested in and you’ll notice that most bike lists include reference to either ‘Large’ (L), ‘Medium’ (M), or ‘Small’ (S). Some will also include the frame measurements in centimetres or inches. Here’s a helpful size guide to determine what size you need for your height.

Do your research

The first thing to figure out is whether or not the bike is stolen - it’s a sad fact that the number of bike thefts are sky-high so logically thieves need a place to sell their ill-gotten goods. As a first step, ask the seller to provide proof-of-purchase (e.g. a photo of the receipt); this will include reference to the bike's unique frame number. If they match up, you’re almost certainly good to go (although there’s always the chance a thief stole the bike and the receipt). If you’re still unsure, it’s a good idea to check the police-approved Bike Register, which is an easy way to check if a bike has been listed as stolen. Once you’re confident the bike is legit, it’s a good idea to research the original cost of the bike to make sure you're getting a good deal. If that’s hard to find, then try and find similar models on other sites so you can compare.

Do meet the seller face-to-face

Pictures can paint a thousand words but there’s no substitute for seeing the bike in the flesh (so to speak). However, there are a few golden rules to remember when meeting a seller in person: firstly, meet in a public place, preferably in the day time. Try to avoid going to their home address. Secondly, take a friend along. A second opinion is always good, plus it’s useful to have someone else there to be on the safe side. Thirdly, don’t take cash. Nowadays online bank transfers can be done in seconds so once you’ve seen the goods and you’re happy you can make the payment. And finally, beware of the seller who’s reluctant to let you see the bike before you’ve transferred the money - they’ve probably got something to hide.

Do check for wear and tear

More often than not when buying second hand, the bike isn’t going to be in mint condition. There is going to be some dinks and dents. That being said, it’s still a good idea to check the bike for wear and tear and you don’t have to be an expert mechanic to spot the most important issues. These include severely rusted parts (particularly the chain), seized parts (including brakes and gears) and perhaps most importantly, cracks to the frame. If the worst comes to the worst, components can be replaced, but a cracked or seriously dented frame is a definite no-no. If you have the time and inclination, you can quite easily calculate the cost of replacing any obviously damaged parts. Having this to hand could be used as leverage in any negotiations.


Don’t send money before you’ve seen the bike

It’s important to try before you buy as they say, or in this case, see before you buy. Under no circumstances, is it a good idea to send money to someone you don’t know before you’ve seen the thing they’re selling. Apart from sites like eBay that have regulations in place to protect both the buyer and the seller, few online marketplace are able to offer the guarantees you need to rest easy sending money having not seen the bike you're buying. That being said, BikeSoup goes a long way to massively reducing the risk of buying a stolen or dud bike - they require sellers to pre-pay for an ad space, meaning that they have card and address details on file. This is a big deterrent to thieves trying to sell stolen bikes.

Don’t be afraid to walk away

So you’ve done all the research and you’ve gone to the trouble of meeting the seller (safely) in person to inspect the bike but, sadly, it just doesn’t quite fit the bill. In this situation it’s easy to feel the pressure to go ahead with the purchase. This might include feeling guilty for dragging someone out to show you a bike. But hey, this is one of the perils of selling a second hand bike. If it’s not right for you, don’t feel obliged to part with your cash. Just politely decline and walk away.

Don’t blow the whole budget

When buying a second hand bike, as with buying anything, it’s a good idea to have budget in mind. However, more often than not, people buying a second hand bike blow the whole lot on the bike itself. Instead, it’s a good idea to keep around 10% of your budget aside to cover the cost of any potential maintenance or repair fees. Plus, it’s always a good idea to get a professional mechanic to give your new second-hand bike the once over.

Handlebars (now named Fettle.) offers an MOT service, where we check and tune the brakes, tune your gears, check your tyres, lube your drive chain and tighten all your nuts and bolts so you can ride away happy and confident with your new second hand set of wheels. You never know where a secondhand bike has been, so best to get it checked!

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