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Guest article: Biking on the cheap

Posted by on July 7th, 2015 at 11:50 am

Disaster Relief Trials -43

Reuben Deumling.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

This article was written by Reuben Deumling, a Portland resident, active participant in the local cargo biking scene, and frequent commenter who some of you may know as “9watts.” You might also recall the cool, DIY wooden child seat he shared with us back in 2010.


I often read here on BikePortland about $5,000 singlespeeds and $6,000 cargo bikes, and I think about a lifetime of used or discarded bikes I’ve fixed up and ridden or resold. I enjoy the lines of a Vanilla or Ahearne or Bullitt as much as the next person, but choosing to live lower on the pecuniary totem pole, that is just not my market.

I’d like to share what the economics of bicycling looks like from my perspective.

Part of the fun of not owning a car is that you avoid all the bills — gas, oil, insurance, parking, and repairs, (not to mention buying the car itself and eventually replacing it) — that come with it. For me, that statistic you read about that suggests the average car-owning household spends around $9,000 per year in car-related expenses, is inconceivable given how our household has chosen to spend money.

I’ve often gotten the impression that many people believe you have only two options when considering a new bike: (1) spend $1,500 at a local shop, or (2) reward thieves by looking for a questionable bike on Craigslist. My experience has been quite different.

Over the past nine years, my family of three has spent an average of just over $2,000 on transportation annually, of which 50% goes for the once-a-year airplane trip to visit my in-laws (I know – a carbon disaster!), while the remaining $1,000 are divided among bikes ($400), busses, and trains ($400), and auto-related costs (when we hitch a ride, take a taxi, or rent a Zipcar) ($230).


The $400 we spend on bikey things in an average year goes for bikes (our daughter has used and grown out of I think seven used bikes already), parts, accessories, and the occasional tool ($270); bike trailers ($50); and panniers, helmets, and clothing ($90).

For me, the best part is that most of the money I spend on bikes and trailers and panniers and racks stays right here in Portland, and, like the bikes themselves, the money continues to circulate in our community.

Often here on BikePortland we discuss the fact that we-who-bike depend on the global economy, oil, and things made-in-China like everyone else, since our bikes and parts are now assumed to have been made over there and shipped halfway around the world. And this is probably largely true when it comes to a new brake pad or chain or derailleur cable. But taking a larger view of owning and maintaining a bike, it is possible to go about this in a manner that is far less dependent on that kind of commerce and rapid replacement schedule.

There are, after all, millions of used bikes, dumpstered tires, wheels left out on the curb, and used parts bins in bike stores. Holding on to the bike you have, or finding a decent used one, and making it last a lifetime is in most cases entirely possible. But does anyone still do this? Yes! And we don’t all have the same reasons.

For some of us there is satisfaction in making the cast-offs, garage sale bikes, and parts that someone else doesn’t want anymore work as well as whatever the Bike Shop or the internet has to offer this month. For others, the opportunity to avoid buying plastic parts made in Asia is a chief motivation.

Some of you might be tempted to dismiss this approach, and assume it is solely because we don’t have much money. But I think you’d be missing a lot if you did.

For me, the best part is that most of the money I spend on bikes and trailers and panniers and racks stays right here in Portland, and, like the bikes themselves, the money continues to circulate in our community.

fall colors

Citybikes is a good source for used parts.

The only bike I ever bought new was a 1987 Schwinn Cimarron MTB when I was sixteen. It cost $700.00. I’ve owned and ridden other bikes since then, but all were acquired used, and maintained or pieced together from my stash of parts. I can usually find a complete bike that may have retailed for a lot when new, but now just needs a tuneup, for less than $100. The bike stores I’ve long preferred also sell used parts and accessories. Looking through the bins at the Citybikes at 1914 SE Ankeny, or scanning Craigslist for (mountain) bikes from the late eighties always yields something useful and often fairly cheap.

Case in point: I rode my 28 year-old Schwinn mountain bike to Citybikes just this morning and came home with some lightly used Kool Stop cantilever brake pads for $4.00.

I don’t think any of us are getting rich recycling used parts into “new” bikes — but we end up with bikes that can serve us well, and that we are able to maintain, find parts for, and keep riding, year after year, decade after decade.

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  • Granpa July 7, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    I too like to make stuff for my bike and acquire used bits on the cheap. I scored on a used Brooks saddle from a reputable consignment shop, and I made a U-lock holster from an old back pack. I will soon be replacing some pedals I bought used and need to check my cheapness impulses when buying used wearing parts. Rubber like in tires or brake pads looses elasticity (grip and traction) over time as the volatiles in the compound out-gas. Pedals that are not rebuildable may feel smooth in the parts bin, but with the weight of a Clydesdale hammering on them the reason they were discarded becomes evident. More often than not, you get what you pay for.

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  • Anne Hawley July 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    I admire your devotion to thrift, with all the values implied in the term: simplicity, living lightly, and prioritizing life over stuff.

    Your figures for annual transportation costs line up pretty well with mine, taking into account that there’s only one of me but that I do have all my bike maintenance done at the shop (not really able to do it myself).

