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What to look out for when buying a used commuter bike

Expertly navigate the second-hand market

Photo by: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

It can be hard to get your hands on a bike nowadays—thousands of people are looking for safer, more socially distanced means of transit to and from work. Buying a used bike is one option, but it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you dive head-first into the purchase. Here are some tips for buying a second-hand bike:

1. Figure out your bike size

Bike sizing varies drastically and, especially in the used bike market, there isn’t really one standard measurement. Some people will list a frame size in cm or in, some will go with the standard S, M,L and others will just state the height of the owner. One of the easiest ways to figure out if a bike is right for you is to simply ask how tall the previous owner was. This chart is sometimes accurate but bike sellers often just estimate what size they think the bike is.

Feet/Inches Size
4’10”-5’1” XS
5’1″-5’5″ S
5’5″-5’9″ M
5’9″-6’0″ L
6’0″-6’3″ XL
6’1″-6’6″ XXL

2. Find a bike and make an offer

Local Facebook groups and Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji and Craigslist are all places to start looking for a bike. Normally, it’s standard for sellers to post a price for their bike expecting lowballs, but as the market is moving so quickly right now try and find a bike listed at your preferred budget and don’t expect to be able to shave much off the price.

Message the seller and ask to meet up to look over the bike.

3. Make sure the bike isn’t stolen

The prices of used bikes has only gone up as the bike boom continues, and, naturally, so has bike theft. While it’s hard to know if a bike was stolen there are a few red flags you can look out for. A bike posted with very little information at a very low price or a seller who doesn’t have any answers to your questions are both somewhat suspicious. A sloppily spray painted frame is sometimes an indication of someone covering up a distinctively coloured bike.

4. Check the brakes, gearing and bottom bracket

If the bike comes with gears, click through all of them and make sure the bike shifts properly, isn’t making and weird noises and doesn’t get stuck. Test the brakes and make sure they’re powerful enough to stop the bike at speed. Once you’ve braked, keep your hands on the brakes and shake to see if the the headset moves front to back (this could be a problem).

Grab the arm of the pedal  (the crank arm) and try to move it side to side. If it feels loose it may be an indication of a bottom bracket issue.

5. Inspect the wheels

Lift up the front of the bike and turn the wheel. Does it spin easily? Is there a wobble in it? Oddities in the way the wheel moves could be symptoms of bigger problems. Do the same with the rear wheel.

6. Bar tape, tires and chain

Old bar tape or grips, cracking tires or rusty chains should all be a factor in your purchase, but they are ultimately some of the easier parts of the bike to replace. If the other components of a bike are working well and you don’t mind spending some time replacing these ones, you may be able to get a better-than-average deal on a bike.

7. Take the bike for a short test ride

Listen for any sounds the bike makes and try and imagine yourself commuting on the ride. Does it feel like the bike is right for you? It’s normal to ask to ride a bike before buying it, so don’t be shy when you’re talking to the seller.