Bicycles on a Budget

We all love beautiful bicycles, but what if you’re on a tight budget?

At Let’s Go Ride a Bike, Trisha and I aim to show how transportation cycling can be simple, stylish and fun. A major factor of “simple” is low cost – the only lower cost transportation option is walking, which we also enjoy, but it takes quite a bit longer. A major factor of “stylish” is a good-looking bike, and a major factor of “fun” is a bike well-built enough to free you from the stress of bad brakes and uncomfortable seating positions.

At some point, “simple” (i.e. inexpensive) may seem to conflict with “stylish” and “fun.” True, there is a vast array of bikes to choose from at all different price points. However, with the recent emphasis on cycle chic, someone looking to purchase an attractive city bike may feel that the options are limited to relatively expensive Dutch bikes and elusive-in-reality pretty vintage bikes. Our own Beautiful Bicycles series is skewed toward these options.

Reader Carrie wrote us today seeking advice on a sub-$500 bike to ride around the suburbs, with and without her kids on their own bikes, “Perhaps a little more girly, one that will give me that Mackinaw Island feel, basket in the front, do a little grocery shopping, go to the library, pool, etc…” In the comments to the Velorbis Scrap Deluxe post, reader Katherine laments the apparent lack of city bikes that fit in a student’s budget. Others have chimed in with ideas, so I wanted to move the conversation up here for more attention and input.

This we know for sure – one can embrace the simple bicycling lifestyle without a lot of money. Although we now have sleek rides, our beginnings two years ago were humble. Trisha began bike commuting on her childhood Schwinn, which her grandparents kept in their garage for ten years. I bought a $400 Jamis Commuter with my tax stimulus check, and boy did that seem like a lot of money at the time.

Let’s put our heads together – collectively we are a massive resource! – and come up with ideas and solutions. Later, I can put everything together as a guide for all future cash-strapped bike lovers.

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90 thoughts on “Bicycles on a Budget

  1. Annie says:

    I ride a $100 bike I got from Target 2 years ago, it suits me fine! I’ve taken it all over the East coast & midwest, I ride it all around my St. Paul neighborhood (shopping, library, etc.), I rode it in the St. Paul classic, and it makes me VERY happy.

    I got it because it was the first 28″ wheel woman’s hybrid I saw. I continue to love it because it just feels great. I’ve heard the new Liberty of London bikes at Target are good rides, but I haven’t been able to find one at my local store. They’re listed for $240.

  2. Dottie says:

    @Annie – That’s very helpful to know about your experience with a Target bike, as that would be an accessible option for almost anyone in the US. Great price! I hadn’t heard about the Liberty of London bikes. I’m imagining gorgeous prints.

  3. Steve A says:

    The Trek Hybrid bikes are affordable and give good performance. I got a Trek 7100 for my daughter. You can get that all set up out the door, including tax and a rear rack for about $300. I’m waiting for her to get a car so I can steal it and turn it into an Xtracycle. They come in step-through and compact frames.

  4. Giffen says:

    Great topic, Dottie.

    The main problem with Wal-Mart/Target bikes is *not* the quality. If you avoid the ones with shock absorbers and low spoke-count wheels, you’ll probably have fairly reliable machine. The problems are in fact more subtle. First, the bikes often come with uncomfortably steep seat tube angles and narrow seats. Most don’t have internal gear hubs. They also often come with gaudy and unattractive logos. They rarely have the accessories that you need. If you spend $100 for a Wal-Mart bike, add lights, fenders, a chain-guard and switch the seat, you will have spent over $200 dollars — not worth it, and definitely not the cheapest option.

    As I mentioned in the comment section of the previous post, if you have friends who can help you buy a craigslist bike (inspect it and transport it for you), you can buy an elegant and reliable 3-speed for $50.

    In many cities, you can buy a refurbished and tuned-up 3-speed from a bike shop for $150-200.

    The next step up might be a flying pigeon, such as the one Scott linked to.

    You can have it for $260, shipped. It’s a terrific deal, especially since it comes with all the goodies. (Rack, kickstand, lights, chaincase.) Be warned that the brakes will not work well in the rain.

    The next step up is probably the Republic Dutch Bike, and then the Breezers and Electras.

    I would probably recommend the first three options for someone on an extreme budget.

    There are three more things one should keep in mind.

    First off, you pay for reliability. If you have to commute several miles daily, you need to have a bike that has been thoroughly tuned-up and has good brakes. You can’t expect to rely on a craigslist like this, unless you have it rebuilt. The flying pigeon fails this test because of its brakes. If you ride walkable distances, reliability won’t matter that much.

    The second observation is that there is a trade-off between time and money. If you want a bicycle that is reliable and maintenance free, you *will* have to pay for it in one of three ways. 1. You can get a maintenance free bicycle, like an Oma. 2. You can pay a shop mechanic to rebuild your bike and keep it tuned up. or 3. You can do it yourself. There is no way around this.

    Lastly, when comparing the cost of a bicycle to the cost of public transit, keep in mind the *marginal cost* of using public transit. Here’s why. On average, I spend much less on my bicycle than I used to for public transit. But what matters most are marginal costs. If I want to go into the city using transit, it costs around $5. On my bike, the marginal trip is FREE!

