Of the bikes that come in to us for a service it would be fair to say that many bikes bought second hand are in need of more parts and more attention than the buyer had bargained for. Damaged suspension components (usually from a lack of maintenance) and pivot bearings that are seized are among some of the more expensive jobs that can turn a bargain into a bit of a nightmare.
To that end here is a list of 10 points to check before handing over your cash. It’s not an exhaustive list but it covers the issues that we see the most.
Don’t feel pressured into handing over your cash until you are happy that you have checked the following points and you may just be able to spot a potentially expensive problem. At the same time don’t assume that your seller is a charlatan, there may be a genuine reason for sale.
A bike which had been seized by the Police, fitted with stolen components
- Ask yourself if you are satisfied that the bike isn’t stolen. Easier said than done sometimes but we know from first hand experience that thieves like to make bikes unrecognisable so they can sell them online without worrying that the owner (who is no doubt checking Ebay, Gumtree etc.) will be able to spot their bike. If the bike in question is a dog’s dinner of mismatched parts, ask why. Thieves don’t need to grind away frame numbers, most people don’t have a record of theirs anyway. Even if the owner provides a frame number to the Police, a stolen bike will often end up in another county where the local constabulary will have no record of it’s theft and a local thief can ride around on the bike without worry. There are online bike registers where people can list stolen bikes but beyond the frame itself you really can’t be sure. There is very little you have to go on other than your gut instinct, our advice is:
- Engage in small talk with the seller, where do they ride, how often? If they mention a trail you know quiz them on what they think of a particular section, you may be able to spot a blagger without actually having a confrontation.
- If the bike isn’t original spec. ask why the parts were swapped. For example one such stolen/recovered bike we have seen (see the above picture) was a Trek Fuel. This bike had a 1 x 9 setup with no clutch mech or chain tensioner, complete Nukeproof finishing kit, Superstar Wheels, Fox Forks from a different era, Hope seat clamp lever in black but the clamp itself was unbranded and a different colour. The bike also had a blue anodised bash guard that just looked odd. Every bolt had apparently been tightened by a Monkey with a spoon. If the seller can’t give you anything other than “it was like that when I got it”, be wary.
- If the seller wants to meet you anywhere other than their house, for example a car park in an industrial estate at night, like the seller of this bike did, be wary.
- If the bike in question is a MTB and has suspension look very closely at the anodising especially next to the wiper seals. If you see any indication that the anodising has faded, or that it is in any way scored on the bits you can see, it could mean that the internal condition of the forks/rear shock is pretty horrific. You are probably looking at in the region of £2-400 for a service centre to supply and fit a CSU (crown, steerer, upper tubes) and new bushes. Compress the forks and rear shock, can you feel any notches or clunking? Do the controls such as the rebound make a noticeable difference when turned to their extremes? Put your hand on top of the rocker link when compressing the shock and hold the lowers when compressing the fork, again there shouldn’t be any play or knocking.
Severe damage to a fork stanchion, this wasn’t visible with the forks assembled but there were tell tale signs as the anodising had begun to fade.
- Spin the wheels of the bike both on and off the bike. Look for a buckle, a small one can be rectified but any dents or flat spots on the rims may mean that you will not be able to recover the wheel. Look at each spoke nipple, are they rounded or is the anodising slightly damaged? This could indicate that a DIY mechanic has already had a go at truing them and may have made matters worse.
- Check each pair of spoke for tension, are any noticeably loose or tighter than the rest? Either could indicate a damage rim or that there has been a poor attempt to true them up.
Pinch each pair of spokes, are there any that are loose or noticeably tighter than the rest?
- With hydraulic disc equipped mountain bikes spin the wheel and listen for brake drag. It may be that the caliper may not be aligned correctly or that the disc is out of true – both easy fixes. However if the caliper pistons are not returning correctly (moving back away from the disc after you have released the brake) then this may mean that the brakes need a serious overhaul or even replacing.
- Check brake lever travel, if the levers barely move and the brakes are dragging there may be a serious issue with the brakes or they may just need a bleed. If more than a bleed is required the worse case scenario is that the brakes are beyond economical repair.
- Rock both wheels from side to side to check for play in the wheel bearings, you may even be able to spot play in the pivot bearings (on full suspension bikes) when doing this to the rear wheel.
Rock both wheels from side to side, can you feel any play in the bearings? This technique usually highlights play in pivot and/or hub bearings.
- Pick the the bike up by the bars and turn them side to side, are the headset bearings rough?
- Look at every nut and bolt, from the frame pivot bolts, to the foot nuts on the forks and everything in between.
Foot nuts that have been marked as a result of removing them with the incorrect tools. Could be a sign of a bodger.
Is anything marked or rounded off? Some pivot bolts for more obscure brands of frame can be difficult to source, even if every bolt is marked but usable it may be a sign that you are buying from a less than competent DIY mechanic.
- Look closely for cracks on the frame (it happens more often than you might think), take your time with this and ensure that you are checking in adequate lighting.
Don’t let the above list put you off buying a second hand bicycle, there are plenty of honest and genuine sellers out there but sticking to the above list can help identify when somebody is trying to sell you a lemon.