    Six years ago when I realized that biking was going to become my primary mode, I ended up buying a new and not-cheap Workcycles Oma: it bears my weight and height (plus groceries), it’s built like a tank, it never breaks down, it lives outdoors, it’s good in all weather…At $1800 it was an investment, but it’s my forever bike.

    It’s not the right choice for everyone, but people whose use case is similar to mine and who can’t or don’t want to be their own mechanics could do worse than make a similar one time investment as a major step toward car free living.

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    • RH July 7, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      I have a similar bike. They are built like a tank. I still have the original drum brake pads after 5 years and I use the bike 4 times a week! Love that bike.

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      • Anne Hawley July 7, 2015 at 8:52 pm

        I’ve replaced various parts over the years, and upgraded to a NuVinci hub and shifter a year or so ago. Man, is that ever nice! I really love my big Dutch bike!

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    • davemess July 7, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      I was also going to bring this up. Buying/using used stuff can be great, but if you don’t have the time or expertise for the maintenance, often times it might be better for you to spend the money on something new.

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      • are July 7, 2015 at 9:05 pm

        and it is good to keep that part of the economy (neighborhood bike shop) functioning. i am probably talking somewhat out of turn because i have done a couple or three years wrenching in commercial shops, but i do think it is good to be somewhat more self-sufficient than (for example) to have to take the bike into the shop for cable and brake shoe replacement. this stuff can be learned at, among other places, the bikefarm — a shared workspace with tools not everyone can be expected to own.

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  • Dave July 7, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    And, please, if you brain-pick at any particular bikes stores you should as an occasional gesture of respect for the value of their time and knowledge buy something brand new at full retail price. Otherwise, they might not be there to help you out when you need it. Nobody is getting rich selling $10K new bikes, either.

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  • Eric July 7, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    It is so crazy to see such different perspectives on bicycling. I bike purely for enjoyment (on and off road). I spend WAY TOO much $ on bike related parts/things (9watts yearly budget would not last me a month). I have zero desire to be car-free but commute by bike as much as I can (for the sole reason that I enjoy riding).
    Same universe, but totally different planets. Thanks for the story!

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    • Tim July 7, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Having lived on both planets, I say the enjoyment of the ride is the same.

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      • 9watts July 7, 2015 at 3:32 pm

        I picked up a late eighties GT mountain bike on Craigslist for $50 from an old guy in outer SE a few years ago. I tuned it up, added some racks and fenders, and have ridden it quite bit since. This morning I rode it a stretch down Hwy 101. It is every bit as smooth and delightful as any bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s humbling really to notice that Tim is 100% correct.

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  • Dead Salmon July 7, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Bought a new mountain bike for about $400 in 2009. I ride it a lot, mostly on pavement, but it has seen a lot of trails also. It works great. Sure, I’d like an expensive bike, and if you can afford one that’s fine, but nothing wrong with a cheap one. I think many of the new bikes are good quality.

    I have a used ~ 1985 mountain bike that still rides OK, but I don’t like having to pack the old style ball bearings so I don’t ride it. My new bike seems to never need bearing maintenance – maybe the wheel will fall off one day…….Also, the old parts, such as the old solid axles seemed to break occasionally and finding new ones isn’t easy. Had an old Peugeot road bike that I got from a garage sale for $25. Finding old parts for it was impossible so I gave it to a cycling center to fix up.

    You can commute by bike pretty cheaply. I do recommend investing in good puncture resistant tires – there are some good ones but they cost a little more – and they aren’t the lightest, but I’m not racing so weight isn’t an issue. Flat tires are not fun. I always put Mr Tuffy Strips in my tires in addition to buying tough tires. I rarely have flats.

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    • El Biciclero July 7, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      “I do recommend investing in good puncture resistant tires…”

      Also, many people don’t realize that they sell this special glue and rubberized “patches” to fix holes in inner tubes. I have tubes with 3 or 4 patches that still hold plenty of air, and I haven’t bought a new tube in several years. I prefer to carry a spare tube rather than attempt roadside patch jobs (especially in the heat of summer or the cold/wet of winter), so I have to buy at least one extra tube per bike.

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      • Psyfalcon July 7, 2015 at 5:01 pm

        Yes, but I’d rather not change my tube on Barbur in the rain. The marathon pluses were the best $100+ on bike parts that I’ve spent.

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        • El Biciclero July 8, 2015 at 9:26 am

          Oh, definitely. Puncture Resistant > Spare Tube any day of the Winter.

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      • Chris I July 7, 2015 at 5:27 pm

        I ride outer-Sandy Blvd every day. Spending an extra $40 per year on good tires saves me about 10 flats each year. Well worth it.

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    • catherine feta cheese July 7, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      My long distance, all year round commute is done on a filthy, beat up 1970s touring bike that I bought for $18 at a rummage sale over ten years ago — but it has Schwalbe Marathon tires, an absolute necessity.

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      • Anne Hawley July 7, 2015 at 8:58 pm

        Schwalbe Marathons for the win! I’ve had two flats in almost six years of daily riding.

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    • was carless July 7, 2015 at 7:17 pm

      Puncture resistant tires are great!

      I’ve put about 8 years commuting 5-6 days a week as well as bike touring on mine, and never have had a flat. I do about 4-5k a year, i would guess.

