Tips from an E-Bike Shop Owner for Buying a Used Electric Bike

Ann M.

Well-Known Member
Buying a used electric bike can be an exciting way to get back into cycling or grab a bargain on a more expensive ebike. If you're uncertain an ebike is for you or you've got a set budget, a used ebike can be a smart option to buying new. Although this can seem like a challenging task, with a little knowledge you can make a smart choice and save some $$$.

Be clear about what you need:

We're fortunate to have several hundred brands of ebikes to choose from with many different purposed models from each manufacturer. The challenge is for you to hone down what are the most important features that your ebike needs to have.
  • How far do you estimate your average ride will be? 5, 10, 30+ miles?
  • What sort of terrain will you be riding on? Hilly? Flat? Combo, trails?
  • If you're looking for an off-road ebike, do you want full suspension, front suspension & a hardtail, or no suspension at all?
  • Do you need an upright style seating position?
  • Do you want a low step or hybrid style bike?
  • Does this ebike need to haul a lot of cargo or have a higher weight capacity?
  • Do you want an ebike that has extra or replacement batteries available now?
  • Does it need to have a lot of gears to help with hills?
  • Are you more interested in a mid drive or hub motor style ebike?
  • If you're considering a hub motor ebike, do you want a geared or direct drive motor?
  • Does the bike need to have a throttle or just pedal assist, or both?
  • Do you plan to do most of the maintenance yourself or do you prefer to have access to a skilled ebike shop for help?
  • Do you want an ebike with tons of features or something more simple? Remember, the more options, the more potential issues.
As you can see, these are some of the questions you'll want to think about and prioritize. If you're new to ebikes, some of this will become more clear after a few test rides and internet exploration. Recognize that one bike may not have 100% of what you want; however, you can still ride off with a great bargain.

Consider buying from a bike shop, not just online ads:

Check out local bike shops that specialize in electric bikes or shops that offer both regular bikes and ebikes that are well versed on the ebike side. For someone with little experience with ebikes, this can be a good first point to explore used ebikes with the the support of an experienced team. If you're uncertain about a shop's ebike 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 & tech staff 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 road worthy. If it's a bike the shop sold or serviced regularly, that's a plus; they will be familiar with it's history and care.

Browse the "Specials" page on shop websites to preview bikes that interest you before visiting. 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 demo, year end closeouts and rental ebikes 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.

Take a friend with you to check out the ebike:

Having a friend, neighbor, relative or better yet, someone who's already familiar with ebikes along for the shopping can help you avoid a rash decision and adds to the fun side of exploring something new. Their feedback and sheer presence can help keep a balance while you ask your questions and test ride.

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Do 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 or quickly conks out on a hill or you hear grinding sounds from inside the motor there's some serious issues here. It could be an aged battery or worn motor gears or shot controller; any of these would be a deal breaker for a first time ebike owner. For the techie types with a lot of experience and knowledge, they may feel more confident approaching a repair on their own, given the right price on the bike. You shouldn't encounter an ebike like that at a shop but if you do, walk away!

Do your Homework!

Don't just buy on looks & specs alone. This is true whether you're buying from a shop or an individual. Do research on the bike you're considering prior to actually seeing it if possible. This can save you from wasting time or money on an ebike that's not the right one for you. Internet explorations provide valuable information about the original new bike price and specs but are just a starting point for learning about a particular ebike. Sites like ElectricBikeReview.com and the EBR Forum, provide access to professional reviews and videos along with a community of ebike owners & enthusiasts that may give some insight about the ebike that interests you. With that said; don't over analyze! Sometimes there are so many choices it can seem overwhelming and you just keep digging for information and never buying. Remember, there's going to be more than one right ebike for your needs; you just need to get out their and explore and test ride and find the one that clicks for you. The research and education is important but the "hands on" experience is more important. It's a whole lot more fun to be out there riding than just plopped in front of a computer.

Ask questions and listen:

Whether you're talking with the ebike's owner or a shop, it's important that you learn something of the bike's history.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Where did they purchase it? from a shop or online?
  • 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)
  • How often was the ebike ridden and in what conditions? Hilly, flat, wet weather, larger rider, etc. all impact the wear and tear on the bike & electric components.
Let the owner ramble on about the ebike while you inspect it; you can learn a lot about the history from idle chit chat.

Remember this is a Bike too!

