Tips for buying a used bike and what to look for in a second hand bike

With the news that Halfords will be offering second-hand bikes recently announced, our tips can help make sure you get a great deal on a used machine

(Image credit: chris catchpole)

Buying a second-hand bike is a great way to maximise your value for money, as long as you take a few steps to make sure you're getting a good deal. With Halfords having recently announced its intention to sell on used bikes (see box), we've put together some tips to help make sure you bag a bargain. 

If you want to buy a new bike, there are always ways you can save:  whether it's shopping the sales or choosing from one of the best cheap road bikes on the market. However if you really want to make your money go further then buying second hand is a great option. With a 'cost of living crisis' looming, including rising energy bills for many households, the need to save where you can is as pertinent than ever. There are a number of ways cyclists can save money but perhaps none better than buying a second-hand bike.

Used bikes can be a great alternative to new. Not only do you get more for your money you're also potentially saving a bike from a life confined to the garage, or even worse being from being dumped in a landfill site. 

Naturally the internet is home to a plethora of great deals for potential second hand buyers. However it also hosts a few people looking to rip you off - so it's important to keep your wits about you.

With our help you'll be able to find the best bike to fit your needs: both on the road and in the wallet. Here are our best tips for how to buy used bikes.

Tips for buying second-hand bikes: The DOs

DO use a dedicated service

Online services like eBay are a good way to go when buying second-hand bikes. Forcing sellers to either provide contact details or housing feedback from previous buyers creates accountability.

Using recognised classified services helps combat online scams by giving buyers the opportunity to meet before parting with any cash. Just make sure you choose somewhere safe when meeting a stranger, especially if you're taking cash.

Sites like eBay provide feedback from past users which allows buyers the chance to make an informed decision on the seller's trustworthiness before making a purchase.

On top of that, sellers must go through Paypal which uses BuyerProtection. This means that, should your item not arrive, be damaged in transit or be completely different from what you bought, you can still get your money back.

Halfords to sell second-hand bikes

Tips for buying second hand bikes include using schemes such as Halfords selling refurbished used bikes

(Image credit: Halfords)

If you’re unsure about buying a used bike from a private seller then Halfords’ new scheme could deliver the peace of mind you’re after.

The retail giant is set to breath new life into old bikes, offering customers up to £250 in store credit for their unwanted machines - making this an attractive proposition for anyone who’s looking to upgrade their current ride too. The bikes will then be refurbished and re-sold through the chain’s network of stores after a successful trial service.

The scheme seeks to tackle a couple significant issues, namely the cost of living crisis and the supply chain issue that has greatly impacted the bicycle industry. Buying second hand is certainly a great way to save some money but it can also be a viable option when the bike you’re after isn’t currently available due to stock issues. A used bike may well still fit the bill, especially when some models vary little from one year to the next.

Making a positive environmental impact is also central to the scheme. Halfords estimates that there are more than seven million used bikes currently gathering dusts in homes across the country. Saving any of these bikes from landfill is a win, as is getting them back out on to the roads where they belong.

DO meet with the seller face to face

It's not always possible to find the bike or your dreams in your local area, forcing you to look further afield. So what do you do when you find that two wheeled beauty you've been looking for? Well, go and see it in person.

Buying a bike is a lot like buying a car: you wouldn't buy one without having tested it, so why would you with a bike? Asking to post a bike may be a lot less hassle for you but there is no way of knowing 100 per cent that you are getting a fair deal.

DO research the competition

Don't go into this blind, be sure to see what prices similar bikes from that year, brand, or set up have been going for before you open dialogue about the purchase.

Having researched the competition you can easily fight your case for a better price. Not only will this give you confidence going into things but will also show the buyer that you mean business and are eager to buy.

DO haggle

Once you've done your research, don't be afraid to haggle. Be sure to have examples of other sales at hand. Make sure youhave a number in mind before you start haggling and offer less than that: starting low you'll eventually find that you work your way towards the middle ground which should be your preferred price if it all works out.

DO be prepared to walk away

Sometimes haggling isn't successful - but that's ok. If the owner isn't budging and is determined to get their set price it's key that you accept that and walk away.

Unless it's a rare collectible, chances are you'll find something similar soon enough so don't feel like you have to pay through the nose.

tips for buying second hand bikes

Shop around before you set your heart on a second hand bike
(Image credit: Daniel Gould)

DO check the bike for wear and tear

It may seem obvious but be sure to check the bike over for any damage, particularly on the frame. Cracks should be major red flags, especially around the seatpost and rear stays where they are most likely to fail catastrophically, causing you serious injury.

Things to check:

  • Frame for cracks (rust or scuffs are usually surface deep and only affect aesthetic)
  • Tyres are pumped
  • Chain and cassette aren't rusted or stretched (these won't cost much to replace if they are)
  • Brakes work and the pads aren't worn down
  • Shifting and gearing is effective
  • The bearings work and move freely without any grating feeling (headset, bottom bracket and wheels)

DO consult a friend and bring them along

A great way of preventing you from spending above your means is to bring a friend along with you. Many of us get wrapped up in the romance of seeing a bike you love and wanting to get it at all costs but it pays to have an objective point of view nearby.

