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|Written by Lauren Cheal|
|Friday, 20 July 2012 02:49|
A scorching summer is hitting most of the country, and many people are turning back to two-wheeled travel instead of packing on to hot, sweaty buses or letting their cars idle in traffic. Given those two unsavoury options, is it any wonder that our streets fill up with cyclists in the fairer months? Flying (or strolling, depending on your biking style) through the summer air, a breeze on your face and getting exercise to boot? Count me in.
For many people who are getting into biking for the first time, buying a used bike is a great way to go. You can certainly get a new mountain bike (of poor quality, really) from chain stores like Canadian Tire or Wal-Mart for around $150, but if you want to try road biking (and you should, more on that in a moment), a brand-new setup will probably set you back at least $800 ($1200 or so is probably more average for a new setup, and you can go much, much more expensive if you are so inclined). This prohibitive cost is enough to send a novice cyclist running in another direction-who knows if you will even enjoy biking? If this kind of cost is not appealing to you, you can turn to the wide world of used bikes.
This is where my guide comes in. All of this knowledge is based on my experience buying used bikes over the past few years. I bought a used mountain bike when I moved to a new city, then moved up to a hybrid bike (a loosely-defined combo of road and mountain bike features), and finally went for the road bike about two years ago. I grew tired of people whipping past me on both the mountain bike (I threatened to throw that horrible thing into the Rideau Canal on multiple occasions), and on my hybrids. Now I am one of those bad asses who pedal with ease and zip around everyone. You can be bad ass too.
I am going to talk mostly about road bikes, because I think they are the best investment for anyone using their bike to commute or ride on paved roads. The geometry of a road bike maximizes your exertion into effort, and the components are built for speed. If you are interested in a more leisurely, sight-seeing, flower-smelling, slow pace, a hybrid, or older cruiser-style bike might be perfect for you. If you are going to bike biking on trails or mountains, go for the mountain bike, by all means. If you want to get somewhere quickly, and with less effort, the road bike is for you. When buying a used road bike, there are a few major things to consider.
The frame is the skeleton of your bike, and its size and shape cannot be (easily) changed once you buy it. The frame is only the part pictured here. Everything that attaches to the this part is more easily changed, upgraded or replaced, if you find it isn't suiting your needs. The first thing to look at on the frame of the bike you are considering is its size. There are some online guides to sizing out a bike for you, but the easiest thing to do is just to try a stand-over test. This is just what it sounds like. Stand over the top bar of the bike, with both feet flat on the ground. You want anywhere from 1/2 an inch to 2 inches between the top bar and your nethers. If it doesn't bother you, you can have even less clearance, but for comfort when you are off the bike, 1/2 inch is recommended. If you have more than 3 inches of height between your bits and the top bar, the bike is probably too small for you. If speed is your goal, getting the largest bike you can comfortably ride is ideal. It will allow you to use the full length of your legs to propel you forward, and the bike will be better able to carry and distribute your weight.
Another part of the frame that is important is the reach, or the distance from the seat to the handle bars. Some of this is adjustable using different handle bars and parts that accompany that unit, but if you try the bike and find that you just can't comfortably reach the bars, it might not be for you. After you get the fit you want from the frame, the other thing to check for is its overall condition. Are there large patches of rust on it? Can you see any cracks in the frame? Spots of rust are not a huge concern, but any visible cracks in the frame are a definitely red-flag that the bike hasn't been properly cared for.
The second major thing to look at when buying your used bike are the various components that make up the bike's engine. Here we are talking about the gear wheel, crankshaft, and rear and front derailleurs (the things that allow you to shift gears). A visual inspection of this system is all that is required here. Do they look well maintained? Do the teeth on your gearwheels look really worn down, or do they look sharp and newer. With used road bikes that can be 20 or 30 years old, the components are often the source of a lot of wear, and if they are too worn, they could cause you problems when riding and might need replacing soon after you buy the bike. If you love the frame and other bike features, but aren't happy with how the components look, you can always negotiate with the seller given the fact that those parts will need replacing.
Wheels and Tires
The last major part of the bike to consider are the wheels and tires. Any reputable bike shop will sell bikes that have decent wheels on them, but it is worth inspecting them just to make sure. Are the spokes of the wheel tight, does the while appear to be dead straight (true)? As for the tires, when you are buying a used bike it is important to check out the tires, because they will often have a significant amount of wear on them too. You will want to look at the amount of tread left (there should be at least a few millimetres)...bald tires are just as unsafe for bikes as they are for cars. Also, look at the walls of the tires, if they have significant cracking, ask for a discount based on the fact that you may want to replace those.