At it's core, every electric bike is still a Bike, 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 ebike condition.
  • Is the ebike 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 wear and condition of the bike components.
  • Is the bike chain rusty or gummed up with grit & dirt? 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 and take that into consideration for a final price.
  • Do you see rust on other nuts & bolts on the bike? Again, an indicator of age and possible weather exposure or less than optimal storage conditions.
  • Are the exposed areas of the brake & shifter cables nice & shiny or covered with a whitish film from oxidation? That's a sign of age and possibly lack of care; however, if the brake & shift levers work smoothly, there may not be a serious build up of junk inside the cable housing and a good tune-up can fix that. Also, a new set of cables is a simple, inexpensive repair, especially if you're a diy type.
  • Is the tire pressure correct? Do you see a lot of wear on the tread or cracks along the sidewalls? Older tires with a lot of worn tread 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 ebike.
  • 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 deraillers & 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. If the latter is the case, ask if the owner will accompany you to a bike shop for a diagnostic. Don't expect the owner to pay for this, you're the one who wants the extra info.
Don't be afaid to negotiate on a used ebike's 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 ebike. Either one may be the right decision; only you will know that. Remember, there are a lot of wonderful used ebikes to explore, so if this seller's price is not reasonable, walk away.

people-with-electric-bikes.jpg


Final Notes:

Used electric bikes & e-scooters pop up in Pawn Shops, too; however, these are a much more risky choice. You can't trust that the ebike has been charged correctly while stored there and some may be missing chargers, consoles or other parts. Many pawn shop items sit in a secure back room for several months before being released onto the sales floor. This is one time where you must insist on having the serial number off the bike so you can check police lists for stolen items. Pawn shops are supposed to do that before accepting an item; however, sometimes this doesn't happen and you don't want to be stuck with a hot bike, possibly losing the bike and your money. The same thing holds true with an internet based sale: if the price is too good to be true, be wary.

Last point:

Don't despair if the used ebike you bought didn't quite work out the way you wanted it to. There's a number reasons for that and much has to do with your learning curve if you've never owned an ebike before. Enjoy the adventure - your experiences with this bike will have taught you a lot and hopefully you had a lot of good times, too. The universe is full of great new and used ebikes so use this experience to your benefit for your next electric bike and make sure this one finds a good home.
 
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ebikemom

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks, Ann! One question you listed is:
  • 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)
May I ask: What is the right answer to that question? As a buyer, what would you want to hear?

Thank you!
 

Ann M.

Well-Known Member
Great question @ebikemom! I'd like to hear that the battery had been attended to once every month or two unless it's one of the special type batteries with a deep sleep mode like BionX or a few other brands. Again, do you really believe the seller? A lot of that comes from the whole picture of the ebike's condition and whether it powers up readily. Some owners may have set up a timer and charging protocol which would be more likely to keep a lithium battery stable; however, at some point age sets in (as it does with us all ;)) so again, you really have to look at all of the info on the bike.

Caveat here: some batteries can better withstand neglect than others and that's a whole article in itself.
 

jhoblo

Member
Great question @ebikemom! I'd like to hear that the battery had been attended to once every month or two unless it's one of the special type batteries with a deep sleep mode like BionX or a few other brands. Again, do you really believe the seller? A lot of that comes from the whole picture of the ebike's condition and whether it powers up readily. Some owners may have set up a timer and charging protocol which would be more likely to keep a lithium battery stable; however, at some point age sets in (as it does with us all ;)) so again, you really have to look at all of the info on the bike.

Caveat here: some batteries can better withstand neglect than others and that's a whole article in itself.
A little off-topic here, but since you mention Bionx batteries (which still need to be charged every three months, as I may mis-understand), how can I judge who can be trusted to rebuild a Bionx battery when that needs to be done? A quick internet search only brings up a company in Las Vegas, NV that was mentioned in one of Court’s older videos by a SoCal shop owner. At that point, is a battery rebuild even a good idea, especially for a system that no longer is supported?
 

Ann M.

Well-Known Member
@jhoblo, what I'm going to do is create a new thread to address the BionX issue since this is important to discuss.
 

msw4chl

New Member
@Ann M. et al on this forum:

Summary: Do any of you see a problem with holding a Battery Chargefest where ebike and Light Electric Vehicle owners bring their troublesome battery packs for evaluation and testing using certified testers? We started this as several BionX owners have dead batteries and we have managed to restore two of these battery packs to 2/3 capacity so far.

moved to more appropriate forum here:
https://electricbikereview.com/foru...ttery-chargefest-restore-old-batteries.24690/
 
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ebikemom

Administrator
Staff member
On another thread, a member posted about having a battery fail due to water damage after buying a used ebike with 350 miles on it, and how the company wouldn't replace the battery because the warranty wasn't transferrable (and even though it turned out that the water leakage problem was a known issue related to that bike model). AND, when the buyer then decided to purchase a new battery, they couldn't do so because of low stock (the company is saving the few batteries they have in stock for warranty claims), requiring them to wait a few weeks to get a battery. What a frustrating experience to have!