  5. Dottie says:

    More examples from our own experiences:

    – Trisha bought her nice vintage Peugeot from Jon at Grinder Bikes for around $250.

    – Trisha bought her Batavus half-off during a year end clearance at a shop in England (long story).

    – My sister bought a barely-used Specialized Globe for $250 from a bike rental place, Bike and Roll. They have an huge annual sale to get ride of old inventory. She got a kid’s tagalong for $75.

    – I bought a vintage bike that iciclebicycle found in the dumpster and fixed up for $125. I then passed it on to Melissa, who commutes on it.

    Peeps who offered advice on the prior post, feel free to copy and paste your comments here :)

  6. Giffen says:

    Steve A,

    Keep in mind that the Trek 7100 has aggressive geometry, an aluminum frame, a derailleur, no chain guard, no fenders, no lights, and a front shock absorber. Minus 7 points for the elegant cyclist. I’m also not sure what you mean by performance. Like racing?

  7. Giffen says:

    Steve A,

    Naturally, I forgot about the lack of kickstand. And I won’t comment on the aesthetic, since those are subjective.

  8. Maybe this is on the higher end of “cheap”, but I really like my Gary Fischer Simple City3.I have it in aqua. It was about $500, but it’s a lower-end cute bicycle.

  9. Hannah says:

    I actually got my bike from a place similar to bike and rolls. Bobby’s Bike Hike in Chicago does a similar deal to change their inventory every year and I snagged a couple sweet seven speed Schwinn Cruisers for about 150 bucks! I shopped around and it’s probably the best deal in town by far. The bike’s been super and has lasted me two seasons so far.

  10. Steven Vance says:

    I have no opinion of the following bike.

    I noticed in this week’s Target ad that Target and Schwinn are finally selling bikes for commuters. Note: Schwinn does not advertise bikes it sells at Target on its website.

    The Schwinn Gateway ($159) comes with a rear rack, fenders, and a chain guard. It may have other features not noted in the weekly ad. Maybe I’ll take a look at it this week. Available in normal and step-through frame styles.

    Mart-bike buyers beware: A professional may not have built the bike. If you buy this bike, please take it to a local bike shop (LBS) you trust and ask that they inspect it.

    See page 19 of the ad online:

  11. Coreen says:

    My vintage Raleigh came from a dumpster, and I put new alloy rims and tires on it for under $100.

    The local bicycle co-op (Edmonton Bicycle Commuters in my neck of the woods – I volunteers there) is the best resource I know of for cheap bikes. You fix up or modify an old bike to make it new again, and if you’re not sure about what you’re doing, there are mechanics there to guide you and all the tools you need. And you get to learn for yourself so you don’t have to pay $100 every time you need a tune up.

    If you only have $100-$200 dollars to spend, you will get a much better quality used bike than if you bought a cheap new bike at walmart, etc. and I emphatically agree with previous posters who recommend against it. I’ve seen almost new dep’t store bikes come into the shop that were unserviceable by design, including a bike with a flat tire who’s wheel could not be removed! Seriously! One pooched tube and that bike was done!

    If you are completely averse to working on your own bike, many local bike shops sell used or traded-in bikes that have been serviced by a mechanic, unlike anything off of Craigslist or from a department store, that are also good value. Don’t forget to leave some room in your budget for upgrades, like racks & fenders, and for modifications to improve the geometry of every frame in North America that was made in the last 25 years (upright stem, touring bars & bent back seat post IMHO).

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tammy Strobel and Let's Go Ride a Bike, Steven Vance. Steven Vance said: Read "bicycles on a budget" from @letsgorideabike and add your 2 cents: (I mentioned new commuter bike at Target) […]

  13. Hayley says:

    Awesome topic, Dottie. I have a girfriend shopping right now for a functional city bike for under $400, and I’m taking notes.

    How about the Africa Bike?

    Made by Kona, and for every two bikes bought, they donate one to Doctors and other health care providers in impoverished areas of Africa to help them get around and see patients.

    It’s got all the important basics — basic, integrated rack, chain guard, fenders, plush tires. Easy and cheap to maintain.

  14. alice says:

    I agree with other commenters about not buying from supermarkets or large chain stores where they will most likely not have been put together correctly (I have seen this happen before).

    I have a Trek hyrid bike ( it cost about £250, I unfortunately would not spend any more than around £300 on my everyday bike as bikes get stolen here SO OFTEN! :( Anything expensive is a real target. I’d love to have another prettier bike if I knew that it would be safe from theives. However having said all that I wouldn’t spend under £200 unless it is an amazing vintage deal as bike quality really drops off under the £200 mark.

    In Japan they seem to have loads of attractive looking low price bikes for people who just want something to potter about the neighbourhood. I wish they had those here in UK.

  15. Sara C. says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I definitely aspire to eventually spring for a “stylish” city bike with internal gearing, a full chain guard, built-n dynamo lights, and the whole nine yards.

    But my daily ride is an old Panasonic 10-speed which I bought for $150 at a flea market. It has a derailleur, and it didn’t come with lights, fenders, racks, baskets, or any of that.

