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.
"A bike depreciates at least 50 percent when you walk out the shop door, so you can get a very good deal on a used bike, especially if you're just going to be riding around town and don't need a high-performance machine," he said. "There are lots of great used bikes out there. For many people it's a great alternative to getting a new bike because sometimes you can get a nicer bike than you could afford new."
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.
"Any bike that's been sitting a long time and hasn't been used much is likely to need new brake pads," Bernstein said. The parts might cost $7 or $8, plus $20 to have them installed, he 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.
"Dry rot is common in tires and tubes that have been sitting uninflated for a period of time," said Jeff Yeager, who has bicycled more than 100,000 miles and is author of frugality books, including The Cheapskate Next Door. "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."
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, said Alex Ramon, who worked in bike shops for 10 years and created BicycleTutor.com, which offers written and video lessons on common bike repairs and maintenance.
"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," added Yeager. "But that's not typically complicated or costly."
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.
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. Bernstein agrees. "It's not a difficult job, but for someone who's never done it before, it's easy to do wrong," he said.
Some repair jobs require tools you might not have. 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.