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Buying a used bike

There are many different things to consider when buying a used bike, either on Craig's List, eBay or even locally. I'm not going to go into all the typical warnings, but I am going to assume that you have an idea what size you need, what kind of bike you need, etc. - and I am going to concentrate on the MOST common issues I see in my shop; that is someone not understanding what they are actually buying!

A "seller" by default has one goal - to liquidate any and all cash you have in your pocket for that gem he has posted online. He wants the most he can get - I guess we are all like that, but the difference is that in some cases - a slight twist of words can be the difference in a bike ready to go and one that needs hundreds of dollars of fixes before hitting the trail.

The first red flag on a used bike post is when a seller comments with something like; Like New, Never Crashed, Barely Ridden - especially on a bike that is more than a year or so old. There is a legitimate reason a bike might be in new condition, but this is when you really need to know what you're looking at and make sure that it really is "Like New". The first question I always ask is "Why are you selling..." This should be the starting point of your conversation and make sure that all questions after that compliment the reason he is selling.

If the seller states "I bought this for my wife and she didn't like riding it" that would be a good example of an older bike being in Like New condition. If the seller says "I love the bike, but I am upgrading to...." In order for him to "love the bike" he has had to have ride it at some point - and if it's a mountain bike, you know it not generally in Like New condition after that! Just take the time to listen to the seller, and watch their body posture - if your gut says this is a bad idea - then it probably is!

Assuming that you got past your gut feeling, the bike looks great in the photos and you're ready to go look at it and kick the tires. Here are a few things to be aware of:

  1. Is the bike the same bike as when it sold as new? Do your homework. There is a lot of information on bikes online - even bikes that are more than a decade old. Find out how the bike's components originally spec'ed when new. If the bike came with a RockShox Pike ($750) and now there is an XC28 ($99) you need to know why? That also goes for other components - if it came with an XT drivetrain and all you see is LX - you need to know why?
  2. Are there mismatched parts? If you have a thumb shifter on one side and a twist on the other - red flag! If you have a Shimano brake on one side and an Avid on the other - red flag. Something I have seen and is a bit more subtle is Shimano Shifter with a SRAM Rear Derailleur - there are rare instances where mixing different companies components will work, but most of the time, they will not. One case is SRAM does build twist shifters for Shimano Derailleurs. Just be aware of what you're looking at and don't be afraid to look it up online. Wheels are another area that sellers will try to push something by - you may see a WTB front wheel and a Mavic rear - ask why.
  3. Are there worn, broken or missing components? If the bike is listed as Like New, Never Crashed, Barely Ridden - you expect that the components are going to reflect that - it's just that simple! Rather than go through a whole string of what if's - look at these photos and read the comments. These are from a bike that came into my shop last week by a client that bought a bike that was listed as "Ridden a couple of times, selling because my girlfriend doesn't like riding in the dirt".


Now lets - talk about this bike - it was a 2007 Santa Cruz Superlight and originally came with Avid Juicy 7 Brakes, a RockShox 32 F100 RLC 100mm Fork, Complete XT Drivetrain, a Fox Float RP23 rear shock, and Mavic Crossmax XL wheels. Clearly, that is not what is on the bike now! So what happened? Well, I can only speculate, but my experience tells me this; the seller may have been correct when he said that the bike was barely ridden, but what he didn't say is that he switched all the barely ridden components to HIS bike and put HIS old, crappy, warn and abused components on "this" bike before posting it! This is an all too common occurrence in my shop, and in this case - after the client replaced everything that "needed" replacing - he spent more for the new components & labor than he paid for the bike itself - not cool!

In conclusion: Think, look, ask, question - it's your cash, but there are simple things that you can look for to know if your "getting the business" from some CL seller that is trying to dump all his old crap. There are reasons that components may not be the same - and that's ok if you know that and pay a price accordingly. And if your still not sure - get someone that you trust to come with you and look at it...

Chris Sgaraglino

Over the past 37 years of my adult life, I have gained a very diverse portfolio of adventures from which I have been blessed to be a participant. This wealth of experience and knowledge has defined my character, my morals and values, and my healthy respect for people and the great outdoors. It is a true definition of an Outdoorsman!