21

Very new to this, bike repair specifically. I tried my best with the tags. I'm mechanically inclined, like to tinker, and have many tools (not bike specific). Learning and time aren't really an issue. Investment vs profitability is a primary factor.

So here's my situation. My apartment complex did a sweep of all the bike racks for abandoned bikes, gave everyone an advanced notice to claim or otherwise move them, and then put the remainders by the dumpster. I got the wild hair that some could be an easy fix and flip situation, since they're all being considered trash regardless of condition.

Common issues I've noticed so far spread across 14 bikes are; obvious disconnected/damaged cables, damaged seat cushions, flat tires, stiff steering, some rust on frames but mostly on chains and gears.

I know to look for frame cracks, severe bends, pitting, stuff like that. But my knowledge is generally quite limited. What should I look for? How bad/ fixable is rust? How can I best determine what is worth repairing and what should be trashed? Most, but not all seem to be pretty standard Walmart kind of bikes, mostly 24inch wheels. I'm hoping that for a relatively low investment I can turn around and sell most of them for $50-$100. Any help/ advice you've got on this is greatly appreciated.

I've also got two e100 electric scooters without the chargers if anyone knows about checking and repairing those.

8
  • 12
    I would be prepared for this situation: someone sees their nice fixed bike and wants it back. I would document (with pictures) the condition of each before you start. A picture with all of them next to the dumpster would have been a nice first picture.
    – Mattman944
    Mar 15, 2023 at 15:20
  • 17
    To put things into perspective: 24inch Walmart bikes can be bought new for $100-$150 directly from the source... Mar 15, 2023 at 18:12
  • 3
    Most, but not all seem to be pretty standard Walmart kind of bikes FWIW I haven't seen a LBS that would touch such a bike even if you were the original owner. Too many horror stories from what I have been able to gather. Or to put it another way, the quality of such bicycles is not high to begin with. Add in even the best refurb and the possibility of (legitimate!) complaints from a buyer not too far down the road is a hassle you may want to consider.
    – Michael
    Mar 15, 2023 at 18:13
  • 3
    but are they at least potentially re-sellable. Sure they will be. IMO you could put a lot into these and still only get a small amount more than you could as selling them for scrap. Honestly, I would me more incline to donate them to a charity that refurbish bikes, and if you are still inclined maybe volunteer to help.
    – Hursey
    Mar 16, 2023 at 2:55
  • 7
    What was done probably doesn't give you legal title to the bikes. It might, but it depends on the laws in your location and what exactly was done by your apartment complex and you. You haven't stated your jurisdiction, so there's no way for us to address that aspect of this issue. To actually transfer ownership to you usually requires specific steps to be taken, which are unlikely to have happened. It's unclear the apartment complex had the right to throw out the bikes, that they did, in fact, throw them out, or that you can legally remove them from the trash, if they were in the trash.
    – Makyen
    Mar 16, 2023 at 4:28

7 Answers 7

18

From having maintained cheap bikes using other bikes as parts donors, even dismantling some to provide parts for others you're likely to need to buy some bits like chains and cables. They're cheap but will eat into your profit.

It might be a good idea to prioritise those with slightly better names but low enough specifications to use cheap parts from the cheaper bikes.

If you have time, space, and tools, and need the money and practice, it's a good opportunity but probably not a lucrative one. Consider how you'd feel if you sold half of them, for the low end of your estimate, after putting in a fair bit of effort and a little bit of money on parts. I think that's a realistic yield. Luckily you can do one at a time and see how it goes. People do do this to make money.

6
  • Glad to know I'm not entirely out of my mind. I'm not expecting a wild profit, but it would be really neat if I made even a few hundred after costs. What names should I be looking out for? I'm not really sure who's good and who's junky. Mar 16, 2023 at 1:56
  • 2
    There are so many brands of everyday bikes that it's not going to be possible to list them all. Good signs are that the brand has its own website and makes some bikes that are at least a few hundred dollars new. Bad signs are brands that are only ever sold in non-bike shops (including amazon)
    – Chris H
    Mar 16, 2023 at 6:32
  • Brands also vary greatly according to which country you're in, and that's not obvious from the question. Mar 17, 2023 at 14:28
  • @TobySpeight that too; my previous comment should have mentioned it because my suggestion relies on regional digging. I mention $ because they appear in the Q and there's a mention of Walmart
    – Chris H
    Mar 17, 2023 at 15:01
  • I know that $ currency rules out most of Europe but does leave quite a few others. The mention of Walmart bikes might clue-in those who are in the relevant country, but not much use to the rest of us! Mar 17, 2023 at 15:09
16

This is pretty much how I started.
First of all:
If the bikes are cheap-ish with cheap-ish components, you will never even make a minimum wage. But that need not stop you. First, on a cheap bike if you damage something you didn't waste much money. And they are good to learn what is what.

