Editorial

Buying a Used Bike

While Good Weather doesn’t sell many used bikes, we do believe they can be great for certain people.

There are a number of ways to go about buying a used bicycle these days; you can go online and find hundreds of bikes at whim, or visit your local shop to have a professional guide you through the process. With so many available resources, though, finding the perfect bike is rarely a straightforward process. Hosts like Ebay and Craigslist provide cost efficient and sometimes rare items not available through your local shop, but most people aren’t sure what kind of bicycle is right for them. It’s obvious that, in order to feel confident about your purchase, you’ll first need to do a bit of research, but it’s difficult to get the right information or to know where to start looking. After all, the ultimate goal is to stretch your dollar as far as possible to get the highest quality bike, but, if you’re unsure as to what a quality bicycle looks like, that process can be super difficult. This article will provide you with some applicable information and tricks we’ve learned over years of wrenching on, seeking out, and researching bicycles.

GATHERING INFORMATION AND SEARCH TERMS.

One of the best places to start is your local Craigslist sales directory. Look through the first few pages and, if you come across something interesting, make a note of it’s make, model, and any additional information provided by the seller. Once you’ve compiled a manageable list, use it as a reference point for search terms to use on the web. The better ads on CL also include lengthy lists of popular search terms at the bottom so that more people will see their item when seeking out similar models. Here are some terms to look for:

Frame Material: Higher quality steel bicycles tend to have brand names associated with their frame tubing. You can find tubing information on stickers placed at various locations on the bicycle. The major players in high end tube manufacture are Columbus, Reynolds, True Temper, Tangeand others. Carbon fiber and aluminum bikes, on the other hand, are best found by searching for certain retail brands like Enve, Whisky Parts Co., Specialized, Colnago, Zipp, and others.

+Frame Type/Category: We cover the various types of frames later on in the article, but, for now, familiarize yourself with the different frames available online by searching for Tour, Road, Cross, Mountain, Track, and Commuter bicycles.

+Group Sets: Brands like Shimano, SRAM, Truvativ, Campagnolo, and others all have different tiers of quality for their component groups. Generally speaking, the number of speeds/gears in a component group is a good indication of the quality of it, if in case the bike you’re looking for is a multi-speed bike. Modern components, for example, will be between 8-11 speeds, the highest end stuff being 11 speed specific. If instead you’d prefer a single speed or fixed gear bicycle, companies like Phil Wood, White Industries, Suzue, and others might be more your style.

+Country of Origin: Chances are you’ll come across bikes from certain countries that you like more than others. Searching for Italian, English, French, Japanese, American, or Taiwan models should provide ample results. Just like automobiles, bicycles are distributed with an inherent value hierarchy, the most costly often built with technologically innovative components. If you find a used bicycle that, say, was sold in gas stations across Oregon in the mid 80’s, chances are it won’t provide the best functionality or longevity. A bike of the same age, fabricated by a prestigious welder, and outfitted with time specific Dura Ace components, on the other hand, has promise and will continue to hold value well into the future, barring any subsequent damage. Again, your best tool if you’re aiming to get something valuable is to research the bicycle ad nauseam, but we’ll do our best to list the brands we’ve admired and trusted over the years. There are quite a few names to cover here and some are included twice because companies produced frames in multiple countries at a time. This list is by no means anywhere close to exhaustive; more bike builders are popping up all the time and these are just a few to help as search terms down the line:

Japanese design: Bianchi, Bridgestone, Centurion, Fuji, Kuwahara, Lotus, Miyata, Nishiki, Panasonic, Puch, Peugeot, Raleigh, Soma, Schwinn, Shogun, Specialized, Takara, and Univega.

Italian design: De Rosa, Confente, Huffy, Ciocc, Cinelli, Torelli, Casati, Bianchi, Masi, Benotto, Fiorelli, Pinarello, Pogliaghi, Tommasini, Colnago, Rossin, and Olmo.

French design: Peugeot, Rene Herse, Vitus, Zeus, and Follis.

English design: Raleigh, Hetchins, Bob Jackson, Mercian, and Brompton.

