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How to Buy a (Used) Bike

Running is an easy hobby to get into. The 'entry costs' are low - all a woman really needs is a decent pair of shoes (well, and a really good sports bra). But when I first became interested in cycling, I had no idea whether I would like it and stick with it. And cycling is not cheap - a new road bike can easily cost $750 - $1,000, and many other great options can cost even more. So instead of buying a new bike, I snagged a used one.

My Giant road bike originally retailed at $1,400... and I got it for $350.

Before you set out to buy a used bike, consider what type you actually want and need. Generally speaking, there are three types of bikes: road bikes (lightest frame and thinnest wheels; designed to travel fast on even surfaces), mountain bikes (heaviest frame and thickest wheels; designed for trail riding), and hybrids (in-between bikes designed for riding around the city on sidewalks).  If you are interested in doing a triathlon, you'll want a road bike, although you could probably get by in a sprint triathlon with a hybrid.

Next, consider bike fit. Fit is extremely important.  Head to a local bike shop and get on some bikes; talk about fit with the salesman. Don't feel bad about trying out some new bikes - you'll be back for a tune-up for your used bike! (Click to keep reading!)

Your best resources for a used bike are Ebay.com and Craiglist.com.  I prefer Craigslist because you can actually see the bike in person. The most important thing is that the frame isn't cracked, which is the sign of a serious crash and is very expensive to repair.  Rusty chains and other minor defects can be easily fixed at the shop, but a bad frame is a big deal.  So inspect the bike carefully for any cracks; if you can't inspect the bike in person, ask for close-up photos of the entire frame.

Another thing to look for is drop handle bars, which curve under (like my pink ones in the photo above). Straight bars are more common on cheaper road bikes but are uncomfortable for long rides. Don't overlook a bike just because the chain is rusty or the wheels look worn out.  These things are easily replaceable - just call a shop to get a price before buying the bike.

Lastly, make sure you haggle with the seller.   Google the current price of that bike (especially if it’s a newer bike that's “only been ridden once” – everyone says that and odds are that it’s not true).  Point out old tires, rusty chains, peeling paint jobs – anything and everything to get the price down.  Remember that everyone overprices things so they can negotiate them down later!  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Worse case scenario, they say no and you keep looking.

Buying a used bike can be time-consuming (it took me weeks!), but the payoff is worthwhile.

See you in the bike lane!

Caitlin blogs at Healthy Tipping Point and Operation Beautiful.  You can follow her on Twitter at CaitlinHTP. Her second book, a guide to healthy living, was just released this past May.

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