The Ultimate Guide to Buying a used Mountain Bike


Fancy a mountain bike, but can’t afford to get the shiny new one, just because it could cost more than your beat-up car?  Buy a used one instead!

Whether you are a seasoned biker or someone new to the game, buying a preloved bicycle can be a cost-effective option.  There is a good chance that carbon MTB you’ve been lusting after for more than 2 years is now in the used market at a greatly reduced price.

The beauty of getting a well-used item is that you’ll only get to spend money on something only after its depreciation.  That is, if you can get over that fresh-from-the-factory smell, and the fact that somebody has owned it before you, then I say, why not?

Aside from snapping up a deal, there could be pluses to your secondhand purchase.  At this point, you may have already read several online feedback and shared experiences on that particular model, which can help you arrive at an informed decision.

It sucks to be one of the first to buy that bike, caving into the hype created by the manufacturer.  Only to realize later on that it’s all there is to it – hype, and that, you have spent way more than you should.

This, among other things, is why people would go for the secondhand deal. But that’s only half the battle.  Choosing the mountain bike to buy to get your dollars’ worth is the tricky part.

I came up with this guide for you to avoid being cheated out of your money so that you’ll get more out your used bike acquisition.

secondhand mountain bikes

Determine the type of Mountain Bike You Want

If you’re an MTB beginner, exercise due diligence by putting in some research.  Just like anything, you should know what you want, and in this case, which mountain bike you would like to buy.

Will you be biking mostly around your area where there is concrete pavement, or will you be doing cross country, trail riding, and the like?  You will also need to determine the brand you prefer.  Popular ones include Yeti Cycles, Kona, GT, Cannondale, Trek, Santa Cruz, Giant, and Dorel.

Of course, you also need to consider your budget, you may want a high-end Yeti SB150 Eagle mountain bike, but you might not be able to afford its price tag of more than 7500 dollars.  It’s either you’ll save up some more for it, or choose a lesser-priced bike that you can buy with your current funds.

The bike specifics will matter to you as well such as:

  • Finding the right bike frame and size – do you prefer a lightweight carbon material for rigidity, aluminum for downhill racers, or alloy when you’re racing enduro?
  • Braking system – disc brakes for a faster ride or rim brakes for a lighter setup?
  • Size of your bike frame – if you’re a tall individual, you would want an XL frame size between 58 and 60 centimeters.  A medium frame would suit an average-sized person who is up to 5 feet and 9 inches tall.
  • Wheel size – you have the original size at 26 inches, 27.5 inches that provide more responsive handling, and the 29er or 29-inch wheels.
  • Bike suspension – a full suspension means both front and rear, a hardtail (rear suspension), or hybrid which is the front suspension.
  • Bike age – You would not want something that’s been around too long unless you’re a bike collector.  Get a used bike that’s no more than three years old, so it won’t be too difficult for you to get its parts.

Where to Buy

Your fellow cyclists may give you leads for any used bikes up for sale.  Perhaps, a friend of a friend is selling his MTB to buy a newer model.

You can also check out the local bike store nearby.  More often, they don’t only sell new bikes, but used ones, too, which I would assume to have been cherry-picked for a fast sale.

And if this local shop has been around for a while now, chances are, they are trustworthy.  Probably buying from them would even come with a limited warranty.

Also, you might want to engage in small talk with their return customers.  They would perhaps be able to share some insight on the used bike you are eyeing on.

There’s also your city newspaper which might feature several bike-for-sale ads.  Such can be worth your time, after all, these sellers have paid ad fees in order to list their items.  If those bikes aren’t any good, they wouldn’t bother with placing their ads and instead, just post them online at no extra cost.

Speaking of online, it could also be a treasure trove of good finds.  Bike websites such as Pinkbike is one example which would have many options available.  There’s Facebook buy and sell, and Facebook Marketplace to consider.  Gumtree may have deals for you and eBay as well.

This last option of buying online may have its pluses and minuses. Online ads can be deceptive, especially the pictures, which may only show favorable angles.  Worse, they could edit them to look spotless.

Just the same, don’t dismiss the bad photo either.  You must realize that there are sellers who don’t do selling on a regular basis and don’t bother to present good pictures.

