Refurbished bicycle can be a better deal than new

  • By Gregory Karp Chicago Tribune
  • Friday, May 11, 2012 2:01pm
  • Life

Like new cars, new bicycles depreciate dramatically the moment they leave the cycle shop. So buying used can be a better value for your money, especially if you can score a decent ride for less than $100.

The problem is refurbishing an older bike to a safe and comfortable riding condition. Fortunately, many bike repairs and upgrades are relatively simple and cheap.

Even if you use a cycle shop to complete the repairs, you might be able to make a $75 used bike road-ready for an additional $50 to $75, said Andrew Bernstein, gear editor at Bicycling magazine. Of course, it depends on what the bike needs.

Prices of used bikes sold at yard sales can vary widely and aren’t always logical. That’s because people selling the bikes sometimes are unfamiliar with how valuable it is.

“You could see a $2,000 bike that looks dirty and grubby and pick it up for $50,” said Alex Ramon, who worked in bike shops for 10 years and created, which offers written and video lessons on common bike repairs and maintenance.

Jeff Yeager, who has bicycled more than 100,000 miles and is author of frugality books, including “The Cheapskate Next Door,” said he regularly shops thrift stores and yard sales for parts for his 30-year-old bike.

“Consider the simplest 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,” Yeager said.

Here are a few basic tips for refurbishing an older bicycle.

Safety first: “The first thing you want to check is anything that is responsible for supporting the rider,” Bernstein said. For example, make sure the handlebar is secure. “If it’s not, it could be something as simple as tightening a bolt,” he said.

Check the saddle and make sure the brakes work. And if you’ll ride in the evening or early morning, install lights.

A helmet is a necessity and not something to buy used because the foam padding breaks down and becomes less effective after about three years, Bernstein said.

Brakes: “Any bike that’s been sitting a long time and hasn’t been used much is likely to need new brake pads,” Bernstein said.

“It’s not a hard job, but I wouldn’t suggest somebody who knows nothing about bikes do it on their own,” he said.

Tires: “Dry rot is common in tires and tubes that have been sitting uninflated for a period of time,” Yeager said. “So they often need to be replaced, rather than just inflated and patched.

“The good news is, new tires and tubes are usually pretty cheap and easy to install.”

Chain: The best thing you can do for many older bikes, especially if they squeak when ridden, is to lubricate the chain, ideally using chain lubricant, which costs about $10, Ramon said.

Yeager agrees.”Most used bikes are desperately in need of proper lubrication — think Tin Man in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ — and some adjustments to the gears, cables and brakes”

Cables: Brake cables and shift cables are also pretty cheap. Over time, cables stretch and should be replaced occasionally as a maintenance item anyway, Ramon said.

You can replace them yourself, but you’ll definitely need instructions, he said.

Gear shifting: There could be many reasons why gears don’t shift properly, but often it’s a need for a simple adjustments of the derailleur, Ramon said. Again, you’ll need good instructions.

How-to advice: Bicycling magazine’s website has articles and videos on maintenance and repair at

It also has a book by Todd Downs, “The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair.”

Ramon’s site,, costs $5.95 for a month of access to more than 50 professional-quality videos. The fee helps him defray website costs, he said.

Yeager suggests joining a local bike club, many of which offer repair classes. “And there are always lots of self-appointed mechanics in the group who thrive on fixing other people’s problems,” he said.

Tools: You can get a very limited bicycle tool kit for about $20 or a more extensive one for home use for $75 to $100.

Ramon recommends the Park brand of tools and at least getting a set of metric open-end wrenches, a set of metric Allen keys and a tire lever for fixing flats.

Of course, buying tools adds to the cost of refurbishing the bike. If you won’t use tools often, it might be better to let a pro complete the repairs.

Buying tips

• Do some homework and then inspect the bicycle carefully.

• Lots of rust possibly indicates it’s been left in the rain, which can lead to a host of problems, Ramon said. Try to raise and lower the seat. It can become unadjustable.

• A bent frame is a bad sign. Don’t bother with this one.

• Wheels that don’t spin properly could mean a simple, inexpensive repair of a few broken spokes, or it could need a new wheel, which can be pricey or hard to find for older bikes.

• Take along a knowledgeable friend, if you’re unfamiliar with bikes.

Finding used

Sharing Wheels, a volunteer-run bike shop in Everett, refurbishes and sells bikes from $50 to a $400 vintage K-2 mountain bike. Most prices range from $100 to $180. Sharing Wheels is open from 1 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and $1 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at 2531 Broadway. Call 425-252-6952 for more information.

Also check classified ads; Craigslist; thrift stores, such as St. Vincent de Paul and Just For Kids; and used sports equipment stores, such as Play It Again Sports.

Fixing used

Bike shops such as Sharing Wheels, Tim’s Bike Shop in Everett, Snohomish Bicycles and Bicycle Centres stores tune, refurbish and sell parts for fix-it-yourselfers.

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