Buying used bikes for beginners

(The content in this Instructable first appeared in my new blog at
To my 40 Instructables subscribers, and anyone who stumbles across this and likes it, be sure to take a look, as much of what I write isn't quite right for an Instructable.)

Bikes are perhaps the greatest human invention of all time.
They get you from where you are to where you want to between 2 and 5 times as fast as you could walk there, but they use absolutely no fossil fuel or external energy what-so-ever, which means they have basically no environmental impact and no operating costs beyond the original manufacture and purchase.

However, if you are not already a "bike person", the amount of choices in type and brand and size and accessories can be overwhelming.  If you buy new from a local bike shop, the salesperson will most likely walk you through the process of deciding what will fit your needs, but if you want to save money (and further reduce your eco-footprint) you should really buy everything you possible can used.

So, for the beginners who know just about nothing about bikes but want to get one from Craigslist, or perhaps a thriftstore or yardsale, I'm going to break down for you exactly what to look for and what to avoid.
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Cicerolover9 months ago
I don't know, I think a lot of what you buy, especially used, has to do with what's available in your area. I ended up buying from walmart because I had no other choice. I'm exceptionally short, and have a very feminine figure. After shifting through craigslist, and all the local bike shops, (there's only three in my area only two of which sell used) I simply couldn't find a used bike that fit my needs and most importantly just fit. Finding a 14 inch frame used is almost impossible. Sure I could've ordered a new one that fit but 500 was really way out of my budget. My area doesn't have much of a bike community, and the one that does exist is touring and racing. I was never interested in the road bike style. The other factor that convinced me to stick to the walmart one I bought was mostly for how short my commute is. It's just for getting around my college campus and if I ride 5 miles on it in a day I'll be very surprised. So basically I had to decide just how serious I was about this, and since I've never used a bike for this purpose, I bought myself a starter.

(I also put it together myself with the help of my bike mechanic friends. So I know it was assembled correctly.)

All the information in this is great to know! And I wish I had found this first, it would've saved me hours of research. I only wished I lived in a more bike friendly community. I live in a very rural area where commuting by bike is very impractical due to the fact that everything is so far away.
cartiere9 months ago
Where would you recommend to look for used bikes? I know of online sources but would things like thrift shops work?
JacobAziza (author)  cartiere9 months ago
I'm sure it is different in different areas, but personally, I have never seen a halfway decent bike at a thrift shop. A consignment shop might have good ones. Yard sales sometimes do. Poster boards on a college campus. Used bike shops. Flea market - but be sure to get a receipt with the sellers name and the bikes serial number (if they refuse, its a stolen bike. Don't buy a stolen bike)
StoryAddict11 months ago
I've been researching bike-building and purchasing used bikes for the last few weeks and now that I'm getting closer in my research, here your tutorial popped up like I conjured it. Thanks for all the useful info!
mcraghead11 months ago
Great work, sir!

One small item: in step 5, paragraph 7 or so, should "...and are (in theory**) less prone to flats." read "...more prone to flats?"
Your footnote seems to suggest that.

