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The Green Cheapskate's Guide to Buying Used Bikes
Things to Watch Out for When Buying Used Bikes

Fall in New York provides the perfect temperature for biking through the city, across bridges and to your favorite neighborhood resto. Autumn also offers the perfect time of year to purchase a bicycle. If you're looking for a brand-new two-wheeled ride, most bike shops often discount their inventory to make room for new year models.

And, with many-a avid bike riders upgrading their wheels, cheapskates can find real deals on used bikes at thrift stores to boot. We're talking bikes for $25-$50 a pop that might've cost between $250-$500 at original retail cost.  Of course many of them are vintage bikes from the 1970’s and 80’s, the likes of which you can’t buy today at any price. One major plus next to their modest priced satisfaction and green appeal is their typically ultra stylish too.

Here are some of the most common mechanical problems to look for if you’re thinking about buying a used bike:

Flat/worn out tires and inner tubes. Dry rot is common in tires/tubes that have been sitting un-inflated for a period of time, so they often need to be replaced, rather than just inflated and/or patched. The good news is, new tires and tubes are usually pretty cheap and easy to install.

  • Bent wheels/rims. This is easy to evaluate before buying a used bike. Just spin the wheels, and if they wobble significantly when you spin them or if they’re so bent that they won’t spin at all without hitting the frame, then you have a problem. Diagnosing how serious the problem is – and how costly it will be to repair – is more difficult. It could just be a few broken or loose spokes, and a bike mechanic can fix it with minimal labor and parts. But it could mean you need a whole new wheel, which can get expensive and hard to find for some older bikes. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s probably best to stay away from used bikes that have wheels that are seriously out of balance.
  • Check the frame carefully. Look for any signs that the frame (including the front forks) is bent, cracked, broken, or has been in an accident (patches for flaking paint can be a sign that it’s seen some collision action). Don’t buy a bike with a bent frame or any clear signs of frame damage; it probably can’t be repaired and will lead to further problems down the road (assuming it even gets you down the road).

Other than the three items discussed above, most used bikes are desperately in need of proper lubrication (think Tin Man in Wizard of Oz) and some adjustments to the gears, cables, and brakes, but that’s not typically complicated or costly, and even a novice can do those things himself. Obviously if there are parts missing, that’s another story.

Also, consider buying the simplest used bike that will meet your needs. Having 15 or 20 gears or “speeds” really isn’t necessary for most cyclists. It’s just more stuff that can break and cause problems. A 10-speed is still fine for most, and for around town, an old fashioned 3-speed or single speed is probably fine for most casual riders.

If you’re looking to have a used bike repaired or totally reconditioned, avoid big, fancy bicycle shops that sell expensive new bikes and gear—they’ll want to sell you new, rather repair your old clunker. Look for small, mom and pop type bike shops that special more in repairs rather than sales.