Purchasing a Used Touring Bike

January 15, 2011

Quite often, I receive questions about purchasing a touring bike for an upcoming trip. This is a love/hate question for me, because while buying a new bike can be fun and exciting, it can also be very intimidating when you start looking at $900 price tags before you even start adding in racks, panniers, and other touring equipment. This isn't always in an individual's desirable price range, especially when they are just trying to get their feet in the door.

If a new bike starts to seem unrealistic for you, the next step might be to look toward a used bike, but a lot of people seem pretty apprehensive about taking a used bike on an extended tour in terms of reliability. This a completely legitimate worry, especially considering the circumstances it could leave you in if it failed you miles from neither here nor there. To help ease your mind about purchasing a used bike, here are some good things to key in on.

1. Frame and Fork: This is the base of your bike, which everything is built upon; if this fails, it can often be nearly as expensive to replace just a frame and fork as it is to purchase a complete bike. Take a careful look at the frame and fork and be certain there are no dents, cracks or rust buildup, especially in the case of steel bikes. If the frame is dirty, give it a quick wipe down with a rag, which will help you see any major blemishes. It may go without saying, but you also want to make sure the bike fits you well. If possible, give it a spin around the block.

2. Drivetrain: If a cassette, chain, or shift lever needs to be replaced while you're on the road, it is nice if the parts you need are readily available in most bike shops. I'm a big fan of a Shimano 9-speed drivetrain. Nine speed components have really come down in price over the years, and they are plenty durable and easy to find. It is always worth checking with the seller to see how many miles have been put on the current chain and cassette. Anything over a few thousand miles will need to be replaced pretty quickly. If you do need to replace the chain, it's a good idea to replace the cassette with it; to give you an idea on price, a good 9-speed chain and cassette will run in the ballpark of $70.

3. Wheels: As far as the wheels are concerned, make sure there are no cracks in the rims, and that the wheels don't wobble from side to side when you spin them. You may also want to give the spokes a quick check, by plucking them. If any of the spokes feel quite a bit looser or tighter than the surrounding spokes, it can indicate that the wheel was once badly knocked out of true, and could create some problems down the road.

4: Tires: The last thing you need when trying to save money is a bunch of flats on your first few rides, so give the tires a good inspection. You don't want to see any cracking on the sidewalls, or any visible punctures on the tread. As for wear, if the top of the tire starts to look flat, it is probably reaching the end of its life. Some tires have a wear indicator, which is a colored belt under the tread that appears when the tire needs to be replaced. If you see this, it's time for the tire to be replaced. A good set of touring tires can run around $35 per tire, so a newer set of tires out of the gate is always a bonus.

5. Brakes: Be sure there is some life left in the brake pads. These are inexpensive to replace, but little things add up. Some brake pads have a wear indicator line, while others you just have to judge for yourself. If you hear any metal on metal scraping when you brake, the pads are done for.

If these parts are in good working order, you should be in great shape. As long as you have a good sturdy frame that fits you well, you can always upgrade components as you become more involved in cycling and more specific with your personal needs and preferences. It can be a lot of fun to see a bike evolve over the years to become unique to the rider.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.



Bernard Halpin December 5, 2014, 8:43 PM

While recuperating from being intentionally struck by a car while riding, I 'found' a FUJI mixte 12b speed bike at the scrap yard. It was built in 1976 and still had the tire 'flash' on the tires. It has been a great tourer for me. New tires/tubes and away I went! GREAT TOURER and at the 'right' price!! :-D

Anonymous January 17, 2011, 9:54 PM

I agree w/ the author on this topic. You don't need to spend big buck on a reliable touring bike. However, you may need to be patient in searching and creative.

Older steel frame mountain bikes w/ rigid forks actually make for great touring bikes. Often times all you have to do is replace the knobby mtb tires with something a little more appropriate for pavement and slap on some trekking handlebars and then start adding the appropriate racks and bags. I did this w/ a 1992 Trek 950 I picked up for $50. I just added some trekking bars and installed hookworm tires and it works great. It is by no means a dream touring bike but it is definitely reliable and economical and can adequately handle both pavement and gravel roads.

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