Science - November 17, 2005

Q&A / Guaranteed second-hand goods?

If you want to buy a bicycle, it is not necessary to buy a brand new one. Adverts for second-hand bicycles regularly appear on bulletin boards or in local newspapers. But do you have any guarantee to fall back on when a bicycle turns out to have defects after you have bought it?

Have you come across things here in Holland that puzzle you? Send an e-mail to wispr@cereales.nl and you may find the answer in the Wispr the following week.
According to Dutch law, there is never a guarantee on second-hand products. It is all a matter of trust. However, in practice traders and bicycle shops selling second-hand bicycles often do give some guarantee. This puts the price up. It might be worth considering buying a bicycle without guarantee from a private individual as it is often much cheaper. If you decide to do this you need to know how to minimise the chances of making a bad buy. Most important is to take a critical look at the bicycle before making the deal.

The best way to do this is to take a test ride. Feel whether the pedals turn smoothly and whether the axle is firm. And is the wheel still perfectly round or does it have a ‘wobble’? Listen for strange sounds. They may come from the chain guard, or from the chain alone if it doesn’t have a guard (a bicycle with a chain guard is preferable). Does the chain rattle or run silently?

Besides doing a test ride, take a careful look at the overall condition of the bike. Is there any damage? Does the bike have rusty spots? They may not be serious, but you can use them to get the price down a bit. And look at whether the chain is all rusty or well taken care of by regular oiling. Also make sure that none of spokes in the wheel are loose. And how are the tyres? They should still have a good profile with no strings showing through the rubber.

Last but not least, check the lights both front and back. They both need to be working properly as it really is difficult for car drivers to see bicycles in the dark. The other reason for doing this is that there are regular police checks on lights and fines are heavy.

If you find defects you can discuss getting them fixed before you buy the bicycle. Or negotiate for a better price. If you manage to get the price down, but then have to deal with the defects, ask around for somebody who knows how to fix bikes. And stick around to see how that person repairs your bike, because bicycles do tend to need regular repairs: flat tyres and defective lights are the most common problems.

Laurien Holtjer

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