Thinking of buying a used bike on Craigslist, Kijiji, eBay, LesPAC, or any other Online Market Place? Here’s a guide to help you find a good quality, bargain-priced used bike. This guide will show you what research you should do, what to watch out for, and which brands can be trusted when you set out to buy a used bike. This post also includes a video that shows you step-by-step how to check over a bike you are thinking of buying.
Buying a used bike is one of the cheapest ways in the world to save money and have fun. For between $100 and $250 you can find a decent used bike that should not require much fixing; and for $250 to $500 you could find a really great used bike that would cost you well upwards of $1,000 new.
However, buying used bikes on Craigslist, eBay, or any other online source is most certainly a case of Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware! There are bargains to be had, without a doubt. Lots of people have great bikes that they just don’t use, which you may be able to buy at a bargain price. But there are also potentially serious pitfalls in buying used bikes.
Possible Extra Costs to Consider when You Buy a Used Bike
Bear in mind that the price you pay for a used bike may not be the full price. This is because it is essential to take a used bike to a bike shop and have it checked, after you have bought it. If you don’t get a used bike checked (and probably serviced), you run the risk of a potentially serious accident. So it really is best to pay to have your newly acquired bike properly checked. If it needs to be serviced you will of course have to pay for that, and you may also have to pay to replace a part or two. You may have to get the saddle and handlebar height adjusted, if you don’t know how to do it yourself.
Commuting on Your New Used Bike
If you plan to commute on your new used bike, you may have to add mud flaps, a kickstand, a good set of lights, a bell and a rear-view mirror (such as the Mirrycle).
Another really excellent investment if you plan to commute to work by bike is a set of puncture-resistant tires, such as the completely excellent Schwalbe Marathon tires. For a few extra dollars, you can save yourself many hours of unnecessary frustration and hassle: flat tires can make you late for work, cause you major inconvenience, and just generally ruin your day. And believe me, if you’re going to commute by bike in a big city, your tires are most definitely going to ride over many different things that could give you a sudden puncture.
So in short, you could be looking at anywhere from $30 to a couple of hundred dollars to get your new-but-used bike ready to roll. The best advice is to try and buy a used bike that matches your needs as closely as possible, and that is in really good shape.
Buy a Great Used Commuter Bike!
For example, many people sell perfectly good, fully-fitted commuter bikes online. If commuting by bike is your goal, this can be an excellent bargain. Buying all those bits and pieces adds up to a whole heap of money very quickly.
Research Reviews of the Used Bike on the Internet
Whether you use Craigslist, Kijiji, eBay, LesPAC or any other online market place is purely a matter of personal preference – they are all good places to look. Personally I always use Craiglist for used bikes, and Kijiji for puppies!
Once you find a used bike that sounds interesting, the best advice I can give you is to spend a few minutes on Google, reading everything you can find about the bike, especially reviews.
As an example: let’s assume you have figured out that based on your needs, what you are looking for is a road bike, size 54 cm, price range between $400 and $900. You search the ads, and you come up with an advert that reads “2009 Specialized Sequoia road bike 54 cm – $850.” So you know it’s the right size, the right kind and the right price range; now it is time to start doing a bit more research. To do this, go to Google (or whatever Search engine you prefer) and type in the bike name and the word “Reviews,” as in “Specialized Sequoia 2009 reviews.” This search will bring up tons of good information. Some of it will be contradictory, as people tend to have different opinions, but overall you will definitely see a trend.
What you will learn from this search is that most owners love this bike, and that it is renowned for being a very comfortable, endurance road bike. That means you could comfortably ride it for very long distances. You will also learn that it is a high-quality road bike, and is referred to as an entry-level racing bike. In other words, you could use it to do your very first road race, or to participate in a social biking event such as the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. So if this is your plan, you are on the right track, and this bike is a definite possibility.
