Read This Before Buying Used Bicycle Wheelsets

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Buying second hand or used bicycle wheelsets may seem like a really good option for anyone trying to upgrade their metal steed on a budget, but is it?

There are bargains to be had out there on Ebay and the like. But before you start crawling the interbike for used bicycle wheelsets, make sure you know what to look for before you hand over your credit card details.

As many articles on the interbike will tell you, including mine, buying a new wheelset for your bike is one the smartest moves you can make.

As I’ve said before, buying a brand new bike that costs roughly the same or a little bit more than your current steed probably isn’t going to help you go any faster. All you are essentially doing, within reason, is just buying the same class of metal steed again.

So, if you want to go faster for longer, climb hills quicker, and be more comfortable, and have more control over the bike between your legs, then buy new wheels.

running with a bike

Unless of course your budget has doubled since your bought your last bike

I mean obviously, if you’re buying a new bike, and are looking to spend two or three times what the last one cost, then that will probably make a huge difference. Of course it will, it stands to reason. But not everyone has that kind of spare money just kicking about to make that sort of upgrade. I sure as f*** don’t. Even if I did, I don’t know if I could justify that kind of purchase or expense. Buying new wheels though, for a multitude of reasons is one thing you will probably not regret.

If you are thinking about buying used bicycle wheelsets then the best advice I can give you is to be really aware of what you’re doing, and be super aware of what you are buying. And I mean that again, most seriously.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy second hand wheels for your bike, especially if you are on a budget, as I permanently seem to be living the life of a professional writer; every $ counts, trust me.

group biking

<h2<It’s easier to get your money back if you know the seller, or know where they live

I mean, I might happily buy a used bicycle wheelset from a friend or family member, or someone I actually knew. I would however, based on my own experiences, urge you to really do your research before you buy from someplace like Craigslist, or Ebay. I’d also especially be suspect if the seller said they were a millionaire Nigerian prince with liquidity problems. If I thought he was legit, then maybe. It would depend on how much money I had going spare.

But I’ve seen a used bicycle wheelset on Ebay that looks really good and legit, and the seller doesn’t want me to post nudes first. What should I do?

I’m not saying there aren’t bargain to be had, of course there are, …but forewarned is forearmed, as the old adage goes.

bike exercise

Incredible bargains can be had…

I once got my hands on a cracking set of second hand 26” mountain bike wheels for my old Kona Shred. They were awesome. They were light, super strong, and I got them for the equivalent of $50. I was also lucky. I was young, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I originally only bought them off Ebay because the rim color was red. It was only several months later I discovered that brand new, the things retailed for close to $500. It was the steal of my life, and quite possibly the century.

…But you can also be totally screwed buying used bicycle wheelsets as well…

On the flip side, I also once bought a used wheelset from a European equivalent of CraigsList. They cost me around $300 and ended up being heavier than the wheels my Boardman bike came with as standard. There were also some quite serious dents and scratches on the rims that the seller had uniquely managed to hide in the pictures he’d posted. Also, no matter what I did the wheel wobbled and rubbed against the brakes. Did I get a refund? No I did not. And if ever find the ****** again, boy, am I going to be giving him/her a good talking to, the severity depending on how much smaller/larger they are than me. What I am saying in a really round about way is this:

Buying used wheelsets is always going to be a bit hit and miss.

I’m not trying to dissuade you, (see wheels for the Shred, above,) but at the same time what I am saying you need to know what to look for and what to check for before you do. (See  wheels for the Boardman, also above) So with that said….here’s the rough guide you originally clicked on the link to read.

bike in park

What to look for when buying used road bike wheelsets online. A rough guide.

The first thing to be aware of is the fact that used wheels for your bike, are called second hand or used, because, well they’ve been used. That means, generally, they have been on a bike and have seen some mileage; i.e. they have been used. This is what makes them second hand.

Secondly, while most people in the road and mountain bike world tend to be better, more intelligent and nicer people, than say, everyone else in the world, they are still trying to sell their used product. Therefore you have to take whatever they say about the wheels with a pinch of salt. I’m currently on a no-salt diet, so I’m using broccoli.

The chances are as well, that the seller isn’t going to reveal all the unpleasant experiences the wheels have gone through whilst in their possession. Yes, buying a set of wheels from some guy who claims they’ve been using them to race on for the last two seasons and that they are really fast and light wheels could very well be true. What they might be omitting is the fact that they have seen thousands of miles of road surface and been ridden at their limits for two whole years. It’s just something to think about.

And with the above in mind, always check the age of the wheels before you buy. If the seller isn’t sure, then maybe consider not buying them. Most rims will be made of aluminum. This is a metal that while strong, is also light. In general terms, try not to buy wheels that are more than a few years old. Under light or normal use, a general truism in the biking world, is that a maximum of five years use should be allowed for aluminum parts under stress. If the wheels have been used
for racing, that acceptable life time shortens to around two years. (see the point above this point.)

