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Guide to buying a second hand bike

By Christopher Ashley

You can buy any bike second hand, but you’ll need to consider three things – is it safe, is it stolen, and is it worth the money? If you haven’t decided what bike to buy yet, check out our guide to the different types of bicycles.

Is it too good to be true?

You’re passing a row of shops and you notice a brand new road bike in a pawn shop with a price tag of £90. You take a closer look – it’s made of carbon, the brakes are positioned behind the forks for aerodynamic efficiency, and it has time trial handle bars.

Spanish police with the retrieved Orica-GreenEDGE bicycle, Photo: Policía Nacional, Twitter.com/policia
Photo: Policía Nacional, Twitter.com/policia

This scenario may seem far-fetched, but it happened earlier this year when Spanish police recovered Orica-Green Edge’s £8,000 stolen time trial bike from the Vuelta 2015. If a big brand bike is going that cheap – it’s either stolen or broken.

Know your stuff – or know someone who does

If you’re a qualified bike mechanic, or someone who likes to get their hands dirty, buying a second hand bike is a fun way to save money and recycle quality goods. If you’re not an expert, there’s a vast resource of bike maintenance tuition videos for free on the internet.


Remember that your local bike shop can fix most problems a lot cheaper than you might expect. Although I have the equipment and knowledge to true my own wheels, my local bike shop does it for £10 in less than 5 minutes.

Check the bike for identification

Obviously, most pawn shops or indie bike shops are legitimate businesses and don’t sell stolen bikes. I bought a mountain bike from a local pawn shop and the shop’s manager had no problem with me using my smartphone to visit bikeregister.com/bike-checker.


If a shop owner has a problem with you checking a website, that’s an indication you should spend your money elsewhere. All my bikes have smartwater technology and if any of them were stolen, I’d report it immediately. If you buy a stolen bike and the owner identifies it to the police, you could lose the bike – and there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back.

Buy online from companies with grievance policies

Big sites like eBay offer their own guides on how to spot stolen bikes. They also allow you to rate the seller, and offer a grievance procedure should something go wrong. If you buy a bike online that says “mint condition” and you get a flat tyre 3 days later – that isn’t a grievance, it’s just bad luck.

Ebay web page on a laptop

If, however, you’re riding the bike and the head tube bearings fail and you find yourself heading into oncoming traffic without the ability to steer, you’ve got a legitimate grievance and may be entitled to your money back via the website’s arbitration policy.

Check the basics

If the chain is rusty then you’ll have to replace it soon, as it will also be damaging the bike’s cogs. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the bike – but you could barter the price down further. After all, it does mean extra work for you.

If the handle bars are too stiff, and the crank squeaks or makes a grinding sound, the bearings might be lacking grease, and that is dangerous. Again, you could barter the price down and prepare to pay €100 for your local bike shop to fix a few things. If in doubt – don’t pay out.

Customer and salesman in bike shop

If you’re paying out for a second hand carbon fibre frame, never pay for something with cracks or obvious knocks. The structural integrity of carbon fibre is very different to steel, and you can’t bend it back into shape. Carbon fibre is a great material – it’s stiff, light, and compliant. But when it fails, it fails dramatically.

Keep perspective with the price

I went on a cycling holiday around the New Forest in the UK recently, and you could rent a half decent mountain bike for £20 a day. Admittedly, that bike will be well serviced, clean, and safe, but bikes can take a lot of punishment. If you spend £100 on a second hand bike and you get a good 6 months riding out of it, you’ve not done too badly. If you’re clever with how you buy and learn some basic maintenance, you can make your n+1 last a lot longer. Check out our maintenance guides.