Get a chain gauge, oils and cleaners. Expect to replace all cables, most brake pads, and some tyres. If a chain is not too rusty, use the chain gauge to see if the chain is worn. Start with those bikes where the chain is usable. If the brake cables are torn, frayed, or not moving smoothly, replace them. Same for the shifter cables. Check if the outers of the cables need replacing. If you plan to do more of that in the future, buy rolls of cable outers; they are cheaper by far than the cable-and-housing packages you can buy at the local DIY barn.

A lot can be achieve by cleaning and greasing things. If the bike looks sparkling, you get better money. Don't forget to do a test ride with each bike before selling it. And whenever in doubt, YouTube. And this place, of course :-)

Over time, you will find you need more specialised tools. Expect to be investing at first, and put those bikes aside where you are missing the tools. Most of the time, improvising with unsuitable tools damages more than the tools would have cost. And it can be quite frustrating.

Eventually, you'll probably start buying used bikes. Damaged and dirty, preferably, because they are cheaper, And you'd best start looking for somewhat better components. Avoid expensive repairs, like stiff suspensions, damaged frames, damaged drop bar brifters, and such.

Good luck and have fun!

1
  • 2
    Thank you, this gives me some good things to look out for and a starting place. I'm not sure that I'll turn this into a long running hobby yet as I just decided to take this on for the first time. I don't know that I would even expect to make anything closer to minimum wage anyway. But the way I see it, it could be a fun adventure, maybe I spend 4 hours on repairs, drop $50 in one and sell it for $70. Not the biggest win, but still a win in my mind. I'm sure I will learn a lot. Thanks again Mar 16, 2023 at 1:52
9

I'll note here that in many areas there are groups that refurbish used bikes and donate them to groups which in turn give them to disadvantaged people. I was in a group like this until about 2 years ago when my health took a downturn. It's enjoyable to meet with several guys once or twice a week and work on them.

1
  • 2
    Although not obviously an answer, I guess this amounts to "here's how you can learn the answers, and more, from like-minded people". Mar 17, 2023 at 14:32
8

What should I look for? How bad/ fixable is rust? How can I best determine what is worth repairing and what should be trashed?

When you evaluate a bike you are really getting enough information to make the fix or trash decision.
It's up to you to decide where the line on fix or trash is but the process for gathering the information is more objective.

If I do the initial evaluation correctly nothing gets put in the repair rack that does not deserve to be repaired.

At a high level you are looking for things needing replacement that will eat into your profit, take too much time or make a bike hard to sell.
Here are some examples:

  1. Visual check - look for:
  • Chain rusted solid
  • Freewheel rusted solid
  • Wheels crushed
  • Broken spokes (you have to decide how many is too many)
  • Tires aged so bad they are falling apart
  • Frame/fork bent, cracked
  • Other bent parts - brake levers, handlebars, seat post, etc.
  • Seat condition - seats are easy to replace. They can be expensive to buy. You'll have to decide how bad is bad enough to keep it off the repair rack. If you have a seat from another bike that was trashed you are good to go.
  • Suspension (if any)
  • General rust level - You'll develop a feel for how much rust is too much. As a rule surface rust on chrome is easily removed with steel wool. On steel surface rust can be removed but then you'd need to at least touch up paint - do you want to go there or just live with the surface rust? On chrome or paint more than surface rust pits and damages the steel.
  • Other - you will need to develop your list of items for the visual check based on what parts you have available
  • Is this even a bike I want to work on - this will come with experience over time
  1. Parts condition check
  • Squeeze the brake levers - if they don't move the cable is rusted solid
  • Move the shift levers - no movement indicates rusted solid It is sometimes possible to free up rusted solid cables and get them working. You have to decide if it's worth your time or not.
  • Spin the wheels - how bad are they?
  • Headset check

I'm sure I'm leaving something out but you get the idea. Develop a process to quickly determine if a bike is worth putting in the rack. Your process will get better over time. The best way to learn is to make a few mistakes. You'll find yourself saying "I don't ever want to spend this much time doing this again" and modify your evaluation process.

BTW - if you don't have a repair rack I recommend it strongly for your situation.

Once a bike is on the rack and you find something that takes it into the trash zone don't feel like you have to keep going due to time spent, that's called "throwing good money after bad". Set a goal for an hourly wage so that you can factor in time as part of your cost. It's a hobby so don't expect much but this keeps you from thinking "My time is free".

