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Pat Stewart | 04.10.2018

Not everything needs to be shiny and new. Just like buying a lightly used car can save you thousands, it’s worth it to consider buying a used mountain bike for the same reason.

There are, however, a few things you should be aware of. Buying used always comes with risks. The seller could have put a small crack somewhere in the frame that is hardly visible, and they can’t warranty it. The seller could be trying to make a quick buck on a stolen bike. To help you prepare to buy a used mountain bike, here are our team’s five essential things to keep in mind during the buying process.

1. What kind of bike do you need?

Do you need a cross-country bike with 100mm travel? A 130mm travel trail bike? A 160mm travel enduro/all-mountain/”quiver-killer” bike? A 200mm travel downhill bike? Identifying your bike needs can be overwhelming, especially with so many good bikes being on the market.

Finding the right bike begins with identifying your riding style. Do you like long days in the saddle, or are you pedaling up solely for the descent? It’s also worth thinking about your progression. Do you want to jump higher and smash more rock gardens in the future? If so, a longer travel bike may be appropriate. If not, go for the lighter alternative, or even a hard tail, which will save you money, weight, and sweat on the climbs.

Carbon vs. aluminum

It seems that as surely as the industry has steered away from 26-inch wheels, most are switching to carbon frames. Carbon is stiffer, leading to snappier handling, it’s sexier, and in many cases, it’s lighter.

However, there are still quite a few reasons to go with an aluminum frame. Most of the time, it’s not that much heavier. It gives a more “forgiving” ride, since it’s not as stiff. Aluminum is generally more affordable, which leaves you some extra money for better components.

Wheel size

The wheel size debate has finally slowed down. People aren’t as apt to draw their weapons over wheel sizes they don’t agree with anymore, and they are recognizing the pros and cons of 27.5-inch, 29-inch, and plus-sized tires. 27.5-inch wheels generally handle more quickly and aggressively than 29ers, but 29ers give you increased traction and rollover ability, which translates to more confidence over rocks and loose terrain. Plus-size tires have also grown in popularity for these reasons. You get more tire surface on rocks and roots, and the confidence that comes with it. However, they are less suitable for aggressive riding and racing due to thinner sidewalls and folding tire casing in aggressive cornering.

2. Where to find a good used bike?

Many bike shops are starting to offer consignment programs. They buy and sell used bikes, or they offer money to buy from their shop. The downside is that they’re looking to make money also, and you won’t get the best deal by buying or selling to them.

Websites like Pinkbike and Craigslist are where people usually buy and sell used bikes. Facebook Marketplace is another option that is growing in popularity. On Pinkbike, you can find bikes that are being sold close to you, as well as bikes across the country.

Using Paypal is the best way to go if you must buy without seeing it first, since they offer buyer/seller protection to ensure that both parties get what they want. Craigslist is also a good option if you want to buy locally and put eyes on the bike before you hand over cash.

3. Meet them in person

Do everything possible to meet the seller in person before agreeing to hand over any money. You’ll see the condition of the bike first hand and get a sense of whether or not the seller can be trusted. Run your hands down all of the frame tubes to feel for dents or cracks. You can also consider meeting the seller at a local bike shop to have a professional run a proper inspection.

Not everyone is going to let you take his or her personal bike for a ride down your favorite trail to see if you like it. However, don’t feel bad about asking them to take it for a spin at the nearest parking lot. Bunny hop it, take it off curbs, pedal up curbs, and throw it around the best that the environment will allow you. Sometimes just listening to the bike for loose parts or bad shifting and suspension compression will tell you all you need to know. 

4. Make sure it isn’t stolen and are useful sites to check for stolen bikes and to register a bike after you've bought one. Ask to look at the serial number and plug it in. If it’s not stolen, the seller should have no problem with this. Trust your gut here. If the seller doesn’t know much about the bike, doesn’t know much about mountain biking or the local trails, and the deal seems too good to be true, then reconsider purchasing from this seller.

5. What needs to be serviced? 

Depending on how old the bike is, it may need some love. Ask the seller what’s been recently serviced. Are the pivot bearings on the frame in good shape? Take off the rear shock and move the suspension linkage through its travel, and listen for grinding in the bearings. Are the wheels true, and the spokes tight? Is it shifting correctly? Drive trains may look fine and shift well enough to seem ok, but if the chain is stretched and the cassette teeth worn, they can add up to be expensive replacements. Check the handlebars for bends or cracks and see if the derailleur needs a tune also.

There’s a lot to get wrong when you're looking for a used bike, but if you know what to look for, a great deal on a sweet bike will outweigh all of it. Do your research, be savvy, and make an offer. You’ll be glad you did.

Author Bio

Pat Stewart is a content marketer for Mountain Bike Vacations was developed by a team of mountain bike enthusiasts to share their insights on how others can make the most of their mountain bike adventures. For more, you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Getting ready for your next mountain bike adventure? Come read about our favorite mountain bike destinations!


Great article.
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