Recycled cycles are usually a lot cheaper than new ones, and they’re good for the planet too. But it can be a bit of a minefield, so we’ve pulled together our top tips for what to check.
Ideally if you’re new to buying secondhand, take an experienced friend with you. You can ask for help through your local LCC group.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Every cycle has an unique serial number stamped on the frame which you can normally find below the bottom bracket. Often people register this frame number on Bike Register, a free database used by every police force in the UK. So check the frame number against the Bike Register database to see if the bike you’re looking at has been registered as stolen. (Bear in mind however that only a small proportion of bikes in the UK are registered in this way.)
If they have no receipt from for their original purchase, ask where did they buy it? If you buy from them, make sure you get a receipt with their name and address on, which you in turn may need for insurance or sale purposes.
An estimated 80,000 bikes are stolen in London every year. Don’t be tricked into buying one. Aside from encouraging bike theft you may buy a bike, have it seized if the owner identifies the bike, or put yourself at risk when meeting dishonest sellers.Tom Bogdanowicz, LCC Senior Policy Officer
It should go without saying that you should always get a test ride of any bike you buy, especially second-hand 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!
Make sure you are not being sold an e-bike that is illegal to ride on the road: any e-bike that has a motor more powerful than 250Watts or which can provide power assistance above 15.5mph is not legal on public roads (see our guide to e-bikes). Illegal e-bikes or conversions may also have sub-standard batteries – these may not work properly or even catch fire. Batteries wear out with use and can cost up to £500 to replace. If buying a used e-bike do your homework or buy from a reputable shop.
We can’t recommend getting a proper service highly enough. The £30-£50 cost of a very basic shop service should be factored into the cost of buying any second-hand bike, unless you plan to do your own servicing. Getting a trained mechanic to check it over gives you peace of mind, as they can quickly spot any hidden issues. If you’re an LCC member, you can get savings on servicing and parts from the shops in our retail network.
If you’re only spending £100 on a bike, then you don’t want to be spending another £100 on new parts. But if you’re investing a bit more in a bike (say £300 upwards), it makes sense to consider new grips, tyres and inner tubes, plus possibly a new chain and saddle. These are the cheapest and quickest upgrades, will improve the ride no end and should last a couple of years.
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. See our article on keeping your bike safe for more tips.
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 second-hand, 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. Small dents on top shouldn’t be anything to worry about and are unlikely to affect performance (they can be filled at a cost if you’re wanting to repaint the frame). Marks and scratches caused by cables or the chain rubbing are very common and again shouldn’t be an issue.
Larger dents, especially underneath the down tube (the section where Specialized is written on the bike in the picture) 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). Avoid any bike you think may have been involved in a crash: it may fail later and its geometry may have been affected which can create balance problems. (One test of geometry is to ride the bike no hands to see it if steers straight.) Another test is to apply the brakes and rock the bike back and forth to see if there’s any tell-tale signs of unwanted flex in the frame itself.
These need the same sort of close appraisal as the frame.
With rigid forks, both legs should be symmetrical, with no significant dents. The fork should be smoothly curved in a forward direction and not bent backwards. If you think it’s been bent – don’t buy.
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.
Make sure these are spinning freely by lifting the bike and rotating each wheel in turn. Look directly down on each wheel while it’s spinning to see if it’s spinning straight, with no wobbles. If there’s any movement, check that the wheel is mounted correctly. If a rim is very slightly out of true, then it might be possible to rectify by adjusting spoke tension. Loose spokes and an untrue wheel can indicate heavy usage. New wheels cost upwards of £30.
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 (£10+ per tyre) 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. Some second-hand bikes are sold with flat tyres. While flat tyres can be a quick fix (new inner tubes cost about £3), it can also prevent you riding the bike to test it out, so choose with care.
This is a two-part check: first the brake levers on the handlebars, and then the brake pads.
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 that touches the wheel clearly, less easy for disc brakes. 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 rim brake pads are relatively cheap and worth upgrading from the get-go for peace of mind. Disc brake pads cost £10 or more.
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, 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 can be a quick job for a mechanic. Look at the back end of the frame to see if the gear mechanism is not hanging vertically on its hanger – if the hanger is slightly off it may be an easy fix. But if the frame is out of true – avoid.
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.
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, more padded perch. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just worth bearing in mind that a second-hand 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.
8. 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 will be stuck with the saddle at an unsuitable height.
9. 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.
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