The Outsider: An idiot’s guide to bike purchase

A few weeks ago I wrote a guide on how to get yourself a deal at the annual Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA) Bike Swap.

To those who went out and grabbed a deal on a bike, a bike rack or any number of garments or accessories (I picked up a sweet pair of Troy Lee Designs downhill shorts for the princely sum of $25; new they run for over $150), well done. Even if I don’t really need anything, it’s always worth checking out the bike swap for random deals. One WORCA member even walked away with a steel-framed road bike for $20. One man’s trash really is another’s treasure.

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But the first weekend of May wasn’t necessarily the right time for everyone to pick up a bike. Tax returns were still coming in, people were moving houses and paying damage deposits, some folk were still deciding whether they were going to get into the sport or not.

Walking into one of Whistler’s great bike shops and rolling out the door with a shiny new whip is a dream many of us have, but the reality is few of us can afford it. The solution? Shopping smartly on the second-hand market. is where you’ll find all the deals and where a lot of the ads you see on the Whistler Buy & Sell and Whistler Mountain Bike Swap Facebook pages link to.

For those who are new in the market and have little clue about bikes, bike parts or what represents a good deal or not, I present to you the Idiot’s Guide to Bike Purchase.

First, you need to decide what you intend to use the bike for. Riding to work, the lake or the bar during the summer is a great way to both reduce carbon emissions and decrease the waistline. If you plan on sticking to the Valley Trail then a commuter bike is what you need. Go for a hard tail with front suspension with rebound that doesn’t feel like peanut butter. Minimum spend is $200 to $300 for something with reliable running gear (derailleurs, chains, sprockets etc.) Many people opt for unattractive commuter bikes to reduce the risk of theft. If you leave your bike in secluded locations, be sure to invest the extra $20 - $30 for a lock that doesn’t crumble at the sight of bolt cutters.

If you plan on joining your biking friends on single track trails (including those in Lost Lake) then it’s time to start looking at trail bikes. These go up substantially in price, but if you invest wisely it could cover your trail needs for the next four years or more.

Air suspension front and rear with more than four inches (100mm) of travel (the amount the shock moves when compressed) is pretty much standard in this category. When test-riding look for smooth gear changes, give the front and rear suspension some good compressions and quiz the seller on when it was last serviced. If they don’t know or are obviously making up the answer, get them to drop the price. You may be on the hook for that service in the next season or two. Minimum spend is around $1,500.

If you’re serious about the sport consider spending a tad more. You don’t want to have to upgrade your bike one year down the track.

Those looking longingly at the fun that downhill riders have in the Whistler Bike Park, this is where it starts to get pricey. Try to shop outside of Whistler for downhill bikes, as anything that’s done “just one season” in the park has around four seasons worth of wear than someone shuttling in from North Vancouver or the Sunshine Coast. Recent suspension service is critical here if you intend to start putting in a lot of vertical and ONLY buy bikes with coil shocks; air suspension requires frequent servicing which isn’t cheap. Inspect the frame for any cracks, the brake pads for wear and the suspension fork stanchions (the part that plunges into the lowers) for scratches and score marks. Just like a car, if anything is leaking oil, walk away. Flex the frame, wheels and cranks and listen for creaks in the pivots and bearings. Minimum spend is around $2,000 (if your want your bike to last) and remember to budget for 15 - 20 per cent more for season-long maintenance. Don’t forget to factor in the price of a bike park pass.

Buying bikes is a slippery slope with no ceiling on the amount you can spend. But with smart decisions in the second-hand market, you can get into mountain biking without breaking the bank.

Vince Shuley loves helping people buy bikes. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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