How to buy a used bike

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You want to switch to bike transit for environmental and health reasons. But buying a bicycle is not an easy task. In fact, bicycle shopping can be quite daunting.

Despite cities like Vancouver pushing public policy toward establishing bicycles as everyday transportation, many bike stores are more geared towards hardcore sports/speed fiends than transit cyclists. Prices are high. Choices are far beyond what you’ll need for your basic daily bicycle commute.

If you’re keen to bike to work, the best place to look for a utilitarian commuter bicycle is the online classifieds where you’ll find many Vancouver sellers with used bikes in good shape. But first you’ll need to narrow down your used bike search results. Some factors to consider are type of bicycle, bicycle size, make and model, and wear and tear.

Finding the right used bike requires research and taking your potential new bike for a test drive. But if you follow these basic steps below, you’ll find the right used bike for your commuter needs.

Here’s how to find a used bicycle:

Know what type of bike you need

Commuters need basic commuter bikes, not mountain bikes, fancy road bikes or fixies. Commuter bikes are also known as urban bikes.

Why not other types of bikes? Mountain bikes are designed for off-roading on rough terrain and are too heavy for commuting. Road bikes are designed for speed. They are quite light but they won’t do well with gravel, grass, curbs or inclement weather like Vancouver rain. Fixie or single-speed bikes appeal to riders who want a bike stripped to basics, but the lack of gears, fenders, and racks means they are better suited for shorter rides on flat terrain.

Hybrid or cyclocross (one bike for roads, touring, commuting, or light off-roading) bikes exist, but there are always trade-offs depending on the type of hybrid.

Figure out your frame size

You don’t wear shoes that don’t fit. You’re going to want your bike to fit as well. Otherwise it will be uncomfortable and unsafe, and you won’t ride it.

There are websites where you can enter your height and your leg length to get an estimate of your bicycle frame size in inches.

If you’re figuring this out by test riding bikes, do a standover test. When you stand over a bike frame in front of the saddle with your feet flat on the ground, there should be at least 1 inch, ideally 3 inches, between the top bar and your crotch. And when you ride, your knees should be almost straight at the bottom of each pedal stroke, but not 100% knees-locked or too bent with knees in your chest.

Make sure to bring a bike multitool ($7.75 at MEC) so you can adjust the bike seat up and down when you give it a test ride.

Choose a make and model

Certain commuter bike brands have good reputations with good reason. They stand up to the test of time. Other newcomers are doing a great job of combining classic aesthetics with all the sturdy basics a commuter needs. Some brands to look out for include Simcoe, Scott, Giant, Condor, Raleigh, Novara, Cannondale, Diamondback, Pure City, and Brooklyn Bicycle Co.

Unknown or lesser-known vintage brands can also work, as long as they stand up to the next series of tests.

Narrow the search by price comparison

Used bikes usually cost at least $100. A good new bike is generally $500 and up. There are many over-priced bikes in the online classified ads. You can check how reasonable the asking price is by doing a Google search of the make and model of any bike you are considering. Compare the price history against the asking price and bargain accordingly.

Inspect gear

You’re going to want to buy a bike that works. You need to check all components from tires to gears and brakes. Make sure, by touch, that the tires aren’t brittle from sitting in storage. You’ll want to see tire texture; they shouldn’t be worn down. You’ll also want to check tire pressure and make sure they hold air when pumped.

Lift up the bike and spin the tire to see if it runs straight and nothing rubs. If not, the wires in the brake system or the spokes in the wheels need adjusting or replacing. If the bike has gears, make sure that changes work smoothly, gearing up and gearing down. Does the bike have functional break pads? If there’s less than one quarter inch of brake pad, these will need replacing.

Now’s the time to run a checklist of what needs fixing against the total cost of the used bike. Replacing brake pads and tires can exceed the total cost of the used bike, unless you know how to do it yourself or plan on attending free bicycle workshops to learn how to fix your own bike.

Assess accessories

Does the bike come with lights? Is the seat comfortable or will you have to purchase a new saddle? The basic bike commuter will need: lights, a chain guard, kickstand, fenders, skirt guard, bell and a basket. If the bike doesn’t come with these, the cost and hassle of adding them yourself may outweigh the benefits of buying used.

Once you’ve got your used bike, it’s worthwhile checking out the Vancouver bike clinics and educating yourself on how to maintain your commuter bike’s health. That way, when it needs basic upkeep, you can continue to save money by going DIY. Our Community Bikes on Main, for example, is a full service repair shop, bicycle recycling depot and an educational workspace for people who wish to repair their own bikes or learn how to do so.

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Taraneh Jerven Taraneh Jerven is a Vancouver-based travel and food writer. She contributes to travel guides including Vancouver GuestLife City Guide, and magazines such as Kinfolk. She also works on DK Eyewitness travel guides including DK Eyewitness Travel Canada and DK Eyewitness Travel Norway. She is the web editor for Kitsilano.ca. Find her travel photos on Instagram @smallfolktravel. Web: TaranehJerven.com
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