Buying a second hand kids bike

Are you thinking of buying a second hand kids bike? It can be a brilliant way to get hold of a good quality kids bike without having to pay the full retail price. However, you do need to know what to look for, to avoid being sold a dud.

Here, Cycle Sprog’s technical editor Chris (who has bought more than his fair share of second hand bikes – both kids and adult) takes you through the process of buying a second hand kids bike step by step, so you can be sure you’re getting a bargain, rather than rust bucket.

Rules of buying a second hand kids bike

Rule Number 1 – I am buying second hand

‘Aaaaahhhhhhh – it has a scratch!!!!!!!!’

It shouldn’t be forgotten that you are buying second hand. You are not buying a gleamer straight out of the showroom, so you must be aware that it is likely to show signs of use.

Buying a second hand kids bike - expect scratches

This can manifest itself as scratches on the frame or wear to components such as grips, tyres and gears. If you are not comfortable with this then you’ll have to dig deep into your pockets and shell out for a new one.

Torn saddles, bald tyres and worn grips can be identified fairly quickly, but you should also have a good poke around and look at the following:

Handlebars – turn the handlebars through their travel and make sure they rotate smoothly and not roughly. Notchy suggests the headset could be in need of work.

Second hand kids bike check handlebars

Brakes – pull the levers. Do they work effectively? Wheel the bike forward and pull on the brakes (one at a time) and check how it stops.  Look at the brake pads and see how worn they are. Look at the cables – if they’re all rusted up then factor about £10 to replace them yourself (more if you’re taking to a bike shop).

Gears – does it change gears without any problems. Change through all the gears several times and see if it moves through them without jumping, getting stuck or the chain coming off.

buying a second hand kids bike - gears

Are the gear cables rusty? These may cost you £5-10 to replace.

Crank – is there any play in the crank? With a pedal in each hand, rock from side to side. If there’s any movement then the bottom bracket may need adjusting or replacing. Is the chain rusty? Look at the teeth on the chainrings. If they resemble sharks fins then they’re very worn. The teeth in the picture are in good order.

buying a second hand kids bike - chains and condition of teeth

Wheels – do they spin freely and are there any buckles in the rims. Do they catch on the brake blocks. If so, they’ll need straightening out by a bike mechanic or someone handy with a spoke wrench.

Frame and forks – look for any serious patches of rust or damage such as dents or cracks. The area around the seatpost is worth a look for cracks. If not enough seatpost has been left inside the frame, stress fractures can occur.

buying a second hand kids bike - rust

I know the above sounds dramatic, but ‘lemons’ do exist! More often than not there’ll be a few issues with a kids bike such as worn brake blocks and tyres which doesn’t represent a problem. If your gut feeling is good when you see the bike then hopefully all will be well.

Rule Number 2 – know what you want

‘It has oval wheels but I’m sure it’ll be fine’

It’s important to know exactly what you are in the market for. Are you looking for a bike to ‘do up’; to spend a bit of time and money on, or one that is ready to jump on and go. Never confuse the two.

Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that the really cheap 20″ wheeled bike described as ‘having been raced a few times’ is going to be ‘as new’. It won’t be. In some cases a bike may need the same amount as the purchase price (if not more!) spending on it plus a whole heap of time to get it up to a decent standard.

Rule Number 3 – read the small print

‘Hmm, it didn’t mention the gaping hole in the listing!’

The seller should describe the bike as accurately and honestly as possible to ensure that you, the buyer, are fully aware of exactly what you are considering. So the condition of the bike should match the description in the advert. However, one person’s definition of ‘immaculate’ may vary wildly from another’s!

Ask for more photo’s or close up’s of certain areas. For example, if there are any scratches or damage then ask the seller to provide a close-up so that you can see the extent.

Buying a second hand kids bike - little bit of rust?

Don’t be shy of asking questions if the listing doesn’t provide all of the information you require For example:

  • Can you confirm that the frame is free from dents and cracks and has not had repair work
  • The listing states there are areas of scratches and chips in the paintwork. Please can you forward pictures to show all of these areas.
  • Has the bike ever been serviced?
  • Is there any paperwork to accompany the bike – service details, manuals, purchase receipt.
  • How many owners has it had?
  • What replacement parts have been fitted?
  • What condition are the tyres, brake blocks, gears in? How much wear and do they need replacing?
  • Where and how often has the bike been ridden?

