Used roadbike? Help!
July 18, 2007 11:16 PM   Subscribe

How do I find/buy/examine a used roadbike? I don't want to win the Tour De France, I just want to cycle around the lake near our house 2-3 times a week (which I can access crossing just one major street which has a stoplight). Approx. 12 miles or so...

I've done the tour around the lake before when I was in better health on a crappy $200 "trail bike" several times. Unlike this recent question, I'm just looking for a hobby-cycle.

What's the equivalent of the, say, '98 Honda Accord for roadcycling? Something sturdy but inconspicuous. And how would I find it? What should I look for in a potential buy? Can I take a potential buy to a local mart (I know where they are) for an inspection?
posted by Ufez Jones to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add, the area that I'd like to bike around is extremely bike-friendly and well-populated with cyclists. That said, I'm on a budget, and therefore looking for good used bikes.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:20 PM on July 18, 2007

i don't have a what, but for a where, why not craigslist?
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:16 AM on July 19, 2007

First thing I would do inspect the frame closely. Pay attention to the stress points, meaning the welds. One little crack mean forget that bike. Look at the entire frame; if any part of the frame is bent out of shape or broken, don't buy it. Frames are not really fixable; some people will fix them, but it's best to have a straight frame. This is the one deal killer.

Pretty much everything else is not a deal killer, but they will give you room to negotiate the price. The nice thing about a bike is that things are easily replaced or adjusted. Next thing is to turn it upside down and spin the wheels. They should have very very little side to side motion - none is best - while the wheels are spinning. Make sure the wheel hub isn't loose in the center. It is important to note that not all wheel hubs are rebuildable, so a shaky one may possibly mean it's time for a whole new wheel. And check the wheel spokes - are any of them loose? Inspect the tires as well; if they are worn or cracked you'll need new ones.

With someone to help, and with the bike still upside down, turn the pedals, and while you are doing so, work the shifters. The gears should change smoothly. If not, they are likely in need of an adjustment. It could mean time for a new derailleur or shifter, but that is rare. Look at the chain while you're doing this. Is it clean, or is it looking rusty and pitted? Do any of the links stick when they turn? Look at the sprockets. Any teeth chipped? If so, they need replacement.

At low speed, try the brakes. They should let you be confident in their stopping ability. If they aren't, they may need adjustment, new cables, or new brake pads. None of which is too expensive.
Turn the handlebars back and forth. They should feel smooth. If there is play in it, the headset needs to be adjusted, rebuilt, or replaced.

Bike shops will be willing to inspect a potential purchase, although they'll charge a few bucks for it. Any bike you're willing to pay more than a few bucks for should be checked out by the mechanic. If you find anything questionable on your first inspection, the tech can tell you if it's an easy adjustment or how much it will be to fix it if it needs more work.
posted by azpenguin at 12:54 AM on July 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Avoid used bikes unless you know bikes and bike maintenance reasonably well. As tempting it is to buy cheap when you want to try out a new thing, it's too easy for you to get burned when you don't have the experience to know what's acceptable behavior and what isn't, what are good components or bad.

(This is similarly true when you buy a used car, used computer, or used house: If you don't know how to inspect it and estimate potential and pending costs for it, you hire somebody who does. If the purchase isn't major enough to justify the effort, don't do it.)

The exception to this rule is if the used bike is at a bike shop that comes well-recommended by experienced cyclists. (There are used bike shops that buy up random bikes, wash them down, patch them up, and sell them off in borderline working condition. Avoid those; they're usually churning junk. If you can't tell by looking, don't buy used.)

If you want to look for bargains, some bike shops will have older unsold models at discount. They're effectively the same as new, usually identical in features to current models, particularly at the lower end.

Distinctions between modern bikes (at a given price and style of bike) have much more to do with appearance and fit than with what you get for the price. Competition in the industry is so fierce that the major brands are all working within tight margins, and specifications tend to be very close. One brand will usually have a price advantage over another for a given set of specs, but not by much.

So the quality of the road/trail hybrid from Brand X will be about as good as the road/trail hybrid from Brand Y. That's good for you, because the difference between a good bike and a bad bike, all else being equal, is the fit. And the only way to know what fits is to try them out. Visit a couple bike shops to try different brands. Try different types of bikes, and ask the clerks for recommendations. Cruisers are limiting when you want to ride more aggressively. Racing bikes are uncomfortable when you're not in shape and can be hard to control at low speeds. Mountain bikes can feel unwieldy. Hybrid bikes can combine the benefits of mountain and road bikes, or their disadvantages.

If this sounds like a lot of information, that's another reason to buy at a bike shop. They'll remember this stuff for you.

