The bike industry is geared to selling you shiny new stuff, whether it’s the latest aero wheelset, the newest shifting tech or a brand new bike.
Along with riders simply seeking to upgrade their present ride to something lighter or more aero, that means that there’s a healthy turnover of used bikes and components.
As with a motor vehicle, the value of a bike diminishes dramatically as soon as it has been used, so buying a used bike can offer a large saving, if you can avoid the pitfalls. There are an increasing number of options to help here though, from secondhand bikes sold by high street bike stores through to businesses dedicated to selling quality used bikes. So, where do you start, and how do you avoid the risk of buyer’s regret?
Product lifecycles and environmental concerns
We tried it...
At Cycling Weekly, we've got so many examples of riders picking up exceptional bargains on the secondhand market. Case in point, video editor Ed Westrop's Specialized Tarmac. Ed genuinely rescued the bike from a skip, then used it to ride from John O’groats to Lands End. He had the frame painted, removed the 'comfort adding' Zertz inserts (for reasons of aesthetics), and sourced a Campagnolo Centaur groupset, Hunt Four Season Aero wheels and touchpoints. Read about 'Blanche', his staff longtermer, here.
Do you even need this year’s bike? Bicycles typically have major updates on a multi-year cycle of at least three years, some even longer; the latest Specialized Allez, released in Summer 2023, replaced the previous model which was launched in 2017, for example.
The new Allez has some pretty major changes from the old model: the switch from rim to disc brakes, added tire clearance and fender/mudguard mounts, so there are good reasons to favour it over the older model.
But between major updates, changes between model years are almost always quite small. Typically the major change is the colour of the paint. That may be accompanied by small changes in spec. These usually represent a downgrade rather than an upgrade though: cheaper wheels, less expensive tires, swap-outs of groupset components, as brands try to keep their bikes to an often round number price point whilst inflation creeps in everywhere else.
So a secondhand bike that’s a few years old may not be that different under the enamel to a box-fresh new bike, and it might be better specced.
Secondhand shopping is more sustainable, too. New bikes and their components are mostly made in the Far East and shipped into markets to sell. There’s further environmental cost in disposal of used bikes, particularly with carbon frames, which are difficult to recycle and often end up in landfill.
“There’s a huge ecological impact to buying a used bike over a new one which we think is under-emphasised,” says Josh Hobbs, sales director at Cycle Exchange in Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, which specialises in selling quality used bikes, points to the major reasons why used bikes come up for sale.
“Surprisingly in our own internal research we found that this is very low down on a consumer’s priority list when buying secondhand, certainly below value, quality guarantee, trust and service.
“However collectively we can make the right environmental steps forward and still deliver value and quality for the customer - which is our ethos at Cycle Exchange.”
Why do people sell bikes secondhand?
Some people buy a bike, spurred on by the exploits of Tour de France riders, only to find that they don’t enjoy cycling. The bike languishes in the garage until they decide to sell it a few years down the line to make space for their newest fitness gadget.
Or, there's the rider who just bought the wrong bike. We know of one rider who bought a Dura-Ace equipped Trek Emonda a few years back. He could never get comfortable on it and reverted to riding his old bike. A year or so down the line, he sold the Emonda for thousands less than he paid for it.
Unearth one of these machines with the right size and spec and you’ll get a bike that’s perhaps a couple of years old, with almost no wear, and that has hardly been ridden. It’s unlikely that it will have seen much rain either.
“People often buy bikes and just don't use them anymore, or as they thought they would (eg post-lockdown)”, Hobbs says. “Interest in a newer version is driven by new model releases and interest in the latest tech. For a lot of people, they have to sell their current bike before they can get a new one due to the cost,” he added.
Others buy a bike that simply doesn’t fit them. Nas Karimi, head of bike fitting at Pearson Cycles in South London reckons that over half cyclists are riding bikes that aren’t the right size or aren’t set up correctly for them.
This results in a sub-optimal ride experience and discomfort and may dissuade someone from riding a perfectly good bike, resulting in a little-ridden bike being put up for sale a year or two down the road.
Hobbs concurs: “We find there are other reasons people sell such as a poor bike fit when they initially bought it, and so they need to sell it so they can get a bike that they actually can ride comfortably.”
People’s circumstances may change for other reasons too or they may not have bargained for the on-going cost of maintaining an expensive road bike.
All of this creates a steady stream of secondhand bikes in good condition and just a few years old. They may not be this year’s models but they will still function just as well.
Check your potential purchase
Alongside these nearly-new bikes, you’ll find bikes that have been ridden thousands of miles, with riders looking to upgrade to something more premium or that better suits their riding style.
Some of these bikes may have had major spec upgrades along the way – new wheels are a favourite – and their worn parts may have been replaced. Others may have been left to slowly wear out.
Even so, you may find that a few choice changes, such as a swap-out of drivetrain components and cables, will restore the bike to a perfectly rideable condition. But spotting potential problems isn’t straightforward.
Bangs and bashes
The most tricky thing to assess with a potential secondhand purchase is the frame’s condition. It may not be obvious if a frame has been crashed. With metal frames, you may be able to spot surface dents and dings which suggest that a frame has been involved in a crash. Paint touch-ups can also usually be spotted.
But a carbon bike frame is trickier. A crash can result in delamination of the carbon fibre layers on the inside of the frame tubes. This may not show at all on the exterior and only be detectable by X-raying the frame.
Many metal framed bikes are fitted with carbon forks, so the same issue of invisible crash damage may apply.
Checking a bike for potential damage or other hidden problems which might be pricey to fix requires an expert eye, so another increasingly popular option is to use a specialist reseller, such as Cycle Exchange.
“For crash or damage risk you'll need to bring in someone with experience of checking bikes to really eradicate that if you don't have that experience yourself. Maybe ask the seller to produce a recent inspection report from a mechanic before sale,” Hobbs advises.
“E-bikes and carbon fibre bikes add to the potential complications and concern over lack of after sale support,” he continues.
Buy from a specialist
While buying from an individual may get you a bargain, particularly if you know and trust the seller, maybe through a cycling club, for example, it can come with risks.
“Some people prefer to sell direct or via a peer to peer marketplace to get maximum value, alternatively there is a significant demand for a third party seller like ourselves which removes a lot of hassle but comes at additional cost,” says Hobbs.
“Secondhand bikes don't usually have a warranty and there is also significant concern over whether it has been stolen in the past. For stolen bikes you can try and trace the history and insist on documentation before buying, also be somewhat interrogative when purchasing e.g. does this bike fit the person selling it,” he advises.
There’s also the risk of buying a fake, as with this Cervélo RCA sent for sale to The Pro’s Closet in Colorado. Since the bike went to a third-party seller, its authenticity was spotted, but that may not have been the case via an individual sale.
The bottom line: should you buy second hand?
Yes, Josh Hobbs, Sales Director, Cycle Exchange
The biggest advantage is a simple one: savings. As we all know, bikes have become crazy expensive since the pandemic, and it was never a cheap sport to begin with. By buying secondhand you’re able to get a lot more bike for your money. Additionally there is significant interest in giving bikes a second life as we strive to more sustainable consumption levels. As most bikes are shipped from abroad then further assembled, stored and shipped domestically, at a not insignificant cost to the environment, it makes so much sense to simply reuse one that's not required by the first owner anymore.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1