10

I'm a dad with a kid just getting old enough that we can bike around together. I've been using a 10 dollar bike I got from a garage sale but it's just rusty junk at this point. Our other kid is still going to need to be in a back mounted seat for another year or two so I don't want to bother investing in a nice bike for me that is going to get busted up just from the mounting of the child seat.

So if I only have 200 dollars at most to put into a bike, what type of bike is least bad when it's cheap? I've picked up that the "full suspension" bikes are just horrible on the cheap bikes (and that's all that my Walmart seems to have), but what about the full body solid road type bikes? I'll be spending 95% of the time just piddling around on gravel roads and maybe light gravel trails. Nothing on mountains but also no need for real speed.

  • 3
    Yep, used. Shop some more garage sales, looking for a better quality bike. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 27 '18 at 13:08
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    Welcome on the site, and questions about cheaper bikes are great, don't worry. – Nobody Dec 27 '18 at 14:10
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    Two words; Police auctions – Richard Dec 27 '18 at 16:57
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    In Austin TX, there's (well, used to be; haven't lived there in half a decade) a great little bike shop on the east side owned by a former head of Yellow Bike Project (local nonprofit fixing up / giving away / training people to repair bikes) that, while a for-profit business, made it their primary purpose to cater to commuters needing cheap, reliable transportation; they both sold cheap bikes and would do repairs very inexpensively using used parts. I'm sure there are similar places elsewhere. – Charles Duffy Dec 27 '18 at 20:19
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    Don't plan on buying a cheaper bike (new or used) and "upgrading" parts later. That is an expensive way to make a cheap bike into a mediocre bike, when the culmulative parts cost would have bought a complete bike. Been there done that! – Criggie Dec 27 '18 at 20:36
13

I'd recommend another used bike. It might take some time to find a suitable one that fits your budget, but garage sales, thrift stores, and maybe even Craig's list are good places to find good used bikes that would fit in your budget.

A couple of recommendations:

  • Don't buy a bike without seeing it.
  • Bring a set of decent tools to do a good inspection (Don't use cheap tools on someone else's bike...)
  • Loosen and remove the seat post, look inside for bad rust/corrosion
  • Do ALL the parts that are supposed to rotate/move smoothly? (A rusty chain is no big deal - it can be replaced, but count that in your budget)
  • See if you can loosen the pedals from the crankset
  • Remove and replace the wheels - you're going to have to replace tires and tubes eventually...
  • Check cables and brake pads (no big deal, they might well need to be replaced, but count that in your budget)
  • Loosen the handlebars and headset

Obviously, you'll have to be able to return the bike to its original condition.

If you can't do any of that without damaging the bike, it's not a good bike to buy. For example, if you can't get the seat post, pedals, or headset loose, there's probably way too much corrosion or rust.

If the seller doesn't want you to check out the bike like that, don't buy it.

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    I'm not sure that wrenching on every nut-like thing on the bike is really needed (though checking that seat can be adjusted is probably a good idea and is often possible without tools). Mainly you're looking for bad bearings and bad corrosion. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 27 '18 at 13:09
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    It's easy to spin/wiggle the wheels, yank on the crank, set the front brake and wobble the bike back and forth (to check the headset). – Daniel R Hicks Dec 27 '18 at 14:05
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    I think this would benefit from some more differentiation. It's fine if the handlebars and heatset are rusted on if the bike is correspondingly cheap and still structurally ok. – Nobody Dec 27 '18 at 14:11
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    This is why I don't recommend that people who are new to riding get a used bike, unless their local bike shop has a good reputation for selling good used bikes. New riders often lack the knowledge to determine if a used bike is in good condition and if they are getting their money's worth. – Kibbee Dec 27 '18 at 14:16
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    @Kibbee All true. But given the constraints in the question, and given the questioner seems to want to learn, I thought it was worth putting out what I'd look for. Everyone has to start somewhere. – Andrew Henle Dec 27 '18 at 14:23
4

Used bikes is definitely the area to go, but I think depending on how much of a bicycle mechanic you are the process needs some more differentiation than the existing answer.

