Used Bike 101: What to look for when you’re in the pre-owned bicycle market

With bicycle manufacturers sold out of used bikes until later this year, it doesn't hurt to look into the pre-owned market.

So you were ready to buy a brand new bike for the summer and every store you go to is sold out until the year 2100.

Don’t fear – used bikes are here.

“As long as the bike is servicable, meaning it’s not structurally messed up,” says Roger Lomshek, owner of Tailwind Cyclists. “There’s not a broken weld or a rusted out frame, you can generally repair them to get them running again as long as you’re willing to invest the money.”

“You can really easily end up spending $200-$300 to refurnish an old bike, which might be worth it anyway if you can’t find a new one, but you want to go into that with your eyes open.”

So with that in mind, and since new bikes aren’t an option, first step is figuring out what kind of riding you’re gonna do. If you’re just riding around with the family and going for short rides.

“Just a general purpose hybrid or a comfort bike or something of that nature is great.”

If you’re hitting the trails or anywhere your wheels might get roughed around, you’ll definitely want a mountain bike.

“…and if they wanna turn into a lunatic and do 50 miles rides, then they need to have a full blown road bike.”

Right before you begin your search, you also wanna know what size bike you’re looking for. Remember – the size is based on the measurement of the frame, not the wheel size.

“Before you buy a bike, you need to figure out what size frame you need, and a lot of online ads don’t say that because people advertising that don’t know. So you have a to bring a ruler, you have to measure the bike, and you can figure out what size frame you need based on your height. You can find out pretty quickly just by looking online what size you need based on your height – it’s a fairly basic scale.”

Once you know the type of bike and frame size you’re looking for, now it’s time to look – both in-person and online – Facebook marketplace, eBay, even Craiglist. Also, when it comes to other parts of the bike like the seat or handlebars.

“That gets into the style of bike you’re gonna get. That stuff can also be changed pretty easily within a range. You can always put a different seat on a bike if you don’t like it, you can put higher or lower handlebars on it too. You get into spending some money, so it becomes a balancing act of ‘Do you want to buy a bike that’s not everything you want and modify it with more money or will it do the job as it is?'”

Once you spot a bike you like, try seeing its value on Bicycle Blue Book – it’s a real thing, don’t worry. Just check to make sure you’re not being bamboozled. Plus, if you’re replacing parts, you wanna know what you’re looking at and what you’ll need.

“It’s really easy to underestimate how much a bike will need to get it running. If a bike needs new tires, that’s $100. If a bike needs a new chain, that’s $50. If a bike needs new cables, that’s $100. So it’s really easy to start throwing $100 bills at something and find out that the “great bargain” is not even close to a great bargain, you just bought a new bike.”

He’s not wrong, but if you’re smart about, a used bike can feel like-new. So once you pick one and do your research, go see it in-person.

“If you’re looking a used bike, you want to do a basic test ride. Evaluate it. Do the tires hold air, does the chain or does it have frozen links, do the gear shifters work through all of their gears, what problems are there. That kind of gives you an idea about whether there are serious red flags or not. If the gears don’t work and the tires don’t hold air and the chain is rusty, then it may not be worth it.”

But if you’re gonna ride it for a long time, it might be worth it. and Roger says most bike shops are happy to look over a used bike to make sure it’s the one you’re looking for.

“It’s not hurting me to help them out a little bit. So I’m happy to give it a quick two minute inspection and let them know what the bike will need.”