Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 18th, 2009 at 10:00 am
An article published Monday in the popular New York Times blog, Freakonomics, claims that used bikes in Portland are overpriced.
In, Bicycle Inflation in Paradise, reporter Robin Goldstein sets out to buy a used bike during a recent visit to Portland and then is shocked to find out the going rate for a road-worthy used city bike in Portland is about $500 — much more than the $35 he spent for a squeaky junker last time he was in a bike shop.
Here’s an excerpt:
“… what’s up with this bike micro-inflation? Why does there seem to be no market in Portland for used bikes that are actually cheap?”
And then, after pointing out that Costco sells a Schwinn city bike for $200 (a “far inferior bike” he admits), Goldstein writes:
“But you’ve got to love a city whose citizens put a set of moral/aesthetic principles — whether it’s riding a bike with proper disc brakes or refusing to support the Big Box stores — this far above their own financial well-being.”
I’ve also noticed the lack of big box store bikes in this town (even at mass events like Bridge Pedal). But the fact that used bikes here cost a bit more than you’d think, goes beyond simply “moral/aesthetic principles” and the supply/demand curve.
“The word on the street was that so many people are selling their cars (or taking their cars off the road) and using bikes to commute to work that there just aren’t enough bikes to go around.”
— Robin Goldstein, Freakonomics blog
In Portland, used city bikes are seen as serious transportation vehicles. As such, most shops in town don’t put them on the sales floor unless they’ve got things like good brake pads, fenders, a bell, new or almost new tires, a durable drivetrain, and so on.
You wouldn’t think of doing a serious race with a cheap and squeaky 10-speed would you? Well, it’s the same for commuters and everyday transportation riders. They put in the miles and they expect the bike to perform well for a long time.
Also in Portland, there is a generally high bike I.Q. That is, many people here understand that a good, solid bike, put together by a knowledgeable mechanic (who’s getting paid a fair wage and, gasp! might even have health insurance), is actually a better value than a cheap department store bike, even if it costs several hundred dollars more.
Another factor that might keep the supply down, is that Portland is a D.I.Y. town, especially when it comes to bikes. Being a very novice mechanic myself, I’m always impressed at how many people here know how to fix and build up their own bikes. We’ve also got the cultural infrastructure in place to help them. There are several local shops known for cheap used parts and bike repair classes come in all shapes and sizes — from private lessons to free wrenching nights at shops.
I agree with Goldstein in some respects. Demand for used city bikes is outstripping supply and, to a certain extent, the higher price reflects the local socio-cultural milieu. Next time, maybe he should just rent a bike.
Read the full New York Times blog post here.