How To Buy A Bike: Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Bike

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Buying a bike can be daunting.

There are just so many options. What type of bike should you buy? Is it best to buy new or used? Where should you buy your bike from?

There’s a lot to consider before any big purchase. The likelihood is, buying a bike will cost a fair amount of money, so it’s worth taking your time and ensuring not only that it’s the correct bike for you, but that the bike is going to be running smoothly for as long as possible.

As a lifelong cycling tech geek and avid bike collector, I’ve had plenty of experience both buying and selling bikes, and I know how the trade works inside and out. I’m here to share that experience with you to help you find a great bike at a fair price.

In this guide, we’ll give you the complete rundown on how to buy a bike, new or used. We’ll be covering:

  • What Type Of Bike Should You Buy?
  • Buying A Bike: New vs Used
  • Where To Find Your Next Bike
  • How To Buy A Used Bike

Ready for the lowdown on buying a bike?

Let’s get going!

Buying A Bike Guide: Title Image

What Type Of Bike Should You Buy?

This is the first question you should ask yourself, before even looking for a new bike.

It will determine a large amount of your research and is completely dependent on what you plan on doing with the bike. If you’re simply upgrading from a bike you already know and love, then the answer is easy. However, if it’s your first-ever bike, then it’s not quite so simple.

Ask yourself: what do you want to use the bike for?

If you’re buying a bike for commuting, then it needs to be efficient on the road, comfortable, stable, and require minimal maintenance. In this case, perhaps a hybrid or an e-bike would be best.

If you’re getting a bike purely for pleasure, or just to get fit, then there’s essentially one key question to determine what sort of bike is best for you: where are you going to ride the bike?

If you’re going to exclusively be riding on the roads, or you want to ride as far or fast as possible, get a road bike. If you’re a time trial or triathlon maniac, get a TT bike.

If you love off-roading on gnarly trails, a mountain bike is the one for you. And if you want versatility, able to go both on and off-road, get yourself a gravel bike.

A cyclist discusses buying a bike with a mechanic.

Buying A Bike: New vs Used

This is the next question to consider in the quest for your perfect bike.

There are advantages to both options. Buying a bike brand new will mean that you are certain everything will run as it should, it may come with a warranty for if something does go wrong, you can choose a specific model, and you can go into the shop to try it out.

You can even take advantage of certain schemes, such as the cycle2work scheme in the UK, that allow you to pay for the bike over the course of a year by paying in installments from your pre-tax salary. This means you can save up to 40% on the total cost!

Buying a bike used, on the other hand, comes with a completely different set of advantages.

The biggest of which: the bike is going to be a lot cheaper. When we say a lot here, we really mean a lot. If you find a good deal, you can sometimes pay as little as 30-50% of the cost of the same model brand new!

Also, if you’re keen on the vintage aesthetic, then you can satisfy this need for a beautiful cycling relic.

However, you may have to pay to upgrade/repair certain aspects of the bike. You also need to be certain that the bike you’re investing your hard-earned cash in is going to be running as smoothly as it can be, which is easier said than done.

Another concern is that you’re at the mercy of the market gods, and can only buy what’s being sold, so you can’t always find the specific model you’re after.

A row of bikes lined up in stands.

Where To Find Your Next Bike

Now you know what kind of bike you’re looking for, and whether you want to buy it second-hand or off the shelf, the next step is to find the best deal possible. A large part of this is finding the right place to buy it from.

Where To Buy A New Bike

If you’re buying the bike new, then there are two options: you can find the model that you’re after online with some research, and then seek out a local bike shop that stocks the model or go to the brand’s showroom in your country, and buy the bike outright.

The advantage of this is that you’ll likely get to test it out before committing to buying the bike, but make sure to call the shop to check first!

You also need to check whether the shop you’re going to actually has the specific model that you want in your size in stock. If it doesn’t, they will need to order it in, and depending on their backlog, this can take up to a few months!

So if you’re keen on getting out on the bike tomorrow, make sure to check that the bike is in stock.

The second option is to order the bike online. There are lots of different outlets that allow you to do this, such as Wiggle, Tredz, ChainReaction, Sigma Sports, or Decathlon.

The advantage of this is that you can often get a cheaper deal, and spread the cost of the bike on 0% finance over the course of six months or a year.

However, that some brands are not stocked on these websites, for example, Canyon or Ribble. If you’re after one of these, you can often still order the bike online, but you’ll need to do it directly from their website.