      Don’t skimp on tires!

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  • seeshellbike July 7, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    For years I commuted on used bikes that I pieced together and finally two years ago I purchased a new bike where they let me switch out the stock parts to make a perfect fit for me. Boy what a treat, be kind to your body and make sure that your bike new or used fits you.

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  • PNP July 7, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    So now we have a name and a face to associate with “9watts.” Nice article. You make some excellent points, of course. Note to self: stop driving the two miles to the grocery store!

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    • are July 7, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      back in the day the slogan was, under five why drive?

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      • Psyfalcon July 8, 2015 at 7:21 pm

        Was that round trip or one way?

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  • dan July 7, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Three cheers for old bikes!

    I bought a new MTB in 2000 for about $500 — pretty spendy at the time. I’m still commuting on it today, getting my yearly cost down to about $35 per year — though when you include parts and labor, I’m probably closer to $85/year. I’ve replaced the drive train and shifters once, but overall the bike is a tank and could very well last the rest of my life. I’ve even raced short track on it at PIR.

    I have my eye out for a Nishiki Alien too, but I can’t really bear to replace my current commuter, so not sure if I should get one just as a toy.

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  • Brian K Smith July 7, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    As I type to the sound of the garage being demolished to make way for an ADU, space for bike storage and maintenance has been on my mind recently. There’s also been a fair amount of discussion about how much space/time/taxes/etc. “free” auto parking actually costs.

    Can you make any rough estimate about how much extra space (and $) is required to store your collection of cheap parts and assemble/repair bikes on your own versus someone who outsources all of that space to the local bike shop? It’s certainly way less than the auto equivalent, bu we’ve certainly had to think hard about how to store all the bikes for two households.

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    • Anne Hawley July 7, 2015 at 8:48 pm

      Storage was a key issue for me, too. No garage, no shed, no basement. My bike HAS to live outdoors (thankfully, I do have a backyard that’s invisible from the street and has a good locking-up station), and there’s virtually nowhere for me to keep any parts bigger than an inner tube.

      The tradeoff for this tiny house is…well, all sorts of savings over a very long stretch of time. I can manage the cost of professional bike maintenance much more easily than I could manage multiple bikes, parts, and places to work.

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  • ethan July 7, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Cheap bikes are cool, and I much appreciate local bike shops for having really cheap, used parts. Shout out to Bike Farm and Community Cycling Center!

    When I first got back into biking, I decided I was going to build a bike rather than buying one, so I went to CCC and bought some parts at their Sunday sale. I had no idea what I was doing, so I asked a lot of questions. Now, I can repair and maintain bikes pretty decently. But I dislike derailleurs, so I always defer to other people to fix those 🙂

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  • John Liu
    John Liu July 7, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    The uber thrifty bike lifestyle requires some basic mechanical skills and tools. The thumb-fingered cyclist who needs a bike shop to do everything quickly finds that a dumpster bike can be costly indeed.

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    • Alexis July 7, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Indeed. And for new cyclists, a fixer-upper can be intimidating enough to make someone decide to just skip it.

      Personally, I don’t take pleasure in wrenching my own bike (I prefer woodworking). I paid about $500 for a new (previous year’s model) Marin Bridgeway step-through from a local bike shop and spend about $200 a year on maintenance, the occasional flat, or upgrading things like lights and helmet.

      I like to remind people that riding a bike is easy. I ride a solid but inexpensive bike with fenders and a chain guard and I wear dresses and Dansko sandals. I’m not a speed demon – you’ve probably passed me on Naito. You don’t need a $1,200 racing bike, or spandex kit, or any real mechanical skill at all to ride for transportation and pleasure. I’d rather see more people on bikes (and paying local mechanics for their expertise) than turned off the notion of being grease-covered and sweaty (if they don’t want to be, of course).

      I’m glad the author digs it, though – it’s a great hobby and I admire their mechanical skill!

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  • Jane July 7, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    I bought a new Univega 10-speed in 1983, with my first check from my first “real” job. A few people along the way have tried to convince me to upgrade, but I’ve seen no reason to do so. Its still my go-to bike.” Having said that, I did spend $1,500 on a Surly Disc Trucker to do a long-distance tour a few years ago, but alas, I spent too much time while on the road making adjustments so the gears would work right. I was glad to have the disc brakes on long, steep hills.

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  • Tim July 7, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Good stuff – How about some more tips on finding good used parts and avoiding feeding the thieves?

    Wealth is the ratio of what you need and want to what you have. With a little ingenuity, the person who spends $2,000 transportation is just as wealthy as the person who needs a $40,000 car with a $10,000 bike on the rack.

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    • 9watts July 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm

      “How about some more tips on finding good used parts and avoiding feeding the thieves?”