But even though you know that this is a good bike, you still don’t know whether $850 is a fair asking price for this particular used bike. That’s why you also need to research new and used bike prices.
First, Verify the Year the Used Bike was Manufactured
Most years, bikes are only made in one specific color. This gives you an excellent way to verify sellers’ claims. For example, I recently saw a 2011 Specialized Dolce road bike advertised for $749 on Craigslist. A pretty good price – eBay showed me that the same year and model bike had recently been sold for $999. But the catch was that the photo showed a dark red bike. If you Google “2011 Specialized Dolce” (and I did), you will find that there is no such thing as a red 2011 Specialized Dolce. That year, all of those bikes were manufactured in white. This shows you that the seller is not to be trusted.
My suspicions were verified when the ad changed a few days later, with the photo replaced by a generic photo, and the year of manufacture deleted from the posting. Price stayed the same, though! But as my Google searching had made me pretty sure it was a 2008, and other people were posting the same year and model for around $550, I was definitely not interested.
Research New Bike Prices Before You Buy a Used Bike
Once you know what kind of used bike you would like to buy, go online or go to a bike shop, and check the prices of new bikes. That way, you will be more informed about whether you are getting a bargain or not. This is necessary because there are people who post used bikes at outrageously high prices. That might be because they are trying to rip people off. However, it might just be ignorance about the price of the new bikes, such as might be the case with someone selling off his kid’s bike after the child grows up and leaves home. Bottom line: it’s up to you to know a thing or two about prices.
For example, I would not pay $350 for a brand-new bike from Sears (actually I might pay almost that much to AVOID riding a Sears bike) – so why would I pay that much for a Sears bike that is close to 40 years old? But I have seen such ridiculous offers actually advertised online …
In our example above, the 2009 Sequoia Specialized, you would need to go to the Specialized website and research new bike prices. There you would encounter a common problem in bike price research – Specialized no longer sells bikes called Sequoia. But don’t despair; all you have to do is look for a similar kind of bike.
A little research will show you that the Specialized Secteur Sport Triple is also an entry-level road/racing bike, admired by users for its comfort and speed, and with similar components to the Sequoia. But you can get a new one for $1,100. Not only that, but the bike at the bottom of this range, the Specialized Secteur Triple, would probably meet your needs just as well, and this one only costs $880 new! This tells you that the asking price on the Sequoia is too high, and you need to keep looking if you want to find a bargain – or you need to see if the seller will accept a more reasonable offer. Show him or her your research, and he or she may just be willing to see reason and accept a more realistic price.
Here’s another example of how knowing new bike prices can help. Say you decide to want to buy a rugged urban commuting bike, made by Trek. A new bike like this could cost you anywhere from $529.99 for a Trek Earl, to $2,649.99 for a Trek Valencia. That’s a wide range of costs, and a wide range of quality. The equivalent used bikes reflect an even wider range of costs. A quick check on Craigslist turned up a used Trek Earl for $275, and two used Trek Valencias for $450. Of those two Valencias, one said it was a 2010, and the other said it was “a few years old.” I would go for the one that was 2010, because the other could be much older, and because if the owner does not know the year, the bike could be stolen, or it could have had multiple owners. Also, if I could afford it I would go for the Valencia rather than the Earl, because the used price represents a greater savings on the new price of the Valencia, in comparison to the Earl. From this you can see that it is worthwhile doing your research on new prices.
One other thing to keep in mind is that bike shops sometimes have models that are from one to three years out of date. For example, they might be selling a 2015 bike in 2016. You can often get an extremely good price on this old stock, possibly even rivaling the price you would pay for the exact same bike in a used condition. Always check this option carefully. You are more likely to be successful if you are an unusual size, such as extra small, or extra large – these bikes might not have sold simply because a tiny person or a giant never showed up to buy them!
