Buying a Second-Hand Electric Bike: Pitfalls to Avoid

Last Updated on September 2, 2022 by Igor Karni

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Are you looking to buy an electric bike at a lower cost because of a limited budget? We have written a guide to give you a few recommendations on buying a second-hand electric bike, so that you are well prepared when the need comes.

Buying an electric bike is not a simple task. Add an engine, battery, and tailored components to meet the extra demands, and you’ve taken it to the next level of mind-spinning. Even if some of this advice is common sense, this checklist will help you not to forget anything and to have guidelines to follow to make your e-bike purchase experience as successful as possible.

Here are our recommendations for buying the best used electric bike without being deceived.

STEP ONE: Define your budget and the type of (second-hand) e-bike you would like to buy

You may have a hard time finding the exact model you are looking for, with the right vintage, color, equipment, and so on. But you can already start to clear the way by choosing the type of electric bike you would like to acquire. 

A road e-bike with a fully removable Fazua engine that allows you to juggle between an e-bike and a traditional bike, a full-suspension downhill mountain e-bike to have fun and face the daily grind, a commuter e-bike that allows you to carry baskets and a child’s seat while weaving through the urban jungle, a cargo e-bike to move objects or transport toddlers in a fun way, or even the “long tail”, these bikes that are very long to accommodate objects or people on the rear.

Read also: How to select the best – mountain, touring, commuter, cruiser, junior, city here or here, trike, folding, hybrid, cargo, road, gravel, kids’s here or here e-bike – in our comprehensive e-bike selection guides.

As you can see, choosing a second-hand electric bicycle, like a car, means knowing what you will use it for.

Prices can increase dramatically with the shortage of parts and the sharp rise in demand. So give yourself a price range, not a ‘maximum price’.

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Photo credit Canyon bikes

The price range allows you to set limits. You may have an X budget for a fully equipped electric commuter bike, but it will be less for an entry-level mountain e-bike, to which you will have to add lighting, accessories, etc.

The condition of the e-bike also plays a role. You can spend as much as you want on an almost new model and less on a model that needs to be refurbished, allowing you to start with new components.

Knowing what you are looking for, how much you are prepared to spend on different models, and the bike’s condition is the ideal starting point.

STEP TWO: Internet sites and shops that sell used e-bikes

Peer-to-peer sales

Sites like Craigslist, eBay, or other, depending on where you live, are a little bit like flea markets for the general public. You can find anything and everything. Before proceeding, ask for all the information you require. You will avoid wasting time and complications.

In all cases, demand to pay in person and arrange a meeting with the seller in a public place at a busy time. The elements to be checked are discussed later in this article.

Nevertheless, on those sites, one can sometimes find good offers.

Read also: What to think of a second-hand e-bike? And, What is e-bike resale value?

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Photo credit Alter Ego bikes

Bike deposit-sale shops

Bicycle shops sometimes offer second-hand or resale models. In the first case, you will pay more but will benefit from a revised e-bike with a guarantee. In the second case, you can negotiate the price of an in-store service with the bike owner.

Please note that the shop is not responsible for a deposit-sale purchase, but it is responsible for a second-hand purchase of one of the models it proposes.

STEP THREE: Tips on how to avoid buying a stolen second-hand electric bicycle

Thousands of e-bikes are stolen every year. So buying a second-hand electric bike starts with checking its origin. As well as fuelling the scourge, buying a stolen bike is obviously illegal, and is punishable by a prison sentence and a huge fine. You should also know that these thefts support networks that are often monitored.

Finding yourself face to face with the police because you tried to save 800 dollars on a Cannondale is anything but a good plan. However, the checks proposed below will help you avoid a few scams, such as a bike that is older than advertised or of a different year of manufacturing.

How to detect whether e-bike sale is legal:

  • Battery key: most electric bikes have keys to remove the battery. Battery keys are not attached to the bike, so the seller cannot provide those if the bike is stolen. The charging cable does not prove this, as it can easily be found separately. Those keys are always supplied in duplicate;
  • Purchase booklet: e-bikes are supplied with a booklet or a manual. As with the key, these books are linked to the serial number of the bike;
  • Invoice: with the booklet, invoices are rarely kept. But, for an online purchase, they can be retrieved either from the seller’s customer account or upon request.
  • Anti-theft device: Ask the seller for the key if an anti-theft device is attached to the bike. If he doesn’t have it, the bike may not be his.
  • Finally, check the serial number. If it is scratched or covered by paint, this is a bad sign.

