“Woke up. Brush teeth. Check Facebook. Saw friend’s photo riding the super D line in Kent Ridge. That looks like fun. Looks at tummy. I could use some exercise. Saw more photos of friend riding bike. Looked at photo album of traveling overseas with bikes. Walaueh, so fun. Thinking. Remembering my first mountain bike. It sucked. Googled “Mountain bike for sale”. Wahh, so expensive? But nice ley. Eh, this looks ok. Price not bad. Haiyaa, only one photo? Dial phone number… *Troooot* *trooot* Hello? Is your bike still available? Can I view?”
Congratulations on taking the first step to buying your Mountain bike. For most first timers, this is definitely an expensive purchase, and a smart buy on a used bike can save you a lot of money or give you a lot of headaches. The reason is, many people abuse and never maintain their mountain bikes, and this may lead to a multitude of headaches and problems. On the other hand, some people rarely ride their bikes so what you’re getting is as good as new, like it’s just rolled out from a showroom floor. Confused? So was I when I got back into riding after being away for over a decade.
So here it is, print this checklist out and bring it with you if you’re viewing that used bike you’ve been eyeing.
You’ve arrived at the location of the seller and you’re all excited to see the bike in person. Relax bro. This is just the beginning of your mountain bike journey. And when the bike is finally in front of your eyes, ask a few questions. There are a couple of important questions that you can ask to gauge if the owner took good care of the bike or if it was abused and improperly maintained. If you ask someone straight away how often did they maintain the bike, most people will exaggerate the truth a bit. Find out if they have other bikes or ride often, basically get a feel for their biking experience. Now is the time to find out how often they rode it and why they are selling it.
Keep in mind that mileage or ride time on a mountain bike mean absolutely nothing. I have seen bikes taken through washes and thousands of kilometers that were methodically maintained and remain immaculate. On the flipside, I’ve seen new bikes that were out for a weekend and came back with broken chains, ripped saddles and bent rotors. All you want to do is find out if this person knows bikes well, kept it maintained, had any accidents, and just a little bit of the history of the bike. Some of the questions you should ask is;
- Are you the first owner? (The only way to tell if this is true is if the seller has a receipt from the purchase)
- When was it bought?
- How often and where did you ride?
- Why are you selling it?
Be friendly. Don’t ask like you’re in a bike shop and the seller is hard up for a sale. If the seller doesn’t like you, he has the right not to sell to you. And you as a buyer, has to right to make an informed decision. After you had your little conversation, or even during, it is time to check some tell tale signs to see if it was regularly maintained. A rusty chain (about SGD$40 to replace), dry and punctured tires (about SGD$100 for a set), sun damaged or torn saddle (average around SGD$70 to replace), mud/dirt means this thing was stored outside and not cared for whatsoever.
If it doesn’t look like it was stolen from under a HDB block, start looking for leaking fluids on the fork or disc brakes, frayed cables from the derailluer, damaged cable housing and dirt and grease build up around and in the derailleurs.
If you don’t see anything as described above, it simply means that the owner probably put in some basic maintenance but not much beyond that. It doesn’t mean the bike is a bad choice, but there may be some hidden damage to watch out for. If it passes both of these tests with consideration (if it looks ok, that’s not much to worry about) then you have the chance of buying a good bike, as the owner probably put in the time and effort to fully maintain it, and ensure the bike is working as it should. Ok, now for the rest of the checks.
Types of Mountain Bikes.
There are many types of mountain bikes today and if you’re really clueless about what type of bike it is, here’s the perfect video for you to get up to speed.
Skip to 2:42 for an awesome breakdown of the different genres of mountain bikes.
All bike manufacturers provides warranty for their frames. Some manufacturers give 2 years and some others give up to 5 years and there’s even lifetime warranties for exotic titanium frames. Now here’s the catch… In most cases, the warranty is only provided to the first owner with the proof of purchase. If you’re fine about not having any warranty, then go for it. Stripping the original paint or spray painting the frame into a different color can also sometimes void the warranty.
Look carefully for signs of crashes on the frame. If there are cosmetic scratches on the frame, it’s totally fine. If there’s a dent bigger than a 10cent coin, you might wanna check with the seller. If you find a crack, walk away. This is very very critical for a carbon frame, if there’s a crack, walk away.
