Being a little strapped for cash shouldn’t stop you getting a new E-MTB, as second-hand rigs present a viable alternative that’s a little kinder on your bank balance. We’ve curated the most important tips and tricks to observe while buying a second-hand bike to make sure that you won’t get hit by a ton of unforeseen repair costs!
Whether you’re buying shiny new or second-hand, there are certain questions that shouldn’t go unanswered. Where am I going to ride this bike? How am I going to be riding it? Finally, what’s my budget? Is it better for me to get a hardtail or a full-suspension model? It might seem like a minefield of choices, but our Buyers’ Guide in Issue #009 leverages some much-needed advice.
However, for those who’ve ruled out a new model, these are the essential criteria to consider for your new, old bike:
Which second-hand bike should I buy?
Spotting a screaming deal online for an E-MTB is no good if the bike won’t match your needs or just isn’t in a state to deliver the goods. First off, check exactly which model is on offer and do your research – our reviews should be your first port-of-call. Over the years we’ve tested the bulk of the market, which we’ve gathered on our website.
But where do I even start looking for the right E-MTB?
There are multiple ways to find a second-hand E-MTB, such as through a local dealer, through friends-of-friends, or on websites like Ebay or Gumtree. But no matter where you find your dream bike, don’t hand over any cash until you’ve given it a test ride and a thorough check.
Your pre-purchasing checklist
Before heading off to froth over your potential new bike, it’s worth clearing up the following questions with the seller:
How old is the bike?
The newer, the better. E-MTBs are undergoing rapid technological advancements, so younger bikes tend to have slightly better geometry, better componentry, and a better motor too. This leads us to suggest that you steer clear of anything that’s already more than two years old. It sounds harsh, but it’ll be worth it.
How many kilometres has it been ridden?
UThe more it has been ridden, the more wear and tear it’s likely to have. Here it’s also worth discovering what sort of terrain the rider has been on too; a lot of mountain ascents and descents will have taken their toll on gears, brakes, and tires. If the bike has been ridden intensively, the brake pads need to be changed every 500–1,000 km, and the chain changed every 1,500–2,500 km.
When was it last serviced?
Any bike should be serviced at least once a year. This includes the suspension, where the fluid will be changed, and brakes with DOT brake fluid too. Moreover, there are likely to have been updates to the motor’s software that may have become available and should have been carried out by qualified dealers.
Have any worn parts already been replaced?
While it is to be expected that the drivetrain, brakes, and tires get a little bit worn, it’s paramount that they’re correctly replaced.
Other than worn parts, has anything else been changed?
If too many parts are switched on an E-MTB, it might render its CE code void. This could create a blurry legal situation for the dealer who exchanged the parts, who’d then legally be seen as the manufacturer and would therefore be susceptible to legal action in the event of an accident. As the end consumer, it’s important that no inadequate components have been added to the bike that could have an impact on safety.
Why is the bike being sold?
Go with your gut instinct here. Does the seller want to get rid of the bike because there’s a fault, or is there a plausible reason?
Has the bike been tuned?
Motor tuning is illegal and nullifies all the manufacturer guarantees and the operating licence. Tuning also overstresses the battery and motor, which means they’ll deteriorate at a quicker rate than under regular use. Tuned bikes are a no-go!
Your on-site checklist!
Even if the seller has you bent double with laughter and could become your new best mate, don’t forget the importance of a test ride and thorough check of the bike. We’d suggest printing the below checklist and having it in your pocket to remind you of what counts. Your first impression is important too; if the bike is still caked in dirt and hastily thrown on the ground, it’s likely that the owner has been pretty lax with servicing too. It’s also easier to spot defects on a clean bike.
The frame is what the E-MTB lives and thrives on, so take care to spot any damage to the paintjob or welds. You can never be 100% sure with carbon frames, but the absence of any visible damage is certainly a good sign. A lot of exposure to mud, filthy conditions, and flying debris could have resulted in scuffs and damage, which would obviously mean that this bike has seen some serious off-road usage and is therefore likely to show signs of wear and tear. The battery and the motor cover should sit securely without any rattling in the frame. Visually, there shouldn’t be any sign of wear here. Minor scratches on the cover can be overlooked, but any deformed bits or cracks in the motor’s exterior or the battery case should ring some alarm bells.