This could mean the listing wouldn’t generate as much interest from the impressionable searchers, so dig deep and request for more pics.  Who knows, this bike could be a diamond in the rough.

A seller feedback system is a useful tool for buyers.  Power sellers are highly rated with their countless purchase feedback which would probably allay your doubts.

A new seller, however, who will then have less feedback, may be legit, but you still have to tread carefully when dealing with such. You never know if he is merely a fly-by-night operator waiting for a big transaction to perform his scam on.  Before you know it, he has disappeared with your money with no bike in exchange.

For those selling on Facebook,  check their stats, friends, comments to form an impression of the person selling the used bike.  If they have a contact number, best to call them.  If there’s a messaging facility or email, make sure to fire these questions:

  • Why are you selling your bike?
  • Where and when did you buy your MTB?
  • Are you the first owner?
  • How often did you use it and where?
  • What is your maintenance procedure?
  • Have any of the bike parts been replaced?
  • Is there any part of the bike that is not working?
  • How’s the condition of the bike chain?
  • What is the size of the bike frame?

When you ask about the condition of the chain, this will provide a mental picture of how the whole drivetrain would look like.  About the bike frame size, you can at least know if it’s worth looking into especially if the seller says it has a large frame and you’re 6 feet tall.  Even then, just take everything that you’re told with a grain of salt until you see the actual item in person.

If this is a good seller, he should be able to respond to your questions clearly and confidently, otherwise, just skip it and look for another.

Scoring a Deal

Have you heard of the site bicyclebluebook.com?  It is a reputable online tool for bike valuation as well as a marketplace for secondhand bikes.  Here’s what you should do.

Collate all the ad listings of the bikes that you are interested in.

Check the corresponding prices of their new versions on the bicycle blue book site.

If the used bike price is being sold at 1000 dollars while the new unit is offered at 2000 dollars, then you are looking at a 50% discount.  Run all your listing considerations so you’ll arrive at who’s giving the most value for your money.

Please note that it is not the sole determining factor for your purchase, but it will help you cross one off your list, which is the price, as getting that good deal makes us also feel good about the purchase as a whole.   There are other things to consider before you finalize the deal.

See the Bike Listing for Yourself

After you have narrowed down your list to about 3 bikes, go and schedule an appointment with the seller to look at the merch in their place.  Don’t agree on a halfway meeting place.  This way, you know where they live and they can’t just pull a fast one on you.

It’s important to know that the bike they are selling is not stolen property.  Look for the registration number, which is usually found on the bottom frame.  Check this against the registry website bikeregister.com to know what its status is.  Likewise, if the registration number has been scratched, it probably has been stolen.

Inspecting the Bike’s Frame

This is perhaps the first thing you’ll look at when buying a secondhand MTB.  It’s the priciest bike component such that, if there’s significant damage on it, then it’s best not to consider it anymore to save time, money, and headache.

Perform a close inspection of the bike, and see if there are cracks that compromise the integrity of the frame.  Because if there are, there’s no point in continuing further.

You have to remember nonetheless, that you are buying a used item, so expect that there may be a few dings here and there, but nothing that majorly affects its functionality and lifespan.

Keep looking if at first, you didn’t find anything, especially at the bottom where you’ll usually find some scratches and stone chips.  It might even have a protective foam that prevents breaking damage.

It’s not enough to assume that the protective foam has done its job at preserving the bike to its pristine condition.  You should remove it and see if there are cracks present.  The foam could very well be a distraction or placed there to intentionally hide the flaws.

Check the welds because they are quite good indicators of quality. They will usually look very clean and well built.  Examine the welds on the tube of the MTB, which are the first ones to give out when the bike is damaged.

Don’t proceed with your bike purchase if there are lots of cracks on this portion.  It could be a sign that the bike has been pushed too hard and hammered.

Check the Paint

A secondhand bike may not have the brightest paint anymore given its age, but it should be ok unless there are too many hairline scratches.  The chainstay is often a spot that is exposed to scuffing.  Check if there is noticeable damage.

Sometimes, there would also be a type of protective covering on this area if its owner has been very careful with his bike.  If there is, the chainstay should be impeccable.  But just the same, ask permission to remove it and look for any flaw to be sure.