    All in all, though, it gets me where I need to go and the full package (even with me buying extra accessories) still comes well under the cheapest Dutch-style bikes commonly available in the USA. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but so far my derailleur gear/chain system has needed no maintenance at all – and on a 25-year-old bike, no less.

    It’s also rather stylish, if I do say so myself, even though it’s not the official Copenhagen Aesthetic. Not to mention extremely fun!

    I think that, for people who can’t realistically do the Dutch-style for whatever reason, getting an American style derailleur bike is not at all a bad option.

  16. Donald Parish says:

    Cheapest electric bike is Currie iZip Trailz. Usually $400 at Walmart. On sale at Toys R Us for $300. I got mine a year ago at Amazon for $300 with no tax, no shipping. Heavy (85 lb) bike with battery, but it is cheap. 15 mph with no peddling on the flat, about 13 mph up hill if you help it. Very nice to ride without sweating when it is hot, or if it is windy (15 mph), or for more satisfying hills. My commute is only a few miles. Range of this is only about 10 miles, but the lead acid batteries are fairly cheap. BTW, Torker USA has commuter versions of Trek bikes for $350 – $500.

  17. Tricia says:

    The Chicago police auction is a great place to start for a decent bike…

  18. We love the KHS Green – $379CDN gets you a steel frame, Nexus 3-speed with coaster, front V-brake, 700c wheels, fenders, rack, chainguard, kickstand, wheel lock, and a bell. It comes in 2 mens sizes (17, 21) and 2 step through sizes (14, 17). And a pretty nice ride and upright riding position!

    The bike looks like a dutch bike with its black only colour and very minimal graphics and with the broaf size range, we have been able to get everyone from a 5′ teen to a 6′ dude on these bikes.

    Definitely check out this bike!


  19. dukiebiddle says:

    Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but when I hear Mackinaw Island bike that is under $500 and cute, I definitely think ‘cruiser.’

    Go with a reputable company like Trek and you dozens of options for under $500

    All have chainguard, springed saddles, upright position, relaxed seat tube angle, fenders…

    …many even have 3 speed internal hub gears, a choice of steel or aluminum. Hundreds of color choices…

    ALL are under $480 and some as cheap as $280.

    Plus, they’re sold out of reputable local bike shops, so you know they’re assembled correctly and most likely under warranty for the first year. I would definitely spend the extra $100 on a Trek cruiser from a Local bike shop over a Schwinn at Target.

    Also, if one was inclined to go just a little over $500 the Gary Fisher Simple City 3 is a great option, like noted above.

    A cheaper option are rebuilt second hand bikes sold by reputable people you can trust. Co-ops are fantastic sources of super cheap very high quality rebuilt older bikes, but they’re usually ugly old mountain bikes (perfect for me, but not for someone that wants a good looking bike). craigslist finds are a crap shoot. I love my 3-speed that I bought on craigslist for $60, but I put a lot of time, effort, research and about $70 into restoring it. Not the best option for a beginner unless you’re looking for a learning project.

  20. Jonathan says:

    Great post, great comments. My two cents: Whatever bike you buy, good new tires at the LBS are $45 each.

  21. Nadine says:

    I got my Schwinn Voyageur for under $100 – on craigslist. Maybe not quite the level of cute she’s looking for, but I’ve seen quite a few vintage cruisers, etc on there recently as well. I’d advise Carrie to consider something used to get more for her money. She’d probably have plenty left over to take it to her local bike shop and have them give it a good tune-up. (Another alternative would be to check into whether there are any used bike shops nearby, since they’d be selling bikes that have already been fixed up.)

  22. dukiebiddle says:

    Jonathan, $45? Eeek! An affordable bike doesn’t need Schwalbe Marathons. :)

  23. Bob B says:

    There are lots of classic Schwinns around. They are well built, ride comfortably and are cheap.
    I restored my dad’s 72 Varsity (with upright bars), my mom’s 81 World Tourist step thru, and then I picked up a pair of Collegiate 5 speeds (a 64 & 72) which are absolutely wonderful. All are Chicago built except for the World Tourist. For 2010 Schwinn offers a similar model called the Willy ($400).

  24. Audra says:

    I ride a Marin Larkspur hybrid and I love it. It’s not high on the romance/style points, but it’s very comfortable and reliable. I bought it (barely) used on craigslist for $280, and it came with a rack and kickstand. I’ve been riding it for almost a year now.

    Like Trisha, I dug up an old childhood bike when I first started bicycle commuting, but it got stolen in under a month :( Very tragic.

  25. Craigslist has an enormous number of urban bikes you could get for under $500. A simple strategy is to buy a decent used bike. If it needs some fixing, go to a local bike kitchen to pick up some repair and maintenance skills or even some low cost fix up. The goal for me is to move toward self-sufficiency by collaborating with peers. I’d like to know how to do all the basic stuff myself, and learn it from helpful friends. Still have lots of progress to make!

  26. cycler says:

    Lovely Bicycle recently posted on the Republic Plato bikes which look interesting for $399. They’re single speed and evidently one size only though

    I think that a lot of people would be well served by an Electra Amsterdam which if I remember correctly is reasonably priced.