Whether it's stopping you from paying £100 more than you should or realising the whole thing is a scam, an extra pair of eyes can make all the difference.

tips for buying second hand bikes

Inspect the bike to see if it actually works
(Image credit: chris catchpole)

DO check if it's stolen

Sometimes a deal that's too good to be true is just that and you could be buying a stolen bike.Be sure to see if it has been security marked.

A good way to do this is by checking the frame number or BikeRegister ID's free BikeChecker facility on the BikeRegister database to make sure that the bike is not listed as stolen. Alternatively, ask for any proof of purchase if the bike is relatively new.

Tips for buying second hand bikes: The DON'Ts

DON'T send money without seeing the bike

This is one of the most important tips when buying used bikes.

Apart from sites like eBay that have regulations in place to protect both buyer and seller, never send money having not seen the bike you're buying in person.

Sites like Ukash, MoneyGram, or Western Union are often used by scammers when asking for money to be sent prior to bike handover.

These services are not designed for money to be sent between buyers and sellers but for families sending money abroad, meaning that there are a number of loopholes that can be exploited costing you a hefty sum.

For more advice on transferring money, read this advice from Get Safe Online.

DON'T haggle too soon

Tips for buying second hand bikes

Hold fire before haggling on a second hand bike
(Image credit: chris catchpole)

Haggling is part and parcel of getting a good deal, but wait before going all guns blazing to get the best deal. Building a rapport with the seller, whether that's through gentle conversation or talking about the bike will ease the seller into the deal.

Letting the seller bring up the issue of money first will go a long way to ensuring that you can work out a deal that you're happy with. Storming in with low prices from the off can deter the seller from accepting any of your bids and could potentially lose you the deal.

DON'T buy from abroad

For best practice, keep your search to your home nation. As soon as a search goes abroad it becomes increasingly more difficult to secure a deal that won't end in tears.

Buying a bike from France is tricky, but buying a bike from even further afield is asking for trouble as the further the distance the less accountability the seller has.

Tips for buying second-hand electric bikes

Much of the advice we’ve just given on buying second hand bikes applies to used electric bike models too.

Avoiding scams, checking if a bike is stolen and analysing the bike for obvious wear and tear are applicable whether the bike has a motor and battery or not.

However, these additional two components mean that buying a second hand electric bike is perhaps a little less straightforward. Here are our key tips if you’re looking for a used e-bike bargain.

Check the age and capacity of the battery 

Electric bicycle batteries are expensive to replace. They can cost as much as half of the bike’s total value. Therefore it makes sense to pay particular attention to the condition of the battery on the used e-bike you’re looking to buy.

Modern e-bike batteries are usually good for approximately 600-700 full charges. This usually equates to around five or six years of regular use, unless it has been sat around in a garage for extended periods. If the bike you’re interested in is four or more years old its battery will in all likelihood have a greatly reduced capacity and will drain more quickly.

It’s vital to check the cost of a replacement battery. This will help inform any price negotiations you have with the seller. It may well steer you away from the bike completely.

Even if the bike is relatively new it’s important to check the battery for potential damage. Look to see if the battery case is broken, dented or scratched. If it is, proceed with caution. A damaged lithium battery is a significant fire hazard.

Equally if an e-bike is being sold due to lack of use, it’s not necessarily the bargain it may appear to be. A battery that’s been sitting idle is prone to corrosion. They can also lose their charging capacity. Again proceed with caution.

How to check the battery on an electric bike

Battery health can be checked using a multimeter. This is a device that measures a battery's voltage when fully charged. As a battery ages, its voltage drops. Therefore measuring its voltage should give you a fairly accurate picture of its current condition.

Buying from an e-bike shop that sells used bikes is certainly helpful. Not only will they have diagnostic tools to assess the condition of a battery (and motor), they may also offer a warranty on the bike when sold.

Check the bike’s mileage

The majority of electric bikes have a built-in odometer. When you’re looking at a used e-bike, assess whether its stated mileage accurately reflects the age of the bike and its condition. Any major discrepancies may mean the seller is being economical with the truth. It’s also worth remembering that low mileage isn’t always a good thing. As previously mentioned, it means that the bike may have been unused for a long time, which can adversely affect the battery.

Ask to see the logbook

Unlike regular bikes many e-bikes will have a log of their service history. If a bike’s been serviced regularly by a reputable dealer this information will be available. It’s also proof that it's been properly looked after, giving you additional peace of mind as a potential buyer.

Check the availability of parts

Electric bikes are continuing to evolve at a pretty rapid rate. This means that older bikes can quickly become obsolete, making it difficult to track down replacement parts when required. Check to see if the bike you’re looking at has been discontinued. If this is the case you may find that parts, including battery packs, are hard to source. Likewise, e-bike shops may be reluctant to service a bike tif hey know they’ll struggle to find parts for it.