Here's what I learned from that user's experience:
  • When buying a used ebike, it is a great idea to get the original receipt. Ebikes are a major purchase, so it is likely for owners to have kept those records. Getting the receipt also would keep the buyer safe from buying a stolen bike.
  • Save your own receipts. I also save scans or photos of receipts from important purchases, and kept digital copies of the receipts for our four ebikes as well as screenshots of the registration pages from when I registered the bikes online. Having your original receipt will help in the future when you sell your bike to an individual or bike shop.
  • Before buying a used bike, check the warranty to see if it includes support for non-original owners. If the seller doesn't have the warranty, contact the company.
  • If it is evident that the used bike will need parts, contact the company to determine parts availability before you buy the bike.
I plan to ride my ebike for many years. And, it's built like a tank so when I go on to bike #2, I think there will still be something left to sell. I'm going to hang onto that receipt, even though there won't be a valid warranty--at the very least, it shows that I am the legitimate owner with the right to sell the bike.
 
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Ron from BC

Member
So to carry on with the battery issue, if a 48v battery was only charged about 20 times in a 3 year period, bike seldom used, is that battery toast? Is there a way to test it?

Thanks
 

ebikemom

Administrator
Staff member
@Ravi Kempaiah or @indianajo would be great folks to reply to your question.

My very limited understanding is that a battery that has just sat and rarely been used, especially if it was stored with a full charge, will not have the potential you might be hoping for.

My suggestion for a test would be to take a couple of nice, long test rides, to see if the battery has the range that you are hoping for. This kind of test requires no specialized equipment. Seeing how the battery actually works under the sorts of conditions you plan for your cycling would be a great test. If the seller won't let you do that, then that may, in itself, be pretty informative.

I hope others will chime in here to be helpful. :)
 

JRA

Well-Known Member
I recently decommissioned my oldest, 6 yrs., battery. It saw infrequent use the first 4 years but was kept at the proper temp and charge. When it was put into service a few years ago it showed full 54.4v and performed well.

I have to admit that the last two years it has seen primarily full charge/discharge cycles against proper procedure but hey, that’s how I roll. Basically it still worked but was only a 10ah battery and when that dropped to less I replaced it.

Regardless it will live on as the battery for my son’s wheelchair to upgrade from 36v.

But Ron has raised an interesting point regarding long term/no/low use battery storage from a manufacturer’s warranty and replacement standpoint. With battery designs non standardized and evolving at a rapid pace when a bikes battery dies years from now what condition will it be in?
 

Randroid

Member
How confusing. We are FORTUNATE to have so many E-BIKES to choose from ? I disagree. I've only been researching E-BIKES for a month or two, and frankly I'm overwhelmed. I don't know who to believe In this age of what author George Orwell called "Universal Deceit". I do believe the majority of E-BIKES are Chinese clones, and once shipped by a seller are forgotten. I'm I'm the process of getting a refund from a 3rd party seller who has refused to answer my questions. I must take part of the responsibility because I bought it on impulse ($270 less than usual) and if it looks to be true it probably is. Having hundreds of bikes to choose from just adds to the confusion because you don't know who or what to believe.
 

Mike's E-Bikes

Well-Known Member
How confusing. We are FORTUNATE to have so many E-BIKES to choose from ? I disagree. I've only been researching E-BIKES for a month or two, and frankly I'm overwhelmed. I don't know who to believe In this age of what author George Orwell called "Universal Deceit". I do believe the majority of E-BIKES are Chinese clones, and once shipped by a seller are forgotten. I'm I'm the process of getting a refund from a 3rd party seller who has refused to answer my questions. I must take part of the responsibility because I bought it on impulse ($270 less than usual) and if it looks to be true it probably is. Having hundreds of bikes to choose from just adds to the confusion because you don't know who or what to believe.
You make an excellent point. There are too many to choose from, and the decision is made more difficult by so many Chinese firms promoting their bikes to people for them to 'white label' (i.e. put their own logo on it), and claim its their e-bike brand.