JacobAziza (author)  mcraghead11 months ago
You are correct, thanks for pointing it out.
It has been fixed
Wow thank you for all the info!! This is absolutely great. I'm planning on buying a Schwinn tonight. It's probably around 5-10 years old and it's a road bike. I found it through Craigslist and it seems to be in awesome condition. The seller is only asking $60!! They got it at a co-op a few years ago and never rode it, apparently they ride mostly mountain bikes. I'm SO excited. :-)
galaxie2921 year ago
Been casually looking at used bikes online for a couple weeks before stumbling on this article. Great info. I had heard similar sentiments to yours on buying dept. store bikes previously, but other than "don't buy huffy" didn't really know what to look for. I feel much more confident looking around now. Thank you! Good job!
Bikebudy1 year ago
I would sooner buy a 30 year old bike and tune it up. Bikes today are mostly garbage.
I worked in retail where they sold these bikes of today and delt with some of the returns.
Your far better to find a good frame and put the parts on it, of the quality your willing to pay for. The worst part of todays bike is, they have kids put them together, lucky if they can tie their own shoes. Its realy sad ( recycle a Bicycle )
JacobAziza (author)  Bikebudy1 year ago
Well, the whole point of this guide is to help people find good old bike rather than buying new, however, the modern bikes you buy in a bike shop are in no way similar to the bikes you buy in regular retail stores like Target, Walmart, or ToysRus. Your description is 100% correct for those bikes, but pretty much anything you buy in a shop will be incomparably better.
My favourite bikes are raleigh mountain bikes they are high quality and last a long time.
Rivendell Atlantis, sir? I am green with envy, but it is neither old nor cheap
JacobAziza (author)  abigail-nicole1 year ago
yes, well...
Its just an example, to show what a triple chainring looks like.
JacobAziza (author)  JacobAziza1 year ago
Someone who can recognize a Rivendale from the model is not the target demographic of this article anyway :P
haha I just looked this up to link it to a friend buying a bike for the first time. Nice job with the instructable
mykiscool1 year ago
Where the heck did you find the carbon fiber racing bike for $400! The cheapest I found on craigslist was $850.
JacobAziza (author)  mykiscool1 year ago
That was about 15 years ago, my friend found a "for sale" ad on a bulletin board at our school.
Trek 2120, one of the earliest carbon bikes - carbon main tubes, joined with aluminum lugs, and with aluminum stays and fork. I replaced the wheels with spinergys, the shifters with 105 STI, otherwise mostly left it stock.
Not race worthy by modern standards, but under 20lbs with water bottle and tools.

It got stolen last year by friends of my neighbor while I was on the East Coast for US Coast Guard training. It was locked to my touring bike (1970s Univega Gran Turismo) inside my locked shed, so they cut the steel frame to get to it.

I miss that bike :(
Wow that really sucks, you really have to watch out for bike thieves. Even when you had it locked up properly it got stolen. Even if you have your bike locked securely you should not leave it in a public place unattended, you will come back with a cable cut or if you get a high end cable you will have a frame with no components.
JacobAziza (author)  mykiscool1 year ago
Very true.
I recommend always using a U-lock, and always locking both wheels.

But in my case, I was gone for 3 months, and everyone in the neighborhood knew it. The thieves took their time, and cleared out my tool shed and bike shed.
I don't live their anymore.
Frederbee1 year ago
Too true. I bought a bike for an event last minute (I was working at a bike park and wanted the cred) and my bike literally fell apart as I was biking on day 2. I was spending the time with bike peeps though, and they fixed it for me. The next day my brakes fell off and the front wheel bent at the same time, sending me veering into oncoming traffic without an ability to stop. Thank you for this guide, it is exactly what I needed
I bought a folder at a bike store (in Taiwan), but I am pretty sure it was a cheapo out of mainland China. Price was not totally low end, and gearing was good. But the bolt that secured the handlebars popped one day after I'd had the bike about 3 months.

As it happened, a big city bus was starting up right behind me. Exciting few seconds there when the handlebars went all floppy and I hobbled over to the curb. The bus was kind enough not to run me over.

Took the bike back to the shop and he gave me a whole new front end. But I decided maybe I should get a real bike for my commute. I did and love it. Rides like a dream.
Do you recommend bike computers?
What are their pros and cons?
I was tempted to buy a cheap computer to see how fast I was going. Then I thought again. It would have been great fun when I was a kid living in the country. But now I commute in the city, in dense traffic (Taipei, Taiwan) where it's good to pay attention every second.
I could just see myself looking down at a digital readout, "Oh wow, I'm going over 40 CRASH!" Was that miles per hour or kilometers? I'll ask the nurse if I wake up. I decided I was better off not knowing.
The point: in some situations (such as mine, daily) the distraction could be dangerous.
I Totally agree. I got one and I always find myself looking down at it. The function I use the most is the clock. In hind sight Iit was probably an impulse buy.
Do you recommend bike computers?
What are their pros and cons?
What kind of riding are you doing?
Mountain and road mixed. I have an 07 Giant yukon MTB bike. It serves my purposes well.
It all depends on if you are actually going to use it for long distance but if you are mountain biking i would not recommend having it on there because it may break if your riding over rough stuff.

