Saturday, March 29, 2008

Buying Used bicycles: good or bad?

Advice from Dennis Teter, manager of Longmont's fine Acme Bicycles store, as mentioned in the Thursday, March 27, 2008 Times-Call:
"He advises against buying used bikes for this reason -- you never know how much wear and tear the components already have"
To give some context, the "reason" mentioned is that bike components matter, and the more riding you do, the better components you need.

Having put tens of thousand miles on my used bikes, I must admit that I was a little taken aback by this recommendation. But the overall article was targeted at road cycling beginners: "Advice for the beginner from Longmont's bike shops". Ok, Dennis is probably right. First experiences matter and a new rider doesn't want to get quickly discouraged by equipment failures or degraded components. That would introduce a safety issue, too. They'll probably want a good "out of the box" series of rides immediately and who can blame them?

So who is a candidate for used road bikes? Not the beginner and probably not the emerging Cat 3 rider looking for those few extra seconds to place high at the local criterium. I'd say the intermediate rider can benefit for many of the same reasons that used automobiles are good deals:
  • Road bikes can be expensive, and prices are increasing as we speak. A new bike may be out of reach for the improving cyclist looking to upgrade their equipment but wait a few years and you could find the same model used within your wallet's capacity.
  • There are deals to be had: good bikes can be found from people exiting the sport, having a new child, riders moving up themselves to a more advanced bike, ProTour teams disbanding (ha!), folks needing the cash, moving, or needing more room in the garage, etc. (Those Discovery bikes never did sell on eBay, by the way, going for US $10K apiece).
  • If you know the seller, or share common ground with him/her (perhaps the seller works with you or lives in your neighborhood), you can probably arrange a better test drive than you could with a new bike in a store. If you trust the seller, you can also ask about how the bike was used.
  • Used bike owners will be less intimidated to attempt intermediate or advanced maintenance on them vs. on a pristine new bike. Agree? The end result could be that you gain more familiarity with your used bike and are more prepared to deal with failures.
  • Similar to the standard practice with used cars, there's nothing to prevent you from getting a seasoned bike mechanic's opinion about the bike before you buy it. I'm wondering if any local bike stores have an existing practice where they offer this type of service for a fixed price.
I agree that components could be worn down on used bikes but this is part of the discount experience. My (used) road bike needed a new rear Campy dérailleur which did set me back $70 after a year of riding it. And, I have always put new tires immediately on the used bikes that I've bought, just to eliminate any uncertainties about their condition.

One final argument in favor of used bikes: riding a used bike keeps them in circulation! After all, if everyone bought only new bikes, where would the used ones go? Consider it an eco-friendly thing to do and it also rescues them from perpetually collecting dust in someone's basement.


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