Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Where to buy a bike and get it ready for fun season

Evansville, Indiana Target’s bike wall

Bike sales are through the roof — in Portland and across the country. Isn’t that great? Only downside is basic bikes can be hard to come by. And then there’s the need for repairs and maintenance.

An old mom-group friend posted this photo of the bike wall in an Evansville, Indiana Target. That’s pretty amazing. There was recently even a BikePortland Forums post asking about where to buy right now. I also just started following Portland Bicycle Emporium on Instagram. The owner of that shop is pulling 12-plus hour days and can’t keep low-priced, starter bikes in stock (his posts crack me up, so worth a follow).

It’s sort of weird but I’m suddenly a veteran now in comparison to all the new cyclists. JK. I still have no idea what I’m doing, so I’m going to ask you:

Where have you seen a good stock of bikes? Where do you suggest new cyclists go? I know BikePortland has a great running list of who’s open, but do you have more pointers for the families and people out there looking for bikes?

With vehicle traffic levels already inching back up, I’d hate to lose a window of opportunity to get more humans on bikes.

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bike spring cleaning; Photo by Becky Jo

On the flip side, more people are pulling their bikes out of the garage. And some of these bikes need some love. Kenton Cycle, my preferred local bike shop, has tune-ups available but is booked about two weeks out. That’s really not too bad, but I don’t need a tune-up and would prefer to leave those slots open for people who really need them.

What’s your spring cleaning and road-ready checklist? For the new people, what are some hot tips we shouldn’t forget to check? If few more people could do basic things like pump-up tires and apply some chain lube, they could get rolling faster and start having more fun.

And what about fun spring accessories?

I’m so happy to be shedding all my wool layers and (mostly) hanging up my wet-weather gear, I’m ready to get my bike more spring/summer outfitted. I’m thinking front baskets for me and my girls, maybe with some of these fun reflective flowers. Do I need to worry about baskets putting pressure on my break or gear cables? I have drop bars; should I invest in a front rack instead? I know, I know, by the time I’m done, the stuff on my bike will weigh more than my bike.

Pedalpalooza 2020 pennant.

I ordered my Pedalpalooza pennant, but there’s also a print-your-own Team Bike Fun option if you want to summer-fy your bike. I’m thinking I need to stencil out an embroidery patch on a denim jacket or maybe one of my saddlebags. What do you think?

As always, thank you so much for hanging out with me here.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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Carrie
2 years ago

You are clearly a crafter. It never even crossed my mind that decorating my bike with crafty things was part of spring bike prep :). Anyway, one tip for those of us who ride with people who are still growing (aka kids) — you will definitely need to raise the saddle after the winter! And lube the chain. The other thing we often saw at the Spring Sunday Parkways were brakes that needed new pads and/or were just out of whack. So if something sounds like it’s rubbing — that should be looked at by someone who knows what they are doing — either a mechanic or a neighbor who knows how to adjust things.

9watts
2 years ago
Reply to  Carrie

“you will definitely need to raise the saddle after the winter”

Because kids are like plants…. they grow only when the soil warms up?

Carrie
2 years ago
Reply to  9watts

Because we were talking about pulling bikes out of the garage that hadn’t been ridden all winter….

9watts
2 years ago

Craigslist. Always a great source for inexpensive bikes.
Folks here will say that *everything on CL is fenced, stolen, etc.* but that has not been my experience. I’ve been buying and selling on Craigslist since about 2003 and have in almost all cases had good experiences.

Buying local and used keeps the money local.
https://bikeportland.org/2015/07/07/guest-article-biking-cheap-145985

9watts
2 years ago
Reply to  9watts
Jason
Jason
2 years ago
Reply to  9watts

If you are shopping on CL and you ask for a serial number, the answer will tell you a lot. I can only speak for myself, but if I was selling on CL, I wouldn’t have any issues giving the S/N to a buyer to run through a hot check. I think CL is good, but buyer beware.