Here are the challenges with buying a used ebike, and challenge for any shop taking one in:
1) You really dont know the usage on the battery, or how it was taken care of. That battery is the most expensive component on the ebike, and the single most important. Its next to impossible to assess how long its been sitting, or if it sat without a charge for some time. If the battery does not work, its often very hard to find the right replacement, and the risk of doing so is not worth it to any ebike shop. You can't just slap any battery in it, even if you know the right voltage and amp hours. I have taken many calls from people who tried this, and cannot figure out why the one they bought on line new that supposedly had the same specs, did not work. It can be complicated by all sorts of parameters, including how the controller is designed on the ebike, that is separate from the battery.
2) There are hundreds of different controllers, and similarly all kinds of different connections on the controllers. There is not a one stop shop for controllers, nor any easy way to identify and source the exact same one. Nobody has a 'catalogue' of ebike controllers with part #'s. The industry is nowhere close to getting there either. Many ebike OEM's change things controllers or displays every year, so its not an item that is likely to be readily stocked or available. There are no STANDARDS in this business on any of the electronics. Again, a trouble-shooting and replacement nightmare for even the best of ebike service techs. If you don't get the right controller with the right connections, you could be totally screwed, and then have to replace every component connected to it, including brake cut outs, lights, thumb throttle, display. IF its a major brand, like a Trek or Giant, its only likely going to be easy if you are a Trek or Giant shop to get electronic components.
3) The bike itself is really the easy part, in terms of estimating component condition or repairs, but the primary part, the e-assist and that entire system makes the entire endeavor a VERY risky proposition to any ebike shop. And then moreso for a not adequately educated consumer. Information on the internet for the important details is very hard to come by. There is very little aftermarket support here in the US for used ebike components outside of a handful of brands.
4) Ask yourself a really honest question - why exactly do you feel you want to buy a USED ebike ? If something is out of your 'budget' then look at ebikes that are in your budget as new ones cover all sorts of price ranges. Or save up to when you can afford what you want, or use one of the many finance plans offered by most ebike shops, if you dont have the immediate cash. Some will give you 2 year interest free financing. Unless its a demo ebike or one that was returned to a dealer with low miles on it, who carries that brand, my recommendation would be to save yourself the headache, and find a good sale price somewhere on a new one. Also, so many improvements are occurring year to year, that even a 2 year old ebike, that had a much higher price, is likely to have been exceeded in performance or design geometry, or better electronics by the current year models. Not only are new brands coming out often, but many brands are continually launching a lot of new models, at many different price points. A used ebike is just not a wise way to 'save' money, or get into the budget you want, as it takes considerable homework, and probably a lot more education than even buying new.
5) Lastly, its very tough for a dealer to get his money back out of any used ebike, especially if its not in near perfect working condition, and not a brand he carries. Lots of minefields with this topic, and too numerous to list them all here. There are very good reasons a number of brands depreciate more quickly and deeply than cars. In fact, you dont see many new cars selling at 50% off discounts on year old or two models, that are brand new. You do see that and much steeper with new ebikes depending upon the brand. When the day comes, when you see an "Advanced EBike Parts" Store or a "EBIKE-ZONE" store or a "PEPBOYS Ebike Parts" store in your neighborhood, then maybe that is the time when it makes sense to consider used.
 
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Should I be concerned if I am getting a 2020 Vado 4.0 for 2650 (retail 3550) but I lose the warranty. The bike is a dealer demo bike with less than 100 miles on it. Or is that a heck of a deal that I should take the risk on getting without a warranty.
 

Mike's E-Bikes

Well-Known Member
Should I be concerned if I am getting a 2020 Vado 4.0 for 2650 (retail 3550) but I lose the warranty. The bike is a dealer demo bike with less than 100 miles on it. Or is that a heck of a deal that I should take the risk on getting without a warranty.
All the issues that keep occurring on Specialized ebikes would make me nervous on not getting a warranty. It's not an inexpensive brand to service either.
 

Ebiker01

Well-Known Member
Should I be concerned if I am getting a 2020 Vado 4.0 for 2650 (retail 3550) but I lose the warranty. The bike is a dealer demo bike with less than 100 miles on it. Or is that a heck of a deal that I should take the risk on getting without a warranty.

You didn’t read read the threads with the Unspecialized cracked frames ?
I would value my time greatly even with them replacing the whole ebike. Trek , Bh, are safer choices.
 

FlatSix911

Well-Known Member
All the issues that keep occurring on Specialized ebikes would make me nervous on not getting a warranty. It's not an inexpensive brand to service either.
You didn’t read read the threads with the Unspecialized cracked frames ?
I would value my time greatly even with them replacing the whole ebike. Trek , Bh, are safer choices.
I agree... buyer beware especially if not available with a warranty.