Research Used Bike Prices Before You Buy a Used Bike
Apart from new prices, you should also research current used prices. For example, check what other sellers are asking for similar bikes on Craigslist, Kijiji, eBay, LesPAC, and other online market places. Check the closing auction prices on eBay of similar bikes. This will give you a good idea of whether the seller’s asking price is reasonable.
There are also some excellent online cycling forums where you can communicate with more experienced cyclists: ask them if the seller’s asking price is fair, and see if anyone has experience of the particular bike you have in mind. You can get a lot of useful information, for free. In return, you will soon be able to give advice yourself!
Bear in mind that the year of manufacture makes a huge difference. For example, some of the newer Raleighs are very good, but many of the older ones are real clunkers. The rule of thumb for assessing the quality of new Raleighs is much like with all new bikes – you tend to get what you pay for.
How Can You Judge the Value of Older Bikes?
It is much harder to know the value of older bikes. A bike that is only a year old is going to be a lot more expensive than one that is ten years old. However, once a bike is more than about 30 years old it MIGHT qualify as a vintage bike, and then it could be as expensive as current models, and possibly even more expensive.
Of course, you have to do your research and make sure that a bike really is a quality vintage bike. Moreover, you should have a good reason for buying a vintage bike. Generally if you only have one bike and you want to use it for casual recreational use, you should NOT be looking at vintage bikes. These could turn out to be higher maintenance than you want or need.
If you DO want a vintage bike, don’t be fooled just because the advert says “Rare” or “Vintage.” Don’t take the seller’s word for it – check for yourself!
Check the Condition of the Used Bike Before you Buy
Once you’ve done all your research, it’s time to get out there and look at some of the advertised bikes. When you do this, you should check as much as you possibly can. Of course, this will depend a lot on your level of bike knowledge, but do check at least the following:
- Bottom bracket – hold both cranks and try to move them from side to side. This should not be possible (if it moves, it indicates a loose bottom bracket).
- Brakes – do they work? If they don’t, are they rusted solid or do they just have loose/broken cables? The brake cables and the plastic sheath around them should be rust-free and should not be frayed. If they are, they will need to be replaced. Or it might just be that the brake pads need replacing – a very cheap fix.
- Cables – check for rusted, kinked or broken cables.
- Chain – condition – check the condition of the chain, as this will indicate how much use the bike has had. First of all, check if it’s rusty, sagging or filthy. All of these are signs that the bike has had a lot of use or has not been well taken care of.
- Chain – wear and tear – even if the chain is clean and looks OK, it might still be almost worn out. Unfortunately it’s hard (actually pretty much impossible) to check how much wear the chain has had with the naked eye. Which means people can pass off a bike that has had a lot of use as “barely used,” and get away with it. So if you’re serious about getting a good bike deal, you might want to invest in a little tool called a chain wear indicator. It costs less than $11, and allows even technical novices to immediately assess how much wear the chain has had. You simply rest the tool on the chain and see how far down it sinks. If it’s saying the chain has 75% wear and the seller says the bike is “barely used,” you know the seller is lying (because the chain cannot go out all on its own, it has to take the rest of the bike with it!) This can alert you to not trust anything else the seller says.
- Forks – look at them carefully to check they are parallel. Make sure the forks cannot move forwards and backwards in the frame (which would indicate the headset is loose).
- Frame – should not be damaged or bent in any way. Run your hands along it to check for dents or cracks. Look from the side at the areas where the top and down tubes meet the head tube. If you see a dent or a bulge in these areas, the bike has probably been in a crash that has damaged the frame. Do not buy a bike with a damaged frame!
- Pedals – while pedals are not very expensive, significant wear and tear on pedals indicates they have been around the block a few times – as in millions of times.
- Rust – check steel frames carefully for excessive rust, as it’s impossible to get rid of, and it indicates the owner has not loved and cared for the bike. A little surface rust is acceptable, but serious rust can weaken the bike and make it dangerous.
