They are the most efficient form of transport ever invented. An electric bike will help you complete a journey in a shorter time, with less effort, using less material and energy than walking, pedal cycling, driving, flying or even riding a horse!
But they’re also simply great fun to ride. Electric bikes give you all the joy of cycling – enjoying the sights, sounds and wildlife along the way – but with even greater freedom to explore, whatever the terrain or your physical fitness.
If there’s one drawback to electric bikes it’s that they remain expensive. Think at least $2000 / £2000 / €2000 for a reasonably good one. But there is a sure way to cut the cost of ownership: buy a used electric bike and enjoy ALL the benefits at a much lower price.
After a decade-long boom in electric bike sales, there are now thousands of good used machines on the market. This guide will help you avoid bikes that will let you down and find the cream of the crop.
As long as you know what to look for, what to avoid and where to buy, the experience will be very rewarding. Your electric bike will soon become your most prized possession.
Asking the right questions now could save you a lot of money, time and frustration later, so please read on!
Four Questions to Ask Yourself
1. How will I use this electric bike?
How far do you estimate your average ride will be? Five, ten, thirty miles or more? As well as range per charge, you’ll need to consider comfort over a long distance. This basic question will help you narrow what type of electric bike is best for you – be it a folder, cargo bike, mountain bike or long-distance tourer.
We can break this down into more detailed questions.
What sort of terrain will you be riding on?
Is your area hilly? Flat but windy? A busy urban route with lots of stopping and starting or long stretches between towns?
Do you need an upright style seating position?
Some people prefer sitting upright as it takes the weight off their hands and wrists. This helps make longer rides more comfortable.
Do you want a low step or hybrid style bike?
Will reduced mobility make getting on or off your bike a problem? If so, a low step-thru frame could really help.
Does this ebike need to haul a lot of cargo or have a higher weight capacity?
There are many dedicated cargo-carrying bikes available now. They may be overkill for carrying a little shopping home but also make a viable replacement for a family car with child seats and extra space to stow your stuff.
On the other hand, a tiny folding electric bike might struggle to carry anything more than you, the rider, safely.
Be aware that bicycles usually have a maximum carrying capacity, including the weight of the bike. This is often around 130kg (260lbs) for most electric bikes, but there are models that are good up to 170kg (375kg) thanks to reinforcement of the frame, wheels and other components. Exceeding the weight limit could cause the bike to fail and be a danger to ride.
Does it need to have a lot of gears to help with hills?
Gears generally come in two varieties – hub gears and derailleurs. Hub gears can help if your route has lots of stopping and starting as you can change gear at a complete standstill.
Derailleur gears are more efficient and change better under load. There is a wide range of derailleur gears from cheap and clunky 8-speeds to expensive and silky smooth 20-speeds or more.
Mid-drive or hub motor style electric bike?
Electric bikes with mid-drives are very common in Europe while hub motors tend to dominate in the United States. Mid-drives are quiet, powerful and efficient but you will need to pedal at all times.
Hub drives are generally less expensive and work with a throttle. The handling on a hub drive bike can take a little getting used to, especially if the motor powers the front wheel. If it powers the rear wheel, that rules out hub gears.
As you can see, these are some of the questions you’ll want to think about and prioritize. Some of these questions will be fully answered by a test ride and a little research. One bike may not have everything you want but may still represent a great bargain, so prepare to be flexible.
2. How much can I afford to pay?
The high price of electric bikes puts many people off the idea very early in the process. But if you bear in mind the cost of driving or buying a ticket to complete the same journey, as well as the time penalty of walking to or parking at your destination, even expensive e-bikes can be justified.
If you buy a used electric bike from a shop there may be a way to finance your purchase. If you’re really lucky, there may even be a government subsidy (this is the case in some European countries and cities).
So weigh the initial cost of a used electric bike over the potential savings over, say, the first year. This should really help you budget a sensible maximum price before you even start looking.
3. What features are really important?
It’s amazing what can come fitted to an ebike these days. Full color displays with navigation, anti-lock brakes, automatic gear shifting, seat post risers, anti-theft devices, networking technology… the list is growing all the time.
Two questions before you go looking for a bike with sophisticated features: do you really need it? Will you use it regularly?
We sold a bike with an integrated heart monitor that adjusted the motor’s power to keep your heart rate constant. It was very smart, especially back in 2014 But I don’t believe many of the owners bothered to use it more than a couple of times. So don’t fall into the trap of being dazzled by cool features and gadgets. They’re rarely must-haves.
Also remember, the more extras, the more potential issues.
