What to look for in a second hand bike

Some real bargains can be had by buying a second hand bike. You can get a much higher spec’ed bike used than new, or you can get an awesome vintage steed.

However, you can end up having to do so much work to a second hand bike that you end up spending more than if you had brought new. Of course, if you are buying a bike for the frame to build up as you wish, then this list is less relevant.

With this is mind we thought you would bring you a guide on what things to check out when looking at a second hand bike. This advice also applies to working out how much it will cost to rehab an old bike from a garage.

The main things

The easiest way to go over a bike is to be organised and start with following the standard safety check on any bike – the M-Check. The parts covered in this check are the structural parts on the bike, and the ones that could cost a lot to fix, or not be fixable at all.









Wheels and Hubs

  • Check the spokes – one or two missing or lose is not a problem, but more than that and you might be looking at a new wheel build
  • Check the wheel is true – make sure the wheel is not buckled as sever misalignment will mean new wheels.
  • Rims – check they are not too worn or cracks which would mean they need replacing
  • Hubs – Make sure they run smoothly and have no dents or cracks.
  • Tyres – check if the tread and the sidewalls are in good condition and have no cracking or balding
Fuzzy tyres

These tyres are not bald but they are degrading


  • Pads- check how worn they are
  • Callipers – make sure they move freely and are not seized.


  • Headset – check the steering column moves freely, it may require you checking the headset is not over tightened.
  • Forks – check that the forks are not damaged or bent
  • Brake levers – check they are there and move
  • Grips – make a note of their condition, these are often a part that you will want to change and need to be added to the costs
  • Gear levers – if the bike has gear levers, check they move and are not damaged

Chainrings and cranks

  • Chain rings – check the teeth are not very rounded and worn or damaged
  • Cranks – check they turn smoothly and don’t make any noises – this might be best checked with the chain off so you can assess the bottom bracket properly.
  • Pedals – make not of the condition and style of the pedals as these might not be suitable for your uses and need replacing.


  • Seat post – check it is straight and not dented
  • Bolts – check they are not too rusty or corroded
  • Saddle – make a not of its condition and shape as this may be something you need to change later

Rear wheel and hub

  • Same checks as for the front


  • Same checks as for the front

Cogs and derailleur

  • Cogs – make sure the teeth are not rounded off and they is no damage
  • Derailleur – check it is not bent.
Decent cogs

These cogs have been upgraded pretty recently

Other checks

Check the frame over steel and alloy frames for dents, scratches. Some rust is definitely manageable and to be expected on steel bikes, but you don’t want too much and not near large dents. Bikes with carbon components are harder to assess and may well need to be taken to a bike shop for inspection.

It is worth asking the seller if there has been a service done recently. If buying from a bike shop, they will be able to tell you what they have and have not done to the bike pretty easily. If buying from an individual then see who long they have had the bike. If they have had it for 10 plus years and don’t remember the last time it was serviced, assume a full general service will need doing.

It is also worth checking where the bike has been stored. If it has been kept outside for a long time then there is a greater chance of damage on the frame or components.

Light rust

This level of rust is ok and can be removed with wire wool

Contact points

The saddle, pedals and grips are your main points of contact on a bike. These are the things that you often change regardless of the bike as they are very personal parts of the bike. When I got my touring bike I changed the saddle straight away, the bar tape after 3 weeks and the pedals after 6 months.

Therefore, changes to these things should be in your budget when looking at any bike. The main difference between buying new and second hand might be that they need to be changed straight away on an older bike.

It adds up

If the bike needs a lot of work then it is worth doing some hard math to decide if the bike really is a good deal. Sometimes a bike can seem like great value at £150, but if you need to put new tyres, cables, brake pads, pedals and chain on it and have it serviced if you are not able to do that yourself, then it can add up very quickly.

On neglected bikes, the tyres almost always need replacing. If you are going to be commuting it is worth investing in puncture proof tyres which may well set you back £50-70 to replace.

If you have had bikes before and are either adding a new one in, or replacing one, you may well have  a collection of spare parts. Or have friends that do. It is worth taking stock of what you have access to so you know where you can save money when looking at a ‘new’ bike.

Do you have any tips for what to check for on a secondhand bike?

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

5 Responses to What to look for in a second hand bike

  1. Roger 29/01/2016 at 9:51 am #

    Check the seatpost is free and adjustable – and that the clamp actually works.

    • Rob 19/02/2016 at 8:49 pm #

      Definitely. I bought a bike and was told the seat post “was a bit stiff”….but it had been bonded in! (Presumably to stop thieves) Even after hacksawing, chisel, etc – nothing made it budge. Frame wasted.

  2. Peter 29/01/2016 at 11:58 am #

    Check it’s not stolen : check the frame number against the Bike Register database, which is used by all UK police. Don’t buy a stolen bike


  3. Andy Ball 29/01/2016 at 4:21 pm #

    Might be worth adding how the state of the items on your list could enable you to barter, cost it up.

    For example, measure the chain, if it’s severely worn you’ll need to not only replace it, but also the cassette. You could be looking at at least £30 for that, plus if you don’t have the cassette tool you might need to purchase one or use an LBS. Point is, the seller might not realise so his/her price of £500 is actually more like £450 (all in all). If you catch my drift.

    I would always replace the tyres anyway, its best to start afresh for a smallish cost and have faith in them than chance it.

    Check the cables too for wear, they might need replacing.

    Essentially check it all. Everything. Why not, they’re simple machines, it takes 5 minutes to inspect it.

  4. Gav 09/02/2016 at 5:52 am #

    I would say be very wary of buying any carbon framed or fork bikes unless you know the person you are buying off. What looks like minor damage could be the result of a big crash.
    Also insist on a test ride it the seller won’t allow it don’t buy the bike. Just by doing this you will get a general idea of the bike. Also if it fits you. If the brakes or gears or anything else doesn’t work properly don’t assume it just needs minor adjustment. It could be new parts that are required.

Leave a Reply