- Seat post – can you move it? Sometimes these have rusted solid, meaning you will not be able to adjust the seat to your optimal height. These can be extremely hard to get unstuck, so if the saddle is at the wrong height and you cannot move it, you should probably pass.
- Spokes – check for loose, damaged, missing or bent spokes, which cause a lot of problems.
- Tires – if the tires are really worn, the bike has seen a lot of use, and a decent set of tires will cost you quite a bit of money. Also, the tires should not be dried or cracked.
- Wheels – first of all, they obviously should not be badly bent. However, some wheel damage is less obvious. So you need to check if the wheels are true (i.e., not wobbly). Pick up each end of the bike and spin the wheel, looking out for a wobble. If you keep your eye on a fixed point, such as a brake pad, you will be able to see if parts of the wheel pass by it more closely than others. A slight wobble might indicate the rim has to be replaced. If there is a significant wobble the wheel is useless, and the bike might have had a pretty serious accident, which might have damaged something else as well.
Video showing how to check a used bike
Here is a video that takes you through the process of checking the entire bike:
If in Doubt, Take a Knowledgeable Friend with You when You go to Buy a Used Bike
As you can see, there are quite a lot of things to check. So if there is a bike you are serious about looking at, and you don’t know anything at all about bikes, try to take along a friend who does.
If you don’t have a knowledgeable friend, your best bet is to get a bike shop to assess the condition of the bike for you. To achieve this, it’s helpful to have a good relationship with a bike shop. If you don’t because this is your first bike, you could always let them know that you will be bringing all your future business to them once you find a bike. A good bike shop will usually oblige, even if it’s just to give you a quick “Run away!” or “Looks pretty good.”
Ride Before you Buy a Used Bike
It’s absolutely essential to get on the bike and ride it before you buy a used bike. This applies even if you are buying a new bike. Fit and comfort will dictate whether you will actually use the bike, after all. And it’s really hard to predict. You may know your size, but a particular brand in that size may not suit your body. So check all of the following points:
- Do you feel too stretched out?
- Can you see where you are going without hurting your neck?
- Do your back or shoulders hurt?
- Could you comfortably stay in this position for an hour or more?
- Can your hands comfortably reach and control the brakes and gears? (This can be a problem for those with smaller hands, which is why many bike manufacturers now make women-specific bikes.)
Also, if you ride a used bike up and down the street a few times, you will quickly discover whether the gears and brakes are working correctly. (Check that at least one of the brakes is working before you even start riding!) Watch out for gears that stick or jump. These problems may be easily fixed, but they may also be expensive fixes if the damage is great.
So before you buy a usedbike, adjust the seat height to suit you, put on a helmet, check the brakes are working, and take it for a spin down the nearest road. Be sure to change the gears all the way up and down while you are riding!
Red Flags to Watch out For when Buying a Used Bike
There are some excellent bargains to be found online, for those who have patience and some knowledge. However, some of the advertised bikes are rusting relics that someone wants to offload. Others are so hot they’re sizzling (that is, just stolen).
While stolen bikes may be cheap, buying them is supporting the people who bring great unhappiness to their victims when they steal their often-beloved bikes. Besides, in most jurisdictions if you are found with a stolen bike you are in the wrong, whether you knew it was stolen or not. You will have to give the bike to the police, you will almost certainly not be able to get your money back from the thief you bought it from, and you may face legal prosecution. So you really don’t want to go there!
Note that there is now a web site called Perfecto set up by a cyclist who wants to make it easier to be sure you are not buying a stolen bike. Users are requested to register via Strava (although you do not HAVE to be a Strava user to use the site). Other steps are also taken to reduce the chances of the bike being stolen. It’s a good idea, so consider checking it out in your search for a great used bike. It appears to be mainly in the USA, but occasionally there are bikes in other countries.
Fortunately, there are many red flags to help you figure out which used bikes should be avoided. Here are some of the most important ones.
- The same bikes keep getting reposted over and over and over again. If they were such a bargain, wouldn’t someone buy them?
