Used-Bike Shopping

How to find a great ride that fits you and your budget

Canada is in the midst of a biking renaissance. And what’s not to love about two-wheelers? They’re good for your bottom line (and your bottom), and minimally polluting. Snagging a used bike is doubly savvy—they aren’t just a green way to get around, they also save the energy and resources involved in building and transporting a new bicycle. But used cycle purchasing can be challenging (and confusing) for novices. If you’re not careful, you can end up with a too-small bike that weighs as much as baby elephant, and is more likely to rust on the back porch than race the streets. Fear not—we’ve donned our helmets and pant-clips to prepare a step-by-step guide to buying pre-loved wheels.

1.    Name your price

For a rideable used bike, expect to pay (with some variation, depending on the source and your geographical location), a minimum of about $100. Prices go up from there, depending on model, make and looks (Confession: I once overpaid for a bike because it was painted a pretty, sparkly turquoise). If you’re in a major city and have access to a car, smaller towns often have correspondingly smaller prices on used bikes.

2.    Pick a source: walk in versus web

Unless you luck out on a vintage Schwinn from a garage sale or your Gran’s basement, the choice usually comes down to a local bike shop that refurbishes two-wheelers versus an online classified site such as Craigslist or Kijiji. As with everything from porn to potato peelers, the choice is greater online. Prices also tend to be slightly cheaper, with certain deluded exceptions (trust me, ma’am, you’re not getting $400 for that 15-year-old SuperCycle). The lucky may even snag a killer find: a sexy cruiser for $75, an old delivery bike perfect for returning empties, a lighter-than-a-supermodel road bike. But buying online is also riskier, so do your homework beforehand to avoid getting ripped off, and read the site’s personal safety tips before meeting anyone.

Buying used at a bike store costs a little more, but the bike will be in working order. And, if you’re a newbie, the salespeople offer professional help with your selection. Plus, most honest joints offer a warranty, so if the wheel falls off on the way home, you’re covered.

3.    The perfect fit

Finding the right size is crucial. Properly proportioned rides are more comfortable, more efficient, will save you knee pain and, more seriously, the potential of serious injury in a crash. Craigslist ads that say a bike is “suitable for someone that’s 5’4”” should be used as a guideline only—you won’t know if it’s a proper fit until your butt hits the seat. That’s because bike sizing is all about your inseam—if you’re short, but have long legs, you’ll need a bigger bike; the top-heavy should size down. Look for one that allows you to sit comfortably, with a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is in the 6 o’clock position. “A lot of people are timid with bikes and they tend to buy a smaller frame, then jack the seat up to where it shouldn’t be. You need proper leg extension when you peddle or you’re going to put a strain on your knees and your lower back,” says Mike Snow, of Halifax’s Ideal Bikes.

4.    Type casting

Shorter, breezy trips (e.g., to the bar on weekends or the park down the street) are made for cruisers, a vintage-style bike increasingly popular among the skinny-jeans set. While trendy, these (and many older bikes) tend to be heavier, and aren’t necessarily the best bet for longer commutes or hilly terrain. Hybrids—a cross between a mountain and a road bike—are best-sellers for a reason. Typically, you sit in a more upright position, like a mountain bike, but the models are slightly lighter, like a road bike, meaning faster trips to the office. Road bikes—think Lance Armstrong, curled handlebars, your spandex-clad butt in the air—are built for speed, and aren’t nearly as comfy. Other considerations include number of gears, which depends on personal preference and the hilliness of your hometown. “I’d recommend at least seven gears to the novice rider, someone who wanted to get into commuting,” says Snow. He also points out that the quality of the components and the bike’s construction is more important than the brand, as most companies make both high and low-end bikes. Deal breakers are a bent or cracked frame, which is a serious safety issue.

5.    Add-ons

Many older bikes won’t come with lights, or a bell, which are required in many Canadian municipalities. And, unless you have two heads and five extra bikes, you’ll need a properly fitted helmet and a sturdy U-lock. “Cable locks are too easy to cut through,” says Snow. If you’ve got extra dough to spend, commuters may want to consider fenders and chain guards (to protect work clothes from grease and unsightly splatters). Finally, if you didn’t buy from a store, your first ride should be to a reputable bike mechanic for a tune-up (typical cost: $30).

6.    Enjoy

Love your bike, and wonder why it took you so long to get one.