So:

  • Inspect before buying, unless it's next to free. This includes a test ride.
  • Make sure every part you can service yourself is actually serviceable. Or alternatively, consider that you will only use the bike until the first part that you can't service breaks. That is
  • Make sure you can adjust the saddle to your height (that's a must). Keep in mind it must overlap with the frame enough (like finger-length) otherwise it might break off.
  • Make sure you can adjust the handlebar how you want it (if needed and possible, otherwise the bike is not for you)
  • Make sure you are comfortable on the bike
  • Make sure the lights and reflectors work as required by the law and your personal safety or you can replace what is broken.
  • Make sure all gears work fine (that's probably not something you'll replace yourself as an amateur). That means you use each gear during the test ride and try to put a lot of weight on the pedals (if the chain and gears are worn it might skip under load and a new set of gears and a chain is rather expensive).
  • Make sure the wheels are round, i.e. don't wobble side to side or up and down
  • Make sure the wheels don't scrape anywhere. The brakes shouldn't touch the wheel if not engaged.
  • Make sure the brakes work well. You should really learn to spot worn pads and replace them yourself.
  • If the tires are too worn or old consider that you will need to replace them soon
  • If you can change a tire (I hope so :) ) make sure the wheels can be removed from the frame.
  • If you can and want to replace pedals if the bearings go bad, make sure the pedals can be loosened from the cranks.
  • etc. depending on your own knowledge

You don't need to be able to do much maintenance work, but if you can't, then even a $200 bike is probably too expensive to be money-efficient.

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    Try to take along a friend who has some knowledge of bikes. 4 eyes see better than two. – Carel Dec 27 '18 at 18:53
4

Second-hand.

My $800 (adult) bike, a "hybrid" (a Kona "Dr. Dew") is 7 years old. I think I saw its current value (now being old) estimated at $230, though I don't remember where. I'd rather have it than a new cheap bike -- nice gear-change, great brakes, solid easy-turning wheels (and great tires).

They say, I don't know, that better components need less maintenance.

On this I change the chain (and sometimes the cassette) and brake pads twice a year or so (e.g. every 5000 km); and changed the bottom bracket once after about 25,000 km when the pedals started to wobble slightly; and change the tires once every 5 years or so; and lube the chain, and that's all the maintenance it requires.

I get the impression that there are, approximately, three kinds of bike:

  1. $150 from the department store
  2. $550+ from the bike store
  3. $1500..15000 racing bikes

I'm thinking a second-hand version of category #2 could be better than a new #1.

Replacing all the replaceables though -- new tires, new brake pads, new chain and cassette -- might cost a good fraction of $100 (so if that's an issue then find a bike where these aren't worn, so that you'll have miles to go before they need replacing). These components do wear, if the bike is ridden and/or as the years pass, I'd expect that and not see it as a fault of the bike (though that could be something that needs service to make a bike ride-able).


Edit to add: if you're "on gravel roads and maybe light gravel trails" then you might want good tires, puncture-resistant tires, maybe touring (long distance) tires.

The tread doesn't matter (and a thick/heavy tread i.e. knobbly tires just makes it slower, because your pedalling effort goes towards deforming the knobs on the tires as it rolls, maybe this kind of 'mountain bike' tire is for mud or something I don't know), what matters to me is the resistance to little chips of stone.

I ride a gravel cycle path all the time and the tires are among the best components on my bike -- I bought them specially, they didn't come with the bike. Someone with a road bike and lighter tires maybe wouldn't ride that path.