- And when those unwanted bikes are reposted every single day, it’s also a serious red flag. If someone is this desperate, this could be his or her main form of income, and therefore the person might be a bike thief. BUT do bear in mind that some people take pride in fixing and selling old bikes, and some even do it as a social service. So some of these adverts could be from genuine people who have lovingly restored a good bike. If that’s the case, you couldn’t buy from a better person, generally speaking. If in doubt, talk to the seller on the phone. It won’t take you long to get a pretty good sense of who you are dealing with. For example, I once called someone who wanted to meet me at a transit station, immediately, and who would knock $50 off the $200 price tag if I could get there in 30 minutes. The man sounded edgy and slightly manic. I got a very strong impression I was talking to a bike thief who was feeding a drug habit. So even though the bike was a great bargain, I passed it up.
- Always ask a couple of questions about the history of the bike, such as “How old is it?” and “Did you buy it new?” and “How much have you used it?” If someone becomes cagy or defensive when asked questions about the history of the bike, run away. If however the seller is happy to talk openly about the history of the bike, you are probably talking to an ethical seller. I know that one of my best buys was from a lovely woman who candidly shared that she had almost never ridden her bike because of back surgery, and showed me where the bike had been stored in her garage for three years. Before I left, she rummaged around and found several brand new accessories still in their boxes, including an expensive front light! I had a great feeling about that bike, and it turned out to be a great buy. It was a 2009 Trek 7.5 FX – three years old, yet essentially brand new. It became Maggie’s favorite bike.
- Watch our for lots of superlatives, such as these, from an actual ad:
“incredible bike – I love this bike so much, it is a total head turner and people are always asking me where they can find one! … black beauty … work of art … sexy bike!”
The worst thing about this ad was that it did not mention the brand, model, size or age of the bike – although it included a photo of what looked like a department store bike with low-end parts! Basically, strings of superlatives may be used when there are no solid facts that would sell the bike.
- If the seller posts a generic photo of the bike, it could be a red flag. It could mean he or she does not want to post a photo of the real bike, because the real bike has recently been stolen from someone who might be scanning the online ads, watching out for it. This is not always true – some people just haven’t mastered digital photography. But do take it as a warning sign.
Phrases to Watch out For when Buying a Used Bike, and What they REALLY Mean
- “I don’t really know anything about bikes.” Watch out for this; because it might mean: “I know the bike is wrecked/bent/broken beyond hope, so I want to pretend ignorance so that you won’t phone back and yell at me when it falls apart.” Of course, it might also just mean they don’t know anything about bikes – which is all right if you do.
- “My roommate left it behind.” This could mean all kinds of things, such as “I know the bike is wrecked/bent/broken beyond hope, so I want to pretend ignorance so that you don’t phone back and yell at me when it falls apart,” or “It’s stolen”.
- “The photo doesn’t show a saddle but I do have one/you can buy one really cheap.” Most likely this means “It’s stolen”. (Because some people remove their saddles when they park their bikes, to discourage bike thieves, but sadly it doesn’t always work.)
- “The photo doesn’t show a front wheel but I do have one/you can buy one really cheap.” – “It’s stolen”. (Because some people take off their front wheels when they park their bikes, to discourage bike thieves, but again, this doesn’t always work.)
- “Must sell this bike today!” – “It’s stolen”.
- If someone is selling a bike and says “Barely used!” or “Ridden only 4 times!” – well, there may be a very good reason why it’s barely been used. And the reason may be that it’s a horrible bike and a horrible ride. And if the current owner hates it that much, why would you want to pay money to ALSO have a bike that you don’t want ride? (BUT if they have a really good reason for not riding it – such as back surgery – that’s a whole different story. And let’s not forget that many people buy bikes with good intentions of taking up cycling and getting fit, but then don’t follow through. Of course, that will not happen to you!)