I can't be just Al anymore?
I can't be just Al anymore?
2 years ago
Reply to  9watts

There are a LOT of great deals on CL and I’m a huge fan both as a buyer and seller. That said, I don’t think it’s a good place for beginners to buy a bike.

9watts
2 years ago

that beginner should take a friend-who-isn’t-a-beginner along.

I can't be just Al anymore?
I can't be just Al anymore?
2 years ago
Reply to  9watts

CL just doesn’t work this way. A beginner is very unlikely to be happy with their purchase even with a “non-beginner friend” along. It’s best to go to your LBS. You get to pick what you want, when you want it and if something needs an adjustment or fix, then you know where to take it. If you want something used, then go to the Community Cycling Center or other stores which sell used bikes.

9watts
2 years ago

“CL just doesn’t work this way”

Are you named Craig?

I mean, Craigslist is kind of a diverse experience. and you know nothing about the friend someone might bring along. No two exchanges (friends) are alike. It seems kind of presumptuous of you to assert that my suggestion can’t work. I think used bike venues of all sorts are great; let’s not disqualify any just yet.

9watts
2 years ago
Reply to  9watts

another example https://offerup.co/dSTDkzyVq6 much closer in.

Jason
Jason
2 years ago

First and foremost, don’t buy your bike from a department store. The assembly of department store bikes ranges across a wide spectrum from “criminally dangerous” to “competent(?)”. Always buy a bike from a bike shop, unless you really want a used one off CL. That’s fine too, but buyer beware.

As I grew up in Eugene, I saw bike shops come and go. Only a few that I knew as a teen are still around. Bike shops might seem like high end boutiques to newcomers, but you get what you paid for. You can find a bike for less than $800 these days. I know someone who picked up a Jamis at Seven Corners for about that much, with Shimano Claris groupo. She’s done multiple centuries and daily commuted over the 5-7 years she has owned it.

When you buy a bike, shop around. You want to try as many bikes as possible. New bike glamour has a way of seducing would be buyers. New bikes (almost) always feel really good too, so you can’t trust your first reaction. Sometimes there’s that rare bike that feels wrong. For the most part though, you want to sample the field to get a feel for what’s out there. But you’re not just sampling bicycles.

You are also trying on shops. If you don’t like the shop or the employees, don’t buy your bike there. Major brands can be found in many different outlets, if you like the bike but not the shop, try to find another dealer for that brand. Any dealer for a given brand should be able to get the bike you tried.

I feel it is really important to support local bike shops. Find the one you like and please, please, please avoid buying anything bike related on the internet. Unless you can’t find it locally. Bike shops live by a narrow margin, and the bulk of the profits come from accessories, not bikes. At least from what I understand.

David Feldman
David Feldman
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason

And, if you must buy a department store bike, take it to a real bike store with skilled mechanics and expect to pay $100-$150 for both the labor to reassemble it safely and competently, and possible replacement of defective parts or ones that were damaged by department store hack misassembly

Jason
Jason
2 years ago
Reply to  David Feldman

Most bike shop mechanics would not work on a department store bike. That’s a bit like asking a carpenter to repair your Ikea desk.

SERider
SERider
2 years ago

i think most people would consider REI to be near an LBS caliber. They have a dedicated shop on site, with decent mechanics, and sell mostly name brand bikes (Cannondale, Salsa, previously Scott, etc.). They have gone more into their own Co-Op bikes lately, but from what I’ve heard those are decent quality. They also offer free tune ups on the bikes (which you clearly won’t get at Fred Meyer’s or Target).

Jason
Jason
2 years ago
Reply to  SERider

Yeah, see? You can get a Salsa with Claris under $800 at REI. That would likely last as long as you can keep up on the repairs. Great entry bike.
https://www.rei.com/product/124178/salsa-journeyman-flat-bar-claris-650-bike

Jason
Jason
2 years ago

REI is a bike shop, because they have a repair team. You can’t go into Target and get a wheel trued, for instance. I am not a bike mechanic, so I may have spoken out of turn. But in my perception, department store bikes are outfitted with a whole different spectrum of parts. Parts that bike shops don’t carry.

