Looking for a Sweet Used Bike? Follow These Rules

A few useful tips and tricks to help you navigate the used bike market.


So, you’re looking for a new bike. You might be getting super into road biking and need something that’s light, fast, yet affordable. Or maybe you’ve caught the mountain bike bug, but you’ve quickly realized a new trail bike is going to run well in excess of $1,000. The answer is simple. Enter the world of used bikes.

But before you dive head first into the quagmire of the used bike market, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Many shops have a selection of used bikes available, and they’re certainly worth a look, but if you’re on the hunt for the best possible deals, check out sites like Craigslist and PinkBike. You can find a decent secondhand ride at a rock-bottom price — but buyer be warned, it’s easy to overlook some red flags if you don’t know what you’re looking for. To help you find your used-bike white whale, we spoke with Charlie McCorkell, founder and owner of Bicycle Habitat, and Jonah Silver, manager at Bike Slug in Brooklyn, New York.

1 “First, there is the strong possibility of buying a stolen bike on Craigslist. If the seller frequently appears on Craigslist, ask to see their used product resellers certificate from [your home state], and the log page for the bike you are thinking of purchasing — this log is required by law. The bike must be kept by the reseller for 30 days before being offered for sale (in case the police are looking for a stolen bike).

“Take a picture of the seller and of the seller’s ID. It’s illegal to be in possession of stolen property and it is illegal to buy or sell stolen property. Take every step to make sure it is a legitimate transaction. This is all true, even (especially) when buying from a bike store or a flea market. You don’t want to have someone push you off a bike one day because it was theirs only days before you bought it.” –Charlie McCorkell

2 “The biggest red flag when buying a used bike would be frame damage. Some frame damage can be repaired, but rarely. The frame is the most expensive part of the bike, and the most difficult to damage (meaning something serious happened). Scratches and dings are not a huge deal, especially if the frame is steel. Any large dents should be avoided, and if the frame is carbon fiber any chips at all should be a deal breaker.”

“A little rust does mean the bike was left outside which indicates neglect. Remember that things like brakes, brake pads, tires and chains can be easily replaced/upgraded. If wheels are very out of true that is also a red flag. It means there are probably damaged or broken spokes and wheel replacement can get expensive. If the bike is a road bike and has integrated brake levers and shifters, make sure these work before buying the bike as they are very expensive to replace.” –Jonah Silver

3 “Familiarize yourself with proper fit criteria. A great Christian Louboutin pump for $50 in a size six, when you’re a size eight, is never going to be a deal. My number one issue with a lot of used bikes being ridden on the street is poor sizing, and you know the bike will end up in a basement soon — a waste of money.”

4 “One thing you can do is make a deal with your local shop. Offer them $10 to allow you to meet the seller at the bike shop for an estimate and evaluation of the bike. This way, you can be certain that you will be safe and can get a look at the bike. Remember, we [the shop] may not always be impartial, so you will still have to use your best judgment.

Purchasing used from Recycle a Bike is a good way to go, as it is a donated bike, you can be certain it is not stolen and the money goes to a good cause — and a professional has looked it over.” –McCorkill

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