How to buy a used mountain bike

My friends and I have been mountain biking for a long time. We have acquired a lot of bikes and more importantly, experience about buying them.

My friends and I have been mountain biking for a long time. We have acquired a lot of bikes and more importantly, experience about buying them. Between us, we’ve had more bikes than I can count and they have all been used previously but in perfect working condition.

Buying used bikes is way cheaper and allows us to try out a variety by buying and selling bikes to our hearts’ content. Over the years, we have gotten pretty good at spotting good and bad bikes. We’ve learned what to look for, what questions to ask, and what the biggest mistakes are and how to avoid them.

The first thing you need to do when buying a used bike is to find a good site. There are many websites that have bike ads such as Pink Bike, Craigslist, and Kijiji. I prefer Pink Bike because it’s specifically designed for buying and selling bikes.

There are a couple of different ways that people like to buy bikes. Some people like to look for the best ad they can find with a bunch of pictures and some good writing about the bike like what components there are or if there’s any damage, for example. The downside of buying bikes that have good ads is that the people tend to charge more for them, but at least you’ll know what you’re going to get and won’t wasting gas by driving around place to place. The other way is to look for bad ads that have blurry photos and very little text. The advantage of this is you can usually get a better price but you can end up going place to place looking at beaten up or cheap bikes and wasting your time. The third and final way is the happy medium between these two extremes. It’s an ad with about 4 to 8 pictures clear pictures of thing you want to see like the frame, components and any damage. The ad will also have an okay description of the bike–around 50 to 100 words maximum.  

People love to lie when they sell their bikes. I’ve seen a lot of ads that say that the bike is upgraded when it’s not or saying their bike is a newer model just to jack up the price. So if you’re buying an upgraded bike, ask what the upgraded parts are and make sure it’s actually upgraded.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when buying a bike is not being willing to walk away. You might feel like you have to buy it because you spent the time to come out and see it. My friend drove an hour and a half through the night to go see a bike and he bought it because he felt like he had to after spending so much time going out there. Sadly the bike was too big and he was very disappointed with it and lost some money when he tried to sell it. What he should have done is just said, “Sorry, this isn’t the bike for me,” and walked away.

When you’re trying to buy a bike you should always try to talk someone down and give them a reason to give you a better price. You can pretend to be a little unsure if you want the bike–this is what my friend did to get his current bike. He ended up getting the bike for a way cheaper price and a got couple upgraded parts free of charge, too!

Make sure you ask a lot of questions such as why they are selling the bike. If you see damage, ask what happened. Also ask them to tell you about the bike, like if any of the components have been replaced. Furthermore, point out anything you think could have been damaged. This doesn’t mean just look for scratches. For example, if someone says they put a new part on like a new brake lever, you shouldn’t think of it as, “yay I have a new brake lever!”  You should think of it as “why did this person put the new brake lever on the bike?” It could be from a crash where he rode into a tree and smacked the lever into the tree and broke it. The visual damage is repaired with the new brake lever but there could be some invisible damage done to the handlebar. Believe me, you don’t want to be riding down the trail and have your handlebar break and send you into a huge crash. This doesn’t happen very often and you don’t have to worry too much about it, but be sure to bring that cynical attitude with you because it could save you a lot of struggles, time and money. You should always bring up any scratches or scuffs too. You don’t have to make a big deal about this stuff but it’s always good to to bring it up for some extra leverage when bargaining.

A good question to ask is if the bike has been in any crashes before. If the owner says no, then you can be pretty sure he is lying to you because it’s a mountain bike and it’s impossible to ride mountain bikes without crashing in some way. If they lie about that, you have to be a little more careful because they’ll probably try to lie about something else, too.

I was looking to buy a bike once and when I was test riding it, I realized that the brake pads were worn out and were damaging the brake rotor. Because I noticed this, I was able to get a cheaper price. Another time, one of my friends was buying a bike and when he was running through the gears he noticed that it wasn’t smooth. He figured out that the guy was trying to sell the bike with a bent derailleur hanger and he got a better price. All of these problems were discovered within a short, five-minute test ride. Another important reason for test riding is to simply see if you like how the bike rides–if it feels good and if it fits your riding style.

You should always, always bargain! Try your hardest to not leave without some kind of deal. If you point out any damage or any reason you should be suspicious about the bike, most people will cave in and give you a deal. This isn’t always possible because some people can be super stubborn and not want to bargain with you no matter what, but this is rare and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even if the ad says that the seller is firm on the price, you should still try.  

These are all the the tips and tricks my friends and I have learned over the years, which have been full of good and bad bikes, extreme deals and rip offs. If you follow these guidelines you should be able to avoid all the bad bikes and big mistakes that we’ve done and get yourself a great mountain bike for an even better price.


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