Read also: How to protect your e-bike from theft? And, Does it make sense to buy specialized e-bike insurance?

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STEP FOUR: How worn off is the battery?

It is not easy to check the number of times the battery has been recharged. Firstly, the seller will probably not have a clue and will try to minimize e-bike use. As a reminder, a recharge cycle represents a recharge from 0 to 100%. Or two recharges: one at 40% and one at 60%, or 10 recharges at 10%.

Depending on the quality of the battery, the cells used, the management of recharging and discharging via the BMS (Battery Management System), and exposure to heat or cold, the life span is estimated at between 500 and 1000 cycles. But there is a little trick: to find out how the bike has been used.

Did the seller use it to cycle to work? Very well: what is the distance? Give the impression that you are more interested in the e-bike’s condition than in the number of miles or kilometers traveled. 

Next, find out about the e-bike’s autonomy on the Internet. Do a simple calculation: the total number of miles or kilometers traveled / (2/3 x advertised autonomy).

The 2/3 represents the difference between the announced autonomy, always overestimated, and the real autonomy. Especially since, like many cyclists using an e-bike, the seller has probably used the Boost mode (or turbo, sport, etc.) constantly to avoid arriving dripping with sweat or out of laziness.

Read also: What is the difference between e-bike batteries? And, How to solve most common e-bike battery problems?

Remember to ask about the storage of the e-bike and look at the condition of the charger.

Another important thing is the condition of the charging access. Is the battery cover clamping screw worn (making it difficult to remove the battery)? Is the charging plug dirty (evidence that the cover was not always closed)?

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Tip: to determine if the charging system is working: ask the seller to come with a fully charged battery because this is the only problem you cannot check at the time of purchase unless you have a plug.

Finally, you should know that the price of batteries varies between 400 and 800 euros. Keep this figure in mind when negotiating. And above all, given the current shortages, remember to make an order if you want to change it after purchase.

STEP FIVE: Does the frame have any cracks?

A scratched frame is not that significant (unless it is the serial number, of course). A cracked frame, on the other hand, is a dead frame. Don’t buy a used electric bike with a cracked frame. Sometimes the cracks are small. 

Therefore, avoid buying an e-bike that is covered in dirt! Demand that the bike be cleaned. Tip: bring wipes or a cloth with a bit of a cleaning product.

Cracks occur mainly at the weakest points, namely:

  • Under the pedals;
  • At the chainstays;
  • On the down tube;
  • Around the engine and battery.

But can form anywhere else.

Finally, avoid rust. While it could be acceptable for a traditional mechanical bicycle to have some rust, it is not a good idea for an electric bike, which is subject to a lot more stress on its parts and components.

Read also: Can electric bikes get wet? And, Can I ride an e-bike in winter?

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SIXTH STEP: What is the state of replaceable components (chain, cassette, brakes, crank)

Unlike the frame, a replaceable component can be easily replaced. But it has a cost. This cost will inevitably come into play when negotiating the selling price. Keep in mind that some of these parts can be out of stock and the delay between ordering and receiving them can be long. Some batteries, for example, could take 8-10 months to arrive.

Chain: buy a chain monitor. This small metal tool makes it easy to see if the chain needs replacing. You can find them in almost any bike shop.

Cassette: look at the teeth. If they’re protruding, it’s good. If the teeth are rounded, they should be replaced. Costs are often contained, but availability can be a problem.

Brake pads and discs: Discs rarely need to be changed on an e-bike. As long as they are smooth and undamaged, they are fine. The brake pads, on the other hand, must be in good shape. Their thickness must be visible to the naked eye (use your smartphone and its lighting to take a close-up photo).

Talking about the brakes, don’t hesitate to test them: when braking, they should not squeak or vibrate. Hydraulic braking should be progressive, and the handle should not sink in completely.

Saddle. Consider the saddle’s budget if the bike being sold has a leather one. As the saddle is for your bottom, a second-hand model can be uncomfortable.

Tires: they must be free of cracks and show an evenly worn surface [the opposite is rare on an e-bike]. In the case of electric bikes, wear is measured by the remaining thickness of the grooves, as on a motorbike or car. 

Read also: Why fat tires are good news for electric bikes? And, How to select the best hybrid e-bike?