For full suspension bikes, check the bearings on the linkage for click sounds or other weird sounds by compressing the rear shock. A clean linkage should be totally quiet, and smooth. If you hear a “click”, the linkage assembly might be a little bit loose, or one of the bearings are dead. Count the number of linkage pivots that you see because every pivot point has a bearing (in some cases bushings) in it and you might have to replace it. Costs for bearings range between $10 and right up to $70 PER BEARING. Multiple that by the number of pivots and you have a good guesstimate. Ask the seller to tell you more about the rear shock absorber. But it’s totally ok if the seller isn’t sure about the type, adjustments or setup.
There are 2 types of rear shocks on most bikes today. One is an air shock (no springs) while the other is a coil shock (the one with springs). There are various brands and models available in the market today but the most popular brands are from Fox Racing Shox and Rock Shox. The most basic of adjustments that a rear shock should have is the rebound adjustment. This determines how fast the shock returns to it’s normal height after being compressed. Put some pressure on the saddle or pedals and press the bike down. If the motion is smooth and without any drama when the shock compresses and rebounds, it’s good enough.
Twist the handlebars side to side. The movement should be smooth and there should be no play or wiggles from the handlebar. If there’s a rough sensation, you might need to replace the headset. Costs for a good headset starts at about $40 brand new. Factor in labour charges too.
Now try and backpedal the crankset slowly with your hands. Again, the cranks should be spinning smoothly. If there’s a rough sensation, you might need to replace the Bottom Bracket. Costs for a good set of Bottom Brackets is about $50 new. Factor in labour charges too.
The most important thing. If a bike is too small or too big, you won’t be able to ride it comfortably. You can still ride it, and make minor changes to the stem of saddle position get the correct feel, but getting the right size mountain bike for your height is crucial for a long term relationship with your new sexy bike. For a very rough estimate, I’m 1.79m and most medium sized bikes fit me nicely. All bike manufacturers use S,M,L,XL or 15″, 15.5″, 16″, 17″, 18″ etc as size indicators and an M size bike is normally a 17″- 19″ bike depending on the manufacturer.
Now ask for permission from the seller to sit on the bike. If the seller says “no” for whatever reason, walk away. Don’t ever buy a bike if the owner doesn’t allow you to sit on it. Come on bro, you siow ah?
Now that you’re sitting on the bike with your hands on the handlebar, lean against a wall so you won’t fall down and get a feel of the size. Remember, you’re gonna be in that position for hours during a ride so make sure you’re comfortable. If everything feels good, time to check on the rest of the important bits.
While you’re still sitting on the bike, move your butt around the saddle. If there is a piercing sensation, the saddle it not for you. This should NOT be the deal breaker though as everyone has a personal choice for saddles. For the obsessive compulsive, be warned that you might need to go out and buy/borrow different types of saddles before you can find THE ONE. But, if you’re fairly comfortable sitting down, that’s good and lets move on.
There’s rigid forks and there’s suspension forks. And if the bike comes with a suspension fork, there are 2 types of suspension forks that you should find out about. One is an air fork (no springs internally) while the other is a coil fork (the one with springs internally). Again, there are various brands and models available in the market today but the most popular brands are from Fox Racing Shox and Rock Shox. The most basic of adjustments that a suspension fork should have is the rebound adjustment. This determines how fast the fork returns to it’s normal height after being compressed. Higher end forks have multiple adjustments such as low speed and high speed compression knobs and low speed and high speed rebound adjustments.
Put some pressure on the handlebars and press the bike down. If the motion is smooth and without any drama when the fork compresses and rebounds, it’s good enough. If the fork is an air fork, ask the seller if it comes with a shock pump. You will need a shock pump to make adjustments on the fork for your body weight. Shock pumps retail for about $50 new and about $30 used.
Check for traces of oil leaks around the seals (where the fork stanchions go into the fork lowers) and if there is a leak, seal replacements will cost you about $70 to $150 depending on the make and model. Some lower end forks are not serviceable though. Make sure and ask the seller if all the adjustment knobs are in working condition too.
Bikes used to be simple machines, with just circles turning circles. But not today dude… With the rest of the bikes parts having a multitude of colors, sizes, shapes and styles, wheel sets have come a long way too. First off, the hubs. These are the parts that attach themselves to the frame and fork of your bike, and yes, they are NOT all the same. The different sizes that you should know about are;
- QR (Which stands for Quick Release)
- 15mm TA (Which stands for “Through Axle”, it’s a separate axle that goes through your hubs)
- 20mm TA
- 135×10 QR (Most common ones)
- 135×10 TA (Usually found on a Dirt Jump bike)
- 135×12 TA (Usually found on Downhill bikes)
- 142×12 TA (The newest hub standard for stiffness)
- 150×12 TA (Usually found on modern Downhill bikes)
Most frames are made specific for one particular type of hub interface and for example, you CANNOT use a QR wheel set on a set of forks that has 15mm TA. Why do you need to know all this info? Headache right? We know dude… But trust us, it WILL come in handy when you want to upgrade later. The hubs are attached to spokes (the thing that looks like sticks) and the often come in 24, 32 or 36 spoke variations. The spokes are then attached to the rims which makes up the whole wheelset.
