It’s a fact that as mechanical objects, bike parts and components will wear out and break over time. To keep your rig running you will need to replace and upgrade parts from time to time. New parts can prove expensive and its often a temptation to look for cheaper, used parts. Buying used can be risky, but with care and the right research there are real bargains to be had. You can find them at local garage sales, craigslist, eBay and on forums such as pinkbike.com. This guide will show the pitfalls to look out for and help you source a reliable bit of kit at a good price!
Is the part worn, worn out or broken?
For any used part, ask the question why is it for sale? Any used part will show sign of wear, this is to be expected. However you need to establish if there is still life in the part before you buy it. If you are buying online make sure that there are clear high-res pictures available (you can always ask for some if they are not present). Don’t dismiss something for cosmetic damage such as chipped paint, but run from anything that looks past it. We will look at the main components and look at what makes a “worn” component or “worn-out”!
The frame is the most important aspect of the bike. Get a good one and the whole bike will develop well. Buy a damaged one and it could fail at any moment. Look for a frame that is well made and from a reputable frame builder
- Chips and Scratches are acceptable, and do not indicate damage
- Look for significant dents (larger than a coin) especially in aluminium frames
- Steel frames are cheap and strong, but prone to rust. Rust can be filed and painted over.
- Aluminum frames are lighter, tend to be more expensive and are more likely to dent.
- Walk away from a dented frame.
- Look carefully at all the joints, the welds should be clean and undamaged. Look for damage in these parts
For rigid forks the advise is similar to the frame. If you are looking at replacement suspension forks more care needs to be taken.
Check for any damage to the stanchion (the metal tube that runs into the top of the fork) even a small ding can ruin the forks over time. The stanchions should be clean shiny and smooth running. Ask if they have been serviced. Forks should be serviced every year or so to keep them in good condition.
The main moving parts: Bottom Bracket, Hubs and Headset
There are three main moving parts on the bike, these all attach to the frame, and need to be reliable to give a smooth running bike. All contain small ball bearings or cartridge bearings which will need to be well looked after.
The headset provides rotation for the front wheel via the handlebars and runs through the front of the frame. Bottom Bracket is the attachment for the pedals, and the hub is the rotation device for the wheels.
Generally a good quality hub will have user replaceable parts and can be stripped and rebuilt with new bearings.
For all hubs you should look for any noise coming from them, this can be hard when buying on line. In this instance use common sense can the buyer be trusted, do they have high feedback etc. If so you should be fine to buy a used component based on the description they give.
If you do get your hub and its a bit creaky, look at replacing the internal bearings, ensuring that its well greased, clean and tightly fitted.
These are hard to buy online without good reassurance from the buyer. Look for low milage examples, and a return policy incase of defects.
The Drive Train: Cassettes, Cranks, Freewheels
To translate effort from your legs to the back wheel there is the drive train. Generally these are very robust components as they have to transmit the force of the pedals. Usually these parts have quite a long life, especially the cranks. Stick to the advice about looking for wear and damage and you can pick up some real bargains.
- Crankset: the inside of the crank is call the spindle where the Bottom Bracket mounts. This must be viewed before buying, what you are looking for is a nice clean look with no wear and good threads. If you see any wear or damage its possible that the spindle has been incorrectly fitted and will work loose. No amount of tightening will keep it on to the bottom bracket
- The freewheel is again a sound check. Spin it, if it’s silent then all is fine. If you hear any clatter then it could indicate internal damage.
- Cassettes, there should be no sign of damage, and the gears should move easily with good positive shifting.
- Again, look for visible damage.
- All these parts get a hard life, so look for wear and high milage.
- With the cranks make sure they dont wobble from side to side.
The Furniture: Stems, Saddle and Handles
These parts are non moving and tend not to wear out, any visible damage should be avoided. There should not be any bends or kinks in either the handlebars, or the saddle stem.
Look for visible damage, on the whole these parts are safe to replace
What to Avoid
If it looks good it generally is good, there is little chance of hidden damage in these components.
Avoid these parts… Any deal is likely to be risky
The reason for buying used parts is to give a low cost route into better components or additional life to an existing bike. We would recommend steering clear of these components and stick to new either due to safety, or because they cost so little.
Tyres and Wheels
These should only be considered if they are nearly new. Grip disappears fast on old tyres and you will never get a sure footed bike with worn tyres. They are likely to be cracked, slippy and more prone to failure than new tyres.
Wheels are also risky, unless you are able to rebuild them then they are likely to be out of shape and difficult to true in. There may also be invisible hairline fractures in the rim that cannot be detected easily.
For these parts we would recommend buying new, there are often significant discounts on old season versions.
These are complex components, however they are generally not particularly expensive. They can be complex to work on if they are faulty. Again bargains are to be had with old season versions.
Simple buy new, they are cheap. Old ones may be stretched and not give good performance. See if your chain is past its best using a chain stretch tool.
Great Used Parts
Finally we look at parts that make excellent value used. This is because they wear slowly or provide excellent value for money.
Pedals are often a very personal choice for a rider, and they often appear on the market used. As they don’t really wear out they make an excellent choice to buy used.
Again another simple component that does not wear fast. The spring might loose some tension, but these can be replaced simply.
Unfortunately lots of bikes are being stolen for parts. If you see a part extremely cheap it may have come from a bike that has been stolen and stripped for its parts. A thief can often get more for the parts than for the whole bike, especially if the frame has been cut through during the theft. Don’t feed the fire of the thieves, it may be your bike they target next!
As with all things, if a deal looks to good to be true it often is. Always check the buyers credentials before buying, check the part look for wear or damage.