It may seem like a good way of saving a little cash, but there are risks involved in buying a cheap bicycle that you need to take into account before laying down your money. There's nothing wrong with getting a good deal, of course – we'd all like to pay less – but you should make sure that your good deal doesn't turn out too good to be true.
The first thing is to always do what research you can. Get the make and model of your proposed cheap bicycle, and do some online research into how much it usually sells for, if it’s still in production, and how other owners like it. Only if you like the answers you get should you even consider buying the bicycle cheaply.
Cheap New Bicycles
If you're buying a new bicycle, you should always buy one from a specialist seller, rather than from any other kind of shop. Smaller, independent sports suppliers are usually okay, even if they are not exclusively bicycle shops, but they will rarely be cheap.
The larger sporting good chains are typically not as good to buy from, especially if located in a mall. The staff in these shops are often more interested in making sales than in how suitable the product being sold is. Similarly, the larger department stores tend to suffer of the same issues. You may get lucky with the occasional staff member who does know their bicycles, but you wouldn't want to bet money on it – and buying under circumstances like that is always a gamble.
One reason to be careful of this is that the cheap bicycles sold by many ‘general’ stores achieve these cost savings by using sub-standard parts. To make matters worse, the parts affected by this cost-cutting are most likely to be the ones you can't see, such as bearings and cables. If you absolutely must buy such a bicycle, you should take it to a reputable mechanic to get safety checked and adjusted correctly. Which in all probability will push the cost back up to what buying a cheap bicycle from a bicycle shop would have been in the first place.
Another thing to consider, no matter where you are buying the bicycle from is that its cheap price may be the result of it being an end of line item. There's nothing wrong with that, especially with the larger and better-established manufacturers, but if you buy a cheap bicycle from a smaller manufacturer, you may find trouble sourcing parts or support later on. This isn't often a problem – most manufacturers use similar parts and standard sizes – but it is something to be careful of. We’ve seen cases of the low pricing being the result of the brand disappearing, leaving customers without easy warranty support. So before buying a cheap bicycle, ask the seller if the price is a reflection of the bicycle being an end of line run out, and check to make sure that they have plenty of other bicycles from the same manufacturer.
Second Hand Bicycles
Buying anything second hand has always been a good way to save a few dollars, but such a saving is not without risk.
When buying a second hand bicycle be sure to ask a lot of questions. Why are they selling it? What parts have been changed? What is its usage history? Has it ever been crashed? When was it last serviced? Who did the service? Where did they buy if from? And the list goes on. If the seller gets touchy about any of this, then question the purchase. Knowing how to check over a bike for damage and wear takes experience, and it’s something that good bike shops will typically offer for a small fee. If this isn’t an option, then here’s a basic list of common issues to look out for. Many of these assume you’re able to see and even trial the bike in person before purchase.
Check the tyres: Are the tyres in good condition with all the tread and no holes or cracks? Are these the same tyres that originally came with the bike? This is typically a great gauge for use of a bicycle, with lightly used bicycles still rolling on original rubber. Note, the rear tyre always wears first.
Gears and brakes should work: Do all the gears shift without lag and skipping? Do the brakes stop confidently without squealing? Is it easy to move both shift and brake levers, or is there significant friction involved?
New chain isn’t always good: Check that the chain works correctly and doesn’t skip under pedaling load. Far too often used bikes are given a new chain (they’re cheap) to lure in buyers, but the re-used worn cogs can present issues
Check the frame: Are there any deep scratches on the frame? A deep gouge or scratch in the frame could be a sign of crash damage. Avoid bikes with cracks, severe dents and/or paint missing.
Spin the wheels: Do the wheels spin straight? Any weird noises from the hub bearings? Check that the rims aren’t dented or worn from the brakes – the brake surface should be flat, not concaved.
Bikes with suspension: Suspension is a wear item and needs regular servicing. When did the owner last have the suspension serviced? Do the suspension units move up and down quietly and smoothly?
Doing these basic checks will help to ensure you’re not buying into someone else’s negligence. The key thing to remember here is that if you're buying a cheap bicycle it's because you want to save some cash. A cheap bicycle requiring a lot of repairs is not a cheap bicycle.