How to buy a bike?
So you want to buy a bike and don’t want to spend a lot of money? You’re not alone. Buying a used bike is one of the best ways to score a deal but it’s also a great way to get ripped the heck off. There are tons of bad deals out there and sometimes you’re better off buying new. It’s also overwhelming so I’m here to teach you how to buy a used bike.
You know why you always see cyclists stop and take pictures of their bikes? It’s because they love them….well, actually, they’re in love with them. Choosing a bicycle is like choosing a mate – make sure you select one that doesn’t piss you off otherwise it just ain’t gonna work. Selecting the right bike can be the difference between falling in love with the sport or having something to trip over every day in the garage.
I know it sounds Cheesy (I just wanted an excuse to link to that blog) but your bike is your mistress, your muse. If you buy one that doesn’t inspire you to ride then chances are you’re not going to use it. Buy the right bike and you’ll find yourself longing to ride it, picturing yourself climbing up some big ole mountains and being angry at the fact that you have to go to work instead.
You want that kinda love for your bike. So look at more than just the price tag. There are lots of bikes out there and they’re great investments, so if you don’t want a purple bike then don’t buy it just because it’s the only one available on Craigslist!
First, consider new
I know, that bike store down the road from your house sells stuff that’s way out of your price range but not every new bike is a millionty dollars. If for no other reason to have a starting point, you should consider new bikes first. The benefits of shopping for new bikes are:
They’re not used
Nobody’s sweaty butt has been grinding all over them seats and the components are brand spankin’ new! No new seats, grips, tires, chains, tune ups or anything are needed. Plus you’re probably getting a warranty and a professional fitting if you buy from a bike store.
End of year clearances
Just like with buying a car, the outgoing model of a bike immediately drops in value as soon as the new year’s model rolls in. My road bike, a Cannondale Caad 10 2 Force, had an MSRP of $2,790 but I bought it in November after the new models came out for $1,700. I know that’s still a ton of money but that was during my pre-CheapAthlete days. It got grandfathered in.
Corporate discount programs
My employer has a discount program through our gym with Raleigh and Diamondback where we are able to get 40-50% off retail prices for new bikes with free shipping. Look to see if your employer has one or maybe reach out to a friend or your favorite blogger for some assistance. Often you can get a new bike cheaper than what’s out there on the ole Craigslist. Then you have the best of both worlds – new and cheap!
OK you’ve considered new but decided you still want a used bike. Cool. Now how to buy a used bike:
Where to score a used bike
- Garage sale
- Bulletin board at work
- Bike/outdoor store
- Probably my basement
If possible, see the bike in person
I’d be very reluctant to buy a bike if I wasn’t able to inspect to bike. You want to be able to check the functionality of the bike – you don’t need to be a professional to notice if the brakes don’t work or if it’s missing a wheel. Look for wear on the tires, grossness of the grips and take it for a ride while cycling through all the gears and making a few hard stops. Make sure this thing works dang-it. If you notice anything that looks like it needs replaced then get that price reduced. You don’t have to buy that bike if it doesn’t feel right.
You can even try to arrange for the sale to take place at a local bike shop and see if the shop owner can give it a visual inspection for you. Buy a water bottle, patch kit or something to thank them for the assist.
Beware of price anchoring
A lot of people will buy an expensive bike and never ride it. So sad. How many awesome bikes are sitting in basements unused and not bringing joy to someone’s life?
But now the owner wants to find this bike a new home and sell it on Craiglist. That’s great! But far too often when people go to sell their bike they think “I paid a lot of money for this and never rode it. So its prob worth about 90% of what I paid for it”
Like cars, bikes depreciate. And fast. That $3,000 bike from 4 years ago is $1,200 now if you’re lucky.
Now what do you do when you buy a used car? You head over to Kelly Blue Book and check its value, right? Well, you can do that for bikes too – the site isn’t completely inclusive but you can generally get a good idea of the bike’s value.
Google the make, model and component level to see how much it sells for new
I’m still not ready to get into a discussion on components but you need to know what type the bike has to check it’s value.
Let’s take my road bike mentioned above as an example. It’s a Cannondale (make) Caad 10 2 (model) Force (SRAM Force components. Shimano Ultegra equivalent). Bike companies will make the same model and put different components on them which can drastically change the price. So if you just google Cannondale Caad10 (it’s actually a Caad12 now) you may think “holy crap, this dude is gonna sell me a bike for only $1,500 and they’re $5,800 new.” But really that used bike could have 105 components which retails for $1,680 and the one you just googled had Dura Ace. Big price difference.
What type of components do you really need? That’s a discussion for another day but for road bikes Shimano 105 is a great value for the price point – especially from Diamondback or on end of year clearance.
Know its age, mileage and history
If this bike is 10 years old and the seller has ridden the Bejesus outta it with no maintenance then there’s a good chance it could use some new parts. You don’t want to be saddled with buying a new cassette, tires, cables, derailleur – it could end up costing you more in the long run because, you know, bike mechanics have mortgages to pay too. Ask what has been replaced/upgraded over time and approximately how many miles the bike has on it. Again, taking to a bike shop for a visual inspection could help here.
Know your size
Don’t get married to the deal. If you’re fit for a 56cm frame then don’t buy a 50cm no matter how amazing the price is. Maybe I’d buy it and sell it to someone for the correct price (yea, I do that) but I surely ain’t planning on riding it. If you’re a size 10 shoe would you buy an 8 just because it’s on sale? I don’t think so – that’s gonna hurt.
Bike fit is pretty important and having an improper bike fit can cause some serious discomfort. You can get a rough estimate of your size online but I suggest you head over to a bike store and get fitted before going out to buy a bike. Sounds similar to my advice for buying running shoes, huh?
Too often people get obsessed with landing a deal and forget the bigger picture. The goal here shouldn’t be the pursuit of a score but rather the purchase of a life changing machine. When it comes to buying a bike make sure:
- It’s not a piece of junk
- It doesn’t need a lot of work
- You like it
- It fits
- It’s not overpriced