Are you wondering whether you should buy a new or a used (second-hand) bicycle? Or: for your budget, should you buy a higher-end used bicycle, or a lower-end new bicycle? If you are, you aren’t the only one. The number of people who’ve asked me this over the past decade alone is written with four digits. That’s why I’ve decided to write this article and save myself some time by just sending this link to whoever asks.
Table Of Contents (T.O.C.):
- Who am I to tell you?
- The short version
- The advantages of buying a used bicycle
- The cons of buying a used bike
- A few more tips
- Conclusion and my personal opinion
1. Who am I to tell you?
We are all different, with different preferences, priorities and budgets. That’s why I’ll objectively explain all the pros and cons of buying a used bike compared to buying a new one, so that everyone can choose for and by themselves what’s best for them.
I think I have a pretty good idea about this. I’ve been cycling for about four decades and fixing bicycles for almost that long (since early childhood). Also, for decades, relatives, friends and acquaintances have been asking me for help and advice when they’re buying bikes.
2. The short version
Before I explain all the pros and cons, let me give you two quick tips:
- If you don’t know how to check the state of a used bicycle (or you don’t know anyone who does and is willing to help you when shopping), it’s best to avoid buying a used bike.
- If something looks too cheap, it probably has a hidden fault or has been stolen.
- Metal parts show cracks (even if they are as thin as a strand of hair) before they break. Carbon fibre parts don’t always show any signs, while an ultrasonic scan which can confirm it’s all good beneath the paint can be expensive.
If you’re interested, I wrote a tutorial (and linked a video demonstration inside) about how to check a used bicycle before buying it.
3. The advantages of buying a used bicycle
First and probably very obvious: with enough patience, time and a bit of luck, you can save a lot of money, even in the long run.
You are leaving less money “tied” to a post while you are at work, or doing shopping (if you use a bicycle to commute). Also, for a given budget, you can get a higher-end bicycle if you buy used (better frame, higher-end derailleurs etc), compared to buying a new bicycle for that same amount of money. However, do read on (briefly put: high-end parts can be a lot more expensive to replace when they get worn or damaged).
There is no waiting after an order (with new bikes, in case of supply-chain problems, sometimes it can take even a few months for an ordered bike to be delivered), nor and other obligations related to keeping or prolonging the warranty (some shops require you do regular service at a certified shop or similar).
You can buy a model that is no longer manufactured. Why would you want to do that? Well, rigid forks and rim brakes are getting more and more difficult to find on high-end new bicycles – and they are very light and cheap & simple to maintain. Don’t even get me started on internally routed cables. 🙂 For a few more details:
Finally: if you can’t borrow and test ride different kinds of bikes, buying used can be an affordable way to test several different bicycle types and frame sizes, to see what actually works for you in practice.
In my experience, many people read and watch many reviews – and think they have a pretty good idea of what their “dream bike” is like, but once they actually start riding it, they realize it’s not a very good fit for them (either the frame size or the type of bicycle). You can’t truly know until you try. With a used bike, even if you make a mistake, you won’t lose a lot of money when you sell it on. With a new bike, you are most likely to sell it at half the original price, even if you’ve had it for just a few months.
4. The cons of buying a used bike
You can’t always verify the bicycle’s origin. Some people just don’t keep their receipts. Some are re-selling bikes they had previously bought second-hand, without any papers. And some sell stolen bikes. Often you have to rely on your “gut feeling,” though it’s a good idea to write some sort of a contract with the seller (containing their address, contact info, and the purchase date), so no one can accuse you of having stolen the bicycle (if it turns out to have been stolen).
You can’t try the same model with different frame sizes, nor can you reasonably expect from a used-bike seller to tell you if the frame is not the right size for you.
Generally, there is no warranty, in case of any problems or malfunctions down the road. This can be a problem if, for example, your frame cracks about a year after the purchase. Replacing the frame can be very expensive: sometimes you can’t source the right model and size, sometimes some components won’t fit the new frame etc. – it can be a hassle, and it can be expensive.
Some high-end parts can be expensive to replace (high-end shock absorbers, 12-speed cassettes etc.). And even experienced mechanics can sometimes miss to notice that a part needs to be replaced, especially if it’s still working OK (and “gives up” some 2-3 months later).
Also, high-end parts (especially once you pass some mid-range like Shimano Sora, Alivio etc.) are lighter, but aren’t more robust (durable). So, buying used high-end part bikes (that are more likely to be needing replacement or repairs) is not always very profitable. It often is, but not always, and not for everyone.
The same goes for frames, as explained above – with a note that carbon frames need an ultrasonic scan to confirm they are in good condition.
Since you won’t get even a one-year warranty (not to mention a two-year, or a lifetime one), even if you have a lot of knowledge and experience, you still need a bit of luck.
Finally, something that many people don’t take into consideration: time. Time is a limited resource for all mortals, and finding a good second-hand bike can sometimes take many hours. This goes for both looking at the CraigsList (link to my YouTube tutorial), and for going to check bikes before buying (unless the first one you travel to check ends up being good and you buy it). Some people have a lot of free time and enjoy doing this, while others might find it difficult to fit in their schedule.
5. A few more tips
When people ask me to check a used bike they wish to buy, I try to see if anything is damaged or worn, and tell them how much it would cost to have that replaced in a shop.
After that, it’s up to the buyer to add those costs to the used bike’s cost, and compare that to the price of a similar new bike (also considering the lack of warranty and the fact the bike is, well, used).
You too could make such a calculation. Using this method, my friends and acquaintances have bought many great second-hand bicycles, but sometimes, when you “put it on paper,” a used bike is not worth its price.
For example, I’ve seen $50 – $100 used bicycles where practically every part and every bearing was worn. In that case, it’s better to add another $100 for a bicycle in a better condition.
6. Conclusion and my personal opinion
Whatever you choose, get some good lights, and a good security chain/lock (unless you literally never leave your bike unattended, even for “just a second”). Leave some room in your budget for those two items.
It’s also a good idea to have a good mechanic (unless you are one) check the bicycle after the purchase – especially if it’s a used bike (though I’ve seen new bikes leave the shop after their “zero-day service” with poorly adjusted shifters, loose brakes etc.).
Regarding the new vs used bicycle dilemma, it boils down to whether you have the time to go looking at used bikes, and whether you have the knowledge (or know someone who does) to see if there’s a problem with the bike.
If yes – used bicycles are awesome.
If not – a new bike can be a great long-term investment, especially if you’ve tried enough of bikes to know exactly which model and which frame size are the right for you.
Here’s a list of my buying guides, sorted by bicycle type (regardless of whether you’re buying a new or a used bike):
- Road bicycle buying guide
- Mountain bicycle (MTB) buying guide
- Trekking bicycle buying guide
- City bicycle buying guide
- BONUS: Is it better to buy a new or a used bicycle?