4. Am I looking for a specific brand or model?
Do you want to buy a bike from a big, well-known brand? Most of the big bicycle brands offer electrically-assisted models these days. It’s hard to think of a brand that doesn’t. Trek, Specialized, Cube, Haibike, Giant, Gazelle are some of the best electric bike brands out there but the truth is that there’s not too much to distinguish between them.
You may find the dream bike in the course of your research, and finish up determined to buy a 2018 Cube Kathmandu Pro, or 2017 Riese & Müller Roadster, or 2014 Kalkhoff Endeavour BS10, and nothing else will do. This can be a great strategy and gives you something to focus on. But… be careful not to exclude another bike that may be even more suitable.
This is where asking the seller questions really makes a difference: they may reveal something about your favorite bike that puts you off, or switch you on to another bike that you’d overlooked.
Six Questions to Ask the Seller
Whether you’re talking with the ebike’s owner or a shop, it’s important that you learn something of the bike’s past.
You might have to check a manufacturer’s website to decode the serial number but it’s worth the effort. It provides valuable information about the age of the bike, battery & other ebike components.
1. What condition is the battery in?
Is this the original battery or a replacement/rebuilt battery? A lot of the long term cost with owning an ebike is tied up in that battery. If you’re thinking of keeping the bike for several years, a battery that is a couple of years old or more will need a replacement at some point, particularly if you plan on riding often or a lot of miles.
This could run somewhere between $300 to $700+ depending upon the size of the battery and whether you’re buying from the original manufacturer, an alternative new battery supplier or having it rebuilt.
How regularly has the battery been charged? (Hint: take that answer with a “fat” grain of salt. Some people think one charge in 6 months is adequate – it’s not)
2. What is the history of this bike?
What’s the age of the bike? All ebikes have a serial number imprinted on them, sometimes on the headtube, more often on the bottom of the frame on the bottom bracket. Those numbers are coded and often contain information about when the bike was manufactured.
Where did the owner purchase it? From a shop or online? Or was it passed down to them somehow? Was the warranty registered at the time?
Do they have the original proof of purchase?
How often was the electric bike ridden and in what conditions? Very hilly local terrain, wet or coastal weather, a larger rider, etc can all impact the wear and tear on the bike and electric components.
Let the owner ramble on about the ebike while you inspect it – you can learn a lot about its history from idle chit chat.
3. Can I take it for a test ride?
As with any ebike purchase, always test ride prior to closing the deal. What looks great and has the features you may be wanting may not have the ride experience you expected or need once you take it for a spin. You can learn a lot about the ebike’s condition from that ride.
If the bike won’t power up readily, quickly conks out on a hill or you hear grinding sounds from inside the motor there are some serious issues here. It could be an old battery or worn motor gears or shot controller. Any of these would be a deal-breaker for a first-time ebike owner.
Having a friend, neighbour, relative or better yet, someone who’s already familiar with electric bikes along for the shopping can help you avoid a rash decision and adds to the fun side of exploring something new. Their feedback and presence can help keep a balance while you ask your questions and go off on your test ride.
4. What is your best price?
Whether you’re buying from a shop or an individual, don’t just accept the price in the ad or on the shop’s price tag. I won’t say everybody; however, most sellers (shops as well as individuals) have some wiggle room on the price. Make an offer below what you’d be willing to pay in the end so you and the seller can haggle over the price a bit.
If the seller isn’t willing to meet you somewhere near what you are willing to pay, you have a decision to make: either accept the seller’s price or find a different bike. Either one may be the right decision; only you will know that.
Remember, there are a lot of wonderful used electric bikes to consider these days, so if this seller’s price is not reasonable, walk away.
If the price is too good to be true, be on your guard. You don’t want a hot bike.
5. Does it come with a charger, tools, manuals?
Even used electric bikes for sale should come with a charger for the battery. Your range will be drastically limited without one! Check that it’s compatible with the bike, that it works and effectively charges the battery.
Most bicycles come with a basic toolkit for adjusting the handlebars, brakes and seat height. If it’s not with the bike when you inspect it, it may be something the owner has stored somewhere, so it’s worth asking.
The same goes for the manual. It’s not essential for most bikes but if you’re looking for one with unusual gears, a complicated display, or sophisticated components, a manual will certainly help master the functions.
6. Any tips, tricks or unique features this bike has?
Bikes pick up strange habits over time. Ask the seller about any tips they have about changing gear, maximizing range per charge, how the lights switch on and off. Understanding a bike’s idiosyncrasies at the start could save time and frustration later.