    In Cambridge, we are super lucky to have two guys who work out of a flea market fixing and re-selling vintage bikes as Cambridge Used Bicycles. Most are under $300 unless they’re super collectable, and they’ve been tuned up so that they’re reliable and safe. If I needed to buy a cheap bike, that would be my first choice. I think that there are lots of collectives though that do similar stuff (i.e. Bikes not Bombs in Boston

  27. Lanie says:

    I’ve ridden a 1996 Specialized Rock Hopper for 12 years as a commuter bike, and it’s great- steel frame and fork, compact geometry that lets me ride in some skirts, and I’ve added an inexpensive rack, fenders and chainguard. I also have swept-back handlebars for a more upright ride. I live in a very hilly section of my city, so the many gears are a nice feature. You can usually find these frames (late 90s and the like) for under $200, and they’re great!

  28. My first adult bike was a last-years-model mountain bike that I got for about $300. It may not be as stylish as a city bike, but it is a quality piece of equipment and would serve the commuting purpose well with the addition of some reasonably priced fenders, lights and a rack. I think something like that is a great entry to bike commuting!

  29. Lanie says:

    I meant the complete bike and upgrades can be had for under $200, not just the frameset :)

  30. dukiebiddle says:

    Lanie, how did you fit a chainguard on a Rockhopper? Did you remove the largest chainring? I have an old Rockhopper I’d love to but a chainguard on, but there’s only 1mm of clearance between the crank and the derailleur.

  31. Everett says:

    I’m too poors and only once in my life have I ever had enough money to buy a bike from the LBS (a $300 Schwinn 20 years ago!). Craigslist is my Go-To for bikes. “Marginal costs” included, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.

    Choose brands that have a reputable name. I’ve seen a lot of quality <$100 Nishiki, Fuji, Miyata, Schwinn, Trek, and Peugot bikes in my area (Detroit). Stay away from Murray, Ross, Huffy, Roadmaster, and Magna bikes.

    I recently picked up a good Schwinn World Tourist (step-thru, 5-speed cruiser) for $30. If you are near a big university, check the Craigslist for that area too; it is usually worth it in terms of higher quality bikes.

    Look for true wheels, smooth shifting and the right size. Everything else can be fixed or replaced inexpensively. Don't be afraid of a little surface rust on the chrome bits; steel wool/chrome polish will take that right off. If you see rust on the painted parts or dents, don't buy it.

    Derailleurs are a little more preferable to internal hubs, since they are a little easier for DIY service/repairs. The downside is that they require more DIY service/repairs.

    The right size is most important because you can't change that. You want to comfortably stand over the frame and be able to fully extend your leg when pedaling. (I know sizing is more complicated, but this is probably the most important factor.)

    I'll also hop on board with everyone else about bike co-ops; they are great resources.

    Great idea on compiling a buyer's guide, Dottie!

  32. Lanie says:

    @dukiebiddle- yeah, I don’t use the largest chainring most of the time anyway, so I removed it to use an SKS chainguard. However, I’ve just ordered the OGK two-piece guard for my new Surly LHT, and if it works out, I’m going to put the big chainring back on my Rock Hopper with the OGK one for more gearing options.

  33. dukiebiddle says:

    Lanie, thanks! I’ve read the SKS doesn’t work well with the big ring. I spend most of my time in the big ring so I opted against it. I’ve never heard of the OGK 2-piece guard before. I’m going to be keeping an eye out for online reviews. I just may be buying one of those.

  34. Tom says:

    I would second the suggestion of getting a used bike from either a LBS or a bike restoration shop. We have several of the latter in my area and some are for-profit and others non-profit.
    You’re going to get a better bike for a less than $300 budget with a used bike. The shop will make sure that it’s properly tuned up… you won’t get that kind of treatment on Craigslist.

    Our blog specializes in transportation bikes (with fenders, chainguards, etc) for all budgets. Please take a look:

  35. Dave says:

    I second the remarks about finding a good used bike on Craigslist – you are likely to find a more well-built one, and a more stylish one than if you just go buy a cheap $150 bike from a big box store. Find an old Schwinn or Raleigh on Craigslist, have a bike shop look it over and do some basic tune up on it, and you’ll be good to go. Plus, bikes built pre-1980 usually had fenders and chain guard and often rear racks as standard equipment, so you don’t have to spend extra on those, and they fit the bike better (both in actual fit and aesthetically) than trying to add 3rd party ones later.

    Believe me, I bought an Electra Amsterdam, which wasn’t even that cheap ($550), and with regular use going to work and back, getting groceries, etc, I was fixing it all the time – broken spokes, worn out bottle generator, broken headlamp, frequent tire punctures… after all the upgrades I put into it, I had nearly doubled the price to make it a low-maintenance bike for everyday use.

    My Raleigh which I got for $350 on Craigslist I have done very little to (added a rear rack and rear frame lock), and other than oiling the chain occasionally and wiping off dirt occasionally, it needs very little maintenance from just normal use.

    I think the two biggest things to consider about just getting a really cheap bike are:

    1.) If it’s not comfortable, easy to ride, or it turns out to be high maintenance, you won’t ride it, or you won’t ride it nearly as much as you’d like.

