How to buy a used bicycle

picture-36For those heading to the Brooklyn Bike Jumble, New York City’s first outdoor bicycle flea market at JJ Byrne Park on Sunday—or if you’re just in the market for a pre-owned two-wheeler—here’s a quick tip sheet on how not to wind up with a clunker.

Figure out what you want and how much you have to spend.
For a decent used hybrid expect to spend up to $225-$250, an off-road/mountain bike will cost $200-$250 and road bikes go for $300 and above. If the bike needs a lot of repair or maintenance, the cost may outweigh the benefit of buying a used bike altogether since these days you can get a very decent new bike from a bike shop for $300-$400.

If it’s filthy, rusty, if the chain squeaks, the wheels rattle, etc. it means the bike likely hasn’t been maintained and you’ll have to pay a substantial amount extra to have it tuned up. A basic tuneup at a Brooklyn bicycle shop without extra parts (adjust brakes, gears, true the wheels, oil the chain) will run about $55 to 60. If extra parts are needed (cables, brake shoes, shifters, etc.) the price will be higher.

Make sure the bike is the correct size for you.
If the saddle height has to be all the way to the top or the bottom of the length of the seatpost  for you to be comfortable or if after the saddle is adjusted you feel too stretched out or too scrunched up, the frame is either too large or too small and you’d be wasting your money.

Make sure the bike is clean and in working order.
Make sure everything works (brakes, gears, cables not frayed, etc.), that the wheels are true, tires have plenty of tread, and that the bike hasn’t been in a serious crash. You can often tell there’s been a front-end crash if the two tubes connected to the front of the bike (top tube and down tube) have cracked paint on their undersides. That means the frame has been bent. DO NOT BUY THIS BIKE EVEN FOR $5. For derailleur bikes, if the frame is bent, at best the bike probably won’t shift well, at worst, it will handle poorly and will be dangerous to ride. If the frame is badly damaged, it might even fail and break.  If that happens while you’re riding, you can be seriously injured.

Buy from a reputable seller.
Recycle-a-Bicycle in DUMBO offers a 30-day guarantee on bikes and repairs.  All used bike sellers should offer a guarantee. The bike should be reasonably clean, chain oiled, there should be no rattles, the brakes and gears should be adjusted and work properly. If it doesn’t look right, something is probably wrong and you should bring it back.

Brooklyn Bike Jumble, JJ Byrne Park, Fifth Avenue between 4th and 5th streets, Sunday, May 31, 10 to 2.


  1. Good tips. In particular: “Make sure the bike is the correct size for you.” It’s better to have a bike (frame) that is a bit small for you than a bike that is too big. You can usually change the bike stem or adjust the seat to make the bike fit better. There is not much you can do if the bike is too big, Besides, it’s dangerous riding a bike that is too big for you.

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