Updated: Aug 5
The secondary market (i.e. used gear) is the best place to find bike parts. There are many places to go. Some good, some are not so good. This is a guide that highlights the parts that I feel are best to buy 2nd hand.
These items are what I'd define as more durable goods rather than consumables. They don’t typically wear out, and are usually on the market because the owner just wants a change Here's my short list of items and their typical condition:
Stems: These items are rarely in bad shape. The owner may be trying out different lengths because of a new bike or changing their position on the bike or just switching colors or brand. The one thing to look out for is stripped bolts on the steerer tube side as well as the handlebar clamp side. These bolts are generally cheap and made of soft aluminum and they can easily be stripped out. But, the good news is as long as it can be removed, you can find replacement bolts on the manufacturers website or other like betterbolts.com.
Uncut Handlebars (carbon and alu): These items fall into the same category as stems in terms of the reasons why its being sold. Additionally, the owner may have bought a 35mm clamp stem, but their handlebars are 31.8 (or vice versa). The one thing to look out for here, typically on carbon bars, is the bar ends. If the owner clamped the bolts too tight on the grips, its possible that that they've fractured the carbon. This isn't necessarily a HUGE warning sign, but in the spirit of manufacturer recommendations, you should cut that off (if you can) or keep looking.
Pre-cut Handlebars (carbon and alum): Same as above, but you might get a good deal because they are cut down to the owners desired length. If you know what you want in terms of width and rise of the handlebar, you can get a good 20%-40% off of the retail price for the uncut version of those handlebars. Same caveats apply.
Cranks: These are easily identified in terms of their wear and tear. Carbon cranks rarely have faults and aluminum is solid. The fact of the matter is they're going to get or already are banged up. So, save some money and just buy used cranks if you're looking. There aren't too many caveats to consider that wouldn't be immediately noticeable depending on the detail of the pictures that are posted.
Saddles, rigid seat posts, axles, grips: Much like above, you will know if you're looking at clapped out items that are best sent to the city dump. Saddles will be ripped or worn down from ass pressure. Rigid seat posts generally don't get much wear and tear and the same goes for axles and grips. You'll know.
This should be called the Caveat Emptor level of items. Buyer beware. But, there are some things to look for that may yield are bargain price from retail:
Chainrings: These are the most consumable items, next to brake pads, on a bike. They're in constant use and will wear out. Additionally, bike setup can affect the longevity of these items too. For chainrings, I don’t buy chainrings that aren't black. It sounds funny, but the anodization that is on it will give you a major peek into how much life is left in it by looking at the picture. The teeth wear down every time a chain-link passes over it. Unless you can't find the size you need, I would suggest buying new chainrings.
Cassettes: "Second verse, same as the first". Pictures will speak a thousand words when it comes to cassettes. You can see where the owner spent most of his/her time riding. The big caveat with cassettes is you'll still pay over 100.00 for an Eagle cassette (as an example), and there could be one tooth on that cassette that is slightly bent or misshapen that will give you problems when you shift. So, unless it’s a take-off a bike with little use, I'd REALLY scrutinize these kinds of purchases. They are somewhat risky. BUT I've bought several that looked pretty average in terms of wear, and they've been flawless.
Hydraulic Brakes and Pads: I've gotten several brake sets cheaper than retail that have lasted me a good while. The user is possibly upgrading to better brakes, upgrading from 2 piston to 4 piston, or just generally switching to a different brake platform. Newer brakes will have a lot of life left in them and the model numbers can be referenced on the manufacturer website in terms of age. As for brake pads. A picture will tell you how much pad is left. If it’s a good chunk there, go for it. But I generally like to start with new pads because I know how I use my brakes and for how long I've been using them. With used pads, I'm unaware of the "start date". Pads are pretty easy to come by and aren't too expensive (maybe a full tank of gas worth depending on your vehicle).
Lastly, bike pedals: Much like above, you'll know. SPD type pedals and flat pedals will have noticeable wear and tear. At this point, you just need to gauge what retail is and what the person is asking. If it's below 100.00 for say and XT SPD pedal, thats a decent deal.
In the next episode, I'll talk to the best places to seek out used parts locally as well as online. We'll also touch on buying bikes sight-unseen. I hope this is useful and feel free to comment on your thoughts on our facebook group - Mile High MTB.