American design: Trek, Seven, Feather Cycles, Gunnar, Independent Fab, Soma, Surly, All City, Rivendell, Velo Orange, Schwinn Paramount, Ocean Air Cycles, Davidson, and Rodriguez.

DIFFERENT FRAME CATEGORIES

The first question you should ask yourself is: “What exactly do I want to do with my bike?”

Whether backpacking through the Olympic rain forest or commuting to your office every day, it’s important to match the overall construction and feel of your bike for the task. A dual suspension mountain bike won’t win road races, for example, and a 17 pound race bike is not designed to launch off of boulders. So, what bike do you think best complements your life?

Here are various types of bicycles on the market today with information about their intended uses:

Road Bike: These bikes are designed to optimize speed and efficiency. Often lightweight with thin, high pressure tires and a smaller gear range. Great for distance rides but they tend to make riders feel more stretched out than other more comfort minded designs. Not so great when carrying extra weight, and not the best climber. These bikes are designed to optimize speed and efficiency. Feels more spirited than stable, and often are less utilitarian than touring or mountain bikes due to a lot of reasons. If you want to go fast for a lot of miles, and aren’t bringing much with you, this is your bike.

Tour Bike: Built to carry extra loads over long distances with comfort. Usually outfitted with upright handlebar positioning, wide gear range, extra stout tubing, and fatter tires. Great for carrying loads exceeding 20 lb., but tends to feel sluggish without added baggage. Not the fastest bike in the fleet, so we don’t suggest using a bike like these for fast paced excursions. If you’re taking your time, though, they are comfortable over long distances and sustain stamina unlike other designs. It’s one of the most utilitarian bike types out there, with plenty opportunity for customization. If you want to go on a long unsupported journey, want a sturdy and comfortable bike, get a touring frame.

Cyclocross Bike: These they occupy a place between tour and road bike worlds, and so can vary considerably between brands. Cyclocross is a vigorous sport that covers the gamut of terrain, from thick mud to sand pits, so cross bikes need to be versatile enough to handle just about anything that’s thrown at them. A common recent theme in cross bikes is that they come outfitted with many of the same customizable options as touring bikes, such as rack and fender accessibility, but are made with lighter tubing and more agile dimensions. Make sure to look for extra eyelets and braze-ons when you pick one out; those designed to be more agile, performance models tend to lack secondary rack mounts.

Commuter/Upright Bike: Inspired by cycling culture in places like Holland and Denmark, commuters are designed to maximize stability and comfort but seldom perform exceptionally outside of those qualities. They aren’t the fastest, but they have a wide gear range that helps with climbs, and their flat handlebars provide a wide stance that helps you maintain balance in different terrain.  Entry level commuter bikes are usually inexpensive and functional, but, depending on the frame material and number of speeds, also tend to depreciate in value fairly quickly.

Rigid Mountain Bike: Bikes born in America, the first mountain frames were made by people with a penchant for suicidal quickness down raw terrain, inventing a totally new sport that has since evolved into a global phenomenon. Nowadays these frames come stock with suspension forks, compression rears, and a variety of other shock absorbant features to make mountain terrain more manageable, but, all the same, a lot of fully rigid (standard) mountain frames are still in circulation on the used market. Often built to undergo massive amounts of abuse, using larger diameter steel tubing, these bikes feel stiff and are very, very durable. They are typically made with included mounting options for racks and fenders, making them a preferred starting point for full tour customization on a budget. A few other things to note are their fatter 26” tires, stout wheels, and incredibly stable handling. Perfect for whatever retrofit you might want, and, on their own, a utility oriented category of bike frame that can run the gauntlet.

Suspension Mountain Bike: Now the standard in performance mountain bikes, they are outfitted with strong brakes, wide flat handlebars, and a wide gear range. The preferred choice for off-road rides at high speeds, jumps, and very rough terrain. These bikes are slow on roadways, though, because they are designed to absorb turbulence and their knobby tires are optimized for grip in murky conditions, not designed for low rolling resistance. Great if you want a back woods crawler and adventure bike, or if you expect to be riding on sand, mountain trails, rough gravel, or other inclement weather conditions.  