If you evaluate a bike and decide to trash it the next question is - what parts should I keep? I have found that it is sometimes better to keep a whole bike rather than take it apart and have to keep boxes of specific parts. I have a combination of small parts and whole bikes as spare parts. You'll have to determine what works for you.

Jump in and build some experience.

4
  • 3
    Its not a binary choice between Fix and Trash, there's also "parts-donor" in the middle.
    – Criggie
    Mar 15, 2023 at 18:36
  • 5
    @Criggie I talk about parts donor toward the end of the answer. Does it need clarification?
    – David D
    Mar 15, 2023 at 19:50
  • Thank you for the pretty detailed rundown! Really helps create the mindset for things. In your opinion, are there some bike brands or styles, etc, that just aren't worth repairing for resale even if damage/ workload is mild? Mar 16, 2023 at 1:39
  • @PlayfulShad0w In my opinion there is a place for every kind and brand of bicycle. Cheap bikes made from poor materials are good for people who are very easy on their bike, they don't ride far, they don't ride hard, they don't ride very often and/or they don't expect much. The key is to match the bike to the persons need. When someone is looking at a cheap bike I'm pretty blunt about what it is good for - set accurate expectations.
    – David D
    Mar 16, 2023 at 15:33
6

The question really is how long it takes you to dismantle and repair them and in what condition they are.

If it only takes you 5 minutes to swap a good saddle from a donor bike to a bike which is – except for the saddle – in good condition, maybe adjust the gear shifting a bit and lube the chain and then sell it for 300€ without much hassle then that’s a pretty good cost vs. benefit tradeoff.

However, if you have to fight 2 hours with a corroded seatpost, have to invest into a brand new chain and cables, and then have a lot of work to find a buyer for a 50€ bike it’s a much worse idea.

I don’t think you’ll get a good return of investment on the time and money spent. I’d do it because I hate it when things get thrown away and I’d love to see more people on bicycles.

1
  • Thank you. I like the perspective of just seeing more people riding bikes. :) Time wise I suppose I'm not as worried, as it's kind of a side project/ weekend entertainment for me. Is it realistic do you think that the repairs could be low enough cost to be worth selling even with generic retail store quality bikes? Mar 16, 2023 at 1:46
0

Speaking as one who has fixed many old cheap bikes as part of a ministry (free labor by the grace of God: parts at minimal cost) in a low income city, then I would say that most all of these old trashed bikes should be able to be restored at a low price.

But not as much of a business, except perhaps to make some money in your own driveway and garage. .

You said you hope to be able to sell most of bikes you fix for $50-$100, yet even though you can still get (from various sellers) 20'' and 26'' tires for about $11 and tubes for under $3, and brake pads for about $2.00 a set, brake handle sets under $4, likewise handle grips, and seats for about $15, pedals for about $12 and chains for under $10, and a pair of bearings for about $2.00 (free shipping for all) and salvage from parts for use on others, yet I doubt if you could get more than $50 such used bikes, and on average more like $35.

Seeing as right now you can still buy 26-inch bikes from Walmart starting at $98 to $120 (even a Men's 21 speed Front Suspension Mountain Bike with front disk brakes) and more for under $190 w/ free shipping, then to make money as a side income I think you would be better buying as many of the cheap ones as you can ,assembling them (about an hour all told) and selling them as assembled at about a $50 - 75$ mark up in the Spring.

I have not tried that myself, but all the parts alone, as cheap as these bikes use, would cost more than many new low-cost Walmart-type bikes.

Now these are not for long term reliable extensive use, but I do not know about your areas, while around here, I rarely see kids and teens even holding on to the same bikes for more than a couple years before they out grow them, or lost them to theft (and by policy I do not fix stolen bikes, and police have said they like what I am doing). So I try to keep them mobile.

Note: I could provide the sources for the prices listed if such was allowed, and if so, I will at request if it would help, while I thank God we can even obtain such in variety and relative ease).

0

This looks like VelAfrica project. They collect old unneeded bicycles in diverse condition and somehow combine them into the less number of usable bicycles. They would even take small children bicycles, and also E-bikes as they may still have some common components that can be used to repair other bicycles. It seems working for them. They send repaired bicycles to Africa then.

Hence the idea of building few good bicycles from many old broken bicycles should generally work, as per current time (2023) there are enough shared parts over random selection of the bicycles and failed/missing parts are diverse enough. However VelAfrica is a volunteer humanitarian project that may have more human resources than just a commercial project.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.