Check everything works. If you’re not going to view it before purchase as it’s listed on an auction site check the wording of the listing very carefully. If something’s missing – get in touch and ask. A genuine seller should not have any issues with providing further detail.

This all helps you to get a good feel for the bike and it’s condition and helps you to come to a decision as to whether you wish to pursue this particular one or seek out another.

Rule Number 4 – be vigilant

‘Hey, that’s my bike!’

There’s an old saying ‘if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is’. This sage advice rings true for pretty much anything, especially bikes. Every year, thousands of bikes are stolen, leaving owners heartbroken. If you’re going to see a second hand kids bike then take a look at the serial number (often on the bottom bracket on the underside of the frame) and look for any signs of tampering or in some cases, removal! There is a database called Bike Register that can be used to check if a serial number has been listed as stolen.

Rule Number 5 – stock or modified?

‘But mummy, it’s got the wrong seat!!!!!’ 

Bikes come out of the factory in clone-like fashion. However, some people like to pimp their rides which can result in significant changes from the way it was originally intended. For example, a seat change here and new wheels there.

Buying a second hand kids bike - change of saddle?

Or a different chainset and gearing as the owner lived in a very flat area. Doesn’t sound a problem until you consider that you live and ride in the Highlands of Scotland. Changing the gearing to suit your terrain will cost you extra money that you hadn’t bargained for. So, ask if there have been any modifications or changes to the original specification.

Rule Number 6 – view if you can

‘Yep – that’s the one for me!’

Go and take a look at it in the flesh if possible. The camera never lies may have been true before digital manipulation but it is very easy to conceal areas you don’t want prospective buyers to see. A seller should present the bike clean and tidy and ready for sale. Unless it’s a basket case and you’re buying it for restoration purposes.

Rule Number 7 – buy the correct size

‘Oooh, that smarts a bit!’

You find the bike of your child’s dreams. The specification is a perfect match for the bike you’ve been eagerly trying to locate for your son or daughter. But there’s a problem – its too big.

Don’t be tempted into buying a second hand kids bike that doesn’t fit. You wouldn’t do it for yourself, so why should it be any different for your child? We don’t subscribe to the ‘oh, he/she will grow into it’ philosophy as riding a bike that is clearly the wrong size is the best way to knock a child’s confidence as well as being dangerous.

Find one the right size, use it and then sell on when they’ve out grown it.

Bikes with suspension

Mountain bikes are designed to take on a variety of terrain and soak up the punishment, but this takes its toll on components and so they need regular attention to stay in good working order.

buying a second hand kids bike - suspension forks

Now, not everybody is actually going to use a mountain bike for the purpose it was intended for, or in the manner of a downhill racing champion. Even so, suspension components will need attention and depending on what parts need to be replaced, a service or even replacement forks can cost big money. Full suspension bikes have a series of pivot points and bearings that, over time, will wear and need replacing. If you’re thinking about venturing into the second hand market then get the seller to confirm exactly what has been replaced/serviced and whether anything is due.

Just get out and ride!

So that’s it. Our take on what to look out for when buying a second hand kids bike. Do your research and be clear about the type of bicycle you want to buy. Do ask lots of questions if you need more information. Look around the bike carefully and take your time. Don’t be rushed.

Buying a second hand kids bike - just get out and ride!

Finally, if something doesn’t feel quite right about it – walk away. There’s plenty more second-hand bikes just waiting to be bought and ridden.

If you end up buying a second hand kids bike, do let us know how you got on. We’re on Facebook and Instagram where you can share your pictures.

Other articles you may find useful include:




Hi, I would like to point out that if you buy a second hand Islabike you will not be covered by the warranty regardless of the age of the bike. I bout my son an Islabike if eBay hoping for a quality bike. It did look good. No rust or much visible wear (obviously some scratches). A few months of riding the bikes frame broke mid ride. My son was lucky he was not going faster as that could easily have ended in hospital. I did contact Islabike but was advised that, as the bike was second hand they could not do anything about it.


Thanks for getting in touch Nina – that is indeed the problem with buying a second hand bike – we are only aware of one company that allows the transfer of the warranty to a secondhand owner – that is Black Mountain Bikes. Karen


I need second hand bick for age from 6 years to 9 years and in good condition


I hope you find a good bike, and find the advice in our article useful. Karen

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