Your guide to buying secondhand bike parts and accessories

By Mon Garcia

I’m a self-confessed thrifter. I like searching for good deals and finding rare items no one else has. Chalk it up to a psychological need to be different.

And this has extended to how I built my bike as well. Is it possible to thrift your way into a nice ride by buying secondhand parts? A resounding yes! Here’s a general guide to help you out.

What to Buy

So, what are the bike parts and accessories that are safe to buy secondhand? Accessories like bags and bottle cages are automatically in as long as you inspect them for tears and cracks.

One thing I recommend buying secondhand, especially after trying it for a while—like when you borrow it for a few rides from a friend or a shop—is a saddle. That’s because it’s hard to tell just from the specs or just by looking at it if a certain saddle will work for you. I’ve made the mistake of buying brand new saddles only to dislike them and then sell them or trade them in for less than what I acquired them for, even if I had only used them for a few weeks.

Alpha - Saddle
Sweet, second-hand saddle love. Ignore the improper clamp placement; this was during a routine overhaul.

My current saddle, a Selle San Marco Aspide that I’ve eventually re-upholstered, is a product of bike thrifting. I found it a little beat-up, attached to a secondhand bike for sale at my favorite LBS. Got it for less than a third of its brand-new sticker price and it’s the saddle that’s lasted the longest with me. Another bonus for buying secondhand: used saddles are broken in, making them immediately more comfortable and closer to what they would really feel like in the long run.

Other things you can buy secondhand are actual bike components as long as you know what you are doing. But first have them checked by a mechanic you trust.

bike thrifting Alpha - Rings
Rare, superlight, off-size (I’m the only person I know riding a 48t) chainrings from French boutique manufacturer TA Specialites. Found practically brand-new, just hanging on a bike shop wall and sold for about half the price just because they had a small scratch. Bike thrifting win.

Most bike components such as cranksets, derailleurs, and brake levers are meant to be durable and should last for years. What you should watch out for?

  • Rusted parts – unless you’re committed to fully cleaning these out, and they’re part of some exotic vintage build you are working on, don’t get them.
  • The status of the bearings – a mechanic can help you with this.
  • Bad shifting drivetrains – chain and cog wear aren’t easily apparent, so try shifting and braking before buying.
  • Related to the above, if you buy secondhand, make sure to replace all the cables and brake pads with new ones – they will make your secondhand components feel like new.

What Not To Buy

Things that hide possible damage are the things you don’t want to buy secondhand, or at least be very, very, very careful with. If possible, buy from someone you know and trust and get some sort of guarantee (if not a transfer of the original warranty).

What shouldn’t you buy second hand?

  • Cables and brake pads – as above, these are the things you should be replacing on secondhand components, and regularly thereafter.
  • Pedals – unless you can completely rebuild them, the axle and those tiny bearings won’t be like brand new ones.
  • Cleats – buy new ones, you cheapskate.
  • Handlebars, stems and seat posts – impacts from crashes and falls can cause micro-cracks in these components, which you may not spot immediately.
  • Carbon frames – most of the new frames are durable, but like the items above, damage from accidents (some as simple as the bike falling over the sidewalk or down the stairs) can be hidden from view. Buy from trustworthy sources, if you’re willing to risk this.
  • Helmets – there may be cracks on the inside layers of the shell that you may not see. Why risk safety?

There are the obvious things you should avoid, like visibly worn or damaged parts, but I’m sure that if you’re smart enough to risk riding your bike, you’re smart enough to avoid bad buys. As always, caveat emptor.

See you out on the corsa!