      The thieves thing…
      Probably the easiest way to proceed would be to decide in advance to leave yourself a way to back out of a Craigslist exchange should you get a funny feeling. But I would caution against ruling out the CL thing before you give it a try. When you meet the seller, ask questions, chat him up. No one can force you to buy stuff you feel iffy about. Then there’s ebay. Except for shipping you have a lot of control over the process. I don’t know if people assume that a fair fraction of ebay bike parts are also fenced, but I’ve not heard anyone make that accusation.
      Often buying a whole bike is much cheaper than buying a specific part. If you have the space and like to take bikes apart, I’d recommend this route. Know the market. Know what you are looking for. Take the time to learn enough about prices and availability and condition to stay ahead of the competition and you’ll be in a great place to recognize and snap up the good deals. The only risk with this is that once you start assembling your own parts stash some bikeportland commenters might suspect you to be running a chop shop….:-)
      I’ve heard good things about swap meets but have no direct experience with them.

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    • Alan 1.0 July 7, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      Wealth is the ratio of what you need and want to what you have.

      Good words, Tim!

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  • rachel b July 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Great read, Reuben! And inspiring! Another little motivator for me for going with used stuff is that I like things that are already a little beat up so that then I don’t worry about dings and scratches etc. 🙂 They’re also less tempting (if portable).

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    • rachel b July 7, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      (less tempting for thieves, I mean!)

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  • joeb
    joeb July 7, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    This article is timely. I spent over $1000 on my 2006 Trek Portland last year (purchased new in 2007 for about $1600) and I’m still riding a broken bike. And I am getting really tired of being told that my components are obsolete and nonstandard:

    Shimano no longer makes 105 triple 10 speed shifters so that will cost me $300 from a dwindling supply. (a conversion to friction shifters may be in order)

    Only two manufactures make the nonstandard 130 O.L.D. hub with disc break mounts. $250 – $500 each to replace my worn out wheels. (perhaps I’ll learn to build wheels)

    Besides that, there is the minimum standard maintenance. There is something that needs to be replaced almost every month so that when I am riding, I am almost constantly thinking about worn out components and when I’m going to stop in to drop another $100 at the bike shop:

    2 or 3 Kevlar tires per year: $110 – $165
    2 sets of disc break pads: $80
    3 chains: $120
    1 or 2 cassettes: $60 – $120

    Cost of basic annual maintenance: $400 – $500/year
    Cost of deferred maintenance: $800 – $1300

    I can see why people ride fixies. Life could be easier if I wasn’t fiddling with newfangled componentry. It is frustrating, but I do it to myself. I hate replacing parts that still have some life left in them so I set myself up to fret over the level of wear and the cost of repairs.

    New used bike: $400… hmm

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    • 9watts July 7, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      “I’m still riding a broken bike.”
      You have my sympathy. Sometimes it seems like throwing good money after bad. I have long been fascinated by inflection points in the history of technology: Objects don’t always and automatically get better and better each time a new version is manufactured. Sometimes other priorities intervene and the resulting product is less than the sum of its parts; less than the product it succeeded. Gas cookstoves from the 1940s, table saws from the late thirties, postwar German commercial vehicles, bike trailers & mountain bikes from the 1980s. There are so many features, dimensions, design priorities, and components in a given piece of technology that it is easy to screw up one or more aspect, especially if the bean counters have too much say. Since I like durability and repairability, I’ve found the design of the component groups that were featured on top of the line mountain bikes in the early days to be just the right mix of simplicity, utility, and durability. A well-stocked used market for these parts also doesn’t hurt. I’m sure there are many other periods and components that others have found rewarding; this is just my parochial take on the subject.

      “New used bike: $400… hmm”

      Don’t be afraid to try the $100 one. There’s not much to lose by giving it a shot.

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      • joeb
        joeb July 7, 2015 at 9:12 pm

        Thanks again for the great article and quick response. I do love my Trek Portland and intend to ride it into the ground. It has just been the last month that I have started to hesitantly realize that I may want to start making alterations (although I may just pick up a spare $100 bike to work with). So your article was right on time and the feedback has been outstanding!

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      • LESTER July 9, 2015 at 2:02 pm

        Nashbar has Dura-Ace 3×10 barend shifters for $50 right now. Add $35 or so for brake levers.

        130mm disc hubs should be increasing in popularity, as road disc usage is increasing.

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    • Brian July 7, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      There are plenty of options for 10speed triple shifters that aren’t $300 and will Last a lot longer and need less adjustment/maintenance than STI levers. My favorite would the system offered From Gevenalle (Portland based). They are dead easy to install your self and last forever. You could also get bar end shifters and regular brake levers for a few bucks less, all new. Full friction shifters are an option but some people find it difficult to shift 10sp with friction shifters as the spacing is tighter between the rear cogs, and it can be hard to find the “sweet spot” for each gear.

      I (all 250lbs of me) ride 2500 miles a year commuting and I only go through one tire a year and that is only because I ride supple tires. I have a set of Schwalbe marathons that have at least 5000 miles on them and they are still trucking. “Kevlar” tires help with puncture protection but thicker rubber makes longer wearing tires.

      If you do research and consider the durability of each component you can really do a lot to limit your maintenance costs over time.

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      • joeb
        joeb July 7, 2015 at 8:35 pm

        Nice. I just installed my first Schwalbe Marathon Plus on Sunday. I do have 2,700 miles on my badly scarred Gatorskin and I will get many more, but not without worry 🙂

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      • joeb
        joeb July 7, 2015 at 10:08 pm

        and I’m getting those shifters… Velo Cult!