One of the forgiving aspects of aluminum wheels is that fact they can take some pretty hard blows and keep on going. This is especially true of cheaper wheels. Yes, they are not as light as say a pair $500 rims, but they tend to be able to soak up a bit more abuse. That said as well though, it’s hard to hide damage to aluminum wheelsets, so any damage should be visible to the naked eye. If at all possible, insist on on seeing high quality pictures of the wheels. If buying in person,  try running your fingers along the rim to feel for variations in the surface. They should be smooth.

oudoor biking

Do check the rims for damage caused by the brakes. If the brake shoes have been worn out, the resultant damage may have cut grooves into the rims, and that doesn’t say much for the care and attention of current owner. This leads directly to the next point:

Do make sure that the wheels are true: This is so important. (see wobbly wheel, above). Essentially, this means that the wheel spins without wobbling or vibrating. Buying in person, it’s quite easy to check if a wheel is true and rotates smoothly: Get down on your knees, get close (relatively) to the wheel and roughly gauge the distance between the brake shoe and the rim and then slowly spin the wheel. You should be able to spot any issues within a few turns, and look like a pro while doing it. Of course buying online means it will be harder to check for this, and for the next point as well:

Do, wherever possible as wheel, ask to see the inside edge of the wheels in detail, without the tires. It’s much easier to see if there’s damage or rust inside the wheel cavity. (This was a new one one me, but it makes a lot of sense.)

Do remember it’s not the tire you are buying, it’s the rims, the actual wheels themselves. Don’t allow yourself to wonder at the fact the sellers has mounted some expensive rubber around them. No amount of rubber can protect you from f****d up wheels. Remember its not the rubber tires or the inner tube you are inspecting, its the metal bits.

Do look for evidence of rust around the spoke holes.

Check the spokes are tight, and don’t look like they’ve been straightened with a pair of pliers. Busted and damaged spokes can affect the strength and integrity of the wheel. Again, easier to do if you are physically there. 

couple biking

Don’t buy used wheels based on grainy pictures from the likes of Craiglist or E-Bay, or if they are stock pictures scraped from another website. You just don’t know what you’re getting. This is your money after all, so the least the seller could do is upload several high quality in depth pictures.

Do make sure the wheelset is actually the same size as your current wheels. Yes, most road bike wheels are in the main, all the same size, but it’s a good idea to double check before you buy. Also, if you can, check to see that the free-hub works properly too. Simply holding the wheel in your hands and spinning them will tell you if they are in good condition or not.

Do check as well that your bike will accept the cassette you are planning to use or already have on your bike. Shimano for instance has a different setup from Campy….

Do check that the new used wheelset you are buying is actually worth it. Google them to see that you are not being short changed. Lots of riders have perfectly valid reasons for selling. But then you want to be sure that you are not replacing your rims with something that are literally the exact same. If you can weigh your own wheelset do so. Are the wheels you are thinking about buying heavier? If so, do you really want to ‘upgrade’ to them?

Finally, if nothing else, do be very wary of ‘bargains,’ or deals that seem too good to be true. This is as true for used bicycle wheelsets as it is for laptops, as it for cars, as it is for well, pretty much anything. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is; that is with the exception of that awesome set of 26” wheels I got for my Shred that time. That one time.

And finally, finally, why not find and read a review of the wheel before buying the bike? There have been some terrible wheels released over the years, and many more that have been and are to all intents and purposes, decidedly average.

biker in the forest

Just buy new wheels instead?

I don’t have much to add. Except for this:

Before you consider buying used bicycle wheelsets, consider buying new ones instead. For one thing you will absolutely know what you’re purchasing, and for another you have options if the wheels have defects or fall apart after one ride. Not that they will. But if they were to, you have statutory rights etc.

Another thing about buying new wheelsets is that might be surprised just how affordable a really decent set of rims can be. Yes, you may end up paying a bit more, but they will be brand new and shiny. And to be honest, I’d rather spend anther $50-100 on a model or grade below that being sold second hand, if it meant getting some still shrink wrapped rims. It’s something to think about.

So, in conclusion, all I am really saying is that you before buy used bicycle wheelset, make sure you’ve done your research. That advice stands for new wheelsets as well. But if you have the the choice, buy new if you can.

**Warning: Shameless sales plug imminent**

It just so happens, that have a full and wide range of quality wheels not just for road bikes, but mountain bikes as well, and our prices are really competitive.
**Warning: Shameless sales plug for is finished.

As I write this, it’s the weekend

And that’s me done, I’m out of here. It’s Friday night and somewhat ironically I have to go research running shoes so I can make an informed choice about what ones I’m going to buy. Like an idiot, I signed up for a triathlon earlier in the year, and now I have to start training. So there goes the rest of my night. OK, hope whatever and wherever you are when you read this, you are doing OK.

We’d also appreciate any help or tips you’ve found yourself over the years. What success or horror stories can you share? Have you ever bought used bicycle wheelsets online before and ended up with an absolute belter of a bargain like I did. Or did you ever buy a set that were not as stated as I also did? Feel free to tell me in the comments section below.


4 thoughts on “Read This Before Buying Used Bicycle Wheelsets”

  1. I want the Mavic carbon wheels that retail for $2000 now selling for $800 on eBay. I’ll probably go with the New Hunt carbon at the same price. Great article!!

  2. This is the most usething thing I’ve ever laid eyes upon. But you Google doped, like a money thirsty homecook meals website. Good job. Absolutely false your thoughts on truing wheels. Most road wheels unless severely damaged can be trued at LBS and spokes are replaceable / manageable. Grooves on an Aluminum wheels’s brake surface are unfortunately but mean fuck all. Congrats on this


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