That being said, I did my due diligence to see if I could find a Target bike and read up on the parts (the parts are not described by the way). I found this doozy, a $3000 MTB at Target. At that point I said, why bother? You can spend your money just as freely in Target as you can at REI.

https://www.target.com/p/radio-siren-26-mountain-bike-22-8-tt-matte-black/-/A-79416141

I rest on the statement that a bike shop bike comes with a supportive staff to help you get through those tight spots. You just don’t get that with department stores. Although you can spend just as much either place. https://www.target.com/p/radio-siren-26-mountain-bike-22-8-tt-matte-black/-/A-79416141

Bikes come with sticker shock. $800 is a relative cost. It’s not a ticket to ride, it’s an investment. I’m sure you can point to off brand sewing machines that are functional but not worth the low price of admission; and some that seem exorbitantly expensive, but are well worth it. In my example, that cost can be amortize across six years (so far). Who knows how many years that bike will last? With proper maintenance, indefinitely.

For reference, here is a $525 BMX bike for a kid from Target. For the extra $275, you get a whole lot more in my example.

https://www.target.com/p/radio-raceline-cobalt-20-expert-complete-bmx-bike-19-5-top-tube-black-yellow/-/A-76686503

When it comes to kid bikes, I highly recommend CL if you are on a budget. Used bike values are infinitesimal compared to the retail price. Which is another reason to make sure you get the right one for you.

SERider
SERider
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason

Just WOW. Good find. That looks a dirt jump bike. And that description is just perfect. Couldn’t imagine spending $3K on a bike and they say it weighs 2.62 lbs! My guess is some buyer at Target wanted one for himself at wholesale price so they had to buy a few to at least pretend to sell.

Matt
Matt
2 years ago
Reply to  SERider

I believe it’s technically a slopestyle bike; dirt jumpers don’t have rear suspension. Looks like a sweet ride either way.

It says “Sold and shipped by 365 Cycles”, so I’m guessing this is just like how Amazon lists and sells a bunch of stuff that never touches down in an Amazon warehouse either.

Matt
Matt
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason

At the risk of using a “No true Scotsman” fallacy… No true bike mechanic will refuse to work on a bike just because it’s cheap and low quality. I say this as a full time mechanic of several years’ experience.

Now, do we *enjoy* working on them? No, they’re a pain in the ass and we refer to them as “BSO’s” — Bicycle-Shaped Objects. But most of us still respect the “run what ya brung” ethos: that riding on a crappy bike is better than no bike at all, and we just want to get you back out there turning your pedals.

The only times I have refused to work on a bike were because they were not, and could not be made to be, safe to ride (due to dangerous damage or modifications).

Jason
Jason
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt

I feel misquoted by your statement. What I said was, “asking a bike mechanic to work on a department store bike is like asking a carpenter to repair an Ikea desk”. I never said “no true bike mechanic will refuse to work on a bike just because it’s cheap and low quality”.

And your statement proves my point. Namely, calling them, “bike shaped objects”.

But I’m curious, do department store bikes come with group sets and bearing sets that you can source? And can you speak to the build quality? If someone bought a DSB and didn’t have it rebuilt, would they be in danger?

Matt
Matt
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason

The direct quote I was objecting to was, “Most bike shop mechanics would not work on a department store bike.”

Because I firmly believe that the proportion of bike shop mechanics who would work on a department store bike is greater than 50 percent, I see your statement as false and harmful–harmful both to our collective professional reputation as mechanics, and to the safety of our potential customers who need their bikes fixed.

Yes, it is possible to buy exact replacements for the parts you find on these bikes, but it’s not worth the trouble, because for a mere pittance more you can purchase a compatible but upgraded part, and the part itself will still cost less than the labor required to install it.

