Guide for the Used Bike Buyer

By Alexandra Schaefers

beKMMOFRCorvallis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, but I know there are more of you out there who have yet to experience the joy of pedaling yourself around with your own leg power. If a lack of knowledge is keeping you from a new pair of wheels, take heart; it’s much simpler than you might imagine.

Ben Roberts of Corvallis Bicycle Collective says the first thing to look for is a bike that is appealing to you. “As silly as it sounds,” he says, “That’s the way we operate in life. If you don’t love it when you buy it, you’re not going to use it.”

Of course there are some general guidelines to consider based on the kind of riding you want to do. Roberts feels that cruiser bikes are the most comfortable and the safest for beginners. Their upright handlebars allow for a natural sitting position and make it easier to see where you are going; you can also check traffic behind you without accidentally turning the whole bike along with your head. They are, however, heavy and slow. Because they lack extra gears, you might have to hop off and walk them up bigger hills. If you just want to tootle around town in no big hurry, though, a cruiser bike would be the fun and comfortable option.

On the other extreme is the classic road bike, a fast, light bike with drop handlebars and skinny tires. If you want to do longer rides on the open road or just go as fast as possible this is your best bet. The forward-leaning position takes some getting used to and can be hard to accommodate comfortably, but it does give you more power and better aerodynamics.

In between are a plethora of mountain bikes, hybrids, road bikes with mountain bike-style handlebars, recumbent, and even tricycles. Roberts says that mountain bikes are the best choice for most people’s needs since they are a good balance between the comfort and safety of cruiser bikes and the speed and lightness of road bikes if you put the right tires on them. He explains that the wide, knobby tires on mountain bikes, perfect for off-road riding, are heavy and create a lot of rolling resistance on the streets. Skinnier tires that are ribbed or have a less aggressive tread pattern make a mountain bike easier to pedal and a perfect commuter bike.

It’s also important that the bike be comfortable to ride and fit you well. Roberts admits that bike fitting is very individual, but there are a few basic rules to get started with.  When sitting on your bike your legs should have just a slight bend at the knee when you reach the bottom of your pedal stroke, and your elbows should also have a slight bend when you are riding to provide shock absorption. If the bike you are considering has a frame with a straight top tube, make sure you have an inch or two of leeway above the frame when you are out of the saddle with your feet on the ground. There’s no need to hurt yourself every time you dismount.

If you are going to spring for a new bike, it’s important to know that bike shop bikes really are better quality than department store bikes. Roberts says that bike shops carry bikes with higher quality parts made from stronger metals that perform better and last longer. While higher quality parts do cost more, racing bikes are built for speed and not durability. Paying $2,500 for a racing bike is not an investment in longevity. An entry-level competitive bike will run around $1,300 to $1,400, while an entry-level road bike will be closer to $1,000 and more durable. If you are just looking for a good commuting bike, you should be able to find something for $400 to $500. If that’s still a little steep, look for a used bike. You should be able to find something for under $200.

The best way to buy a used bike is to bring a friend along who is knowledgeable about bikes. If you are on your own, Roberts recommends searching for any candidate on BikePedia.com. If the brand and model of the bike you are considering is listed, then it’s at least decent quality and an easily serviceable bike. If you can’t find it on BikePedia, it may not be a good buy. He also suggests looking for an indicator of the specific line of the brand. As an example, Shimano has an entry-level line of bikes called Acero, and the names Shimano Acero will appear on some of the bike’s parts. Although Acero is a lower quality line of Shimano bikes, it is still far better than a Shimano bike made for a department store. Those bikes will have the Shimano name with no other line or series name, or it might say “Shimano equipped.” Avoid these bikes; a used department store bike isn’t worth much.

Brian Correll, a Trek factory mechanic, has some additional advice for selecting a used bike. To make sure the bike is solid, hold the frame steady and pull on the wheels and handlebars. Also look for cracks at the joints where frames are most likely to break. Inspect the cables and chain for rust; their condition is a good indication of how the bike has been treated. Ask the seller how they used the bike to estimate how much wear it has sustained. Correll warns that some people will post an old bike for the same price they paid for it. If you search for the specific bike online and find out what it sells for new, you can make sure you pay a fair price. He also recommends meeting the seller at a bike shop, and says most mechanics are happy to look over a bike for no charge.

Corvallis Bicycle Collective is a volunteer shop space where community people can work on their own bikes and buy used parts; they have a few used bikes for sale. Learn more at www.corvallisbikes.org.

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