    2.) If it’s cheap, but ends up being high maintenance, you may end up paying as much or more than if you just saved up and bought a better bike in the first place.

    That being said, it just depends on your situation, what you need, how much you intend to ride, etc. I would just encourage someone to really think about the decision if they honestly plan to use the bike regularly for transportation.

  36. dukiebiddle says:

    There are some very high $$$$ concerns when buying a vintage bicycle on craigslist. The threading on Raleigh bottom brackets are discontinued, so if it’s shot you have problems. If you an old three speed with a Shimano 333 hub, if it isn’t on it’s last leg, it will break soon, is unrepairable, and will costs hundreds to replace. craigslist is no simple matter for the unprepared.

  37. jerry says:

    If you are on a budget, buy a used steel bike. Will give you the ride you want and save you a bundle and leave you money to basics such as Fenders, good durable tires (I like Schwalbe Marathons for errand/commuter bikes) and basket and rack.

    Don’t buy Target or WalMart bikes. I was having coffee with by bike buddies Sunday morning and a group of older teens with Target Magna bikes came up to us asking for help. We of course had a multi tool hex wrench with us and I spent 10 minutes adjusting and tightening handlebars, stems and seatposts that were loose and slipping. Seems like a minor thing, but there have been issues with brakes and quick releases on these bikes, some states have considered legislation barring quick releases wheels because of these cheap bikes. The brakes never stay in adjustment.

    Get better quality used or if you have to have new, save up. REI has some good 20% off sales and the bikes I have seen from, even for under $400 seem to have the minimum quality that will keep you safe.


  38. Xtra says:

    A little over $500. Not sure if you can get them in chicago. But looks cool.

  39. Janice in GA says:

    After months of looking, I found an older Schwinn step-through bike in good shape for $85. It’s a 5-speed derailleur bike with side-pull brakes, but I’m comfortable with that. It’s got fenders and a chain guard.

    I’m out of shape, so I could really use more than 5 gears on a heavy bike in our hilly area. However, I figure if I keep riding it, I’ll get stronger, and that will help. :)

  40. jerry says:

    This looks pretty awesome for $559. A true Mixte.

  41. Giffen says:


    Don’t forget that It’s critical to check whether the frame or fork are not bent and whether the bottom bracket is in good condition.

  42. Giffen says:


    When you are compiling your guide, maybe you should add a section which lists accessories which give the best value for money.

    I would nominate Wald handlebars and their rear rack.

  43. dukiebiddle says:

    Giffen, and their baskets and chrome fenders. Wald deserves a practical affordability award.

  44. Everett says:


    You are so right about bent frames and BBs. Since this is for a guide to new riders, some judgment criteria would probably be helpful. I go for a spin to see if the BB “knocks” when pedaling. No knock? Then the BB is fine to me. Do you have other criteria?

    I also agree with you, Jerry; steel is the way to go. Lugged if you can get it.

  45. Sox says:

    I bought a cute bike iU found listed on Kijiji and I frequently see them in the classified ads of the local paper.

  46. Sox says:

    Fat fingers today. The ‘U’ should be ‘I’. Ugh.

  47. Giffen says:


    The point I tried to make here, and in the previous thread, is that if you are buying a bicycle from craigslist, you should have a knowledgeable friend come with you.

    As far as bent frames, you can check for front impact by seeing whether the line of the fork meets the headtube parallel. Then you want to be able to ride the bike without your hands. Which may not happen if the headset if pitted or overtightened.

    Sheldon recommends a test for BB condition. You need to convince the seller to let you take off the chain. (Again, here is helps if you know what you are doing.) First you spin it, make sure it spins freely. Then check for looseness (bad) and tighten it if you can. Once it’s tight, pitting will be more apparent. Check for smoothness again. Grab the crank arms with your hands and try turning the arms under pressure and listen for grits. Etc.

  48. Sean says:

    Two possibilities are:

    1. The Kona Africa bike

    2. The Linus bikes: Dutchi 1, Dutchi 3, Mixtie

    I’ve seen the Africa bike several times and it seems sturdy enough, although not equipped with stellar components. I’ve only seen the Linus bikes online so explore them carefully before purchase.

  49. Katey says:

    I ride an Electra Townie 21D that I paid $550 for. I’ve added a lot of options to it, but mine is the 21 speed version. (I’ve recently been eyeballing the 8 speed version of this bike.)

    Electra has a bunch of lower priced options that are stylish and fun. Also, they have loads of accessories available so you can upgrade/customize as your budget allows.

    Additionally, the house brand bikes from REI are great as well. (Novita I think?)

  50. Lorenza says:

    I don’t know if England is hugely different than your end, but my bikes came all from second hand ads ;) my first bike I got, when I got back into cycling, came from an ad in the local paper and I paid £8 for it, I kid you not! It was a beautiful vintage little BSA Twenty shopper bike. My beautiful Pashley was also second hand, albeit only two months old, as I spotted her parked on the main high street with a ‘for sale’ sign, by a lady who bought her but found her too heavy on her knees, and she gave it to me for a good price.