A private seller should also be able to recommend a helpful local bike shop for servicing that’s familiar with their bike.
It’s also worth asking about tyre pressures, they do vary widely for different types of bike.
Where to find used electric bikes for sale
Used electric bikes for sale near you
Check out local bike shops that specialize in electric bikes or shops that offer both regular bikes and electric bikes that are good on the electric bike side. For someone with little experience with ebikes, this can be a good first point to explore used electric bikes with the the support of an experienced team.
If you’re uncertain about a shop’s electric bike experience, ask questions:
- How long has the shop sold electric bikes?
- Do they service ebikes and will they service used ebikes they sell?
- If they sell demo or rental items, do those come with any warranty?
- With other used ebikes, are these only from their own customers?
- Do they know what general service a used ebike has received?
- Does that brand of ebike have a good history of durability?
- What is the shop’s return policy for a used ebike?
There are other issues to consider relevant to buying any used ebike. However, a used bike from a shop with a good repair and technical team should save you a lot of those worries.
Their team will have gone over the bike, done a tune-up and checked the ebike specific items to verify that it is roadworthy. If it’s a bike the shop sold or serviced regularly, that’s a plus as they will be familiar with it’s history and care.
Check the Specials, Ex-Display or Ex-Rental pages on shop websites
If you don’t see any used items listed, call. Most shops are glad to give you a quick rundown of their discounted items but don’t expect to learn every detail; do your homework! With online sales, like Craigslist, eBay and others, if you don’t find adequate info in an ad, send a polite email with questions about age, condition, extras, history of care, etc.
Shops also offer special pricing on ex-demonstrator, year-end closeouts and rental bikes that can be great bargains, too. Ask about the mileage and ride conditions a demo or rental bike has experienced.
Many only see simple, short rides but some may have had more serious trail testing or lots of miles. This doesn’t mean it’s not a good choice; however, it does effect the overall value and lifespan of the ebike components, so the price should reflect that.
Do Your Research
Don’t just buy on looks and specs alone. This is true whether you’re buying from a shop or an individual. Do research on the bike you’re considering before actually seeing it. Unless it’s a one-off, there will almost certainly be online information and reviews.
Sites like ElectricBikeReview.com and the EBR Forum, provide access to professional reviews and videos along with a community of electric bike owners and enthusiasts that may give some insight about the bike that interests you.
Nothing beats hands-on experience and actually seeing and riding a bike, so try to avoid getting too bogged down in online opinions!
Remember… an electric bicycle is a bicycle
At its core, every electric bike is still a bicycle, so the condition of the chain, cables, bolts & tires can tell you a lot about the age and care given this bike. How the current owner cares for the basic bike needs will give you a strong indication of the overall condition.
Is it clean or dirty?
That’s a really simple way to judge a bike’s overall care. If it is dirty, be sure to poke around a bit to better see the wear and condition of the bike components.
Is the chain rusty?
A rusty chain indicates poor care and a lot of exposure to the elements along with possible issues with the derailleurs. Not a deal-breaker but a warning to be cautious.
Do you see rust on other nuts & bolts on the bike?
Again, an indicator of age and possible weather exposure or less than ideal storage conditions.
What is the condition of the tires?
Older tires with a lot of worn treads will need replacing, especially on a hub motor drive wheel. Cracks along the sidewall indicate age and degradation from exposure to sunlight, UV rays and time. Just a good indicator of age and something that you’ll want to address in the near future if you get this electric bike.
Does the derailleur appear to be vertically parallel to the rear sprockets or bent?
Stand or crouch behind the rear wheel about level with the sprockets and look. If the derailleur or rear stays or derailleur hanger are bent, then this bike has fallen over (one or more times) or been in an accident. If it looks like the rear stays are bent on the derailleur side, examine carefully for little crinkle lines that may indicate metal fatigue.
A good shop can straighten bent derailleurs & hangers in many cases or replace the parts and can give you a more professional assessment of the frame condition if the rear stays are bent.
Used Electric Bikes from a Pawn Shop
Used electric bikes & e-scooters pop up in Pawn Shops but they’re a risky choice. Many pawn shop items sit around for several months before being released onto the sales floor.
You’ll need to check the serial number and check police lists for stolen items. Pawn shops are supposed check before accepting an item; however, but this doesn’t always happen and you don’t want to end up with a hot bike, possibly losing the bike and your money.
The same thing holds true with an Internet sale, via eBay, Craigslist or Gumtree: if the price is too good to be true or there are other suspicious signs, be wary.