September 22nd, 2011

Born to Ride: How to Buy the Perfect Used Bike in Six Steps

2 Comments | Twitter | |

**It’s Sports Week here on the Credit Karma blog! Each day we’ll bring you a post about sports to help kick-off this Fall sports season.**

Bike Pile

Like many 10 year-olds before me, I’ve taken another step towards adulthood and bought a used bike.

As is the case with thrifty people, big purchases don’t come easily to me. The bigger the purchase, the greater possibilities there are for savings… which means I can always find a better deal.

I do have a couple of tips and tricks that made the whole process relatively painless. Even though this piece will be specifically about bike shopping, these tips overlap into lots of other used sporting equipment. Snowboards, fishing gear, protective cups… though that last one you might want to consider buying new.

1. Ask an expert.

My friends Brian, Jeremy and Ryan have more expertise in bikes than I do, and gave me a few solid recommendations that helped me narrow the field. By focusing early on, I wouldn’t have to find the best price among all bikes for sale, just the best price for the bikes they recommended.

2. Hands-on experience.

I went around to a few local shops, got sized, asked questions and shook a lot of hands with chain grease on them. Bikes themselves are very specialized, so it helped to tell salespeople what I wanted to do with the bike and get recommendations. Plus, it turns out September is one of the best time to buy bikes (January’s another good time for sporting goods), as the new models have just come out, creating deep discounts on the older models. Ask what’s on clearance. Ask for discounts or price matching.

3. Get overwhelmed.

I forgot about the plan to limit my options and swapped between Craigslist looking for used bikes, sports websites looking for new bikes and bike review sites to research my numerous options. This stage was useful because it burnt up all the extra energy I had by allowing me to spin my wheels. Eventually, research burnout created an extra push for me to actually choose something.

4. Tunnel vision.

I tracked prices on Craigslist for the bike that I care about the most, the Trek FX. The reviews were good, the bikes weren’t too pricey new and it was a popular enough bike and brand that there should be a lot of turnover on Craigslist.

Craigslist is the hub of everything used. Master it, and you can buy whatever you want. Try Craigslist Helper, an add-on for Chrome, Firefox and Safari, that makes Craigslist beautiful. If you really want to get professional about it, Craigslist offers RSS feeds for searches that you can plug into your favorite RSS reader. The feed updates every few hours and you can avoid obsessively checking Craigslist (instead, obsessively checking your reader). For bonus points, download a Craigslist alert app on your smartphone.

5. Buy! Buy! Buy!

My next step was to contact all the sellers whose bikes fit my requirements. I ended up with a used Trek with some cosmetic damage for $110. I bought it from an Irish ex-pat who had to go home, which is why he sold it at 1/6th of the retail price and included lights and a lock.

I took my new used bike to a well-reviewed bike shop (thanks, Yelp), and printed out a coupon for a tune-up from the shop’s website.

Brakes also needed a bit of work, so I bought the parts on Amazon at 1/3rd of the cost and I plan to install/add/change them myself to save on labor.

All in all, the total came to just around $200. With a new bike, lock and lights (and taxes if I bought it in a store) I’d be lucky to get away for under $750.

6. Self-congratulatory feelings.

I might outgrow this bike if I later want a pure road bike, a mountain bike, or even a bike that doesn’t have a two-inch dent in the frame.

But since I bought the bike used, I’ll be able to resell it without much of a loss. If the bike gets stolen, I won’t be financially devastated either. (Just emotionally. I named it Edgar.)

Thanks to a bit of sleuthing, focus and an emigrating Irishman, I ended up with the bike I was waiting for. I wish you as much luck.

Come Edgar, we ride at dawn!

Ezra Fox, Karma Contributor

Disclaimer: All information posted to this site was accurate at the time of its initial publication. Efforts have been made to keep the content up to date and accurate. However, Credit Karma does not make any guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. For complete details of any products mentioned, visit bank or issuer website.


  1. Although most areas have several bicycle stores, they aren’t on every street corner. In fact, depending on where you live, there may be only a few in your area. Even so, you should visit each shop to get a feel for which store is right for you

    bike shopping at 11:52 am on October 9, 2011

Enter your comment