- “Rare!” “Vintage!” “Seldom found!” – Usually these phrases mean there is nothing good to say about the bike, so the seller hopes you will believe that it is a rare gem that you should buy before anyone else notices it … and usually, the bike is not at all rare, as you will quickly discover if you do a bit more searching on the Internet.
Stupid and Sneaky Sellers to Watch out For!
Then there are the stupid and/or sneaky posters. Watch out for these ones, because it really is better to buy a used bike from someone who knows what they are talking about, and who is honest and decent. Therefore, generally try to avoid the following:
- People who post and repost and repost – apparently believing that if they keep advertising the same worthless bike at the same outrageous price for long enough, they will eventually find someone even more stupid than them, who will buy it. Some of them even put the price up when it doesn’t sell for months! (However, there are sometimes valid reasons for re-posting – see “Making Lemonade” below.)
- Sellers who think that “old” is spelled “vintage” – When will these sellers realize that we know that a worthless bike that is really old is still worthless? Just because it is old, it does not miraculously morph into a “vintage” bike that is worth hundreds of dollars. In almost every advert I have ever seen that had the word “vintage,” the word merely meant “old.” Of course, writing off all bikes labeled “vintage” would be a problem if you were actually looking for a real vintage bike (and there are sometimes some of these for sale online). Again, it’s a case of doing your research to verify the seller’s claim.
- People who over price their used bikes – There are a lot of these, but provided you have done your research and know what new bikes cost, you will probably spot these right away. Another clue is that over-priced bikes will usually be posted over and over and over again. Bear in mind that when you buy a used bike, you don’t get a warranty, or any after-sales service or care. Not to mention that the used bike may have been thrashed for years. So a used bike better be a lot cheaper than the equivalent new bike, to make it worthwhile! Do whatever you can to reassure yourself that it is a good price, including checking new prices, and doing a Google search for similar products online.
- People who say “the bike comes with Shimano gears” – OK, this does not mean that there is anything actually wrong with the bike. It’s just a pointless thing to say. Given that Shimano has pretty much cornered the entire market on bike gears, this is like saying “the bike has two wheels!” And given that Shimano gears range from very poor quality to superlative quality, this tells the potential buyer precisely nothing about the bike.
- Advertisers who don’t bother to mention the size of the bike – How can you, the potential buyer, possibly know if the bike is any use to you, if you don’t know its size? You might be 5 foot tall, and the bike being advertised might fit someone who is 6 foot tall! Bikes are not one-size-fits-all, and human beings come in all shapes and sizes. Again, this type of omission says more about the seller than the bike. However, it is certainly my pet peeve when it comes to stupid bike ads. And then there are the ads that say “man-sized” bike or “woman-sized” bike – um … now would that be my 5-foot-tall Uncle Pete, or my 6-foot-tall Aunt Emma? The problem with these ads is that they force potential buyers to waste time trying to find out the size. And once you do make contact, you may find that the seller does not even know the size of the bike! This means the whole thing is just a waste of time, as I would not waste time and money driving across town to check out a bike if I did not even know its size.
- Sellers who don’t bother to mention the make or brand – This just makes your life harder, as you cannot evaluate the bike if you just know that “it’s a bike.” In this case I just assume it’s not a good brand, and ignore the ad.
- Sellers who don’t post a photograph, or post a generic photo – It takes time and trouble to go and see a bike, so you should be able to see a photo first. Generic photos scare me as they might indicate a bike is stolen. Sometimes they are used so that buyer cannot asses the age of the bike – see “Verify the Year of Manufacture” in the chapter about Checking the Condition of the Bike.
