How to Buy a Used Bike

Used bikes are a great option for many riders. You’ll save some money and give a long-lived machine new life. That said, purchasing a used bike can be difficult. Every year at Durham Cycles we see students who’ve purchased used bikes that are too large or too small; that require expensive repairs; or are clearly stolen property. So how do you protect yourself and get the right bike for your needs?

The easiest way to ensure the size, quality, and condition of a bike is to buy used from a reputable bike shop. If your local bike shop doesn’t have anything used, however, here are a few simple steps you can take to make sure you get what you need.

  • Know your size.
    • The chart at the bottom of this page provides a general sizing guide for most types of bikes. Remember, however, that bikes can all fit a bit differently depending on the brand, so be sure to take a test ride.
  • Know what type of bike you need.
    • For commuters, you’ll be looking for something called a city-bike, hybrid, or fitness bike. These bikes are well suited for practical use and can usually be outfitted with a rack and fenders. Mountain bikes with road tires can also make great commuter bikes. Do not buy a bike with suspension or designed for serious off road use. (Front suspension isn’t a deal-breaker, but rear suspension is.)
  • Know how much to spend.
    • The seller’s asking price is sometimes less relevant than the price when the bike was new. A bike that cost $450 or more when new is generally of high enough quality to be worth fixing when parts wear out.
  • Determine if the bike needs repairs or is excessively worn.
    • The easiest way to do this is to ask the seller to meet you at a local bike shop. This will be a safe space for both parties and will give you the opportunity to have the bike’s condition evaluated by a professional. Many shops do not charge for this service, but it’s courteous to pay the mechanic a few dollars or to buy some accessories at the shop to thank them for their time. Do not buy a bike from someone who will not meet you at a bike shop – the bike is either stolen or the seller is up to no good!

Finally, don’t commit to rent anything sight-unseen. We’ve seen this scam more than once. Someone will rent a bike for $50 to $100 from a landlord only to find themselves with a bike taken from a dumpster or purchased from a department store for less than the rental price!

Sizing chart*

Height in inches

Frame Size Nominal

Typical sizing for city-bikes

Frame Size in Inches

Typical sizing for MTB and some city-bikes

Frame Size in CM

Typical sizing for road bikes

5’0” to 5’5” XS – SM 13” – 15” 47cm to 52cm
5’5” to 5’7” SM – SM/MD 15” – 17” 52cm
5’7” to 5’9” SM/MD – MD 17” – 19” 54cm
5’9” to 5’11” MD – LG 19”– 21” 56cm
5’11” to 6’1” LG 21” – 22” 58cm
6’1” to 6’3” LG – XL 22” – 23” 60cm
6’3” to 6’5″ XL 23” or greater 62cm

*Not all companies measure their bikes in the same way. The chart above is rough guide and may not ensure the proper fit.

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