A guide to buying a secondhand bike

Photo 06-06-2018, 14 42 35

Where to buy, and what to look out for

There are a variety of ways to buy a secondhand bike.

  1. From someone you know
  2. eBay
  3. Facebook Marketplace
  4. Gumtree
  5. A secondhand bike shop or project
  6. Forums and Facebook groups
  7. Elsewhere

(Please see the site disclaimer before reading on)

1. From someone you know

Ask around – family, friends, or on Facebook. There’s a good chance that someone has a bike that they don’t need lying around in a shed or garage. The advantage of doing this: they may not want a lot of money for it, and if it is someone you know then hopefully they will be honest about its condition and history.

2. eBay

There are some great bargains to be had on eBay as long as you aren’t looking for something very popular (a Brompton folding bike, for instance).

The advantages of eBay as a place to buy a secondhand bike:

  • You can see the reputation of the seller. Someone who has taken the time to build up their feedback is unlikely to rip you off, and hopefully unlikely to sell you stolen goods. There will always be exceptions, sadly.
  • The power of the search tools. You can search for exact terms, and by geographical area.

We’ve bought some great bikes on eBay. The Dahon Speed P8 folding bike at the top of the page is one such example – it had been bought as a New Year’s get-fit resolution, and barely used. The photographs were fairly poor, but it was a good model, and so worth bidding for. It turned out to be in brilliant condition and a lovely bike to ride, and is well-used.

Ebay tips:

  • You can set up a search if you know what you’re looking for. So for instance, you could set up a search for, say, ‘Dutch bike’ within 25 miles of home. eBay will notify you by email when new items matching the terms you’ve chosen are posted.
  • A lot of people aren’t willing to collect, so competition isn’t as great on ‘collection only’ items.
  • If you’ve got the patience to wait until an auction closes then you can get something for a very good price, particularly if the bike isn’t a sought-after model.
  • Alternatively, regularly checking the latest ‘Buy it now’ listings for the bike you are looking for can uncover a bargain if you spot it before anyone else.
  • Sorting by distance will show bikes for sale in your locality. If a for sale bike is just around the corner it is easy to go and have a look at, and saves on shipping costs or having to travel to pick it up.

3. Facebook Marketplace

This has become a popular way to buy and sell, and it isn’t a bad place to buy a secondhand bike if you’re on a budget. You can see a certain amount of information about the person selling, but there isn’t an eBay-style feedback system. It is a bit hit and miss as to which items it shows you, but if you get lucky there are local bargains to be had. The lack of accurate search means that you aren’t competing against quite as many buyers as on eBay.

4. Gumtree

We’re not fans of Gumtree as a place to buy a used bike, as you can’t really tell how reliable the seller is. That said, you may want to give it a go. Watch out for people selling a bike at a price that is too good to be true – it probably is.

5. Secondhand bike shops and projects

You may have somewhere local to you that sells secondhand bikes. Some towns and cities have bike recycling projects, and these are highly recommended, although demand is very high at the moment. We are beginning to list some recommended bike projects on this website, but in the meantime do a Google search for local places and see what you can find. If you know of any projects we should add to this list please let us know.

Bike projects in London:

  • The Bike Project in London sells secondhand bikes, but also helps refugees and asylum seekers with bikes and other assistance.
  • Peddle My Wheels, London. Offers ‘try before you buy’. Contact to see whether they have stock at the current time.
  • Community Cycleworks in London and Maidstone. Project for young people, also fix and sell bikes.

Bike projects elsewhere:

6. Forums and Facebook groups

These can be a useful way of hearing about bikes for sale if you have a specific kind of bike in mind. For instance the Family Cycling group is excellent if you cycle with kids (not a selling group specifically, but lots of wisdom and experience there), and there is a Brompton group and Brompton buy-and-sell group.

7. Elsewhere

There are all sorts of other places to buy a secondhand bike. Worthy of mention:

  • The Elephant Bike. A brilliant project refurbishing old Post Office bikes, which you can buy for £280. We’ve tried one, and they are brilliant. If you want a solid bike to carry shopping, etc, they are great value. More here: The Elephant Bike. 2024 update: They are no longer available ‘new’, but you might find a secondhand one.

A note about police auctions. We’d tend to advise against them as you can’t really see what you’re getting, there are no safety checks of bikes, and there are no warranties. If you do buy from police auctions you need to budget for servicing the bike, repairs, and parts. It may not end up being the bargain you are hoping for.

Buying a secondhand bike: What to look out for

It can be tricky buying a secondhand bike if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here’s some tips:

First of all you need to decide what kind of bike you need. What kind of riding will you be doing? What kind of terrain will you be riding on? What will you need to carry?

Then consider what size you will need. Bike manufacturers often have online size charts, which give you a good idea. The only way to tell for sure is to actually sit on the bike, which of course may not be possible if buying online. That said you can get a pretty good idea by trying on a bike of the same type. Some bikes, such as folding bikes, only have one size.

If going to look for a bike you may find it helpful to take someone who knows about this kind of thing with you, but we appreciate not everyone has that luxury.

It isn’t a bad idea to have been to a bike showroom or two so that you know what a new example of the kind of bike you’re looking for looks like.

If buying online look carefully at photos posted.

What not to buy…

Does the bike look like it has been stored outside? If so it is probably best to forget about it (unless it’s a remarkable bargain). Also any significant damage to the frame – click the back button. Scratches are fine – it is the structural integrity we need to be concerned about.

Check the make. If it isn’t something you’ve heard of Google it to see whether it is a genuine brand. If the bike came from a supermarket or only cost £100 on Amazon when it was new it probably isn’t worth having.

To a certain extent the description by the owner is usually quite a good guide to condition, especially if buying on eBay from a seller with good feedback. So ‘hardly used’ is encouraging, and probably means it hasn’t had a long hard life.

But in any case check for signs of wear on the chainwheel, whether the chain is caked in dirt, etc. A well-used bike needn’t be out of the question, but price and expectations should be lowered accordingly. A bike that has had a lot of use may need parts replacing.

If looking at a bike in person check:

  • Do the brakes work (hold them on and see that there is still a gap between the brake levers and the handlebars). Brake blocks can be replaced if worn, but it all adds expense.
  • Check whether the wheels are true by spinning them. Do they rub on the brake blocks? Again, a wheel that is out of true can be fixed, but it all costs money.
  • Check for play in the headset and bottom bracket.
  • When test riding, do the gears change smoothly?
  • Are there any noises from the bottom bracket or elsewhere when you pedal?

Once again, most problems can be fixed, but they may require new parts, and possibly even more expense than the bike is worth.

Finding this a bit overwhelming? Maybe a new bike is best for you. But if you do some research and have the patience to keep an eye on second-hand listings, buying a used bike is a great way to start cycling without spending a huge amount of money.

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These links make it easy to browse bikes on various retailers' websites, and help support this website. You can use the filters on each site to help find the kind of bike you're looking for.

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