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    • Pete July 7, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      Have you considered going to a compact double crankset with a wider cassette? You can get a 50-34 double for ~$80 on closeout, and a new 105 28-11 cassette for $50-60. You will need a new chain (I buy KMC 10-speed chains from trailthis on eBay for $20 and replace them frequently enough to reduce wear on gear teeth). You may or may not need a new front derailleur – it doesn’t have to be 105-compatible; I’ve used older/cheaper 8- and 9-speed FDs with newer 10-speed systems for years. Anyway, your gearing range will not be that different – there’s a reason triples are going away. With the limits and cables set properly on your FD, your 3-ring front shifter will work just fine with the double cranks. (If you need even lower gearing you can find 46-32 doubles for cyclocross, but you spin out on the top end on fast road descents).

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      • Brian July 8, 2015 at 5:35 pm

        Also, have you tried using a 135mm rear disc wheel in your 130mm frame? If so, you can get a pair of Shimano RX05 700c cyclocross wheels for $160 at Western Bikeworks (they are $125 online with free shipping from Ribble in UK). I use a 135mm RX05 as the rear wheel in my old 130mm non-disc Synapse frame on my trainer, and it fits snug but doesn’t cause shifting issues.Recommended 0

        Changing to a double system doesn’t really help any of the problems he is experiencing, it would make the repairs needlessly more expensive. For most people a triple makes a lot more sense than a “compact” double. 46/32 gearing is not possible with standard compact road (110mm bcd) cranks. There are ways to get that combo but they require non standard cranks (White Industries VBC system, Sugino OX, + a handful more) or setting a triple up as a double (using the middle and outer rings of a 94bcd crank and cutting off the inner mounts or using the middle and inner of a 110 bcd using a bashgaurd) or getting really lucky and finding an old crank (50.4 bcd TA or a 94 bcd Ritchey Logic double) and dealing with finding chainrings and getting them to work well with modern 9+ speed drivetrains. 46/30 is a great combo for all around riding unless you really need to go more than 45mph on a downhill (no one does)

        here is a good article about super compact doubles:

        As for using a 135mm hub on a 130mm spaced aluminum frame… It might work fine or it might unnecessarily stress the aluminum stays to the point they fail. I know a lot of mechanics and frame builders who would warn against ever spreading Aluminum.

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        • Pete July 9, 2015 at 11:30 am

          You’re right; it was a 104mm crank I’ve run the 32 on (and may have been a triple that I was just using as a double). For the most part, though, a compact double with a 28-11 gives sufficient range for all but the steepest hills. From my experience, triples need to be shifted properly or else chain drops and rubbing/cross-chaining occurs, and sometimes chains just jamming. These events also take a toll on the cable, which seems to need replacement more often (on the triples we have, anyway).

          I believe shops do a disservice to novice riders when they sell them triples, unless they make sure the buyer knows how to use it properly. My wife’s triple requires frequent adjustments and she drops the chain on it frequently. She has grown to hate that bike but believes she needs a triple to ride the hills in Oregon, which is ironic because she rides hills that are just as steep in California with her compact double (and she is not athletic).

          Regardless, would you agree that the numbers that joeb quotes for maintenance seem high?

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          • Brian July 9, 2015 at 2:14 pm

            I rode a 46/36/26 Crank with an 11-28 9sp rear cassette for a couple of years, both in Portland and Minneapolis, and found it to be ideal for commuting, I never had problems dropping chains or wearing cables. Every system needs to be shifted properly to work well. Learning how to do so takes a few minutes and only a very basic understanding of how a bike works. Now I ride an 48/33 (Stronglight makes a 33t) 11-32 11sp and it is great for me as I like to get a bit of a work out in during my 12 mile commute and it is fine for getting up steep climbs on recreational rides. But for the average non-athletic (not that I am Athletic at all) commuting cyclist I think a triple or a “super” compact double is more appropriate. A 26t granny can be a godsend on a steep climb loaded with panniers/backpack in the middle of summer when you want to show up to your destination looking mildly presentable. I like where Rivendell is going with their 40/26 double ( and think it would be appropriate for many commuters who just don’t need an 100in high gear.

            I do agree that the prices could be lower for parts if you were in the know and could shop for deals online. They seemed on the high end of reasonable for a LBS but not outlandish. Even less so if they include installation. But $40 for a 10sp chain. Unless you were buying the rust proof KMCs (which are nice chains, no doubt) but If you are replacing them once a year you probably don’t need to spend the extra money and a $20 chain is fine.

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    • Pete July 7, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      Also, have you tried using a 135mm rear disc wheel in your 130mm frame? If so, you can get a pair of Shimano RX05 700c cyclocross wheels for $160 at Western Bikeworks (they are $125 online with free shipping from Ribble in UK). I use a 135mm RX05 as the rear wheel in my old 130mm non-disc Synapse frame on my trainer, and it fits snug but doesn’t cause shifting issues.

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      • joeb
        joeb July 7, 2015 at 9:52 pm

        I really like your suggestions. No, I have never tried any of this and you immediately inspired me to check out Bike Farm where I may be able to experiment and learn.