    I saw not long ago a delightful second hand Silhouette Raleigh mixte for £25, but the frame size was too big for me.

    I highly recommend the local paper/ads, sometime people have bikes in their garage which have not been ridden for ages and are happy to let them go for small money to get more space back, all you have to do is a bit of TLC and spruce up and hey presto you have a gem of bike!

    Bike shops here also sell second hand bikes, the ones that other customers have sold as part exchange for a new one, and again you can pick up a great looking bike for a fraction of the price.

    The thing I love of second hand bikes is that more often than not you are likely to find something quite unique, mostly because over the years those bikes have gained a certain character which distinguish them from the rest!

  51. Richard says:

    @ Giffen: the Breezers are generally a bit over the price range specified. I love my Uptown 8, which is certainly much less expensive than, say, a Gazelle, but which still set me back about $800 or so.

    But I’d definitely suggest a Giant Simple. Brand new for $300, add a basket and kickstand for about $50, and you’re good to go. My wife has had hers for nearly ten years now, and the only maintenance has been filling the tires and lubing the chain periodically. Good luck!

  52. Kay says:


    Buy yourself a beater! A nice, thrifted bike goes a long way in terms of style and, well, travel.

    As a poor college student, I got my bike from Craigslist for $100, and $70 of upgrades later, it rides like a pro! And it’s pink. And gorgeous.

    So while Electra/Pashley/Cigno make gorgeous bike, you certainly don’t need one to ride in style.

    — Kay (the bicyclette)

  53. Deb says:

    There’s a blog dedicated to this topic, more or less:

    They’re not dedicated purely to cycle chic, and some of the bikes they’ve reviewed have been a bit pricier, but mostly they’re looking at lower priced practical bikes.

    One thing about craigslist, which I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned – they’re often stolen bikes. Maybe that’s not true everywhere, but in the major metro areas, it’s pretty much accepted as a likely scenario. So buying off craigslist might mean you’re supporting bike thieves.

    However there are a usually legit businesses who get bikes from police auctions, fix them up, and sell them for reasonable prices. I know of one in the DC/NOVA area, if anyone is interested. I’d bet a good LBS would point you towards one also.

  54. dukiebiddle says:

    Deb, I’m aware of craigslist reputation in that regard, but it is also primary conduit of the overwhelming majority of legitimate second hand bikes. I’ve read many an internet post telling me that I should only be purchasing new bikes at REI and from my LBS because the second hand market feeds the stolen bike trade, and I simply don’t know how to respond to that. Something has to be done, I suppose, but whatever that is for me isn’t going to be refusing patronage of people on the internet honestly selling their property.

  55. Dave says:

    I think it’s important to go see and ride a bike before you buy it anyway, so if you get a weird feeling about the bike or the person selling it, just give it a pass. I’m certain there are many legitimate sellers on craigslist as well (we’ve sold a few bikes through craigslist ourselves).

  56. Ashley says:

    Deb, I’m interested to hear about the DC/NOVA business fixing up bikes from police auctions…

  57. G.E. says:

    I agree with many of the above choices. As another option, my hubby purchased a Dawes (US, not English Dawes) on ebay about 8 months ago and has actually enjoyed the bicycle very much. There is a specific seller on ebay “sprtymama” who sells some women’s specific mixte’s and road bicycle. This one, the “Wendy” is kind of cool looking, and comes in three colors. Of course, if you don’t know someone who can put it together, you’d still have to take it to a shop, but for less than $250 with shipping, it could be an option. This specific one is a 7 speed. If you want a basket and what not, you’d have to get that, but I seriously considered buying this one after my husband’s experience with his road bicycle from Dawes.

    • O says:

      I’m thinking of buying the wendy dawes also. I wanted to see if you can tell me more about it. Do you like it? How is the shifting? How is the tires? I know they are slightly wider than a road bike. Does it go fast? is it comfortable to ride etc. Would appreciate it! thanks.

  58. Everett says:

    @dave, @dukiebiddle
    I agree; craigslist (CL) is getting a poor rep for stolen bikes. I was actually looking at a bike tonight from CL and it reminded me of a few things to look for when buying from individual sellers. This should help to avoid buying stolen bikes, but also to avoid junk.

    -Is the bike from the owner’s personal riding stable? If yes, it’s probably okay. You really want to buy from someone that loves riding bikes as much as you do. If not, the owner is probably flipping stolen bikes.

    -Ask the seller for ownership history. Buying from the original owner is best.

    -Is this the only bike the seller is listing? The guy I visited tonight had a garage full of bikes (20 or so). The bikes were literally falling on each other as he tried to pull out the one I wanted. This is way more than even a serious rider needs.

    -Trust your gut. The seller I saw tonight was an old, stinky, chain-smoking guy who couldn’t tell me if the bike right in front of us had an internal hub or not (it did). He also suggested I spray paint the chrome parts with cheap chrome paint!

  59. katie says:

    I’m all for ebay! Bought mine (a single speed dawes revolver) brand-new for $200, when it retails for a lot more.

