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Getting UnNew Gear(s) for Your Ride

A Bit About Buying Used Bike Parts

When buying used bike parts, details matter!

We love our bikes for being less environmentally impactful than cars—from the manufacturing process to our use of them as urban transportation and recreation. And we love our mountain and road bikes for propelling us through the outdoors, helping us build our fitness and provide unique social and personal experiences.

But bike life is not always smooth tarmac and loamy dirt. Parts inherently wear out with use. Technology advances, marketing strategies, and now supply chain issues often make older-model parts obsolete or hard to find. Creating a bike has a significant environmental footprint, from the extraction of resources to create frames and parts, to chemically laden paints and adhesives, to hard-to-recycle plastics, rubber, and metals. Tires, tubes, chains, and frames are often disposed of even though they have plenty of good, safe lifespan left. While none of that sounds particularly awesome, we as Geartrade’s UnNew community can disrupt this negative cycle and keep more safe gear in use while finding creative ways to upcycle or recycle the items that are simply too worn to ride.

You Don’t Have to Be a Pro Mechanic to Buy Used Gear

Of course, you may need some wrenching skills to install those parts. Your local bike shop is awesome. Depending on where you live, your retailer may stock some lightly used parts or parts that are new and have been traded off of new bikes at the time of purchase. Often these are stems, handlebars, wheels, and chainrings. You might have to ask for these items, as they are often kept on hand for repairs and not easily displayed on the sales floor. These pieces can be excellent alternatives to buying something new in the package—and at a much cheaper price!

Many retailers won’t stock used bikes or many well-used components due to liability issues or specific vendor agreements. Guess what? When YOU bring the items to the retailer, as long as they are safe and functional, and as long as you’re happy to pay for the labor to install them, the retailer will gladly do the work! In the past, it was a faux pas to bring parts you bought elsewhere into a shop to be installed. Now, it’s a common and accepted practice. Just communicate that you prefer to pursue UnNew component options.

Step 1: Take a Photo

Problems arise when an item, like a bottom bracket or headset, isn’t the correct fit or style for your bike. If you are unsure of what part you need (press fit or threaded, 12mm thru-axle or 15mm), your local bike shop can help you decipher your ride’s components, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself.

 Bottom brackets can be threaded, press fit, wide, narrow, the list goes on…

Either way, you’ll need to do some online research to locate the item you need. First,  take a photo of the part you’d like to replace–take a few photos, even. You’ll want to match the imprinted number, style, shape, logos, and even color of your current part to your prospective UnNew item. Measuring tapes and calipers can also help you narrow down differences like 142mm or 148mm rear hub spacing.

Step 2: Dig Deep

When it’s time to search for your part, you want the exact match. The one standard in the bike industry is that there are no standards. Don’t like a “new” bike industry standard? Just wait five minutes—it’ll change! Have a 10-speed road bike from 1986? It has 2 chainrings and 5 cassette cogs. Have a 10-speed mountain bike from 2015? It has 1 chainring and 10 cassette cogs, requiring a totally different chain width and length from the 1986 bike. The gears changed, but the name stayed the same!

This is fun, right? But wait! Are you riding a road bike, mountain bike, hybrid bike, a steel bike, a carbon fiber bike, a bike manufactured last year, a bike manufactured 8 years ago, a bike from brand 1, or a bike from brand 2? Whatever your combination of answers, you’ll likely have different component compatibility than your best biking bud.

Clamp-on or bolts? Top pull or bottom? Front derailleurs need to match your frame set-up!

Thank goodness for the internet! If your bike shop wasn’t able to tell you the specifics of the parts you need (or you forgot to write it down), you can find most tech specs online if you’re willing to dive deep enough. Between this info (which can tell you things you can’t see, such as if your bottom bracket is threaded or not), your photo, and measurements, you should be able to determine if your component exists for sale and make a successful purchase if it does.

Step 3: Proceed with Caution

Very old or worn parts may not function better than your current components, if they function at all. Whether you are buying parts or planning to consign them, items that are too worn may be best applied to arts and crafts or carefully recycled. Because you need to consider safety first, here are a few things to watch out for and avoid buying or selling:

  1. Helmets manufactured before 2017. Retailers won’t sell helmets more than 5 years old due to liability, and buying a used helmet older than 5 years is particularly risky. Stay within the 5 year mark, or upcycle an old helmet!

  2. Headsets, bottom brackets, and hubs that are missing bearings and/or show pitting. This issue applies mostly to items designed with ball bearings. If a bearing is missing, or the races are pitted or malformed, steer clear!

  3. Flat handlebars may have been cut down from their original length. Ask for current measurements!

  4. Handlebars, stems, headsets, and forks all have specific diameters to fit together—and there’s a lot of variation depending on the style and age of your bike. Know your measurements!

  5. A lightly used chain that is the correct size for your bike can be a great investment. Chain length matters! Chain wear can also be an issue, and too much wear can make the chain unusable. Ask for photos of a used chain that include the chain with a chain checker tool and measurement of the total length. The chain checker tool should not be able to slide into the chain, and the chain length should be at least 4 links longer than your current chain.

  6. Brake rotors: You can buy a used brake rotor, but watch for signs of contamination (like burn marks), too much wear (highly discolored pad path), and warping (very difficult to judge by photos).

  7. Used rims and wheelsets can be awesome or wreck your day. If it’s a rim brake-style, check for wear on the groove and make sure that groove is visible. No groove, no life left. If it’s a disc-style rim, check for dents and cracks. On any rim, you can normally bring it to true when you install a hub, but watch for severe warping which may indicate structural damage.

  8. Carbon bits. Whether it’s a frame, handlebars, rims, or seatpost, if it’s carbon, do a thorough inspection before you ride it. Is the clear coat flaking like frosting on a glazed donut? Are there any visible cracks or soft spots in the carbon? If so, don’t risk riding it!

  9. Derailleurs, especially the pulleys and cages, are susceptible to wear and damage. Confirm cages are straight and pulley teeth are present and not too worn. 

  10. Chainrings and cassettes can be some of the easiest used parts to purchase. Watch for warping, missing teeth, and teeth that are either too pointy (no triangles!) or too round.

  11. Tires should have visible tread, but not visible sidewall threads. This applies to tubeless tires and those requiring tubes.

When in doubt, ask lots of questions! Someone who takes care of their gear should be happy to answer you and provide photos. Find out what the specific return policy is, just in case that part is 3mm too wide or narrow for your ride. Once you get to know your bike, finding used gear to fit your needs can be a lot of fun! Sure, the parts pursuit isn’t as much fun as actually riding your bike, but getting out for a safe and enjoyable pedal is the ultimate goal!

Look for a sticker with the helmet manufacture date. If it’s older than 5 years, don’t risk it!


Jackie Baker is an avid skier, just waiting for another classic Wasatch powder day. When not on snow, she likes to ride her bike long distances in remote places. Visit her Instagram profile, @ohjaybay, to see where she's riding and what snacks she's packing.

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