Buying second hand bikes

My good friend Phil asked me about buying a second hand bike: where, how much, what type and so on.  He’s keen to get going on a bike but plans to make a modest investment in the initial outlay.  Here’s some thoughts:


Everyone knows ebay and often a great place to trade.  There are some fantastic bargains around from time to time and there are some fantastic ways of getting ripped off.  Narrowing the geographical area down can help in being able to take a look at a bike beforehand.  As ebay has grown, it has adapted effieciently over the years in order to protect the innocent ebay-er against scams.  No system is ever going to be foolproof no matter how careful you are.

Apart from individuals trading on ebay, shops and other suppliers will also maintain an ebay store in order to reach a wide customer base on a continuous basis.

Bikeworks Community Interest Company, London

I have blogged about this brilliant sounding bike shop before.  Great if you live or work in London, or perhaps are able to visit.  Bike range from under £100 to several hundred pounds for more interesting or vintage machines.  The other nice thing about Bikeworks is the nature of the company itself: as a CIC any trading surpluses are “recycled” back in for the benefit of the community in some manner.  Worth checking out, Phil.

Local newspapers

Although once a popular way of buying and selling all kinds of things, the use of the traditional classified advert has declined over the years and probably not worth bothering with,  The few bikes advertised are unlikely to be very desirable for the enthusiast, instead probably children’s bikes, Raleigh 3-speeds, BMX, “hardly used Shimano geared MTB” which probably cost £99 a few years ago and for sale now for £55 o.n.o.

Pawnbrokers (Cash Converters and others)

The chances of finding a desirable bike are slim.  The only ones I have ever seen have been cheap mountain bikes which you can buy new for little money these days.

Local Bike Shops (LBS)

Sadly very few LBS ever seem to sell used bikes these days, unless you know different.  At least if you do find one, the chances are it will be serviced and genuine. The “Saturday lad” might sell his/her bike this way in order to finance an upgrade.   If they are an approachable LBS it’s always worth asking if they know of bikes that their customers are wanting to sell – could be a win-win situation.

CTC forum

Check out the CTC forum and scroll down to the For Sale section.  Should be able to get a good quality bike here but you cannot assume every seller is an upright CTC member.

There are a number of other forums (fora?) around:


Seems to be mostly centred in London and the South East for a place to see classified adverts.  There is normally a good range of bikes, right from cheap heaps of junk through to more upmarket brands (Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, Boardman etc) costing several hundred pounds.  I spotted a few wheel sets for sale too.

Tips for buying a second hand bike

  • Is it stolen, hot, knicked, ‘alf inched?  the last thing you want to do is buy a bike that is stolen.  Doing so, not matter how innocently, is helping someone in their criminal lifestyle and worth bearing in mind that frequently drug users will need to steal someone’s bike, laptop, wallet etc EVERY day just to keep the habit going.
  • Does the person selling the bike know much about it?  Sometimes you can tell from the description that things don’t add up.
  • Does the person who is selling the bike look as if they cycle themselves?  Try engaging them in a conversation about cycling and the bike in particular: judge for yourself
  • In the case of responding to an advert (i.e. Gumtree) wouldn’t bike anything from anyone unless it was at a specific address.

Check the frame for these reasons:

  • Is the serial number in tact?  First place to look is under the bottom bracket where generally a number is stamped into the shell.  If this has been filed off, walk away.
  • Is the frame or forks bent, crashed or fractured in anyway?  If the bike is carbon fibre, even deep scratches can be terminal.
  • If the bike has been ridden into something (like a parked car) the forks maybe bent back so does the line of the fork follow the line of the head tube?
  • Frames can get bent sideways.  Check the back wheel and see how central it is between the seat stays and the chain stays.  Alternatively tie a piece of string onto the rear drop-out or axle, loop it around the head tube and then back to the drop-out on the other side.  Then carefully measure the distance either side of the seat tube.  Anything more than a 2 or 3mm discrepancy is a real concern in my view.  Ideally it should be completely true
  • Check the chain.  If you can lift the chain away from the teeth on the chainset it is an indication of significant wear.  Okay you could replace the chain on its own but the chances are you need to replace the cassette or freewheel on the rear hub as well.  That’s not too bad but if it is really worn and you have to replace the chainset as well the cost might not be viable unless the bike is really special and you negotiate the price down.

So Phil, there’s a few thoughts from me.  Does this help at all?  Do you want me to check any bikes out for you before you part with any money?

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2 Responses to Buying second hand bikes

  1. Hi Doug,

    I’ve just started a website dedicated to offering information about how to spot a stolen bike and get it back to the rightful owner.

    I’ve created a PDF checklist and was wondering if you wanted a copy for this page? Happy to provide it in it’s original format for you to edit if you like.

    All the best!

  2. Pingback: Cycle Your City | Damien Clarkson

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