HANDLEBARS, STEM, SADDLE, SEATPOST, ETC.
The controls of the bike are the final pieces of the puzzle.
First, visually inspect all items for significant scratching or apparent damage. This can be in the form of deep scratches, repeated abrasions, or the like. This could be from numerous crashes into rocks, or from the bike falling off a roof rack and skidding down the highway. Either way, it speaks to the amount of care the bike was shown by its owner. On a frequently used bike, it would be normal to replace a handlebar every other season, because a handlebar failure could be life altering.
Next, look at the stem in relation to the front wheel while seated on the bike. You want to make sure the stem lines up with the wheel. While this is very easily corrected with the stem pinch bolts, it speaks more to the quality of attention paid by the owner and the store that built and repaired the bike. A store that either assembles or services a bike and does not get the stem straight is not that great of a shop; an owner that does not notice such a thing is likely not going to notice other more important things that need care and attention while using the bike.
Now check the seatpost. You want to make sure it slides up and down in the frame freely. If the post mysteriously hits resistance where it shouldn’t, then the post is bent slightly. This does not mean that it will fail, but it does mean the bike was ridden pretty hard by a fairly heavy user. Make sure that you can get full leg extension when the post is all the way up, and that at least 3.5” of seatpost are in the frame at all times, or you will risk breaking the frame.
Finally, inspect the saddle. Press firmly down with your full body weight on the nose, then tail of the saddle. Hear any noise? Then look at the saddle square on from behind to gauge if it looks straight. Saddles do not often break, but noisy saddles get tiresome over a long ride, and a crooked saddle will put undo strain on your lower back and legs while seated and pedaling over a long distance.
Part and Labor Estimates:
Saddle: $60-125 and up
Seatpost: $45-100 and up
Handlebars: $35-100 and up
This list is intended only to help assess the condition of a bike prior to purchasing and give a good idea of what maintenance might be needed. Please remember that all used bikes will likely need some form of service or parts. The goal of a thorough inspection is not to find a perfect bike, it’s to know and understand what issues the bike might have, then be armed with a ballpark price on the costs associated with repairing these issues.
The more educated you are in identifying these issues, the more confident you’ll be that you are either about to make a smart purchase—or that you’d be better off walking away.
This list is by no means exhaustive; it is just a simple guide to get started. If you have any additional tips, tricks, questions, or comments, please don’t hesitate to post them. We would love to hear what you have to say, and I’m sure other readers would love to glean any additional insight.