Suspension

Mountain bikes have different suspension designs that come in forks, which are telescoping tubes with an interior spring.  Bike manufacturers will recommend periodic servicing on the forks and shocks, especially on how often and aggressive you ride your MTB.

Forks must be cleaned and lubricated regularly to prevent dirt from staying on them, which otherwise, will cause premature wear on the system.  Scrutinize the fork of the bike you are planning to buy, along with its parts such as the steerer tube, stanchions, crown, lowers, among other things.

The lowers are exposed to frequent scratches which should be acceptable, but the stanchions should be in good condition.  If the fork has a protective coating, then it should have been kept pretty clean, especially with its seals.

You should also take into consideration the bike shocks by pushing the fork on them.  If it’s in good working order, it should not budge in between.  This absorbs energy from any rough landing and sharp bumps to keep your bike rear wheel on the ground.

Push the fork down and this time press the brake.  Take note that the braking should be smooth, otherwise, there might be a problem.  Are the bushings worn out?

Another checking method is to pull up the bike from its front wheel.  This will give you a better look at the fork interiors, and you can also gauge the sturdiness of the bike.  Listen for any clunks and creaks as these are red flags.

Once again, press the brake and jerk the bike to see if any movement is happening.  Your headset should not be loose as this part along with the seals, will keep your bike running smoothly in any riding condition.

If the bearing cups are not that tight anymore, the headset will rock forwards and backwards which will also risk damaging the bike frame.  This will cost quite a lot to repair.  During a test ride, check for the responsiveness of the suspension.  Is it still rebounding or not?  Drop any buying plans if this one is working like a pogo stick.

Wheels

The wheels are dynamic objects that interact with other components to spread the forces from the trail as they roll.  When they have been neglected, they lose their balance and create pockets of stress on different points of their structure.

As the wheels run on bearings, check by rocking them and see if they remain secure.  Pick up the rear wheel and do a light spin. Check if anything wobbles on the rims that are more than three millimeters.  If such is the case, this could be a difficult fix. Note any dents on the rims while you’re at it.

Brakes

A good quality brake rotor will impact its lifespan and performance.  Check this part with extra care on your fingers by performing a wheel rotation.  It should work nicely as it runs through its calipers.

Having a quick look at the brakes will tell you how much life remains on the padding.  If it’s not up to the task, it will take the bike more time before it stops.

Most MTBs use disc brakes, so you need to check these out on the bike.  Brakes fall victim to wear and tear, with the pads and rotors facing pressures with constant riding activity. When you test them, they should provide a smooth braking action.  Also, find out if the owner bleeds the brakes, which is part of its proper maintenance.

Different brands have their own methods of bleeding the brakes.  This is the process where air bubbles are removed from the brake fluid.  It should be done regularly or whenever the brake lever is spongy.  Basically, if you can get the brake lever to touch the grip, it’s time for bleeding.

A bike which is bled regularly by its owner is a good practice, it almost ensures that the bike is well maintained.

Drivetrain

A bike’s drivetrain is basically a closed circuit that makes the bike operate.  It consists of front and rear cogs, chain, cranks, shifters, and derailleurs.  It affects your bike’s shifting efficiency.

A knackered drivetrain is a no-go.  If the chain is worn out, it’s safe to say that the chainrings and cassette are the same way.  If they appear to be like sharpened teeth, it could be due to excessive wear.  This will cause a poor connection to the chain and slippery gears.

Replacement of these parts will cost a pretty penny.  Check the rear mechanisms such as the hanger and shifter, as these could have taken a lot of beating from frequent crashes.

To get an accurate assessment of the chain, it is recommended to use an indicator for chain wear.  This will get the elongation of your chain, i.e. having 24 rivets means it would measure to one foot under normal circumstances.  But if it goes beyond a fraction of an inch, it tells you that the chain has been stretched out, and will therefore be needing a replacement.

In lieu of this indicator tool, you can do a visual with the help of a ruler.  Get the length measurement and check against the chainring. They should not appear misshapen at all otherwise, it’s not good news.

