Used Bikes Buyer's Guide August 22 2014

At the Missing Link, we always have many more people inquiring about used bikes than we have used bikes available. A used bike can be a great choice for those looking to save money or who want to reduce their environmental footprint - emphasis on the "can be." Here's what you need to know if you are considering buying a used bike.

1) Buy something that fits.

Don't be tempted into buying a bike that isn't your size just because you need something now or it seems like a good deal. It isn't a bargain if you end up paying with discomfort or injury. Bikes for adults are measured by frame size, usually in inches for city and mountain bikes and centimeters for road bikes. But a frame size that fits you well from one brand may not be the right size in another.

A very general rule of thumb for choosing a frame size is standover clearance. To check the standover on a bike, throw a leg over the frame so that you are standing over the top tube of the bike. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart, and reach behind you to grasp the saddle with one hand. With your other hand in the middle of the handlebar, lift both wheels of the bike off the ground as high as you comfortably can. The distance from the wheels to the ground should be a minimum of 1" for a road bike, 1-2" for a city/hybrid bike, and 2-4" for a mountain bike. Depending on the way the frame is designed, you might have more standover clearance, but you should not have less. Wear your cycling shoes if you use them, or a shoe that is flat and not particularly thick-soled, when you do this test.

2) It pays to be patient.

Since there is a high demand in our area for used bikes, it may take some time checking for-sale listings and inventory at local shops to find just what you are looking for, in your size.

3) Consider the overall value.

A used bike may be cheaper to buy than a new bike, but it might not be such a good deal if you have to spend $100-$200 right away getting it tuned up and replacing worn out parts. We recommend that you take the bike to a shop to see whether it needs any maintenance before you commit to buying it. The shop can also inspect it for any signs of frame damage or worn components. A good shop should be willing to do this estimate for no charge.

You'll also want to keep in mind that a used bike will not include the manufacturers' warranties, or the one free year of service that is included with a new bike from Missing Link. We offer other benefits with our new bikes as well, such as the 30-day exchange period, a 10% discount on accessories, and our buyback program.

4) Don't buy a stolen bike.

One bike is stolen every 3 hours in San Francisco. They are stolen because there is a market for them. A few minutes of effort on your part can help make sure you aren't contributing to the problem.

Reputable shops such as Missing Link, The Spoke, Changing Gears, or Street Level Cycles take steps to ensure that their used bikes are not stolen. We generally recommend avoiding flea markets entirely, as they have been trouble spots for the stolen bike trade.

If you are buying from an individual, ask if they have any documentation showing they legitimately own the bike, such as the receipt or proof of bike registration. If the seller does not have proof of ownership, check online registries to see whether the bike has been registered or is reported stolen. First, find the bike's serial number. It is usually stamped into the underside of the bottom bracket (the part of the frame where the pedals & cranks are attached), but it may also be stamped somewhere else like the rear dropouts or the headtube, or printed on a sticker instead. Check this link for more info on finding the serial number.

You can search the databases at BikeIndex.org and BikeShepherd.org using this serial number or by description. Local advocate Jenny Oh Hatfield (@plattyjo) & Stolen Bike Registry (@StolenBikesBrk & @StolenBikesSFO) also tweet stolen bike alerts, and you can tweet the serial number to the Bike Index TwitterBot @isitstolen and you will get a reply telling you whether there are any bikes reported stolen matching that serial number.

Serial numbers do have a few drawbacks, however. They can sometimes be difficult to read or entered incorrectly. For example, is that a number zero, or the letter O? Thick paint can make it hard to tell the difference between 6 or 8 or 9. And some bike companies include a manufacturer's number in addition to the serial number. For these reasons, I do recommend searching by description instead of or in addition to serial number. This way you can find any bikes that match the description, and then check whether the reported serial number looks like a match to the numbers on the bike you are considering buying.

Lastly, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. I hope I don't need to tell you this, but don't buy a bike from a random person on a street corner (unless you are a good samaritan who buys it with the intention of trying to return it to the legitimate owner). If anything seems fishy about the seller, trust your gut and don't buy the bike.