Yes, these bikes are very frequently assembled with dangerous errors. The most common is probably a quill stem bolt that’s insufficiently tightened, which can come loose and make the bike impossible to steer. That’s usually an immediate crash.

todd.boulanger
todd.boulanger
2 years ago
Reply to  David Feldman

And for those of you looking for a highly regarded bike mechanic – David of Feldman’s Bicycle Repair – would be a good place to start for service in Clark County. 🙂 Many of my fellow long time bike commuters recommend him. Make an appointment…Not sure if you have to bring your bike in or if David still is mobile too.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 years ago

Spring is when I measure my chain and middle chainring for wear, replacing each if necessary. But if I decide I’m leaving the chain on, I thoroughly clean my chain with a chain cleaning tool filled with a bath of a combination of 95% cooking oil and 5% vinegar, then wipe it off afterwards with a rag and re-oil it. I also clean my rear cassette cogs with chain floss (thick-looking shoe strings). I switch out my winter tires for summer ones (higher pressure and smoother tread.) I also clean the frame a bit, to get rid of caked-on dirt. I also check my disc pads and springs for wear and replace them as needed.

JAT in Seattle
JAT in Seattle
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Cleaning your chain in Vinaigrette – fantastic! I liken changing your chain to changing the oil in your car; do it regularly and everything else wears out much more slowly. (Also since I got some master link pliers I no longer hurt myself every time.)

maxD
maxD
2 years ago

I have had many positive experiences with River City bikes and would not hesitate recommend them. I have purchased 2 bikes from their outlet store which has great deals on new bikes. I have also purchased a used bike from Sellwood Cycles- I have been riding it for years on long rides and multi-day rides and I am thrilled with the bike. I have also purchased a couple of bikes from craigslist- I love buying used, but be prepared to spend a bit to replace tires, brake pads, shifter cables, chain, etc. I also recommend North Portland Bike works for bikes and repairs, they are reasonably priced, very helpful and reliable. I also love Golden Pliers on N Skidmore, especially if you are looking for an adventure/touring bike or a more customized ride- they will hook you up. The level of service is amazing. Finally, Joe Bike is a great place for fun, yearround commuters- they are a wealth of knowledge regarding generator lights and offer some unique and capable bikes.

Drew
Drew
2 years ago
Reply to  maxD

+1 For RCB and Sellwood cycles. I’ve bought/helped people buy 3 new bikes from RCB and they are all some of the nicest most helpful people around. I’ve also bought two used bikes from Sellwood Cycles they are amazing as well. Had maintenance done at both, can’t recommend them enough.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago

You are fortunate to be living in a city with a variety of artisinal bike “remixers”, that take stock bikes and swap out the components so that the original is unrecognizable. You can watch them at work at various locations around the city, often under the open sky, and many are willing to sell you their products on the spot at a surprisingly affordable price (they prefer cash, but are sometimes are willing to trade for various sorts of “product” if you have any). I love how the entrepreneurial spirit combines with a strong recycling/reuse ethic to allow the creation of bicycles with surprising combinations of components.

Given the high rate of bike theft around the city, I am proud to be able to support these hardworking craftsmen. I need to replace my bike often, and our native remixers often provide the cheapest and fastest way to do that.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

It’s almost like “farm to table” restaurants with locally sourced ingredients.

ring a bell
ring a bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

What a hipster, buying stolen bikes.

BikeRound
BikeRound
2 years ago

I completely agree that the best place to buy a bike is on craigslist. I bought my current daily rider–a Specialized Tricross–for $500 on craigslist, and it has served me well. I am not a big fan of new cars or new bikes.

todd.boulanger
todd.boulanger
2 years ago

My family told me that when they went to the first day that Bike Clark County shop was open (last week) and that it was slammed with a lot of COVID19 cyclists looking to get their old bike up to ridable. And it can be pretty tough for new cyclists up in Clark County to get bikes or bike care since instead of 50+ IBD bike shops to choose from there and 5 or fewer options north of the river. And I guess desperate Portlanders could try to call Clark shops to see if there is any available stock: Camas Bike & Sport (new), Vancouver Cyclery (new), Wheel Deals (used), etc. Good luck!

