How to test a second hand bicycle

If you’re buying a new bicycle, chances are that it is going to be a pretty simple task but what if your budget is low and all you can afford is a second hand bicycle? Remember that you can find a used bicycle better then a new one. Stay away for the Walmart type shops and also bling bling chinese new bicycles, i don’t recommend those bicycles.

I have a second hand bicycle, a 2004 Giant GSR 500 mountain bike and in the quest for this beauty i did this simple and fun steps, so here are my tips for searching a bicycle:

  • Research on the internet: Go on Google and YouTube for “how to test a second hand bicycle” or variants. As you expect, there are tones of articles explaining what to look for.
  • Read something about bike mechanics to learn names of the most important bicycle parts and also to see that repairing and tuning a bicycle is your cup of coffee. And yes, you will have to do that sometimes even with a new bicycle. Google and YouTube are your friends. Also try something like
  • Talk with people that have a bicycle and use it often or people that have the expertise to give you advice. You can have such a person coming with you to see that second hand beauty.
  • Make a checklist with all the steps you will take with the bicycle.

My checklist:

  1. Take your time. There is no rush inspecting the bike and even if you’ll pay 50 bucks for it, it’s your hard earned money, spend it wisely. If the seller is rushing you something is not good.
  2. Visually inspect the whole bicycle and look for anything bad looking.
  3. Check the frame which is the most expensive part of the bike very carefully for bents, cracks, dents and if the welds look out of place. Look carefully and feel it with your hand. All this can affect the resistance of the bike and don’t even try to test ride it. Chipped paint or minor scratches and even superficial rust points it’s ok. Some people stamp on the frame or in other parts some ID number and stuff for the cases the bicycle gets stolen.
  4. Check the front wheel. Lift the front wheel of the ground by lifting the handle bars and wiggle the wheel left and right, if it has some play it’s a sign of a worn hub and in general, any play it’s a bad sign.
  5. Check for play in the handle bars by squeezing the front brake, front wheel on the ground and wiggle the bike back and front, if you have play, bad sign, don’t recommend buying.
  6. Check the cassette (where the pedals are fixed) by grabbing on pedal and wiggle left and right for any play. Remember, in testing a bicycle, play is no good.
  7. Remove the seat post and look for serious rust and for notes inside the seat post that people put if some ID or secret code in case the bike gets stolen. Light rust can be cleaned.
  8. Inspect the pedals for any cracks, if it has, talk if they can change them.
  9. Inspect the drive train front and rear and the chain for cracks and excessive wear. When you will drive it , the chain will skip the teeth, really bad sign, don’t buy. Any cracks and misaligned parts are bad.
  10. Turn the bicycle upside down. Spin the front front wheel and look at the top edge for ups and downs and oscillating left and right. If yes, the wheel needs to be trued. The up and down can be a result of the wheel staying a while deflated and the tire deformed and this is ok. Push the front brake. If the brake pads are touching the tire or the spokes (this results in very bad accidents) it’s not ok and need to be adjusted. With the wheel stopped, check visually and with your fingers if the rim has cracks and if the part that meets the brake pads is not flat. Worn brake pads result in worn rims that you will have to change (New brake pads are way cheaper that new rims). Also the tire should have no cuts and bulges (a tire is not expensive). Take your time to squeeze two by two spokes to see if any are loose, that can be adjusted if any.  Do all this for the rear wheel and rim.
  11. Look for serious damage on the down side of the frame. This will give you an idea of how the bike was treated.
  12. Check for fray cables, especially where the cables meet bolts and nuts. This can result in snapping the cable, and you don’t want that to happen in full speed. Cables are not expensive but judge for yourself if you want to test ride the bicycle.
  13. Get ready to offer a deposit for test driving the bicycle.
  14. Don’t test ride if you see cracks in the frame or the welds, cracked rims, you have above slightly play in cassette or wheel hubs, fray cables that you judge they can snap, brake pads touching the tire or the spokes.
  15. Test ride it. Start with low speed and check if the bike is stopping properly and if it’s changing gears smoothly. Remember that brakes and shifters can be adjusted. Go to all the gears and try to go up a hill in the hardest gear, stay up from the seat and pedal hard, if the chain skip some teeth it’s bad.
  16. You can make a list of things you will change after buying the bike but beware if the list will cost as much as the bicycle.
  17. Repeat until you’ve found your new bicycle.

If you can add to this, please let me know!

It’s not hard if you do you homework in advance and take your time to inspect the bicycle. My bicycle has some rust points, a slight bend on the rear wheel down left arm (and i shouldn’t have buy it but i judged it will not cause me lots of problems…we’ll see), slight worn of the rims caused by worn brake pads that i will change. Also it has twist shifters that didn’t changed very well but i adjusted that after watching YouTube videos on that. The rest it’s ok for now, i love it! (*^-^*)

Don’t be disappointed if  you don’t find a good bicycle soon, keep looking. I felt sorry i didn’t buy one until i’ve found the current one, in a better shape and cheaper.


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