Track Bike:

Single Speed Bike:

DIFFERENT FRAME MATERIALS

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to ride feel, and there is abundant debate about which metal provides the best experience. Without going too in depth, here is a brief overview of the difference between the dominant frame materials on the market, Aluminum, Steel, Titanium, and Carbon.

Aluminum: Though aluminum frames can feel stiffer than steel or ti, aluminum is actually a softer alloy, so builders use ovalized, extra large tubing in order to create a strong and reliable frame. One perk of aluminum frames is that they don’t oxidize or rust, meaning they withstand a lot of precipitation and stagnant moisture with little to no harm done. Aluminum is also a more cost efficient and lighter material overall, despite the fact that it needs to be reinforced to have the same integrity as other materials. The major drawback to aluminum is apparent when bent or damaged, however: an aluminum frame’s integrity can be jeopardized at frequently stressed points or any damaged area. They tend to depreciate in value much faster than other materials for this reason. When thinking about aluminum, we often bring up the paper-clip analogy: if you bend a paper clip over and over, the bent portion quickly breaks of its own accord because, as the metal is stressed, it becomes harder at the joint until it can no longer sustain the bond and breaks. When time comes to fix or repair an aluminum frame, too, it’s impossible to replace any of the tubing or warp the metal to desired specifications, meaning they don’t boast as much longevity as other types. Though not as versatile or durable as other materials, aluminum bikes are an affordable option for those that live in climates prone to rain, salt, and urban debris.

Steel: The primary material used until the mid 80s, steel has been the preferred frame alloy since the first safety bike was invented. Steel is a malleable, serviceable, and durable material of various compositions, the more expensive being strainless that is higher in chromium. Without going too much into the various different alloys available, know that every brand of steel is it’s own unique composition. The popular 4130 chromoly steel, for example, is not the same grade of steel as say Reynolds 853, which is air hardened and modified to be extra light and stiff. Just know that steel frames cover a much larger range of characteristics than other materials, because specific types of tubes are chosen by builders to give their frame a different behaviors. A common misconception of steel is that it is inherently heavier than other materials. To the point, some steel alloys are lighter than others and have higher stress yields, and, contrary to belief, the lightest bikes in the world still tend to be steel, mainly because it has a high tensile strength and can be butted down to very thin wall sizes. One down side to steel is it’s tendency to rust and oxidize when exposed to water over a long period of time. Steel frames can be repaired fairly easily, though such repairs are costly and it might just be better to acquire a new frame. Despite the need to make sure to check for excessive pitting or rust build up before you buy, steel bikes can last a lifetime, and the best of them will fetch a higher price on the used market than other aluminum or carbon models. 

Titanium:

Carbon:

WHAT’S MY SIZE?

It can be a challenge to find the right fit when the majority of the frames out there are designed to “generic” specifications, made to fit the majority of “normal” people (whatever that means…). Everyone’s body is different; people that are 5’9” will have different leg, torso, and arm measurements between them, with no two people having the exact same dimensions. Bicycle frames and components have been designed to accommodate these subtle differences, but, when searching for a used bike, it’s important to focus on one thing specifically: how comfortable you are riding it.

Before we go any further, it seems necessary to say that, like most complicated subjects, bike size is best understood by surveying the plethora of available opinions on the matter, cross referencing these opinions with your own observations, and then testing those opinions in the field. Nearly every cyclist we’ve ever met uses a variant of the processes described later on in this section, and, short of spending hundreds of dollars for professional, laser guided fitting, these methods have helped countless enthusiasts optimize their experience on their bicycles. Now, lets get started…

Important bike fit terms are standover height, reachand categories of sizes according to frame tubing measurements. The best you can do is assume that one size is approximately more correct than others. People 5’8” tall, for example, are probably good to ride bikes between 54cm-56cm, depending on the configuration and overall geometry of the bike. If you don’t know your size, fear not, because there are tons of reference charts online at any time to help you figure it out. At the end of the day, though, the most important thing you’ll do is ride the bike around the block a few times, then, if everything feels good, choose components later that bring the dimensions of the bicycle closer to your desired fit. 

COST/VALUE

COMPONENT SPECIFICS

MODERN VS VINTAGE

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