  60. k - says:

    I have a late 60s vintage Raleigh Sprite that I bought locally on ebay for $70. A tune up, a leather saddle, some new pedals and cork grips (about $140) later, and I have myself a sweet vintage ride. It makes me happy every time I take it out.

  61. dweendaddy says:

    If you are not a bike expert (an expert in bike parts, maintenance, fit and wear) take one with you to see any bike you get off of Craigslist.
    Otherwise, get a used bike at your local bike shop. The premium you add by going to a local bike shop ($50-$100) over a craigslist add is well worth it.
    The bike should come clean and tuned-up.
    You will be able to ask them more questions, take it back if you have problems (within reason), and they will have few bikes that really stink.
    Plus, they are a great business to support.

  62. Anne says:

    Used bikes! It takes a little hunting, but it is worth it. Craigslist and similar sites are useful, but I would suggest doing some hunting to see what local non-profit options are available. I live in Ottawa, and we have a volunteer run, non-profit group that fixes donated bikes for sale.

  63. Beany says:

    For years I just didn’t have the money. So I begged and borrowed bikes from others to get around (it is helpful to have a variety of people around you owning bikes). In fact after I outgrew my banana seat bike with training wheels at age 10, I didn’t own a bike for 9 years afterward. My now husband bought me a mountain bike for $100 after seeing a for sale ad on a local listserv after we began dating. I rode that for 4 years and it weighed about a 100 lbs (I exaggerate only slightly – going up hills were a real bitch!).

    I then got a proper job that allowed me to get out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle where I earned the whopping salary of $28K per year and I saved up and bought another mountain bike (new) from Trek for $600. I rode that for 4 years and learned lots about what I liked and didn’t like about it. I learned lots from it by doing all repairs myself.

    Finally I bought my current and only bike (as of right now) a Surly LHT for touring. I paid over a $1000 for it plus all the bells and whistles (bell, peddles, etc) and have learned even more about bikes.

    The other thing is, let everyone you know you’re looking for stuff. It is kinda amazing how many people give us leads on stuff we’re looking for. I just babble to everyone, I’m thinking of buying this or looking to buy that and sure enough people pop out of the woodwork saying, “hey we know just where you can get this thingamabob.”

  64. Scott says:

    In Chicago we have two excellent bike co-ops that are great sources for cheap bikes: Working Bikes on Western Ave and Ciclo Urbano/West Town Bikes on Division St. I have accompanied many people to get bikes this way, and have picked up a few there myself. Working Bikes ships mtb bikes in containers to poor countries, and CU/WTB involves local youth in bike maintenance and shop operation. WTB also holds bike wrench classes for ladies, which I have heard are great. It is also a good option if you want something unusual, such as a cargo bike or freak bike.

  65. 2whls3spds says:

    Lots of good choices out there. If you are on a low budget find a Bike Kitchen/Library/Co-op. Second choice would be to hit up an LBS for used bikes, several of mine have come from the used rack at the LBS.

    If you are interested in new and some bang for the buck, check out Torker bikes. They are available from SBS (Seattle Bike Supply) most bike shops can order them for you. I have the Redline version of the T530 and have been very happy with the quality for the price.

    They offer 3 speed coaster brake, 5 speed with drum brakes, 7 speed with roller brakes and a Cargo model. They all come equipped with fenders and chain guards, ready to ride.


  66. Clare Carter says:

    I wonder if you could review the Gary Fisher simple city 8?? It is not what I have been looking at but a friend has bought and she adores it-so does her husband.

  67. I’m 30 and had 2 hip surgeries last year. My doc said for rehab I had to either bike or swim. So, I went looking for a bike. I bought a Specialized Globe Carmel II step-through bike, and have been riding it regularly for a year. The upright position, shocks, 700c wheels, and easy on/off were perfect for my post-surgical condition as well as easing into a biking-as-transportation lifestyle. (It was $380.) And it came in black, which was a wonderful alternative to those other brands that seem to thing that ALL women want butterflies or flowers or pink on their bikes. I added a rack to it that gets a lot of use. I always think it looks so “happy!” pic: When I first started riding I could barely go 1 mile, and this past Monday I went 34 miles–my new record!

  68. David says:

    Hi Dottie,

    A used bike can be a terrific bargain, but you can’t walk in without some knowledge. So always bring someone who knows bikes to look at a used bike. Here are my rules:
    1. No department store bikes. The cheapest specialist bike (Trek, Spedialized, Giant, etc.) will be better than the best department store bike.
    2. The bike has to fit. Again, your expert friend can help. At the least, make sure you can stand over the top tube and lift the bike an inch or so. If it’s a step through frame, it’s less critical, but fit is still important.
    3. Condition is next. A full rebuild on a used bike can run more than $150, so make sure the rims are true, the bearings are smooth and there are no signs of a serious crash. Make sure the bike tracks straight when riding no-handed. Scratches are ok, especially for a bike that will get scratched up some more as you commute with it.
    4. Accessories are the place to not cheap out. Always purchase a new helmet and have it fitted at the dealer. Next is other safety equipment such as lights, front and rear. You’ll need a good lock. And you’ll probably want fenders and a rack. Note that you’ll save a bundle if some of these things are already on your bike. It’s generally a good idea to put at least new tubes in a used bike, plus tires if they’re showing signs of wear.
    5. There are a ton of great bikes out there that make good commuters. At the top of the list are the so-called “commuter” or “comfort” bikes. If you find a good mountain bike, you can put city tires on it to lighten it up and improve rolling resistance, but you’ll still have that hunched-forward riding position to deal with. I’m also fond of English 3-speeds as a great starter bike. While these bikes are heavy, they’re elegant, go forever, and are widely available. If you’re looking at an old one, make sure it has a lugged frame and a Sturmey-Archer rear hub. Last, old Schwinns are in vogue, but I’m not a fan of these bikes. While they’re strong, they’re too heavy, and use a lot of non-standard parts. You’re better off with a Japanese or European bike from the same era.