        As a preteen in the 70s, I had a boneyard of BMX bikes and interchanged parts to keep my custom ride rolling. But sadly, I lost more than 20 years before rediscovering bike transportation in 2005 at which point I bought my first “real” bike. I can’t say that I am real keen to spend a lot of time building and maintaining a bike, but I’m not very keen on the maintenance I am already doing and I even less keen to put out $2000 on a new disposable bike.

        You know what, if I was a guy who did regular tune ups, an annual overhaul, frequently replaced lightly worn parts and bought a new bike every four years, I wouldn’t have anything to complain about. But that would be a different guy. I just can’t seem to dispose of something that is still giving me base utility. That is why I like this conversation about revamping and repurposing to bring about an even more basic and durable utility. I’m not sure how much time I am willing to spend, but any time I do spend will certainly not be wasted.

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    • Psyfalcon July 7, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      You’re way harder on bikes than me but wear parts are easily available.

      Replacement shifters are a very annoying problem though. I have 8 spd sti which works, and its cheap, unless the shifter itself goes out. It seems like there should be some market for a company like cane creek to come out with replacement parts like they do for brake levers.

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      • joeb
        joeb July 7, 2015 at 11:14 pm

        I am very imprudent about maintenance. I don’t keep things clean and that is some abrasive grit in the winter! I run a chain too long because it still works all the while it is ruining my gears. Undead batteries drive me crazy because you can’t see it, but that light is still on. I wear shoes till the toe falls off. Its a disorder.

        I did wonder too about other manufactures stepping up and I do need to look into more options. But this conversation has been eye opening. I have become less irate. Pete’s comments about gear sets gave me more understanding of my predicament and the Gevenalle shifters look like a good option. I feel better. Now I just need time and money do something about it… and I’d rather be riding.

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      • davemess July 8, 2015 at 7:06 am

        Campagnolo (and I think SRAM) have rebuildable shifters. Shimano never has. Quite lame.

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    • soren July 8, 2015 at 7:32 am

      your prices are unnecessarily high. i buy far better than oem disc brake pads for $7-9 a piece (search for truckerco on ebay or amazon). $20-25 for a light-weight kevlar bead tire (rubino pro, gran fondo tricomp etc). 10 speed chains for $12-14. the only thing i splurge on is cassettes -~$40-45 for lightweight 10 speed cassettes

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    • soren July 8, 2015 at 7:45 am

      that’s because they were moved down to tiagra when 105 went 11 speed. new shimano 4603 shift levers are currently available for as little as ~$108 for the pair.

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  • Pete July 7, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks for posting this, and thanks 9watts – I always enjoy your comments and our ‘conversations.’ Though we’re quite different when it comes to bikes, I think we share the same sensibilities. For me it ends up being about ‘the hunt’ – getting the right deal on the right part to tweak the bike just how I want it. I’ve released plenty of nice personalized bikes into the CL market, as my preferences have changed through the years and when I sell, I’ll find just the right buyer who knows this is the bike for him. When I see that glint in their eyes I know I can come down just a little on the price and open up the road to someone new.

    One thing I’ve learned is to time the closeout market. November is often the best time to buy new parts, and companies will change their model lines every few years to be fresh, leaving behind perfectly good components that might be silver instead of gray, etc.

    Also, to help thwart thieves, consider stainless steel security screws on select components. They are Torx with a metal hump in the middle, and you can buy the tool for it at Harbor Freight for $6. The screws can be found on eBay; there’s actually a commercial seller in Gresham that I’ve used before for specialized nuts/bolts/screws.


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  • Paul in the 'Couve July 7, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Absolutely fantastic article!! This is the kind of “Lifestyle” articles we need 🙂 Thank you 9watts

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    • joeb
      joeb July 7, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Absolutely fantastic article and conversation with 9Watts and Pete. Wow, I’m glad I posted. What a clear, well written explanation of where to start.

      I’ve been a year round commuter for 10 years and 30,000 miles. I do a lot of my own basic maintenance, but I have not built or converted a bike to suit me. This is motivating!

      I think I’m going to start by spending some time at Bike Farm.

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      • joeb
        joeb July 7, 2015 at 8:17 pm

        …and Brian. Thank you all for the suggestions! Now I’m on the hunt.

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  • Eric Leifsdad July 7, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    I’m short on time right now, so I’m spending money to perhaps make a nice used electric family bike market in the future. I’m glad that we have recycling and reuse shops in town and I’ve bought a few bikes on craigslist. That said, I strongly advise anyone who would be spending money on a decent-ish car to visit their friendly local bike shop and spend it with gusto (because you can generally get just what you need and still have money left.) While not everyone is mechanically inclined, it’s good that you can build or buy your way into a bike.

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  • sam July 7, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    At 6’6″ after looking for over a year for a good used bike. After a few awkward frames and pushing seatposts to their extreme, I broke down and bought a new one that fit me (Surly LHT). I love the idea of piecing together an old beater but for me it seemed like it would require far too much time finding parts and stuff that fit me. I stead I’m going for buy a bike and hopefully ride it for life.

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  • jd July 8, 2015 at 7:22 am

    I ride a bike I got at Citybikes 15 years ago for $200. Seeing other people with bakfietses and beautiful Pinteresting bikes with leather saddles, sometimes I worry that I’m doing it wrong, but I can’t imagine spending thousands on a bike, either.

