Picture of 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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cartiere1 year ago
Where would you recommend to look for used bikes? I know of online sources but would things like thrift shops work?

Thrift shops are hit or miss. I found a very good Gary Fischer mountain bike at Goodwill once, more recently a early 90's Trek 7000 aluminum MB at the local mission store. But that is 2 bikes in probably 7 years. Pawn shops are a possibility, but know what you are looking for and what they are generally running for (Ebay, craigslist can give you an idea)

JacobAziza (author)  cartiere1 year 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)
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.

I understand the issue with short riders. my daughter was one. At the time she was getting of age, they were just starting to design properly for women. One of the things many people do not consider (though it will not matter in the warmer states) is the time of year you buy if you buy new. If you buy at the end of season, especially with the bike shops you can often cut a better deal. Pawn shops are another possibility, and the information in the article as to components, etc will help you to be a savy buyer

winter3009 months ago
bikes definitely reduce your carbon footprint, but they are not without fault. Obviously bike tires and lubes require petroleum and the factories themselves are drawing a relatively large amount of energy. Also, obviously transporting those bikes is energy intensive.

Still, I'm the grand scheme of things, bikes are clearly a better environmental choice. It's just a minor pet peeve of mine when people imply that they are zero impact vehicles when in fact they are not.
JacobAziza (author)  winter3009 months ago
One could say the same about shoes.
Really, the criticism you raise aren't about bikes, they are about the specific ways we choose to manufacture products.

There is no inherent reason bike tires couldn't be made of natural rubber (which comes from a tree, not petroleum), or lube from plant based sources (plenty already on the market).
There is no reason bikes couldn't be built locally (there are hundreds, possibly thousands of small independant frame builders, all over the world).

Besides - this guide is about buying a USED bike. There are zero production impacts and zero transportation impacts when you buy something used.

Unless you sleep in a tree and eat bugs, no one is technically zero impact. But there is no need to be. The ecosystem is full of cycles that replenish themselves. Human activity is a problem only because 1) there are so dang many of us, and 2) each of us uses an excessive amount of resources and energy. If everyone's consumption stayed under the rate of renewal, we would be sustainable indefinitely. The impact of manufacturing bikes is low enough that it would not cause environmental collapse if everyone switched from cars to bikes

I might add that old bikes can and do get reused, either via thrift shops and yard sales, or by 'makers' like here or the guys over at Some people would complain if we went to riding horses because of their flatulance.

ke4mcl9 months ago
great 'ible but I'm in disagreement with the total dislike for department store bikes. i am not a rider but have volunteered for the MS150 breakaway to key largo for almost a decade.

yes, a pricey bike gets you there faster, safer, and with less effort. however, i do see folks on freshly bought department store bikes finish large segments of the race without mechanical issue. its often times the illprepared rider conks out before the huffy does.

in places like china with billions of bikes on the road, i doubt youre going to find much in the way of fancy. those folks are riding around on the same cheap bikes they sell us.

i think a little explaining about what a better bike gets you versus just tossing out the entry level option is due. afterall, would you rather spend $100 to try out a new pastime or $500 and then realize maybe it isnt for you?
boxbbcar ke4mcl1 month ago

Guess the best way I can explain it is, yes they will both get you there, and it is 'da motor, not da bike'. However, when I got into riding seriously back in the late 70's early 80's, I started on a decent (a relative term) Huffy with good gear spread. Then I bought my Schwinn touring bike. I brought it home and had my friend there to whom I was giving the Huffy. I picked up the Schwinn (which weighed around 28#, still not a light bike), set it down and grabbed the Huffy (a staggering 45#). It was then I realized the difference. And if you are putting in decent mileage (at the time I was riding around 120-200 miles per week) it makes a real difference. I will say one thing about the time I spent on the Huffy trying to keep a decent speed, It got my legs in excellent condition for when I got a light frame!

JacobAziza (author)  ke4mcl9 months ago
I'm not talking about a "pricey" bike, or a "fancy" bike. I'm talking anything that isn't a rolling bag of trash. Yes, halfway decent bikes cost more, and that's why I'm encouraging everyone to buy used.

I'm not saying shell out $500 at a bikeshop. I'm saying spend $100 on a 10 year old bike that WAS $500 10 years ago, rather than buying a bike that cost $100 new.

Yes, most of these bikes will go one single race without breaking down. That's hardly an endorsement. Imagine saying "this car isn't total crap, it can go an entire 100 miles without breaking down!"
A good bike should go 1000s of miles without mechanical issue.

Most department store bikes come out of the store with things misadjusted. We have to do full tune-ups on bikes that were purchased from a department store less than a week ago a couple times a week at my little shop. Most of the time its fairly minor stuff, but one in ten has major problems, and we have to tell the customer "go back to the store, demand your money back"

Almost no one in China rides the sort of department store bike they export to us. The majority ride solid single speed roadsters, with fenders and racks and often lights.
boxbbcar1 month ago

I always keep my eyes open at the local thrift shops. occasionally they will get a decent mid to high end bike. I have found a Gary Fischer (which unfortunately lost it's wheels when our house burnt) and most recently an early 90's Trek 7000. both were under $50.

Are correct on older systems. I still have my Schwinn touring bike and my Trek 400 series criterium bike from the early 80's. Still good, solid bikes, though the shifters are a bit dated

cwolfe135 months ago
also I should say I only use Gary Fischer bikes they are amazing
cwolfe135 months ago
nice read I must say though cannondale bikes are 200 bones in my local dept stores what is worse is that next bikes are over 1k used I think something is messed up in my area
GLarsD9 months ago

Interesting...but must admit when I got my bike I just wanted a plain old fashion bike, no changing gears and coaster breaks......found an old Schwinn bike that was exactly what I wanted and I love it. No break downs, gets me where I want to go and is fun at the same time. Had a bike as you described above and seldom rode it, just too many parts. Like the simplicity of just an old fashion bike. Each to their own :)

JacobAziza (author)  GLarsD9 months ago

Did I forget to mention the option of a simple single speed?
Those are great, esp. if you never have hills to climb, an old fashion Shwinn is totally a good choice!

GLarsD JacobAziza9 months ago
I agree - we have a few hills but nothing I cannot handle. Just like the simplicity when riding through the forest preserve. Must admit I am not a long distance rider - would really need to seriously look into the suggestions that you noted in your article if I were. Enjoy the sport of riding!
kollocc9 months ago
mtairymd9 months ago

Another place to consider is police auctions. They have hundreds of complete bikes from low cost to high end. They generally have a pile of partial bikes (missing seats, tires, etc.) that are sold as a single lot. I purchased one of these piles ($25) as a kid and built 10 bikes from the stack.

emmae219 months ago
Just saying I have a huffy n it works really good o ride it all the tome
frankalbergo10 months ago

Great read with good info. thank you.

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!
mcraghead1 year 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)  mcraghead1 year 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. :-)
galaxie2922 years 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!
Bikebudy2 years 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)  Bikebudy2 years 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-nicole2 years ago
yes, well...
Its just an example, to show what a triple chainring looks like.
JacobAziza (author)  JacobAziza2 years 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
mykiscool2 years ago
Where the heck did you find the carbon fiber racing bike for $400! The cheapest I found on craigslist was $850.
JacobAziza (author)  mykiscool2 years 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)  mykiscool2 years 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.
Frederbee2 years 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?
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