Second hand bikes – Bargain or Money pit?

Hi folks, it’s time for another one of those opinion posts. Before you ask, no I’m not going to weigh in on the disc brake debate for fear of World War Three breaking out in the comments section. It’s a common, and for in my opinion for the most part sound piece of advice that if you’re looking to get a good bike on a budget the best bet is always to go second hand. I’m hoping this post is going to illustrate why I think that might not always be the case.

I bought my first Mountain Bike six months ago for what appeared to be a bargain price of £375. It’s nothing special, just a bog standard aluminium hardtail. Nonetheless to get that spec on a new bike would have cost me at least £900. For that reason I when I saw one for sale for less than half that I snapped it up very eagerly. For the most part I think it’s been a good purchase, off-road riding is something I’d recommend to everyone for reasons outlined in a previous post. However, it’s not been without it’s problems.

From day one the bike had a big problem with the chain dropping, this is a pretty common issue when it comes to 1x drivetrains. My mechanical knowledge was very much lacking when it came to finding a solution to this. Eventually I discovered that the problem was mainly due to the previous owner fitting the wrong type of chain ring. Having now fitted a narrow-wide chain ring with a chain guard added just for good measure the issue is very much solved.

A month after buying the bike I had the slightly scary experience of nothing happening when I went for the front brake whilst riding a particularly technical trail. A google search told me that the brakes probably needed bleeding and a glance at the state of the pads was all I needed to see that they needed replacing immediately. I’ve since had to splash out on a new rear calliper after a piston failed on the old one.

Along the way it’s also needed a new bottom bracket, headset, chain and cassette. Twice I’ve had to admit defeat and leave the machine to the bike shop to sort out, the problems in question being a spongy suspension fork and a snapped spoke on the front wheel. The rear tyre recently developed a rather spectacular split, meaning that too has had to be replaced – by the looks of it the front one won’t last much longer either.

The cost of this maintenance has been pretty significant at roughly £320 and that’s not counting any of the tools I’ve had to buy to do those various jobs. Adding those in I’d estimate the bike has cost me around £750 in total. All of a sudden that’s not looking like quite such a substantial saving anymore. Just to be clear I’m not having a dig at the seller here, as advertised the bike was in full working order when I bought it. Unfortunately everyday wear and tear is likely to be a much bigger problem on a second hand machine.

However, on the flip-side I’ve been able to spread out the cost of putting it right over the last few months rather than having to pay it up-front. In addition I’ve been able to select any new components myself, meaning I haven’t wasted any money on stock ones that I’d have wanted to swap out immediately – something that’s pretty much inevitable with a brand new machine.

Over the years I’ve seen a few other things that have made me cautious when it comes to these purchases. The scariest being a wheel that looked to be in brilliant condition at first glance, when I lifted the rim tape I discovered that the carbon fairing had completely separated from the alloy rim. In other words that wheel was a potential deathtrap.

So, what’s the verdict? For what it’s worth I’d advise anyone to be cautious when buying a second hand bike, expect to have to shell out for some maintenance sooner rather than later. I would certainly recommend going to see the machine before parting with the cash. Check the wear on the chain – if that needs replacing there’s a good chance the cassette is also worn and the chain ring might not be far behind. If you can, I’d suggest taking the bike for a test ride – if there any suspicious noises, particularly from the hubs, headset or bottom bracket I’d steer clear. Sluggish and/or noisy shifting probably means the cables need replacing.

Thanks for reading.

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