Buying a Used Bicycle–Part 2–What to Look For

Even if it looks this nice, don't assume everything is just right. Take the time to check things enough to be sure your bike purchase will treat you well.

You’ve made contact with the seller of your new bike and it is time to meet them and see this bike you like.   What do you look for and how do you know it will treat you well?   If you are bike savvy, this is not a problem, but what if you are new to the bike world?   Or, you are just not that tuned into the mechanics of bicycles?   I will try to guide you to the points of interest as you inspect and ride before you buy.

There are three levels of used bike choices.   First is the bike that is in perfect condition, with no repair needs.   Next, is a bike that has been sitting for a while or has some problem that won’t allow you to take a test ride before you buy it.   And the final type might be incomplete or in really bad shape.   A vintage bike might fit into this category.

First things first

I would assume the bike you have come to see matches your bike needs.   You wouldn’t be looking at road bike if you want a mountain bike.   With the many types of bikes available, you should have gotten a description or have seen a photo of the bike in question.   Next up, is the size of the bike right for you?   Once again, this can be loosely determined before you have made it this far.   Normally, there is a tag on the seat post (above the pedals), that will tell you the size.   Older bikes won’t have this.   The tag will note a size in inches, centimeters, or S, M, L, EX.   You might know which is right for you.   If not, do some research on the net for more info on this.   There are charts that will guide you.   If the bike is rideable, just hop on and see how it feels.

Checking for problems

 Before, during, and after you ride, look it over very good.   Look for frame cracks and bends.   Look at the whole bike for obvious problems.   Stuff like a torn seat is not a big deal.   Things like that will give you the chance to try to drive the price down some.   If it does have big problems, consider that a deal breaker.   As you ride, listen for noises, feel for looseness, and check the shifting and brakes.   If it seems to have more drawbacks then pluses, you can walk away anytime.   You are not obligated to buy it, you are still in the negotiation phase.   If you don’t feel you are up to knowing if it is a good bike, bring a friend who is.   For a fee, bike shops will do these things for you, but not all sellers will allow the bike to leave before the cash has traded hands.

Flicking the spokes like guitar strings can tell you if they are tensioned correctly.

In addition to the brakes and shifting, you will want to check the bearings in the wheels, pedal cranks, and steering.   Grab the tire and check for looseness.   Spin the tire and listen and feel for roughness as you make sure the tire and rim turn true.   Gently grab the spokes to see if they feel tight.   (If you flick them with the back of your fingernail, you can tell if they are tight by the sound they make.)   Check the steering, bottom bracket, and pedal bearings the same way as the wheel bearings.   They should turn free, not be loose or feel rough when turning.

If the bike can’t be ridden, then you will need to decide if the repair costs and the purchase price still add up to a good deal.   Lots of used bikes are going to need tubes or tires replaced.   Cables and brake pads wear as a bike is used.   These are not too expensive, and can be used as a reason to barter some on the sellers price.   Major problems, such as bad bearings and bent wheels start to add up.   Some people are looking for a bike like this so they can buy low, do the repairs their self, and save money in the process.   That might not be you, so keep you eyes wide open as you inspect the bike.

So you have checked it over, spun the tires to look for bends and listen for noises.   It rides well and fits your body.   You like the condition and color.   Make the deal and smile.   If it has just been tuned-up, have fun with your new bike.   If it is a little rough, take it to a shop or friend who works on bikes to get a one-over.   It is a small price to pay to make sure your safety and the bike’s dependability are a given.   Make sure you have the needed bike items like a helmet, lights, bell, and the such.   And now that you have your new (used) bike, enjoy, it care for it, and ride it often.

Rust and Luster

One thing that is near impossible to see in the posted photos is rust.   Most bikes are stored outdoors.   It is a sad, but true fact.   Rust in the wrong places on a bike, can be a major problem.   Moving parts that are rusted, like the chain, drivtrain, and brakes can take a bike out of commission.   Other places it is an eyesore, but nothing more.   The shine of the paint, chrome, and alloy is nice to have, but more for you than the safety of the ride.   Ask about the rust, look at the pictures closely, and make the decision if it is even worth the time to go see the bike in question.   More shine—less rust=more money.

Vintage Bikes

When it comes to older bikes, things might not be so cut-and-dried.   If your dream bike is incomplete or rusted, you may need to do some major restoration.   There are shops that can do the complete job.   Or you can do some of the work and count on them for the repaint and sticker replacement.   You may have to continue the search for the missing pieces.   It could be more trouble that you counted on, and the project may never reach the riding stage.   It is great to have a project, but don’t over do it.   It is no fun spending tons of time and money with nothing to show for it in the end.

I run across a lot of vintage bikes that are in great, ready-to-ride shape.   The initial price can be quite high, but it could be more than worth it to get such a beauty that requires no extra work, and to be able to enjoy it right away.   And when you compare it to the price of modern new bikes, the cost doesn’t seem so bad.   And remember, you are free to negotiate.   Greenbacks in the hand can be enough to get the seller to soften his firm stance on the price.

Let me know if any of this helps or if you have any questions, Turbo Bob.

“I love the bicycle, I always have.   I can think of no sincere, decent human being, male or female, young or old, saintly or sinful, who can resist the bicycle.”—William Saroyan, from his introduction to ‘The Noiseless Tenor’.

My favorite local bike shop?   Q-Bikes in Clairemont and Lemon Grove.

Find them at

Buying or renting an E-bike in San Diego?

Contact Gary at


About Turbo Bob's Bicycle Blog

E-bike Enthusiast Vintage Bike Enthusiast
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2 Responses to Buying a Used Bicycle–Part 2–What to Look For

  1. Amy Faurote says:

    I love your blog, Bob. It’s beautiful. Does it cost you monthly or is it free. I believe this is the format my yoga mentor, Dani, uses for her blog. Thanks for sharing with me. I will definately follow your blog. You are an excellant writer! Peace Love JOY Amy xoxo

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