A man checks the frame before buying a bike.

Where To Buy A Used Bike

If you’re looking to save some cash and get your bike second-hand, then you’re also confronted with a number of options.

eBay is always a good option. Buying a bike from eBay will allow you to find any brand you like, and can often provide some great deals, particularly if the bike is on auction.

A good tip for getting a great deal on eBay is to look for collection-only deals. If you’re willing to travel a little, then expand your search area. Often the best deals are found when the bike is located in a small village or an area that isn’t heavily populated.

If you’re in the US, then Craiglist is a good option too. A major advantage here is that you can often meet the seller and try the bike first.

If it’s not as smooth as you’d hoped or doesn’t fit you perfectly, don’t be afraid to say no to the seller! You can also often negotiate, and find a price that’s good for both of you.

Similarly, Facebook Marketplace is another option here in the United States. If you’re in the UK, then Gumtree might be worth a browse too.

A woman walks into a garage before buying a bike.

How To Buy A Used Bike

Now if you’ve decided on getting your bike second-hand then you might be wondering what to look for when searching for a used bike.

Get your detective’s hat on. You need to channel your inner Sherlock, finding every little thing on the bike that might cause issues.

The key thing here is to ask questions: how far have you ridden the bike? Does everything work as it should? Has the bike ever crashed? Why are you selling the bike? When was the last time you had the bike serviced?

These sorts of questions are essential to gaining insight into the quality of the bike you’re getting, and whether it’s got any problems.

Another thing to consider is which parts have been changed from the original spec.

If the groupset, wheels, pedals, or saddle have been changed, then this is likely just upgrading and is actually a good thing.

Some parts, however, might indicate that the bike has been in an accident. For example, if the carbon forks have been replaced, it’s likely the bike has crashed which is a big red flag.

There are a huge amount of things that can go wrong on a bike, and there’s a lot to look out for. If you can try out the bike first, make sure to carry out a few tests.

A woman checks out a rack of bikes at the store.

Firstly, ride the bike, and make sure it changes gears properly. Try shifting into every possible gear.

If it’s very clunky and makes a lot of noise or won’t shift into the correct gear, then this is a sign that the chain is worn, or even some more expensive parts like the chainrings, cassette, or derailleur. To work out which it is, shift into the big ring at the back and the front. If the chain is not completely taut, then it’s likely just the chain, a cheap fix.

If the chainring teeth aren’t symmetrical but are shaped more like wave crests, then it’s the chainrings. The same goes for the cassette.

Check the rear derailleur relative to the cassette sprockets. If it’s not entirely parallel, it could be bent. If all of these are okay, then it’s likely that it’s just incorrectly tuned, something you can fix for free!

The next step is to check the brakes. If they don’t feel as responsive as you’d hoped, then check the brake pads. If they’re not completely worn out, then check the rims too (only applicable for rim brakes), and if the surface is concave, then that’s not the cheapest thing to fix, as the rims need to be replaced.

It’s also worth checking the smoothness of the bearings. Turn the pedals, and if you hear clanging or creaking from the bottom bracket, then the bearings might be worn, and the bottom bracket needs replacing.

For the wheels, hold either side of the axle and spin the wheel. If it doesn’t feel completely smooth then the bearings might need replacing.

Lastly, check the frame.

Especially if the frame is carbon, you need to be wary of any cosmetic damage whatsoever, as what appears to be a surface scratch can indicate an internal crack that could lead to failure.

If the frame is aluminum or steel, this is less of an issue, but if it’s steel, make sure to check for any oxidization (rust) as this can also compromise the structural integrity of the frame.

Make sure you always retain your protection as a buyer. It’s always sensible to pay by PayPal (as goods or services) since PayPal gives you a 180-day protection where if you find the bike is not as described, you can get your money back.

If everything seems good to you, then you’re good to go! But unless you’re a trained bike mechanic, then it could be worth taking the bike to your local shop and getting it serviced, just to make sure.

And if you’re looking to sell your current ride first, check out our Complete Guide To Selling A Bike here!

Found this buying a bike guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

1 thought on “How To Buy A Bike: Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Bike”

  1. I want to regularly exercise from now on by cycling every morning, so I need to buy a bike of my own soon. I found it helpful when you advised us to check the frame and be wary if its carbon since surface scratches might indicate an internal crack that will lead to failure later on. I’ll keep this in mind while I look for bikes for sale soon.


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