I am a big believer in buying used bicycles. The last time I bought a new bicycle was in 1991 while working as a mechanic/sales person at a Cannondale shop. I sold the bike to myself. Since then I have been buying used bicycles on ebay, craigslist, and at garage sales.
My current bicycle retailed for $3000 brand new but I bought it for $800 on Ebay. This post will detail everything you need to know to be sure you are getting a good deal when buying used bicycles.
Know your bike size
If you have never been fit for a bike you may want to visit a shop or local pro and get fit. This is the number one reason to buy a bicycle at your local bike shop. Once you know what fits you across a number of bicycles you will understand ‘bicycle fit’. I didn’t pay anyone to tell me what my ‘bike fit’ was. My membership to a number of bicycle clubs and groups put me in proximity to many seasoned riders, coaches, and pros. They took an interest in me as a person and rider and I learned how a bicycle fit my body. Riding a bike that doesn’t fit opens the rider up to injuries and danger. Don’t buy a bike that doesn’t fit.
What to consider when buying used bicycles?
- Buying a used bicycle is one of the greenest, most ecological actions one could take.
- Bicycles are cheap and used bicycles are cheaper.
- Component groups of the 1970’s and early 80’s are less gimmicky and constructed of all metal. They will not break as easy as the ‘cheaper’ components made after 1987.
- Parts that are likely to wear out: cables, tires, tape, tubes, grips etc. have not changed at all. You can walk into any bike shop and purchase the things you need to get that used bicycle on the road.
- It seems that every new bike has the trendiest gadgets and parts. Lower end shocks and full suspension bikes are neither comfortable to ride nor do they last.
Know your seller
It’s pretty easy to figure out if the person you are buying a bike from knows what they are talking about. I’m what I would call a bike head. I love to talk bikes. I stop and look at almost every locked bike that I see when I walk down the street. I know trivial things about bicycles and bicycle manufacturers. I’ll talk about bicycles for hours with a smile on my face. When you are buying used bicycles find out if the seller is a bike head and get him talking about his or her bikes.
If you are making a visit to their house via a craigslist ad look around for bicycle tools, a repair stand, and other bicycles. Ads posted by knowledgable sellers will show the correct frame sizes and even mention where they measured the seat tube to get the size. Take the time to talk bikes with this person. The more they know about bike maintenance and the history of the bicycle the better.
Research the manufacturer’s catalogs
Google the bicycle make and model and find the original build components, frame sizes, price, and recall information. Know what you are buying. This is almost too easy today. Visit http://www.birota.ru/catalogues/index.php to find your bike.
Know your market
When I lived in Boulder, Colorado I ran a small side business where I was buying used bicycles and frames and flipping them on Ebay. Boulder has huge number of cyclists and the used bicycle market swells each winter when people start thinking about upgrading. I bought and sold at least 15 bicycle frames from December to April and had little trouble making a tidy profit with very little work. There are a plethora of really nice used bikes in places like: Boulder CO, Santa Barbara CA, Santa Cruz CA, Denver Co, Oregon and anywhere there is a large cycling community. If you are in one of these areas search craigslist on a daily basis. I have bought frames for $200 and sold them for over $400 on several occasions.
I found a pristine ‘used’ Ibis Hakkaluigi on Craiglist in Denver that I purchased for $550. After a couple rides I found it to be a little too big and I dumped it on Ebay for $1000. I owned the bike for less than 30 days.
My current bicycle, Specialized S-Works M2 FSX retailed for over $3000 when it was introduced in 1994. I got it for $800 in near new condition. It had the original tires on it and a complete XTR 900 group. It makes me smile every time I look at it.
Search for used bicycles often
Get into a pattern where you are searching often enough so you don’t miss a good deal. I have searches saved on eBay and I scan craigslist every other day. Save your search URL’s and reuse them. Make it easy to search and be dedicated to finding the perfect bicycle.
- Don’t over look your local bike shop
- Cycling message boards
- Garage Sales
- Thrift Stores
- Pawn Shops
- Word of mouth
Know your bicycle group sets / grouppos
Bicycle retailers can make a higher profit off a bike with a mixed group set. So maybe the derailleurs, brakes, and brake levers are Shimano 105, but the hubs are Shimano RX100 and the shifters some unknown Shimano model. The bike is advertised as Shimano 105 equipped. Used bicycles can be worse. Do you research via the web and find out what the bicycle came with. Know what are actual upgrades and what might take away from the bikes resale value. Find a full set of Shimano 600 Arabesque and make a killing.
Don’t be afraid of old bicycles
Bicycles that were made in the 70’s are virtually plastic free and easy to maintain. A bicycle that has been maintained correctly should last for decades. I find that a lot of the used bicycles I have bought were largely unridden dust collectors sitting in someones bedroom or garage. There is no reason why a nice 1970’s Motobecane, Peugeot, or Raleigh cannot be your daily driver for the next 30 years.I am constantly on the look out for old road bikes.
Checklist when buying used bicycles
If you have a question about the condition of a used bike, take it to a shop for inspection. Bicycles are simple and reliable, but they must be properly maintained for safe operation. Here’s a checklist of things to consider before purchasing any secondhand bike.
Size up the owner – Take a good look at who you are buying the bike from. If this person has many bikes, a neat bicycle work space, and is knowledgeable about bicycles you have a good chance at buying a used bicycle you can ride that day. If you see a quick release that is not affixed properly assume that this person has no idea what they are talking about and do not know the actual value of the bicycle.
Frameset – A complete inspection of the frame and fork is the starting point when buying a used bicycle. Look for rust and places where paint may have been fractured because of frame flex. Look at the fork crown, head tube, and where the chain stays meet the bottom bracket. Look for distressed paint at every weld.
Component groups – Are the components mixed or do they all match. Were there many upgrades? Search online for a list of original specs.
All bearing points – Bottom bracket, headset, pedals, front and rear hubs should be inspected carefully. Wiggle them back and forth and check for side-to-side play. Misadjusted bearings are a sign of poor maintenance.
Non moving parts – Handlebars, saddle. Many people will add new bar tape or saddles to juice the price of a used bicycle.
Brakes – Don’t be concerned about dried, old brake pads as they can be replaced. Braking should feel positive. Look for cracks and bends on the brake calipers and levers.
Drivetrain – Verify that you can shift through all gears. Sometimes you may need to accuate the derailleur by hand. Don’t be spooked if the gearing needs adjustment.
Wheels – Wheels are the most important part of the bicycle. Inspect the rims carefully and see how true the wheels are.
What should you pay when buying a used bicycle?
Do your homework and find out the cost of the bicycle when it was new. Supply and demand drives this market. Once you have armed yourself with the original purchase price and after inspecting the bicycle you will be ready to make an offer.
Get a set of tools and learn how to fix it yourself
Learning the ins and outs of bicycle maintenance is easier than you think. A good toolset can be available for as little as $50 USD. Check out these toolsets and begin learning how to recycle your own bicycle.