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Buying a Used Mountain Bike: The Definitive Guide

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If you’re new to mountain biking, buying a used mountain bike is an affordable and relatively easy way to get into the sport.

But if this is your first time buying a used bike, then you need to be aware of the potential risks and how to spot problems.

You never know how much care a bike has received, and missing the smallest detail could mean you’ve just bought a complete write-off.

Fortunately, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the risks of buying a mountain bike, you don’t need to continue living this way.

By learning just a few simple tests, you will be able to make a confident used bike purchase decision.Here’s what to test, and how to test it, if you do decide to buy used:

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Frame quality is the most important part to analyse when buying a used mountain bike. Take your time to thoroughly analyse the frame for cracks, chips or imperfections.

Take the time to analyse the joints, chainstays and below the bottom tube.

Do not buy a bike with a crack or dents in the frame.

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The second component to check is the wheels. Check to see if the wheels run ‘true’.

The simple way to test this is to lift the front or back of the mountain bike and spin the wheels. If you can spot a wobble in the wheel rotation then you know the wheels are not ‘true’.

This isn’t a deal breaker, but you may need to buy a new set of wheels which, in some cases, can cost just as much as the bike itself.

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One critical component that you check thoroughly is the headset. This is the rotatable interface between the bicycle fork and the head tube of the bicycle frame.

To test the quality of the headset, pick up the front of the mountain and spin the handlebars. If the headset tends to stick, then you know you have a problem.

This will usually be due to the bearings wearing out. This will need replacing before riding the bike on the trails. Again, assess the cost of buying a new headset against the cost of buying the used bike.

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Good quality brakes are an absolute must when you’re tearing up trails.

To check the quality of the brakes, get on the bike, pick up a bit speed, then test the back and front brake separately.

If the bike is lacking stopping power, then you will either need to replace the pads or bleed the hydraulics.

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Good quality suspension can be the difference between a smooth, quality landing and landing in a mangled heap.

To check the quality of the suspension, get on the bike and pump the fork and shock. Keep an ear out for any weird noises. Any cracking or creaking is a sign of worn bearings, or potentially something even more serious.

Also, feel for the quality of the suspension. Does it feel too hard or too soft? If it feels too soft, then you may need to replace the spring. If it feels too hard, then you may need to adjust the air pressure.

Don’t buy a bike with forks that show any visible cracks or dents.

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Another important component to test is the gears. Gears make mountain biking more enjoyable, especially when you get to a steep climb.

To test gears, simply get on the bike and shift through each of the gears. Can you get through all the gears without any issues?

This is an important check as replacing gears can be a costly fix.

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When you’re battering downhill trails or pushing yourself miles across XC terrain, it is important that you have good quality cranks under your feet.

To test the quality of the cranks, get on the bike and move the bike from side to side. If the cranks feel loose, then it is likely that you have a problem.

Next, if you have the tools, take the crank off and look at the thread.

If the thread is worn then it will need replacing.

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Bottom Bracket

The final place to check is the bottom bracket. The bottom bracket on a bicycle connects the crankset (chainset) to the bicycle and allows the crankset to rotate freely.

To test the bottom bracket, get on the bike and pedal lightly backwards. If the bottom brackets feel stiff, then it is likely the bearings are worn and the bottom bracket will need servicing or replacing.