The Secrets to Buying a Newbie Bike (Part 2)

Read part 1 in this series of posts to learn about different bike types and evaluate your bike commuting style.

Evaluation: A Used Bike Checklist

So you’ve already learned the different bike types, and you’ve done a preliminary evaluation of your bike commuting style – now you need to learn how to spot the right bike.

As mentioned in part 1, I strongly suggest that you buy a used bike, or find a free loaner as your “test” bike. Before you start searching for deals, let’s go over a few important considerations when evaluating any bike.

Bike Size & Bike Fit

The only foolproof way to get a perfectly fitted bike is to have a professional evaluate all of the variables to choose and configure a bike perfectly for your body. Because you’re shopping for a used commuting bike, getting the perfect fit isn’t practical – as long as you find a bike that is the right size for your body, you should be able to adjust it to achieve a comfortable ride.

Bike size is important because if you try to ride a bike that is too small or too large for your body, you will have uncomfortable rides, and you can cause repetitive strain injuries.

If you’ve already gone on a few test rides at a local bike shop, you should have a decent idea of what frame size will work for you. There are also a number of bike frame size calculators available online, which can help give you a general idea of what size frame should fit your body. When you start looking for used bikes, keep in mind the frame sizes (in inches and centimeters) that should fit. If you combine the right frame size with a few sizing rules of thumb, you will easily find a bike that fits you.

Bicycle Sizing Rules of Thumb

Top Tube Height – you should be able to straddle the frame in front of the seat with your feet flat on the ground, and the top tube should be 1-2 inches from your crotch.

Leg Extension – when you pedal, you shouldn’t have to fully extend your legs to complete a full rotation – your knees should be slightly bent at full extension.

Handlebar Reach – the seat and handlebars are somewhat adjustable, but if you mount a bike and you are uncomfortable reaching for the handlebars, the size may not be a good match for you. Also make sure that you can safely reach and operate the brakes.

Bike Condition/Maintenance

You’re bound to run across some junkers, and occasionally you’ll find a used bike that looks brand new, but no matter the condition, it’s good to evaluate a few important components on any bike you’re considering:

Department Store Junk – bikes that are built and sold at department stores like Walmart are generally much lower quality and less reliable – familiarize yourself with common “department store” bikes, and avoid them.

Rust – if the bike is rusty, it’s likely been left out in the rain, and might have hidden issues.

Wheels – are the wheels round and true (does the rim wobble side to side or up and down as it rotates)? Wheels that have a lot of wobble, or rub against the brakes as they rotate may be sign of a bike that hasn’t been well maintained. Check for obvious broken spokes or any other issues that will keep the wheels from rolling.

General Condition – how does it look? Is the paint scuffed and chipped? Does it have any sizeable dents? Are the tires worn and cracked? Is the chain rusty or worn?

Basic Functions – run a bike through it’s paces – does it ride smooth? Do the brakes both work? Do the pedals spin smoothly? Does the crank rotate smoothly? Does it shift smoothly? Are there a lot of loose bolts and wobbly parts? Are the brakes worn down? Spend a few minutes really evaluating the bike. Ideally, you can find a used bike that doesn’t require a lot of upfront fixes to get going.

Ready to Buy?

The more familiar you are with the various components on a bike, and how they should operate, the easier it will be to evaluate a used bike. If your gut instinct is telling you that the bike hasn’t been well maintained and it’s not a good buy, then move onto the next, there are plenty of bikes being sold every day! If you think you’ve found a good buy, but you want to make sure, take it to your local bike shop for a formal evaluation.

Stay tuned – in the next post we will explore the world of finding a used bike deal.

[featured image: courtesy of whiz-ka]

Posted in Getting Started