Bicycle prices skyrocketed in the recent past. To combat this trend, more and more riders are looking at old or secondhand bikes as an option to keep costs low while still getting a good, reliable bike.
To decide whether an old bicycle is worth fixing up, check the frame to see if it has no damages, bends, or cracks. Furthermore, to assess any damage to bearings, move around and wiggle the bottom bracket, headset, pedals, wheels, and cranks. Also, check the drivetrain, brakes, and wheels for any damages.
But what about old bikes that aren’t perfect? Let’s take a look at the cost of servicing and repairing a bicycle, how much you can do on your own, and what issues aren’t worth fixing. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast answer that will tell you exactly how much fixing an old bike will cost, but we’ll do our best to demystify the process so that you can make the right decision for your situation.
Does Fixing An Old Bike Increase Its Value?
Bikes, like cars, experience some crazy depreciation when you ride them out of the shop. While a seasoned buyer will still pay top dollar for a newish bike with some light wear, you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars by looking for the right used bike.
On the flip side, if you’ve got a bike that’s been sitting in your garage unused for a few years, that bike has lost a great deal of resale value, even if it’s in flawless condition.
This means that if you’re looking to purchase a bike, buying a used bike and sinking some money into parts and labor is often cheaper than buying a similar new bike. If you have an old bike and you’d like to ride it yourself, consider factors like sentimental value and do a bit of research on the price of similar used, and new bikes before you take the plunge.
If you’re selling your bike, performing any work beyond a thorough cleaning is a risky proposition. Many experts suggest that paying for a tune-up before selling your bike is never worth it, for example, while others think you’re better off selling a broken bike for parts instead of fixing the problems.
When Is It Worth Fixing Up An Old Bike?
The cost of parts, repairs, and labor will be big factors when determining if it’s worth fixing up your bike. Are you well-versed in bike repair with a garage full of spare parts? Do you enjoy fixing bikes? If so, it’s probably worth starting a repair project for fun.
Don’t forget about your timetable, either. Do you need a bike by tomorrow? In this case, starting the repair process is often a good idea, but you’ll want to be willing to bail at the first sign of trouble and look for another way to get a bike. No matter what, don’t forget that your local bike shop is more than willing to help with this project.
Paying someone with the time, tools, and equipment to help your repair process is totally worth it, even if the thing they’re doing is something you could technically do yourself.
Inspecting The Frame
Your first order of business here should be to perform a thorough inspection.
It’s a good idea to start with big disqualifying factors first to save yourself some time. Perform a VERY thorough inspection of the frame, cleaning off any dirt to reveal cracks or dents hidden underneath. Try to take advantage of daylight or use very bright work lights to ensure you don’t miss anything.
It’s important to look from multiple angles and examine joints and welds for cracks and other damage. On an aluminum frame, any cracks or dents should be immediate disqualifying factors, while scratches are usually okay. Any bends in the frame should also disqualify a bike.
If the front or rear dropouts don’t allow the wheels to sit right, for example, this often means that your chainstays or fork is bent, which means the bike is not worth repairing.
Carbon fiber is more complex. If you find damage on a carbon fiber frame, you should document your findings and then contact a company that repairs carbon fiber frames to see how much a repair will cost.
Past the frame, almost everything on a bike is fixable. It’s just a question of cost. Your goal here is to try to find all of the problem points and estimate how much time and money this will take.
Start by checking the bearings. Wiggle the front and rear wheels perpendicular to their axis of rotation and check for play. Spin the wheels and ensure that they rotate freely. Check the headset for any play from any angle by activating the front brake and wiggling the bike forward and back, then wiggling the handlebars around in every direction you can think of.
Check the pedals and crank by wiggling them from side to side and make sure that they’re rotating smoothly and seated properly.
If you’re an experienced bike mechanic, performing these tasks can tell you exactly how much work you’ll need to put into each set of bearings. If you’re a relative novice, you’re mostly looking for things that clearly don’t work right.
Minor issues with these systems might be fixed with a simple tuneup, which is usually less than $150, but the same symptoms might also be caused by major internal hangups that require you to replace your entire bottom bracket. It’s impossible to know what’s causing a problem for certain without disassembling the bike.