What is the propose of having one?

long distance, speed check, timer, ect.
I'm mostly doing road. I got a mountain bike for when I do get to go off road.
I just got it, so when I get the money I am going to put some slightly more road based tire on it.
JacobAziza (author)  jackjackboom1 year ago
I don't specifically recommend them, but they are nice, and simple ones are inexpensive.

Pros - its fun to know how fast you are going and how far you went. It can be useful if you are training for a sports event, or if you are doing long-distance touring.

Cons - no real cons, but they don't offer much of practical value to the casual commuter.

I have one on one bike, not on the other 3.
Aron3132 years ago
I think that all walmart bikes suck. I saw a bike that had a sign that said it was a mountain bike. The name of the bike was roadster. The fork shocks suck because its made like a pen. No seals or anything to keep dirt out just a spring that can not be ajusted. It weighed a lot!!! I think the bike was about $300 to $400 which is way too much for the bike. I work at exton bikes and i recommend you buy a Specialized bike or Giant bike. Its worth all the money because most bikes that come in for a repair are walmart bikes and i have had many people come to the shop and say that they had bought a walmart bike and then a good name brand from our store. Then the only bike that needs the most repairs was the walmart brand. Its worth the money to buy a good bike. Eventually the money will come back to you because the bike is well made! That doesnt mean that bikes dont need maintenance! If you maintain your bike you will get a long life out of it and many good riding days! :)

If you want a jumping bike i recommend the specialized P1 or P2. Very good bikes. My P1 has not broken yet except for flat tires! GT is also a good brand!
Yes true and you can sell a american bike for what you spent, try that with a wallmart bike to get some laughts. .
Yes but there are bikes that are not american that are good. Not many american bikes are sold these days but as long as the bike is sold at a bicycle shop it should definitely be better then walmart bikes.
pingaling1 year ago
This instructable is full of info, and helped me immensely when I went looking for, and found, a great bike on craigslist. Thanks!!
azimmerman22 years ago
Remember to always shop Thrift stores, I got a 1989 Kona Lava Dome in near perfect condition for 25 Dollars . I looked online and i found it going for 150+. Good will is a good place to check for solid vintage bikes.
St vincet depaul.. can be good ., I just scored a tall frame Schwinn High Planes bike Chrome molly frame, I m guessing mfg date of about 1970 thas a black base color with a white spider web random thread on top of the black. Only $25.oo
Do you know the year?//
Large fine ball bearing pedals alum with tiny nubs sticking up. This bike is like new except for rotten tires. Also the loose wheel bearings are rusted some . I will try to lap them smooth again and dead true with laping compound. Has anyone done this???
I ordered the 2.75 or 2.95 for the rear Max 75# pressure and it is really FAT. (carefull you must get the super large tube dont trust a 2.5 tube, its 25% too small. I have a 2.25 for the front. I learned long ago fat hi-volume tires really smooth out the ride and last much longer. Used on my too 29" it now rides like a Cad and will pass a rice rocket, on the hi speed turns easily.
I dont need a stiff, heavy, rough ride sprung front end, with a Alunimum super-stiff,frame. I just dumped this bike... Iam using a sprung seat too.
JacobAziza (author)  azimmerman22 years ago
Nice find!
I guess it probably varies with where you live. I have never seen anything but 20 year old walmart style bikes at the thrift stores around here.
wschruba1 year ago
I can't help but point out that single pivot sidepull brakes or a one piece crank (aka Ashtabula crank in the US) is not necessarily a sign of a poor bike. These were proven, if antiquated, technologies 40 and 50 years ago. A well adjusted one piece crank will spin just as well as a three piece, though it is much heavier. Single pivot calipers can stop a bike just as well as modern day brakes. They are both more complicated to service than modern parts, but can work just as well with proper care. Don't immediately discount these if you find them on an old bicycle; a 40 year old Schwinn can be just as fun to ride as a modern rode bike.

That said, if you have the choice between a Schwinn Varsity and a Raleigh Superbe...get the Raleigh. 3 Piece cranks and...other...brake technologies ARE superior to the old types.

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