Many people when shopping for an entry level bike like to consider used options, but if you don't know what to look for you might not catch issues or problems. A used bike can be a great way to get a nicer bike at the same price as a new entry level bike, and it can also be a huge headache... This post is assuming that the bike is within your budget.
Here is a Checklist for when checking out a used bike:
Do your research to find a fair market price. Bicycle blue book, ebay, and craigslist are your friend.
Get a feel for how the owner kept the bike
Talk to owner about the history
Check for signs of maintenance (dry rot, rust, frayed cables, dirt/grease)
No loose, broken or missing spokes
Wheels bearings have no play and rotate smoothly
Wheels are true
Does the frame fit me? If it doesn't fit, it's not worth it (you can get sized at a bike shop)
No major bends, cracks, huge dents, rust through frame
No dings or gouges through the resin on Carbon frame
Push against the cranks to check frame integrity
Check the dropouts on Carbon frames
No major dents or breaks
Compression and rebound is smooth
Seals are good (holds are pressure, no oil leakage during compression or rebound)
All the controls function properly
If the drivetrain is working well, most likely the rest of the bike was taken care of.
No major damage, bent front der. cage, or damaged shifters
No broken, or otherwise damaged teeth on the chainrings or cassette
Shifts through all gears smoothly
Rear derailleur tension springs work fine
Brake levers have no major damage
No damage to cable housing or hydraulic lines
Disc rotors have minimal to no warp
Brakes actuate and return properly and without hesitation
Quick releases function properly
No tears in the seat and seat rails are straight
Handlebars and stem have no damage and pass stress test
Pedal bearings are good and no major damage
Headset bearings are smooth
No play in the headset
If something feels sketch, just walk away. There are plenty of bikes out there.
Best of luck!
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Thread: Noob Guide to Buying a used MTB