Pretty much all other parts of the bike can changed or replaced without too much hassle. Small things like the type of pedal you have, the colour of wrap tape on the handle bars (if they are the drop bar style, sometimes called curly bars), the type of seat, or whether the bike has fenders are all changes that you can make once you buy a good frame. One of the mistakes I made early on in my bike buying career was settling for something that had more of these components that I liked, but didn't quite fit me right. It is definitely worth it to spend a little more customizing your bike with these small additions after you make a good decision on the size of the bike. "Cages" for your bike pedals (which are actaully called "clips", in an effort to confuse all of us, forever), are an example of an easy customization you do after you purchase the bike. For just $15, you can buy these attachments and stick them on the pedals that already came with your bike.
The absolute best way to figure out if the bike is right for you is to get on the thing and ride it around. The wheels should glide, the gears should shift with little effort, and the bike shouldn't make a lot of noise. If you take it for a ride and find that anything doesn't feel quite right, bring the bike back to the shop and ask them if they can make an adjustment to fix it. Keeping in mind that a road bike is going to feel different than a mountain bike or upright style, if the bike just feels too uncomfortable, it isn't for you. Try a whole bunch of different ones, and don't worry about the time you are taking up in the store. If the store is trying to rush you into something, just move onto another option.
Color—Do not settle for a bike that you don't like the look of. If you are going to become a regular rider, you have to love this bike. It needs to be an extension of your awesome personality, and colour is enormously important here.
Weight—Pick the bike up; does it feel heavy? Could you easily hoist it up a flight of stairs if needed? Generally, a lighter bike will cost you more—most of a bike's weight is determined by the type of material used to make the frame, and the lighter materials just cost more to produce. The lightest bike you can find for the best price will generally serve you best in the long run.
Bike Fit—A good used bike store will help you get the best bike for your particular body type and riding preferences, but if they don't offer it freely, ask them to help you set up the seat height (and position, almost all seats can move front to back, which can make a big difference in your comfort), as well as make any adjustments to the handle bars that you might need (depending on the style of bike, the bars can often be moved into a better position for you).
Cost—Expect to pay between $200-300 for a decent used road bike. You can find lower prices, and you can find much higher prices, but this is about the range you will see in most bike shops. Individual sellers can be a good way to go too, but the downside there is that they won't often have more than one bike for you to try out, and you don't have much assurance that the bike has been properly tuned up before purchase. That being said, if you have tried out enough bikes that you know what you are looking for, and you trust the individual seller, that can be a great way to find a perfect bike (and often at a discount). Negotiation on the price is standard procedure in private sales, and in some bike shops too.
Safety—There is a whole article to be written on bike safety, but as a starting point, you MUST have the following items if you are going to ride your bike.
A helmet that fits you properly. This means a tight chin strap (just one finger should be able to get between your chin and the strap). The helmet must cover your forehead. People often make the mistake of wearing their helmet back too far on the head, which will not help you when fall over the handlebars.
Lights. Big lights. The biggest you can find. Do not ride your bike at night without proper lighting (this means front and rear, at the very least). Bikes are already an afterthought to cars, and if you don't make yourself visible at night, it will not end well.
A tuned up bike. Every time you go out to ride, check your tires' air pressure. Low pressure in the tires will greatly increase your chances of incurring a dreaded flat, and also just slow you down. You should also monitor your brakes, and make sure that the pads aren't worn down to nothing. A full tune up at a bike shop will cost you about $50, and is worth every penny. Definitely get one of these at the start of each riding season, and again throughout the season depending on how frequently you use the bike.
This guide is far from comprehensive, but I hope it has provided some basic information about how to get started when looking at used bikes. Remember: fit, frame, components, and tires first, everything else after that. The search for the perfect used bike may take a little while (do not settle for something you don't love), but it will pay off in years of comfortable, safe, happy riding.
Tags: badass, bicycles, controlled slide on your hog, cracking of any kind is bad, culture, dont settle, green commuting, helmets, i probably called some stuff by the wrong name, knowledge is power, lightning fast, mountain bikes are for mountains, not a bike expert, please get lights, pretty things, recycle, safety, summer, theft, true story about the rideau canal, used bikes, you will love your bike
This is actually a really neat article, as most people only consider a bike to be - a bike and not so much in terms of its constituent parts! Your article was helpful in explaining the basics of looking for used bikes.