    I’d be very interested in the progression of kid bike transport you’ve gone through over the years.

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    • 9watts July 8, 2015 at 8:36 am

      “I’d be very interested in the progression of kid bike transport you’ve gone through over the years.”

      2 yrs old: shared the price of a *new* Rolli-Rider with my sister $220. Both our kids got their start on it. (=Plywood balance bike made in California)
      3-1/2 yrs old: bought an AMF Junior Roadmaster banana-seat spider man bike w/ hard rubber tires on CL for $40. The pedals were shot so I bought a 17/32″ drill bit and made some out of oak.
      4 yrs old: purple hand me down kid’s bike with 12″ wheels and a pinwheel on the front basket.
      5 yrs old: kid/BMX bike with 16″ wheels for $30.
      6 yrs old: NEXT Chinese BMX style bike with fenders and a plastic chain guard & 20″ wheels, also on CL for ~$45
      7 yrs old: 11″ Specialized Hard Rock Comp w/ 26″ wheels & suspension fork $40 on CL
      8 yrs old: 14″ Cannondale MTB w/ 26″ wheels for $75 on CL which she’s still riding at 10-1/2

      Most all of these we re-sold on Craigslist after she outgrew them. In her father’s opinion we could have done with half as many models during that period, but with everything but the Rolli Rider being so cheap and easy to acquire and resell at essentially no loss it was not hard to make work.

      Then there was the progression of seats to accommodate her on her parents’ bikes: Wee-ride, front ($70 new, sold for $50), Troxel, rear ($5 garage sale, sold for $45), Co-Pilot Limo found on curb (sold for $40) and my own wooden model mentioned above.

      Thanks for asking. It was fun—and a little bit exhausting—to go back and piece this sequence together.

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      • jd July 10, 2015 at 8:33 am

        Thank you! We bought one of those handlebar seats, then realized we’d need different handlebars. By the time we decided to follow up, we had two ready to ride, so we sprung for a trailer, which is great, but so heavy (and only getting heavier).

        Looks like you had your kid on her own bike really young — nice! Maybe we’ll start working on that again for at least one of our kids.

        Thanks again!

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  • AndyC of Linnton July 8, 2015 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for the article, Reuben Deumling, and glad to meet you beyond the comments. Hope to meet you in person one day(BikePortland anniversary party?).
    -Chadwick Ferguson

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    • 9watts July 8, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Sounds great to me.
      And thanks everyone for the nice comments!

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  • Slow Joe Crow July 8, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Our best experience with kid’s bikes was cycling through Sellwood Cycle Repair’s consignment inventory. Lately a mix of craigslist in the SW burbs, garage sales, the PDX super swap, and the Community Cycling Center have kept us in bikes and parts for projects.
    I’ve also had good experiences buying used rental bikes when I want something more modern.
    Another good resource on the West side is the Washco BTC shop in Hillsboro.

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  • Carl July 8, 2015 at 10:55 am

    That Schwinn is sweet! You must’ve been pretty serious about biking if, in 1987 at 16, you got a $700 bike. That’s nearly $1500 in today’s dollars! It’s clearly served you well. Getting the good stuff and making it last is a winning combo. Thanks for a solid article Reuben.

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    • 9watts July 8, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      “You must’ve been pretty serious about biking if, in 1987 at 16, you got a $700 bike.”
      Yes. I wanted a real mountain bike more than anything in the world, and in those days there was no used market for them, at least that I knew about. It was all the money I had, and my 22mi round trip commute through the woods to high school seemed to call for something worthy. 🙂

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  • Electric Mayhem July 8, 2015 at 11:56 am

    I like working on my bike, so I actually kind of like it when my bike breaks as long as it doesn’t leave me stranded. I put on a lot of miles (5-6K), so I am rewarded frequently!

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    • Captain Karma o July 8, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      I’d sleep better if I had some of those screws, nuts, ‘n bolts! Can you reveal that distributor in Gresham?

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      • Pete July 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

        Just happened to catch this – reply hasn’t been working too great on BP lately I’ve noticed. The eBay seller name is “troypoppins”, and the store is called “X-Treme Distributing.” It doesn’t look like there are many security bolts listed anywhere on eBay though. I’ve only gotten regular stainless bolts from troypoppins; I can’t remember (or find) where I got the Torx security screws from but you may want to reach out and ask:

        This person also has some listed:

        Incidentally, troypoppins is the person I also picked up “20-SS M4 X 12MM SFH SOCKET FLAT HEAD ALLEN STAINLESS STEEL TYPE A2 SCREWS 4MM” from last year to use on my Speedplay cleats. The regular cleat screws wear quickly and are nearly impossible to remove with a Philips head if you don’t replace them in time. These don’t wear so quickly, but more importantly give you a better grip for removal with an Allen head.

        Good Luck!

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  • Sam Churchill July 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    I went to Salem on the train last week and wished there were a community bike sharing hub near the train station.

