Buying a new bike can be a challenge, but the process is rather straightforward. You do a little research, a little shopping, then you go home with your new ride.

Buying a used bike, on the other hand, requires navigating a much more complex route to find your dream bike. And there are plenty of pitfalls and potholes to avoid along the way.

WHY BUY A USED BIKE

Buying a used bike isn’t for everyone. Even if you’re looking for a bargain, a used bike may not be the best deal you can find (read why below).

So when is buying a used bike a good way to go?

  • You know a ton about bikes, you’re already fixing up bikes, and you come across a screaming deal. You’re the ideal person to snatch up that killer find.
  • You’ve got a lot of time on your hands and you’re looking for a bike-based project. You like components and tinkering. You understand that projects sometimes require multiple trips to the shop for new, different or forgotten parts.
  • You want something special, personalized and unique – maybe even vintage. You’ve got the patience to hunt for it and you’re willing to spend what it takes to get that bike in solid riding shape.
  • You’re broke, but ambitious. You’re willing to put in the leg work it takes to find a good deal and you’re willing to spend money to get the bike in solid working order. Bonus points if you’re sister, girlfriend, wife, neighbor or brother is a bike mechanic who owes you a big favor.

WHERE TO BUY A USED BIKE

BIKE SHOPS

Some bike shops specialize in used bikes, but they’re all fairly different. The stock changes frequently, so you’ll need to visit several times and make a project out of circling around to the used shops in your area.

Ask about the condition of the bike and what their warranty is. Some shops stand behind the quality of their tune-ups enough to warranty the bikes for several months against malfunction, but most don’t. Some shops sell the bikes “as is,” which could mean all sorts of pitfalls. A quality shop will be willing to tell you a little bit about what the bike needs to be in better condition. If the shop isn’t willing to talk about the condition of the bike and seems shifty, it’s because they are shifty and don’t deserve your business.

Used bike shops are the most likely to offer a trade-in on your current bike.

CRAIGSLIST

Buyer beware! Buying bikes on Craigslist is a big project. Here are the main aspects to take into consideration.

  • The size listed is probably wrong. Most people don’t know how to size a bike. A properly sized bike is measured from the center of the crank to the seat post. You might ask the person to measure that way and then let you know the size of the bike, but chances are you’re just going to have to look at it in person to know what size it really is. (bike sizing chart)
  • If the deal is waaaay too good to be true it’s possible the bike is stolen. Proceed with caution and check the Stolen Bike Listings if you are suspicious. If you’ve got any doubt, don’t buy the bike.
  • You’ve got to test ride the bike and give it a thorough look-over. If price is a big concern for you, bring along a trusted mechanic. Otherwise, you could wind up sinking a lot of money into repairs just to get the bike ready to roll. No matter the condition of the bike, chances are quite good it will need a bit of TLC, so be prepared for the cost of a tune-up and parts.
  • You’ve got to coordinate a time to meet. The seller may flake out or live far away. Play it safe and follow up with a phone call (not text or email) right before you head over.
  • You may be able to talk the person down, you may not. Standard haggling/bargaining rules apply: go lower than you think they’ll accept because you can always offer more. Don’t fool yourself: steer clear of bikes that are well beyond your budget.

EBAY

Ebay bike buying is really only for the experts who know what they’re looking for, and usually it’s frames only. You’ll need to factor in significant shipping expenses. Proper measurements are just as hard to come by as on Craigslist, so you may need to talk the seller through how to size a frame to ensure you’re getting what you’re looking for.

GARAGE SALES

Garage sales can be an excellent place to buy a used bike. If you like cruising around on the weekends and checking out the bargains anyway, then look for bikes while you’re at it.

Often there are great deals (and even better stories) to be found and you can assess the bike quality right then and there. As with other buying options, remember to factor in at least a tune-up, and probably some new parts, depending on the condition of the bike.

WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T BUY A USED BIKE

If all this sounds like a real drag, a hassle and more trouble than it’s worth, buying a used bike is not right for you. If you’re on a budget, you’ll just need to hunt around and look for sales to find the bike that’s right for you. If you don’t have a bike, or don’t have one that functions or fits you well and are looking for a bike to ride around town, you might consider a bike in the $550-$700 range. The components won’t be as nice and the bike might not be as smooth, but so long as you purchase a reputable brand (Trek, Jamis and Raleigh are all good choices) you’ll have a solid bike for many years to come. You can always save up for a higher end bike later.

Once you bump up into the $1,200-$1,500 price range, component quality goes up and you’re getting more bike for your money. In the long run, if you’re looking for a long-lasting road bike and you can work with this price range, it’s your best bet.

HAVE YOU BOUGHT A USED BIKE?

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For more info on bike buying, see our 7 Essential Bike Buying Tips.