Ready to (Re)Cycle

Feb 16th, 2021

Buying a used bike can be a scary proposition, but clearly the Adventure Cycling community isn’t put off — we asked readers of our Bike Bits newsletter a few questions about buying used, and more than 700 responded … in just two days! Some of that collective (anonymous) wisdom was captured for the March issue’s Cyclists Travel Guide (in mailboxes starting this week), but we couldn’t cram it all in the print edition of the magazine. So here’s a rundown of what you told us about your experiences and hard-won advice for buying a new-to-you ride.

Daniel Mrgan

Know what you’re doing (or bring someone who does)

A theme that popped up again and again was not being afraid to buy used even if you don’t know much about bikes — but to absolutely, positively bring a friend along who does. 

“Take someone with you who is knowledgeable about bikes and can help you decide if it’s a fair deal,” wrote one respondent, echoing the sentiments of many others. 

For others, tried-and-true wisdom carried the day: “The same old saw: if it seems too good, it most likely is.”

A theme of common sense and realistic expectations was clear — used bikes are just that, and expecting to avoid out-of-the-gate fixes is folly. But the risks were far outweighed by rewards judging by more than 92 percent of respondents saying they’d purchased a used bike before. 

Daniel Mrgan 

What to buy?

No surprise here, but road touring bikes topped the list of categories our readers would consider buying used. Of course there’s probably familiarity at play, but touring bikes’ reputation for bombproof simplicity and durable frame and component spec must play a part.

Respondents’ comfort level buying used dropped in relation to a bike category’s (real or perceived) complexity. Performance Road bikes and eBikes are undesirable choices for a secondhand ride, while mountain bikes split the audience, with about 15 percent saying they’re the least-likely used target and 25 percent saying knobbies were their most-likely used purchase. The survey creators might be at fault for the split as “mountain bikes” was also the broadest category presented.

“Got such a great deal on Craigslist on a vintage Bianchi singlespeed MTB, I am now afraid to leave the bike parked at the train station (the original purpose of the purchase),” wrote one.

“As for adult bikes, I’ve had good luck buying mountain bikes from resorts — they use them for one season and then sell them at half price. They show some wear, but it’s worth the discount,” responded another.

On the higher-zoot side, one respondent called out their best experiences buying and selling were bikes of the carbon fiber variety: “Buying — best was recently buying Trek 2018 Stash 9.8, super deal … Selling — best, I gave away a full-suspension Santa Cruz Blur to the Bike Church.”

Daniel Mrgan

Diamonds in the rough

No conversation about used bike buying is complete without a few lucky buyers’ tales of proverbial “barn finds,” sought-after models that the original owners had squirreled away and are now selling for pennies on the dollar. Two envy-inducing samples from the survey were:

“I always watch for used Rivendells and Bridgestones. Just in case. One day, in the coldest part of winter, having just had foot surgery, I was perusing Craigslist with the search term ‘vintage steel.’ Up pops a bike for sale, a ‘Romulus.’ Nowhere in the listing does it say ‘Rivendell.’ But this IS a Rivendell. I couldn’t believe it, and it looked to be my size. I had my partner drive me to a Starbucks parking lot, and the guy came with the bike. Sure enough, a beautiful stock Rivendell Romulus. He knew it was a nice bike but obviously didn’t know that the brand is so sought after. Anyway, I purchased the bike and spent my recovery stripping it down to the frame, having the seized stem bored out of it by professionals, working on a lot of rusty spots, and then rebuilding it. It was a great project, and now I have a Rivendell!”

“Got an incredible deal on a Co-Motion, including a bunch of accessories the guy had bought and never used. Such a good deal, I called Co-Motion first to make sure it wasn’t stolen. Alas, about six years later the bike was stolen from my garage, but a lot of good riding before that!”

Of course, new or used, the point is to ride the darn thing, and stories abounded of cyclists who hopped on their new-to-them rigs and happily pedaled away.

“Bought a Surly LHT and rode it across America twice without a single mechanical issue.”

Sounds like a good deal to us.

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