    A Community Bike Sharing Hub might provides free WiFi and bike rentals. Like Spinlister except individuals could place their own bikes at high traffic areas near transit stations. The Community Bike Sharing hub might charge a flat $30-$50/month and 20% of the rental fee. That covers space rent, cellular backhaul, and cloud management services.

    Individuals could set their own rental rates, daily or hourly. They would be responsive for maintenance.

    – Portland Bike Share, coming in 2016, is designed for short term (1 hr or so) riding from point A to point B. But it may be too expensive for those who want to rent a bike for 4-8 hours. Memberships range from $5 to $10 for a day or $50 to $100 for a year. Once you’re a member, the first 30 minutes of every ride are free. But over 30 minutes, and can be $12/hr or more.

    – SoBi Bikes is another smartphone based bike sharing system with built-in GPS.

    – Portland’s Open Bike Inc. is an “open source” model The Oregon non-profit has built prototypes of their “OBI 2.0” GPS-enabled smart locks and are working to get a small pilot up and running.

    Having your bike available for rent at convenient downtown locations rather than your residence is an advantage over Spinlister. The downside; unlike large scale bike sharing plans, users would have to return the bike back to the same bike hub, and owners would be responsible for maintenance. The upside: it enables cheaper hourly or daily rates and individual bike owners could find it profitable.

    Here’s how an “open source” bike sharing service might work:

    1. The Bike Petal Rack. This modular, standing rack stores 8 bikes semi-vertically with the rear wheel cradled at the bottom to hold it in place. The rack fits in a 10 ft x 10 ft space and partially covers bikes from the elements. They’d be located near Max stops, bus and train stations.

    2. Solar power. The Bike Petal Rack features solar panels to charge a 200 a/h battery and run a free hotspot and live camera (4
    amps at 12 volts total). A 200 watt panel produces an average of about 12 amps per peak sun hour, or about 60 amp-hours per day. With a 24 hr day cycle (4 amps x 24 hrs = 48amp/hrs day.

    3. The Almond + 802.11ac hotspot provides free community WiFi and is also Zigbee compatable. Zigbee links to sensors such as LED lights, motion detector, dead lock bolts and even an alarm. It’s managed in the cloud.

    4. A Bluetooth powered bike lock goes with each bike. Alternatively, people could simply receieve a text message with the combination on a resetable U-bolt.

    Low cost bike sharing, enabled by Spinlister, seems like it could be “open sourced” to benefit everyone. Maybe Intel, Kickstarter, or alternative financing like Hatch could fund it.

    – Sam

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  • Eric July 8, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Oh I see…. So you guys are going to buy cheap old Craig’s List bikes and keep them on the road for 100 years for under a nickle a year, while I am stuck financing the local bike shops with my new-tech/compulsive/cooler-lighter-stronger purchases!
    Real fair guys!! C’mon, share the burden with me! Buy something new/shiny/expensive so our local shops can make payroll!! (ha ha ha haa)

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    • 9watts July 8, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      I am very interested in bike shops staying in business and making payroll. And wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from patronizing them for whatever category of product or service they wish. But I’d point out that having them tune up your bike for you keeps a larger share of the money you’re spending local than buying a new bike from them. If I’m wrong about this I’d love to learn more.

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      • Eric July 9, 2015 at 8:18 am

        Good points watt’y.
        A few weeks ago River City told me about a month wait to rebuild my Fox 32 fork. So I did it myself in about an hour the next day (after watching a YouTube video)….I would love to use the service departments more, but the downtime just kills me.

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    • Pete July 8, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Depends… when some shops want to charge me more to pull a bottom bracket than a bottom bracket tool costs, I have to weigh how many bottom brackets I’ll end up pulling in my lifetime.

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  • Doug Morgan July 9, 2015 at 7:11 am

    I’ve broken and repaired two steel bikes I still ride. I rode the Bianchi on a century last year. They both broke on the chain stay where it meets the dropout, chain side. That’s where they break.

    I broke my carbon Trek 5200 and now it’s junk IMO, I’ll never buy another.

    Old bikes, steel bikes are just better.

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    • soren July 9, 2015 at 11:15 am

      And I’ve broken 4 metal frames while commuting. 3 cracked bottom brackets and one cracked head tube. None were repairable without spending more than it would cost to buy a better new or used frame. On the other hand, I cracked the top tube on my carbon fiber city bike and it was quickly and cheaply repaired.

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  • Aaron July 13, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    I thought it would be worthwhile sharing this with you Reuben, Jonathan, et. al.
    Last week a group and I traveled to Wy’East (commonly known as Mt. Hood) without spending money on anything more then trail mix. Our bikes were used, buckets or old panniers, old hiking packs, and yet we still got to almost 7000 ft entirely by human power

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  • Ted Buehler July 13, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Came across this post again today.

    I’ve scored at least 5 decent 80s/90s mountain bikes from the Goodwill Bins over the last 2 years. And 2 from the Community Warehouse thrift shop on NE MLK (which, sadly, no longer stocks bicycles).

    They make great loaner and touring bikes. One of the Community Warehouse bikes was the one I used on a tour last summer from Finland to Ukraine.

    Shop The Bins. But don’t buy Magna, Huffy, Next, Murray, Roadmaster or Mongoose…

    Ted in OR

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