    See you on the path!

  69. Karen says:

    Bob loves his Schwinn Jet Star purchased at Target and on a recent trip to the Flagstaff store I saw a ladies commuter/comfort with a chainguard, rack, step through frame and upright handlebars for under $200. Bob’s only problem with the Schwinn is that he has to buy replacement tubes at Target or from Schwinn as the ones at the bike shops won’t work on his bike.

    While not everyone’s idea of inexpensive I have been very happy with my Specialized Expedition (now the Globe). Under $400 without a few inexpensive upgrades such a rack, rear and head light and fenders. I paid for it with some of the money I made from the sale of the VW Beetle (which did make me sniff just a little).

    The bottom line for me is that even owning a more pricey bike such as the Breezer Uptown 8, which comes with everything) is still more economical than owning and maintaining a car. I rode in our car once this week and am unlikely to be in it this week at all. It’s a great bike a long-term investment.

  70. […] Bicycles on a Budget […]

  71. Cherilyn says:

    Amen on Everett and David’s comments as far as getting a cheap big box bike. The ones we were given for our kids were nothing but trouble, given the non-standard parts and cheap materials.

    Check your local bike shops to see if they sell used bikes. They won’t take junk and you’ll have a relationship with them, so if you need repairs or advice, they’ll be there for you.

    DEFINITELY ride the bike first, especially if you’re a female and especially if the frame is a 10-speed/mixte.

  72. Margaret says:

    I second (third?) the KHS Green suggestion ( I got one in December as my first bike in fifteen years. I wanted to go for a nice vintage 3-speed at first, but after thinking about how uncomfortable I felt with the idea of possible repairs/safer brakes/new tires/and other assorted fiddling, I went for the new bike. It’s designed to be incredibly low-maintenance (my bike shop said if it lives inside, it probably only will need to come in for a tune-up maybe once every other year) and with parts bolted down so they’re harder to steal. It also has a very low-key look to it, which I think discourages theft as well– a big concern in Cambridge/Boston. Cost about $375 from a local bike shop, which included free maintenance for a year. It’s a great, worry-free choice, and I love love love it (though I admit that, having now returned to the world of biking, I’m saving up for a more luxe dream bike).

  73. Patty says:

    Try volunteering or checking out your local bike non-profits.

    In Chicago, there’s Working Bikes ( where you can go on Saturday mornings to their retail shop. You’re money goes to support a great organization and helps save bikes from ending up in the landfill. Most bikes are less than $100.

  74. Bill Smith says:

    After an uncomfortable start with an inexpensive bike from a big box store, I found a 1983 Trek 510 at an estate sale for $5.00. No that is not a typo, One Abe Lincoln. The bike had been well cared for, the original leather saddle was still in good shape, good paint, everything except it needed new tires and a minor tune up. Since then (that was in 2007, I have purchased used bikes for my wife, my children and their spouses, my grandchildren, and my sister. I have purchased bikes on Craigslist, Ebay, and garage and estate sales. The most I have paid for a bike is $100.00. Most all of them have required new tires and some minor work, but they have all turned out to be quality bikes. I would ride any of them 100 miles without question. The deals are out there!

  75. Fred Morrison says:

    I have back problems and recently bought a Electra Ticino 7spd. for $550, it has been the best bike I’ve owned. My previous commuter was a Kona Smoke, they’re about $375, have 21 gears and fenders and a funky squeeze horn!

  76. Kari says:

    I have a 2009 Bianchi Milano Parco, which I bought on sale at my LBS for $450. I absolutely adore it. It’s nimble and sporty but at the same time, still cute and Euro-looking. It comes complete with fenders and a chainguard (I had my LBS guys put on a rack for me) so with a couple lights, you are good to go. I spent under $600 for my entire set-up, and I’ve commuted most days on it since without any problems. Awesome bike!!

  77. Esther says:

    My vintage Free Spirit was $175, in perfect working order, with many accessories and all-original hardware. My advice would be to yardsale for used but good bikes, and shop around for deals that make you ask if the amount on the pricetag is genuine. If you find a bike you like at a yardsale, but it needs minor tuning, GO FOR IT! Renew, reuse, and recycle bikes. There are millions of bikes in people’s garages, too. Ask around (family and friends) to see if anyone has one stashed in their garage or hanging out in the cellar. Old is more. Older bikes are sometimes made better than newer, cheaper ones too. Hope that helps.

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