- Sellers who post almost no information about the used bike – Again, as it takes time and trouble to go and see a bike, you need a lot of information up front. As an example, someone recently advertised a Colnago on Craigslist. The text in the advert comprised just one word: “colnago”! Now admittedly, this one word speaks volumes in the cycling world, as Colnago is a great brand. Nonetheless, I found it very disrespectful to potential buyers to ask $750 for a bike, without having enough respect for prospective buyers to give any details about the bike. The seller hasn’t given the buyer enough details to check whether this is a reasonable price. It might be a good buy, but the would-be seller should have taken the trouble to tell us about it. How many words would you type for $750? More than one, I’m guessing … and I suspect you’d find the energy to hit the Shift key and achieve a capital letter. I know I would! I couldn’t help thinking that if the seller did not have enough energy to type, he was unlikely to have had energy to maintain this bike. This is one of those ads that tempts me to send a short email saying “Dude, are you kidding me?” – but unfortunately I’m far too nice to do that … One thing’s for sure though: I’m not giving $750 to someone who shows that little respect for prospective buyers.
- Sellers who post nothing but generic cut-and-paste information – It’s fine to cut and paste the bike’s specications and put them in an ad, as long as the seller also puts in some personal information, such as what condition the bike is in, how much it’s been used, why it’s being sold, etc. But just giving you the specs that the seller has obviously copied from another web site does not tell you anything you could not find on the internet yourself.
Good Quality Bikes made in the Last Couple of Decades
When it comes to bikes, it is usually safe to judge quality based on brand and new price. There are certain bike manufacturers who pretty much only make good quality bikes. When new, these are sold almost exclusively in bike shops – you will not find them in department stores such as Target, Canadian Tire, Sears or Walmart.
Each brand encompasses a range, ranging from lowest-level of quality frame and components, to highest-level of quality frame and components. The price range reflects the quality range. For example, an entry-level Devinci commuter bike would cost you $459 (the Devinci Milano), while the top-of-the-range Devinci Sydney would set you back more than three times as much – $1,599. Of course if you wanted a carbon-fiber frame Devinci commuter, the Devinci Helsinki would set you back a cool $2,299. Ouch. Fortunately, the average cyclist really does not need a carbon-fiber bike.
So there is a wide range of quality and price. However, what you can be sure of is that any bike made by one of these manufacturers was of reasonably good quality when it was manufactured and assembled. Providing it has been reasonably well cared for and has not been used for purposes it was not designed for – such as a single-track mountain bike that has been used for downhill jumping – then it should still be a good quality bike.
Good quality bikes give a better, more efficient ride. Also, you are much safer on a good quality bike – it is not unheard of for department store bikes to literally fall apart on their first outing. They are, after all, assembled by people who may know nothing at all about bikes. Imagine a bike falling apart while you are on it – you could really do yourself a lot of damage.
So these are the better quality bike brands that are usually worth buying (in alphabetical order, not in order of preference). This is NOT an exhaustive list – there are just so many good bikes that it is hard to include all good bikes:
- Brompton (for folding bikes)
- Cannondale (especially their road bikes)
- Dahon (for folding bikes)
- Devinci (especially their hybrids)
- Diamond Back
- Eddie Merckx
- Gary Fisher
- Kona (especially their mountain bikes)
- Le Mond (now part of Trek)
- Norco (especially their mountain bikes)
- Raleigh (not all of them, be discerning)
- Rocky Mountain
- Santa Cruz
- Schwinn (not all of them, be discerning – quality has been on the decline since these started being sold through big box stores)
- Specialized (especially their absolutely beautiful road bikes and incredibly versatile tricross bikes)
Consider Buying a New Bike Online
Sometimes a new bike is a great deal too! Amazon offers several decent bikes for sale online at great prices. For example, recently I was happy to see that Raleigh has started selling on Amazon. Because bikes are eligible for prime shipping, you will get your bike quickly. Amazon also offers some really good options for assembly. For example, some bikes that cost over $500 can be shipped for free to a local Performance Bike or Velofix location, which will assemble the bike for you for free. You can also choose to pay $77 to have a bike shipped to your home, where a mechanic from Amazon’s network of shops and vendors will assemble it for you. You can of course assemble your new bike yourself, if you have the skills. And finally, if the specific retailer offers no assembly options, you can always pay your local bike store a small fee to assemble it for you. Check with them about this before you order, to make sure that are willing to assemble the specific bike that you are planning to order. If they are, this is also a good indication that it is a decent quality bike. Many bike stores refuse to work on “department store” bikes.