Test number I: Lift and drop the bike gently from a height of about five cm. Any clattering could hint at a loose battery in the mount, that the suspension bushings are worn out, or perhaps there is just a loose screw. Whatever it is, try and figure it out.
Test number II: Here’s a simple trick: push the back wheel into the ground and pull the bike up by the frame. Listen to how it moves; any clicks, creaks, or clatters should set off alarm bells. Check the bolts with the seller if anything rattles. If there’s still play afterwards, it is likely that the bearings have seen better day, or that the bushings on the rear shock have blown out.
Motor and battery
Good news first: unlike combustion engines, electric motors don’t need any regular maintenance (only a belt change on BROSE units after 15,000 km) as they’ve got a much lower number of moving parts that are susceptible to wear and tear. However, each time you charge the battery has an impact – albeit a minor one. Take a Bosch battery, for example: after 500 charges, it only has 60–70% of its original capacity (as stated by the manufacturer). The number of charging cycles that a battery has gone through can be determined by a qualified dealer. That same dealer can also tell you how far the bike has been ridden. Specialized’s Mission Control app offers users the opportunity to check the status of the battery on their smart phone. Ask the seller where they’ve stored the battery in winter. Cold temperatures will lead to premature aging, so the ideal scenario is in a moderately warm space with about 80% battery life remaining. It’s not a good sign if the bike and battery are left for twelve months of the year in a wooden shed.
The drivetrain and gears are put under huge stresses on an E-MTB, so wear and tear is pretty much a given. Rely on a chain wear guide, which will tell you the actual condition of the chain (as often real wear is invisible to the eye). This little tool is a real-life check of how much action the bike has seen. If the chain is really worn, you can safely predict that the chainrings and cassette will be on the way out too. Shift through all the gears on the test ride and make sure that the chain isn’t slipping through the gears – that would imply some serious wear and tear.
Brakes are an E-MTB’s most vulnerable part. A quick look at the calipers will show how much is left on the pads. The rotors will show their age through discoloration and marks. Pull on them a few times to see how defined their bite point is. The bike really needs a 200 mm rotor at the front, but always keep a bit of your budget aside for an upgrade – calculate € 50 for disc plus adapter.
Whatever size hoops you’re riding, there’s still the risk of denting your rims, getting play in the hub bearings, loss of spoke tension, cracks in the hub flanges, and issues with the nipples. Fortunately, these are the sorts of issues that can be spotted before you dip into your pocket. Check the wheel is running true by putting a cable tie around the chainstay and observing if the contact to the rim is regular while the wheel is spinning. Sometimes it’s the tires that aren’t on straight, and the wheel might still be in good condition.
Tires are always going to get a little worn, but check that these have sufficient tread. Both the rolling surface and the sidewalls need to be checked thoroughly for any tears or damage.
Checking this involves a few angles: firstly, make sure no fluid leaks out of the bushes when it compressions; then check that the stanchions aren’t scratched or dented; move on to the red rebound dials and twist them to see their effect on the speed that both suspension units rebound; finally, think about how sensitively the fork responds or if it feels dry. Don’t forget to ask about the last time it was serviced.
In the event of a crash it’s the cockpit and the other contact points that’ll tend to suffer the most, so they’re usually the strongest. Check that the bars are sufficiently wide, measuring at least 740 mm.
The dropper post
Here it’s worth noting whether it sags under load. Observe how reliably and easily it goes up and down. A little lateral play is fairly common, but make sure it isn’t too extreme. If it struggle to extend or drop, then perhaps the seat clamp is too tight. Unscrew it and use a torque key to tighten properly – has this improved how the dropper works?
The test ride
Any car purchase goes hand in hand with a test drive, and the same applies to an E-MTB. Take note of the riding position and see how it feels. Don’t be afraid to raise or lower the saddle to fit you better. Does the frame feel like it’s the right size? A test ride is also your opportunity to test how the motor works, shift through the gears, and try out the brakes. Listen carefully to any acoustics coming from the bike – rattling or clattering while starting off or using the suspension is worth noting.
Sealing the deal
Don’t underestimate the importance of signing a contract when buying an E-MTB. It needs to contain the day’s date, the model name, the seller’s name, and your name alongside the frame number.
To make sure you cover all the important parts, we’ve gathered the essentials in an easily printable list.
This article is from E-MOUNTAINBIKE issue #011
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Words: Felix Diehl Photos: Christoph Bayer