The tread should be evenly worn: if the tire’s tread is not very worn on the sides, the rider is a fan of over-inflation. If the contours are eaten away, it’s the opposite, and the rider tends to under-inflate. But it’s better to spend a little money, get your favorite new tires, and get off to a good start.

Easy E-Biking - mountain e-bike tire, helping to make electric biking practical and fun

Rims: they must be straight. Wheels are sometimes difficult to change on e-bikes, especially the rear wheel to which the engine and/or transmission are attached. To check this, lift the wheel off the ground, hold it in the air and spin it. If it is warped, it should be replaced.

In any case, one of the steps below is devoted to testing a used e-bike.

STEP SEVEN: Estimate e-bike value via Internet reviews and customer feedback

You may see a model that is not the exact model you want. In other words, once you have chosen the e-bike model, you will need to negotiate its price. And the problem is that it is difficult to put a fair price on a used e-bike.

Especially since the seller may have bought it on a private sale website at an inflated price or promotion, he or she will not hesitate to quote the unrealistic price. So take your smartphone and do a quick search.

Read also: How much does it cost to own an e-bike? And, What is the difference between cheap and expensive e-bikes?

For example, certain brands may have a not-so-good reputation and regularly use private sales to sell off stocks. Also read user feedback and opinions on the Internet, particularly on dedicated forums.

Check where these e-bike models are usually sold. Exclusive sales during promotional operations are not a good sign in most cases. Well-known and trusted brands like Rad Power, Cube, or Specialized will offer you much better deals.

Don’t fall into the trap of review stars either: an electric bike that doesn’t suit its previous owner may be perfectly suitable for you because it meets all the most important conditions that you care about. 

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Photo credit HIMO bikes

There is no point in going for unnecessary extras because “you get more value for money”. It is better that you get what you want, and that the e-bike is exactly what you are looking for.

STEP EIGHT: Take the e-bike for a test ride

You have to try out the second-hand e-bike you plan on buying. Of course, the seller may be reluctant to let you take this e-bike for a spin. Bring some form of identification with you to the sale. Do not play games during the test ride. The aim is to be concentrated:

  • Are the brakes biting and progressive? [if so, OK]
  • Does the e-bike vibrate when you brake [if not, OK]
  • Do the brakes have normal resistance or are they soft? If the latter, changing braking fluid will be necessary [if the brakes are hydraulic, which is often the case on electric bicycles]
  • Are tires correctly inflated? [If yes, OK]. The pressure limits can be read on the sidewall of the tire.
  • Does the suspension fork squeak? Is the damping bar penetration smooth or is the movement blocked or slowed down at any point? [If no, OK]
  • Is there any give in the steering? [If no, OK]
  • Are the pedals tight and are fixed without any extra movement? [If yes, OK]
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  • Shift all gears one at a time while pedaling normally. Do they all shift without locking or jerking? [If yes, OK]
  • Does the engine engage properly? Is it quiet [if not, is the noise low or high pitched? If low, then there is a problem]? Is the power-assist effective? [If yes, OK]
  • Does the power-assist stop at 25 km/h? If not, the bike is illegal and, therefore, not insurable or usable on public roads. [If the power-assist stops at 25 km/h, OK]. Unless this is a speed e-bike, which is then subject to different regulation rules. This check would not apply in countries, where e-bike speed limits are not regulated.
  • Is there any give in the handlebars? [If no, OK]
  • When lifting the e-bike, are the wheels secure? [if yes, OK]
  • In case of a belt drive via an automatic transmission, make a few strong starts [i.e. from a standing start]: if there is no transmission jump then OK.

Read also: Here is why e-bikes are really cool. And, How to select the best city e-bike (with examples)?

STEP NINE: Things to do after the purchase

Once the transaction is completed and you have your new (second-hand) electric bike, there are still things to do. We recommend a general e-bike check-up in a well-known specialized service center or at your favorite bike shop.

We’ve also put together a brief guide to low-cost e-bike maintenance, which is a good place to start.

If you are ready for a ride, but there are still things to be done with your newly purchased e-bike, there are bike service centers full of enthusiasts who will help you with things you are not comfortable doing yourself.

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Photo credit Vanmoof bikes

We hope this guide has been helpful. It’s been designed as a checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything – and above all, to have fun. Now all you have to do is have fun.

Now – enjoy your ride!

Read also: E-bike brands, manufacturers, models, countries: complete list (560+).

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