Another thing to do is to feel out the chain with your hands.  This can be messy, but twisting it left and right will tell you its wear and tear.  If it’s floppy, then most likely you will be looking at replacing the chain, drivetrain, or both.

Get to know the used bike you’re eyeing by determining the chainring teeth, which are the deciding factors of the gear ratio.  It is common to have a 34-tooth kind, lesser than that means the bike has many high gears.

When you do a test ride, keep your ears open to any unusual sound in the bottom bracket.  Such noise is an indicator of either an improperly installed bracket, or totally worn out bearings.

When it’s not that bad, it might just be caused by loose bolts on the chainring.  You can rattle the bike, and while holding the cranks, move them sideways.  Any lateral movement is not a good sign.

Other components worth having a look at would be the grips, gear cables, and tires.  Cables are often overlooked, but their proper install and quality ensure a longer lasting bike performance.

Grips also seem minor to worry about, but being the main point of contact, it can influence bike control so its comfort should be considered.  Gear cables and grips wouldn’t cost as much as the tires would.  Use these as leverage when trying to get the best deal out of your purchase.

Bearings

When the truing of your wheels reaches a millimeter intermittently and occurs in different areas on every revolution, the bearings are most likely worn out.  This would need either a hub service or a new wheel.  Also, rumbling sensations from the fork indicate dry or ragged bearings.

Rocking the headset left and right and listen for any grinding sound from this movement.  Knocking sounds indicate an issue.  There might be impediments that may cause a rough motion.

You can even do a quick spin on its pedals.  If they are well-greased, they should spin without a hitch.  The rest of the surrounding parts such as the cranks should be sturdy.

Go to the rear wheels and spin them hard.  Again, nothing should be loose or else, you might be in for repairs if not, total replacement of the whole thing.

Seatpost

Secondhand bikes have a drop seatpost, which can be sensitive just like the suspension.  A seatpost can be prone to defects and would even require servicing.

Test if it moves without fail, more importantly, it doesn’t drop when you’re sitting on it, or it shouldn’t wobble when engaged.  It should have no play in the stanchions and check if its cables are undamaged.

For fixed position posts that are preferred by Enduro racers, as the rider does not have to hover over the saddle, make sure it’s not stuck in the bike frame.  It’s best to check by removing the seatpost, which will indicate if this is the case or not.

Take the Bike out for a Spin

As with most checking of the components mentioned, test riding is necessary to find any flaws or irregularities.  But ultimately, do a bike run for a good 10 minutes to see for yourself how the bike performs instead of just doing all assessments based on visual examination.

Getting the Best Price

After you have done your inspection of all the bike components, note which ones need a repair and use them to negotiate the final price.  You wouldn’t want to buy a used bike that would entail major replacing of parts, which would mean expensive costs.

Wanting to get more bang for your buck while at the same time, exercising practicality and realistic expectations, choose a used bike that only has minor issues with it.

Unless you are looking for a fixer-upper which you would certainly want to get for cheap,  you want to work with your budget, and that often means leaving very little room for additional expenses.

Once you have already done your computations versus how much you can actually spend, it’s time to do the negotiation with the seller.  You probably know how this works already.

You start off with a low buying price.  After all, it’s safe to assume that he has already jacked the price in the listing because it will still be negotiable in reality.

It’s not enough to present a low offer without justification.  In order to convince your seller, you must point out the reasons why you are only willing to go that much.

Also, there may be parts that do not necessarily need replacing but are just slightly worn such as the tires, you can also point that out to reduce the overall selling price. Moreover, if you have another offer from a different seller, you can use this to make the seller agree to your haggled price.

Final Word

I hope that this guide will help you find either that starter mountain bike, or the MTB of your dreams, albeit a preowned one.  Once you have successfully purchased it, give it a good wash, maybe a tune-up, or a new set of grips to personalize it.

You will still get more life from it with routine maintenance, plus a whole lot of loving from you.  Then you will be looking forward to new riding experiences with your not-so new bike.  Enjoy!

Was this post helpful?

Ruben

I always had a thing for bike sports and love almost anything that involves bikes and boards. I work part-time as a designer in the tech industry and work on my blogs whenever I can.

Recent Content