A wider wheel (mine, being made as a 'hybrid' bike, are like 32 in width rather than the 23 you'd find on a racing bike), might be more suitable too for that -- apart from or as well as puncture-resistance, the width of a tire is related to its pressure (because "tire pressure" multiplied by "surface area of the tire's contact area with the ground" equals "weight of the bike and rider"), so mine are pressurised to like 80 instead of maybe 120 that you'd find on racing tires (which contributes to their ride's being described as "teeth-rattling" in a comment below). I think (i.e. it feels as if, perhaps I'm wrong) the relatively-heavy tires contribute to the bike's "suspension" -- cycling gloves with slightly padded palms (between the heels of the hands and the handle-bars) help with that too.

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    nod. My ex-brother-in-law used to do bike builds for a department store, and they got a lot of parts that were just wrong -- threaded backwards or such. He rescued enough such components from the trash to build a bike for himself -- but anyone who didn't know its quirks wouldn't get a block without it falling apart; and if the builds were done by someone other than him, some of those parts might have made it onto customer bikes. Gotta agree with the "second-hand #2" recommendation. – Charles Duffy Dec 27 '18 at 20:25
  • A wider wheel, like 32 rather than the 23 you'd find on a racing bike, might be more suitable for that too. Absolutely true. Don't take a 23 tire on gravel. If you're lucky you'll just rattle all the fillings out of your teeth. If you're unlucky you'll tear the sidewall on a nasty rock. Tire clearance on used road frame should be something looked at - avoid a racing frame that can't even handle 28s, much less 32s. – Andrew Henle Dec 27 '18 at 22:13
  • Road bike tyres are getting a bit wider, these days -- 25mm is probably the norm, now. But that's not much wider so I agree with your advice about wider tyres. – David Richerby Dec 28 '18 at 17:12
1

Adding to Criggie's answer on buying used.

Craiglist seems to be a good source for used basic bikes where I live. Facebook groups and forums tend to be a bit more specialized and deal in higher end bikes and components. I'd try to get a bike that is a couple of years old and has not seen too much use. A reasonable seller should be able to tell you the year they bought it.

I'd get familiar with the hierarchy of Shimano drivetrain and brake component group-sets so you have some idea of the quality of bikes you are looking at. Most hybrid bikes come with MTB groups. The levels you are likely to encounter are, in order of decreasing quality: Deore, Alivio, Acera, Altus, Tourney.

Higher groupsets shift and brake better, and are more robust. For the riding you want to do anything above Tourney should be fine. You'll often see bikes with a mix of two levels.

Many hybrids have front suspension. At the price point you are looking at suspension forks just add weight, but you may find that finding a suitable used bike without them is hard just because they are so ubiquitous. If you can live with the weight it's OK, and I'd certainly pick a bike in great condition with suspension forks over one in a poorer condition without. Avoid cheap full suspension bikes at all cost.

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You can get a perfectly good bike at Walmart for $89.

https://www.walmart.com/ip/26-Roadmaster-Granite-Peak-Men-s-Mountain-Bike-Black/55376950

Get the 3 year warranty for $11. If something breaks in 3 years, Walmart will give you another new bike. If not, you can sell it for $10 at a tag sale.

This particular bike has front springs, but you will never notice they are there unless you jump off a ramp.

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    Any bike beats walking but a cheap BSO earns its well-deserved derision from bike mechanics for the poor build quality, not from the lycra bike snobs who really don't care. – Criggie Dec 27 '18 at 20:32
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    I commuted on a cheap bike for years, on a commute that was about 6 km each way. I wanted and bought a better bike later, when my commute increase to 18 km each way. I don't know if you've tried a better bike, it's surprising how much better it can be. – ChrisW Dec 27 '18 at 21:54
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    Part of the reason why Walmart sells millions of bikes is that any repair would be more expensive than new bike, and those bikes break a lot. – ojs Dec 27 '18 at 22:49
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    I would like to remind everyone of our "be nice" policy. I have edited out portions of this answer and deleted a number of comments that were not in accordance with this policy. – jimchristie Dec 28 '18 at 19:43
  • @ojs And if you can get a bike with three years warranty (real warranty, not just for the frame or something) for $100 then that would still be a good deal. – Nobody Dec 29 '18 at 12:13

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