I'm going to an auction to look for cheap gems. Each bike is shown only very briefly and the bidding starts immediately. No hands-on inspection is allowed.

What should I pay attention to when trying to decide how much / if to bid? Are there some immediate signs that I should look for that either hint to the high or low quality of a bicycle?

I don't know brands very well and the brands here in Finland might be different from other countries. However, brands I should look for or avoid are welcome, but any other more general external indicators for quality would be better.

I know this is similar to What should I look for when buying a used bicycle? but I think the situation is different enough to merit a separate question.

  • 4
    With no inspection allowed I wouldn't be buying.
    – andy256
    Apr 2, 2014 at 8:42
  • 1
    what about if the bike you buy turns out to be stolen? Do you have any guarantees regarding this? In many jurisdictions, you'd end up losing both the money you paid, and the bike.
    – PeteH
    Apr 2, 2014 at 9:39
  • 1
    @PeteH Actually it's the police who are organizing the auction :). It's their annual "found bikes that nobody reclaimed" auction. Apr 2, 2014 at 10:01

4 Answers 4


Since we live in the advent of the smartphone, you can likely look at the brand and model of a bike and quickly google it. Two sites to look at are Bicycle Blue Book and Bikepedia. This probably helps you avoid having to look at the individual component specs since most of the time if a part is replaced, it is replaced with something at least as good as the original equipment (you may not be able to see what components are on the bike to begin with).

In general its a pretty hard problem (which you really need experience), and in an auction situation, the best thing to do would be to bring along a friend who knows a lot about bikes to tell you what to bid, and then buy them a beer afterwards.


Just like with any other area of expertise, there is no substitute for years of experience. If you need a simple heuristic though, brand recognition in combination with a general knowledge of groupsets and their quality can go a long way.

At the very least, know how to tell forged components from stamped. Learn Shimano's and Suntour's groupset lineups. Groupsets are generally a good indication for the overall quality of the bike.

Know about the different qualities of steel (hi10 < 4130 chromoly < branded {reynolds, columbus}). Learn about the qualities of good steel lugs (some framesets are worth money that won't have any parts on them).

Back all this up with a smartphone and you should be good.

  • Yes, quick gruppo ID is a must. Componentry is the best indicator if you can't inspect the frame. Also, if there are old bikes on auction, you might be able to get some silly bargains - look out for fine lugwork or box lining. Jul 18, 2014 at 16:03

From what you have said be prepared to end up with a dud. It's not easy for a novice to tell the difference in quality, and impossible to tell the condition of the drive train without close inspection, even for an expert.

Obviously look at the condition. Tires with mold tags still on them are a likely sign of a low mileage bike. But a quality bike with few miles will be a better bet than a low quality bike in new/shiny condition.

Learn the local brands, especially avoid the cheap chain store brands. Learn the rear derailleur models for the type of bike you are interested in. If MTB, learn front shock models from Fox and Rock Shocks. These are the best place to look for a guide to quality. You will most likely see Shimano and SRAM gear. Anything from SRAM is OK, anything from Shimano with a name on it is likely to be OK. No name or model - don't touch it.

  • Some info about shocks.
    – Vorac
    Apr 2, 2014 at 9:37
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    Marzocchi also has some decent shocks and stuff. As for other drive trains, old suntour stuff is still fine, and campy is always good as well.
    – Batman
    Apr 2, 2014 at 13:12
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    Be willing to buy something, discover that it's junk, and have to go along again and have another go. That's just the way these things work.
    – Nuі
    Apr 2, 2014 at 21:48

A aluminium frame is lighter then a steel frame. Old bikes and retro bikes often still have steel though. You can recognize an aluminium frame by its thicker tubes and welds. You will most probably not find carbon and titanium frames at such an auction.

Determine what kind of gears you want.

In case of an internal gear hub: Look which models and brands of gears would suite you. For example: for a gearhub you might want to have 7 of 8 gears from Shimano, or perhaps 3 gears of any brand would be sufficient.

In case of a derailleur: The most common brand is Shimano. I have listed them for you from bad to good: Altus, Acera, Alivio, Deore, Deore LX, Deore SLX, Deore XT, Deore XTS. For mountainbiking you'll need at least Deore but rather even better. This shifts quicker and lasts longer in case of mountainbiking. For commuting you want Deore and up, or Alivio if you wan't a real bargain. These are sufficient for commuting since less wear occurs and quick shifting is less important then with mountianbiking.

Altus and Acera are less reliable and don't shift as comfortable, so avoid them. Also, when a cheap Altus or Acera derailleur is assembled, other parts are often also of less quality.

Other parts such as steer, cranks, saddle post, etc. can be from a well known brand such as Shimano, SRAM, Contec, AVID, Sturmey Archer, and many more. Or, they can be no-names.

I know this is all not very precise, but it can give you a clue about the quality.

(edit: I hope I improved my answer a bit)

  • 2
    I commuted on a hybrid with Altus components for 7 years, and got at least 12000 km out of the drive train without replacing a single part. You don't need to have Deore level components if you are commuting short (less than 10km) distances. Also, when looking at department store bikes, it's important to note that thick tubes doesn't always mean aluminum, as the manufacturers of department store bikes seem to have no problem producing 45 lbs. frames really big steel tubes. An older steel road bike with thin steel tubes will be much better than a new department store bike which is aluminium.
    – Kibbee
    Apr 2, 2014 at 12:36
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    It is incorrect to say an Alu. frame is ligher than steel. I don't think there is enough info in the questions to make dogmatic statements as to what the OP needs, although I do suspect you have overspecified component levels.
    – mattnz
    Apr 2, 2014 at 22:49

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