You should also spend a decent amount of time examining the drivetrain, brakes, and wheels of the bike. Look for damage to the rim or tires and estimate how much you’re willing to spend replacing these critical components. Look for signs of wear on the chain, preferably by measuring it with a chain measuring tool but also by just performing a basic visual inspection.
A worn chain often results in increased wear on the cogs and chainrings, meaning you might need to replace these as well. Any uneven-looking teeth or signs of visible wear on the cogs should be a cause for concern.
As far as the drivetrain goes, you’re mostly looking to see if the derailleur is intact and functional. Don’t fixate on hitting all of the gears or shifting smoothly. These certainly aren’t good signs, but you can often fix these things later.
Pay particular attention to the angle of the rear derailleur. If the hangar is bent, there’s a non-zero chance that you’ll break the flimsy piece of aluminum as you bend it back. This isn’t an expensive fix, but it’s often a big hassle to find a derailleur hangar that fits an old bike.
If the derailleur itself is broken, don’t panic. 7- and 8-speed rear derailleurs and the corresponding 3-speed front derailleurs are pretty cheap to replace.
Anything with 10 or more speeds in the back can get pretty pricey, however. If you inherited an 11-speed bike with a broken drivetrain, it’s probably best to talk to a professional mechanic to figure out how to proceed best.
In terms of brakes, most fixes are pretty cheap. You’re primarily looking for wear on the brake pads and calipers to see if these components damaged something.
Disc brake rotors are a bit of a hassle to replace, but they’re not super expensive. If your caliper brakes damaged your rim, on the other hand, you might have to make a pricier replacement. If the brakes don’t work at all, be sure to factor in the (fairly low) cost of replacing the brakes into your overall build plan.
What Bike Issues Are Cheap And Easy To Fix?
Brake, shifter, and derailleur issues are often (but not always) the result of stretched cables and simple configuration problems. The $50 to $150 tune-up mentioned above usually includes fixes for these simple problems while also addressing bearing issues, lubing your chain, and performing a bunch of other small maintenance tasks.
These problems are also fairly easy to fix at home, even if you’re not an experienced bike mechanic.
You’ll likely have to buy new inner tubes, a new chain, and brake pads or calipers. Each of these parts costs a few dollars on its own, making them very inexpensive to fix. New brake or shifter cables are similarly inexpensive, although running cables yourself can be a minor hassle if you’re not an experienced mechanic.
Bar tape (for bikes with drop handlebars) is something else that you’ll definitely want to get that won’t set you back very much.
If your wheels are a bit wobbly, truing your wheels at home is possible but tedious. Bike wheels use a number of tensioned spokes to keep the rim fixed in place around the hub. By tightening or loosening the tension on individual spokes, you can correct a rim that wobbles side to side or up and down as it turns.
This process only works if the rim and tire are in good condition, so don’t try to use a spoke wrench to fix a dented rim. Truing a wheel requires a single, inexpensive tool, but it’s also something that takes a good bit of practice to get right. This is definitely something that you shouldn’t feel bad about paying someone else to perform, especially if you’re in a hurry.
How Long Does The Average Bike Last? Bicycle Lifespans Explained
Bikes are modular machines with a number of separate components.
They’re designed so that they can be ridden for hundreds of thousands of miles, with a catch: you’ll have to replace most of the bike parts several times along the way. In other words, while the frame of your bike can easily last for thirty years of heavy riding, your chain and tires might need to be replaced several times a year.
To put it a different way, it’s not super useful to fixate on getting a decade of use out of your entire bike. Instead, focus on how many miles of riding you can get out of each component. Cheap components, like brake pads, inner tubes, tires, and your chain, can and should be replaced often.
More expensive components, like your cassette, hubs, derailleur, and seat, can go for many more miles before they’re replaced, but they can and will need to be replaced eventually. You can replace all of these components individually if and when they fail, however, keeping the total cost of riding your bike quite low.
As a final note, bike frames can last for decades if you ride carefully. If your frame is damaged, however, there’s a good chance that you’ll want to replace it right away.
A single crash, dropping your bike down a flight of stairs, or someone hitting your bike while it’s parked can all cause irreparable damage to your bike’s frame. You’ll almost certainly want to check with a professional to make sure your bike is safe to ride. If it’s not, remember that you can take all of your expensive components and use them on your next bike.