Here are some bikes from Amazon that might work for you. All of these get good reviews, and have great prices.
How to Buy a Good Quality Used Vintage Bike
Buying older or genuine vintage bikes is much more tricky. Again it comes down to brand, but it’s more difficult because things change over time. However, if you want to find a good vintage bike, here’s advice from Retro Grouch:
“Here are the bikes to sell your soul for:
- Masi (the genuine older ones)
- Olmo (ditto)
- De Rosa
To this list, I would also add Bridgestone. Unfortunately, I rarely see any of these for sale online.
Used Bikes to Strenuously Avoid
Retro Grouch also warns about several bikes, and regrettably, these are all too common. He describes the bikes that must be strenuously avoided as follows:
“… these (bikes) are not good enough for a homeless bottle picker, even when new:
- Western Flyer
- Free Spirit
Remember these names, and be wary of them! I have heard from some people that some of these bikes can be OK, so if the price is very low, the bike feels good to you, and this is the only bike you can afford right now, go for it. Any bike is better than no bike, and will provide a starting point to get into cycling. Just this morning I saw a woman riding a Supercycle to work – the bike was groaning and squeaking, but I admired the woman for getting it to move at all. Personally, I agree with Retro Grouch that these are bikes to be strenuously avoided, if you can afford better. If you can’t, inspect them very carefully to try and make sure they don’t fall apart while you’re riding them.
Also, bear in mind that for the price many advertisers are asking for a used bike with one of the names above, you might be able to get a perfectly good bottom-of-the-range quality bike from your local bike shop. And most of those bikes come with lifetime guarantees on their frames.
Bargain Used Bikes CAN be Found Online!
There are some ethical people around who fix bikes and then sell them online. If you can find one of them, you may score an excellent bargain – and also keep a bike out of the landfill! Also, in affluent societies many people have valuable bikes that they simply don’t use, and these often end up for sale at bargain prices.
For example, I own two great entry-level mountain bikes, a Norco and a Scott. I bought the Norco new, and the Scott on Craigslist.
The Norco is an excellent bike, and cost me around a thousand dollars, with tax. The Scott is an excellent bike, and cost around $500 ($450 to the seller, and $50 to the bike shop to get it perfect). The bikes have near identical components. The Norco rides slightly better than the Scott, but it is not $500 better, and it is definitely not twice as good. For the purposes I use mountain bikes, both bikes are perfectly adequate. Of course, the Scott did not come with a warranty, but I have never needed a warranty on either of them as they are both in perfect condition.
In short, it is possible to meet one’s cycling needs for around half the cost by buying a used bike – and sometimes even for less. And after all, even a new bike becomes used after you’ve used it for a day …
In fact, I have to say that I got my best bike deal ever on Craigslist (and that one great deal is probably why I am still hopelessly addicted). It’s this 1990 Bridgestone MB-2, loving and cleverly crafted in the days when basic mountain bikes were made amazingly well.
Bridgestone bikes were made in Japan, under the direction of master bike designer Grant Petersen, and mine is a pure joy to ride. In fact it is more fun to ride than any of my other bikes, but I bought it on Craigslist for a couple of hundred dollars. It had not been very well cared for, but it also had not been ridden much or trashed, so it needed minimal work to be back in fine running form. Love this bike! Of course, I only knew that this was a great buy because I had done a lot of research about Bridgestone bikes – all on the Internet.
So there are great bikes to be found online, whether on Craigslist, eBay, Kijiji or other sites, but you have to ride a lot of frogs first …
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