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
2 years ago

Craigslist is a great place to get bikes from cheap to expensive. OfferUp is also OK. Of the last 4 bikes I bought 3 were from craigslist and 1 from offerup.

If you’re a beginner rider then you have an ocean of cheap bikes to choose from. Then once you know what you like and what fits you can start spending more, as much as you can afford. It’s often easy to search for the bike’s specs online and see if the size is right for you before you go try it on.

Be careful of shiny things! You may want to buy a bike because it’s beautiful, and you’re convinced that the little extra bit you have to reach will not be a big deal. But don’t buy a bike that doesn’t fit you, no matter how good the deal or how sparkly it is.

Get your tune-ups done at your local independent shop. Nothing against the chain stores like Bike Gallery but I feel the small neighborhood bike shops need it more. Sometimes I go to Bike Gallery just to get something in my hands so I can be sure that I want my local shop to special order it for me.

Jason
Jason
2 years ago

One thing to be aware of when analyzing a bike strictly by the numbers. A small, seemingly unnoticeable change in any dimension may have profound effect on the fit of the bike. For instance, I’ve had my bike fitted at River City (highly recommend the service BTW). One adaptation applied was spacers between the pedal and the crank arm. Making the stance wider by a few mm on both sides. Tiny detail, but profound outcome. Albeit that may be a bit of the “Princess and the Pea” scenario, the take away is, “if you notice a difference on paper, there will be a difference IRL”.

Michael
Michael
2 years ago

Every ride, you should do your ABCs, and a frame check for any signs of cracks or damage

Air – check your tires are properly inflated and in good condition
Brakes – do they stop firmly before the handles hit the grips, and check the cables at both ends for wear
Chain – is it clean and smooth running or does it catch and skip, and do your shifters work properly

That’s the bare minimum you should do every ride

Jason
Jason
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael

If you’re talking about sport rides, then yes. When I did STP, one of the guys in the group completely ignored an issue he had with his front mech. On day two, we all waited for two hours for him to get it repaired at the first stop, day 2. Pre-ride maintenance is really important.

For daily riders, that’s not necessary though. Mostly because you have a better handle on how things are working. You can certainly go to that detail, if you want. I think it would become a chore every day though.

Daily riders can get by with airing up tires and cleaning the chain once a week and being aware of shifting / breaking. You’ll know when something is off. When it is, head into the shop.

I asked a mechanic at my LBS what he thought of the Park Chain Cleaning tool. He said, “just apply some Tri Flow on the chain, spin it around a few times and then wipe the excess off.” This will loosen up the grime and get it onto your rag.

Drew
Drew
2 years ago

River City Bikes (My “Home” shop) used to do in-person simple bike maintenance classes. I attended when I was new to riding and learned how to clean and lube my chain as well as simple adjustments. Maybe this would be a great time for them to do an online remote zoom classes??? *HINT HINT* RCB if you’re listening!

Scott Batchelar
Scott Batchelar
2 years ago

Also don’t forget some of the smaller Bike Shops.
Tomcat Bikes – Tom Martin is an absolute wizard at taking junkers, fixing them up and all for around $400-$900
Citybikes always has a few inexpensive but good bikes
Bicycle Emporium is also pretty good
Don’t forget the Community Cycling Center – lots of great bargains and well built remixes
Any of the smaller shops around town are doing pretty good inexpensive bikes right now – Tom Martin pretty much told me he’s the busiest he’s ever been.

The smaller shops right now are doing some pretty cool things for fairly cheap – also check out Portland Bike Market on Facebook, many of these shops post their remixes there.

Good luck and hope you all find something good!