And finally, buy at a bike shop for the post-purchase support. The $200 you spend on a bike on craigslist becomes a $500 bike after a repairman replaces the headset, cables and wheels. The $450 you spend at the bike shop gets you a brand-new bike that does what you want, is tuned to fit you, and comes with (depending on the shop) anywhere from a year to a lifetime of tune ups and ride support. And if, after a year, the bike's not for you, sell it off on craigslist and get a nicer one.
posted by ardgedee at 4:02 AM on July 19, 2007

...and if you're determined to buy used, check your local community college or adult education center for bike maintenance classes. Working hands-on is the best way to learn, but doing it under the guidance of an expert is probably the cheapest way to learn.
posted by ardgedee at 4:06 AM on July 19, 2007

ardgedee is right: if you're not an accomplished bike mechanic, buying a used bike is going to be a money pit. i buy used bikes all the time at garage sales, thrift stores and whatnot--but i have never bought a bike that was truly ready to ride although people have said they were. if you're not prepared to take on the maintenance, then go to a good bike shop that sells used bikes.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:58 AM on July 19, 2007

azpenguin has it right.

The frame is very important. Any cracks or rust and you should walk away.

The frame should also fit comfortably. Check two things for fit:
1) When you sit on the seat, with a pedal in the 6 o'clock position, your should be able to put your heel on the pedal with your leg straight.
2) Again, on the seat when you hold the handlebars, you shouldn't feel any stress in your shoulders or lower back. You should be able to take your hands off of the handlebars and feel comfortable in that position, without moving your torso. To say it another way, there should be little or no weight on your hands when in your normal riding position.

An overhaul at a bike shop may run $75-$100 for a complete rebuild (repacking bearings, brakes, shifters). Keep this in mind when you negotiate price. Most bike shops will have already done this for you, but private sales are another question.
posted by bonehead at 7:19 AM on July 19, 2007

Go to the Performance Bicycle shop in Dallas (unless you don't live there anymore), and look at their selection of bikes.

I'm about to get a Schwinn hybrid (more upright position while riding) for 230 with their summer sale. I don't want to spend a lot of money since I'm not sure that I'll be able to follow through, but for reasons the other posters have offered, I prefer to buy a new entry-level bike instead of a used bike. Also, Performance will give you a discount to be used in the store following your bike purchase with which you can buy your accessories.

I do not work for Performance Bikes - I just like the deals the have going on now :)
posted by at 8:02 AM on July 19, 2007

Buy used..

This is a learning experience. Look for a ~$100 road bike on craigslist, checking the things azpenguin talks about (well, see below for more). It probably won't last too long, but you will get to know the things you like, and the things you don't, and you can decide how much money cycling is worth to you. Just remember why you own it, learning, and don't put substantial money into it (unless you've learned enough to know it is worthwhile).

After you've done that, you can go buy a new bike if you feel like it, or get into the mechanics more seriously and keep buying used. If you don't put effort into learning, you are just going to be exploited - check out NortonDC's experience, it appears his highly regarded local shops wouldn't even answer direct questions about the type of components used.

Now, if you can afford to drop more than $500 at the local shop, and you have absolutely no interest in learning anything technical at all, then a shop is probably right for you.
But, this question probably wouldn't have been asked the way it was..

Things to check:
  • Frame - I think frame problems are pretty unlikely, but.. If you find one, it is serious.
  • Wheel truing - spin the wheels, there shouldn't be any wobble in the tire. If you look really close at where the breaks meet the rim, the tiniest little variation is okay, less than 1/8".
  • Wheel bearings - push the wheel side to side hard. It should be completely rigid. After spinning a wheel, it should bounce back in the opposite direction a tiny little bit (this will depend a little on where the heavy side of the wheel is - often caused by the valve stem, or a reflector).
  • Spoke tension - press on the spokes, the tension should be pretty even everywhere (tension on the gear side of the rear wheel will be higher, but still even all the way around on that side). Small differences are no big deal, but it will give you a clue about the quality.
  • Other bearings - like the wheel bearings, if you apply force in 'the wrong direction' a good bearing will not move at all - it will be completely rigid. A tiny little bit of play won't kill you though. Spin the peddles/cranks. Feel for vibration or roughness, and listen for grinding, these are signs of warn bearings.
  • Cables and adjustment - gears should change smoothly, breaks should spring back easily after being applied, there should be no rubbing. Bend the cable housing around a little, when it gets old it gets very stiff.
  • Chain - put an inch based ruler or tape along the chain. Line up a mark with a rivet. Move along 12" and see how far past the inch mark the nearest rivet is. Sheldon Brown says 1/8" passed the mark, and the gears will be shot.
I wouldn't worry too much about forgetting a couple of those. But on the other hand, except for the chain measuring, it really comes down to "make sure nothing moves that shouldn't, and all the controls work properly." The chain measuring is a pretty good check on the sellers claims.. If they say it is a new chain, the rivets and inch marks better line up perfectly :P
posted by Chuckles at 8:14 PM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

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