Try lifting the front wheel and give it a good spin. The front wheel should spin freely without making any weird noises or drama. Now look from the top of the wheel set while it’s still spinning, and look for wobbly wheels. Small wobbles (by small we mean no more than 5mm off-centre) are fine and they are relatively easy and cheap to fix. If the rim wobbles more than expected or there are multiple wobbles, chances are the wheel wasn’t build properly and the owner hasn’t had it tuned, or the bike has been in a crash. You can expect about $20 for fixing out the small wobbles and about $50-$100 per rim (not wheel set ok, rims are the outer hoops that make up the wheelset) if you intend to replace it.
Do the same for the rear wheel. The rear wheel should spin freely without making any weird noises except the normal ratchet noise coming from the free hub body. Make sure there are no wobbles and you’re good to go.
Some free hub bodies are very loud (Hope Hubs), while some are relatively quiet (Shimano) and some sound like a pack of angry bees (Chris King). Poison from your friends will come in later, I promise 😀
If both front and rear wheels are koyak-ed to the max, be prepared to koyak your wallet and spend $250 – $500 on a pair of good wheelsets. Some super exotic wheel sets from Chris King or i9 can cost you above $1000. Be prepared to get screams from the wife if you plan to go that route.
There’s a saying that goes “You can’t go fast without being able to STOP fast” or you’ll die. We’re not kidding. Brakes help you stop. And a good pair of brakes will make you stop again and again and again. While a bad pair of brakes will make you stop once, and then the tree of that boulder will help you out along the way. So what are the different types of brakes that you should know about? There are 3, namely;
– V-Brakes (The types of brakes that pinches your rim wall to help you stop)
– Mechanical Disc Brakes (A caliper that pinches a rotor that is fixed on your wheelset, actuated by wire cables)
– Hydraulic Disc Brakes (A caliper that pinches a rotor that is fixed on your wheelset, actuated by brake fluid, similar to a car or a motorcycle)
All the 3 brakes mentioned above are widely used today and there’s a 99% chance that the bike you’re looking at is using one of the 3. The good thing about all 3 brakes is that the technology used today to manufacture those brakes are very different than what it used to be back in the day. If you’ve been out of the mountain bike scene for a decade, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality and finishing of today’s mountain bike brakes. There is nothing wrong if the bike you’re intending to buy has one of these 3 brakes but fair warning, once your cycling kakis starts poisoning you with bling, you’ll want to know if you frame or your brakes are compatible with your future upgrade.
While you’re sitting on the bike, grab the brake levers with 2 fingers. Make sure that your fingers can reach the levers without having to adjust your palm on the grips. Pull the brake levers a couple of times. There should be a solid “stop” where you can tell that the brake pads gripping the wheelset (for V-brakes) or the rotors (for disc brakes). Grab both front and rear brakes and try to move the bike. The bike shouldn’t be moving at all. If it does move, the brake pads are probably worn out or worse, the brakes itself all spoil oready.
Replacements for brake pads is cheap but replacements for a new brakeset will set you back at least SGD$100.
The only thing that is making contact to the ground is your tires. If the tires on the bike that you’re viewing is botak, it’s an estimated $80-$100 fix for a new pair of tires with tubes. Other faults on the tyre that you should look out for are small tears on the sidewall (it may get bigger), dry & cracked rubber (it’s just old and left out in the sun) or worse case, warped tires (very rare, but I’ve seen a few). They usually comes with tubes, while more modern and high end versions are tubeless. Tubeless tires only works with UST (Universal System for Tubeless) rims.
So that’s it. The rest of the components like handlebars, grips, seat posts, saddles, pedals, stems and other accessories are less likely to skew your decision making at this point. Most of these parts are relatively easy and cheap to fix and it’s a user preferences kind of thing.
So that’s about it. Quite easy right? We hope that this guide will come in handy if you’re shopping for a used bike and we hope your new purchase will give you years of happiness on the trails! Let’s ride!