I see a lot of bikes on craigslist, but I don’t know where to start. Help!
What kind of bike is right for me?
Shopping for a used bike can easily become overwhelming if you haven’t properly taken stock of your needs. First, you should consider your intended use and how often you expect to ride. Will you be an everyday work commuter? Perhaps you just want to get on a trail and ride for fitness. Being honest about your needs will help you determine what style of bike to look out for, and set a budget for how much you would like to spend.
Next, you’ll need to measure your height and inseam in order to estimate the size of frame that’s right for you. You won’t truly know whether you’ve found the right frame until you try a bicycle in person, but this should help you narrow down the possibilities online.
Now you’re ready to shop.
Starting the search
Craigslist is often the easiest way to connect with eager sellers in your area (and beyond, if you’re willing to travel for a deal). It’s also worth looking on Facebook with groups like the West Pennsylginia Bike Swap.
Here are some pointers to help you get started:
– Browsing newer ads is the best way to get the jump on freshly available bikes, but you can also do quick searches to narrow the field. Include a frame size and style in your search text (for example, “58 road bike” or “52 hybrid”). A good deal can go fast.
– You can customize on Craigslist search for price, area, and other variables. Consider narrowing to ads that include images — this will eliminate a lot of spam and give some immediate indication of the condition of the bike.
– Expect to spend at least $100 — but probably a bit more, perhaps $200-250 — for a reliable bike. You’ll also see more expensive bikes— distinguished by brand recognition as well as lighter and smoother working parts — but d0n’t let this discourage you from looking for a better deal.
– Do your research. Google the make and model of each bike you are considering; if possible, compare costs with close matches from craigslist in other cities. Ask a bike-obsessed friend to help you compile a shortlist and/or come along when you look at the bike.
How can I avoid scams? I don’t want to buy a stolen bike!
Watch out for vague information while scanning the latest ads (“Nice bike rides good”, “The bike is very light and it changes gears”). At the very least, you should ask for more information from the seller before deciding to meet. If photos are poor or missing, ask for some.
When you first contact a seller, ask questions: where they bought the bike, how much it cost, how long they’ve had it, why are they selling it? If they can’t give simple and uncomplicated answers to those four questions, you should be suspicious.
Above all, your intuition will be your best guide. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
I’m meeting a seller about a bike. Any quick tips for inspecting it?
Congrats! You’re that much closer to getting on the road!
Now that you are seeing it in person, you should be absolutely sure that the bike is the right size for you. Straddle the frame in front of the seat post with both feet on the ground — there should be about 1” of clearance between you and the top tube for a road/hybrid bike, or 3-4” for a mountain bike. Getting the size right is extremely important, not just for comfort and injury prevention while pedaling, but also to ensure that in the event of a sudden stop or crash you don’t slide forward and hit the top tube in… a sensitive area.
An ABC Quick Check is a fast way to assess the bike’s mechanical condition and make sure that it matches up with the seller’s description in the ad. Watch our 60-second video to learn how to perform an ABC Quick Check!
– Finally, inspect the frame, paying particular attention to the places where the tubes meet. If you see rust spots or dents, you would be well advised to walk away — when a frame breaks during a ride, it isn’t a pretty sight.
You should expect to test ride the bike as well. Before you pedal off, adjust the seat to the correct height; most seats have a quick release to make fast adjustments. Your legs should be closer to straight — aim for a 30 degree angle — at the bottom of each pedal stroke. Also offer to leave something with the seller (e.g. an ID) as an act of goodwill. On the ride, test the brakes once more, and shift through all the gear combinations. Make sure the bike rolls straight when there’s no pressure on the bars; a tendency to go towards one side may indicate a bent frame or fork.
If it is clear that parts of the bike will need to be replaced, take those into consideration with the asking price. Replacing a tire will cost at least $20. A new chain runs $25. Buying a wheel to replace one that’s bent? Expect to pay $100. These costs can quickly erase what seems like a good deal at first.
I’m ready to buy this thing. Anything else?
Don’t be afraid to negotiate if there are discrepancies between the ad and the actual condition of the bike. You could negotiate a lower price, subtracting $10-20 for significant problems or needed replacement parts. That said, if you agreed on a price and the bike met your expectations, be a good customer and don’t try to lowball the seller at the point of sale.
If you go forward with the purchase, consider asking the seller to write up a receipt for the transaction:
“It should have the make and model of the bike (both are usually written somewhere on the frame), and as much descriptive information – color, frame type, size, age, any notable features – as possible. It should also say the purchase price, date, and the buyer and sellers names. And above all, it absolutely should have the bikes serial number, which will usually be stamped into the metal somewhere on the underside of the bike (you have to turn it over to see it), most often on the bottom bracket (the thing the crank axle goes through).”
Not only is it useful to have a bill of sale for reference in the event of future problems, but it’s a good way to confirm the honesty of the seller. If they aren’t willing to put this information down on paper, be very suspicious.
I’ve decided I’d rather shop in person. Are there any stores in town with an inventory of used bikes?
We have some excellent shops in Pittsburgh that carry used bikes. Check out:
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