Every now and then in our comments we get asked about why we don’t spend more of our time reviewing mid-range bikes and products. It happened again recently. As I mentioned in my response, the big reason is traffic. The difference in traffic between a review of a $3000 bike vs. a $8000 bike will be a factor of two at minimum. The more exotic the ride, the bigger the numbers. I suppose that’s just a function of human nature.
That said, we are not insensitive to life on a budget. Nor are we immune to the balance that must be struck to remain married—hopefully, happily.
It’s easy to joke about N+1, but living that is another matter entirely. Back in the 1990s, when I was at Bicycle Guide I wrote a feature about strategies for how to cobble together a workable cyclocross bike without actually going out and buying a brand new cyclocross bike. I spent an afternoon at a shop in Orange County with a guy I raced against each weekend, and for whom most of his fall business was retrofitting touring bikes and such for use in ‘cross races. Alas, that was to run in an issue that never made it to the printer. Mark’s ingenuity appealed to the Yankee in me (by way of genes if not by birth).
While I work in the bike industry, many of the bikes I’ve purchased over the years have been used. Working in the bike biz doesn’t tend to make people rich, so despite my access to dream bikes, I don’t necessarily have all the dosh to buy the posh.
We have never talk used here. I don’t have a good reason why.
So here’s a question no one has asked, but deserves to be posed: What would I buy if I had $2000 to spend on a bike?
I wouldn’t buy new. That may be the biggest surprise. And while some manufacturers out there might not like a reviewer saying they wouldn’t buy a new $2k bike, I’m going to assert that my money still helps the new bike ecosystem. Any time someone drops $2000 on a used bike, you can be virtually guaranteed that the person selling that bike is turning around to buy something new.
Case in point, I’ve got a buddy I used to ride with in SoCal who had to have the latest and greatest. He was one of those. He was so fiery we called him Sterno. He’d buy some $10k wonder machine and after a couple of seasons he’d need the next hella bike. I was complimented that he always asked my opinion of what to check out next. And when he’d identify the next object of his obsession, he’d sell the Time/Willier/Look, often to a fellow riding buddy who had two kids in expensive colleges. He made bank, but his kids came first. And because Sterno cared for his bikes with Q-Tips—I poo you not—Jim would get bikes that looked like they’d been out for a couple of test rides.
There’s a guy I know who runs an Ebay store that sells nothing but bike stuff. He serves as a clearing house for old equipment from a couple of pro teams (no names mentioned), a number of current and ex pros, plus he helps out a few bikes shops move old stock. Two of the shops even instituted a trade-in program and he liquidates the bikes the shops take in. He confirmed for me a few suspicions I’ve had about the used market.
The first, biggest, truth to the used market that people should know is that the bigger the brand, the better it will hold its value. If you plan to buy new and flip your bike every season or two, buy Specialized. No other brand holds its value as well. But if you plan to buy used, avoid Specialized. Go after other brands known for doing high-quality work but doesn’t have as high a profile. A great target: Felt. Their bikes don’t hold value quite as well because they aren’t sponsoring a big Pro Tour team and they don’t advertise much. But the bikes are fantastic quality.
Another way to save a load of money if you’re a century rider who isn’t putting out maximum watts in a sprint: buy a titanium bike with a 1-inch head tube. Quill stems are as hip as ankle socks, but they work just fine. I still see Merlins and Serottas on the road from the early ’90s.
The same rules apply in the handbuilt realm. If you go looking for a Richard Sachs or a Masi, you’re going to pay top dollar. But if you were to run across Teesdale or a Davidson, you’d get first-rate work without the multiplier.
And here’s the kicker: When I think of reader service here’s a truth no one talks about. I’d rather buy a high quality bike with 2000 or 3000 miles on it but is equipped with top-shelf components than to buy new with budget-oriented parts. This is especially true when you limit your buying power to $1000 or $1500. I’ll take used 105 over new Sora any day. In my experience, performance degrades more quickly and more significantly on budget parts than on the good stuff. Used Ultegra may be the smartest buy in bike components there is.
Ebay is the most democratic market with the biggest selection, but Craigslist is another option. The thing to keep in mind about Craigslist is it’s a buyer’s market, not a seller’s market.
So there you have it. If you want to make your dollar go further, buy used.