Get more mileage out of used bike

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Bike updates

Adam Clark, 32 cleans a filthy chain on an old bike that a customer uses all year round. Clark has a mobile bike repair business that he started about three years ago and he covers Chicago from around 5500 south to the Evanston border. Photographed Thursday, March 29, 2012. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / March 27, 2012)

"Most used bikes are desperately in need of proper lubrication — think Tin Man in 'The Wizard of Oz' — and some adjustments to the gears, cables and brakes," Yeager said. "But that's not typically complicated or costly."

Cables. Brake cables and shift cables are also pretty cheap. Over time, cables stretch and should be replaced occasionally as a maintenance item anyway, Ramon said. You can replace them yourself, but you'll definitely need instructions, he said.

Gear shifting. There could be many reasons why gears don't shift properly, but often it's a need for a simple adjustments of the derailleur, Ramon said. Again, you'll need good instructions. Bernstein agrees. "It's not a difficult job, but for someone who's never done it before it's easy to do wrong," he said.

How-to advice. Fortunately, you have good resources for do-it-yourself repairs. One is Bicycling magazine's website, which has articles and videos on maintenance and repair at It also has a book by Todd Downs, "The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair." You can find online articles and YouTube videos, but results will vary widely in quality. Ramon's site,, costs $5.95 for a month of access to more than 50 professional-quality videos. The fee helps him defray website costs, he said.

Yeager suggests joining a local bike club, many of which offer repair classes. "And there are always lots of self-appointed mechanics in the group who thrive on fixing other people's problems," he said.

Tools. Some repair jobs require tools you might not have. You can get a very limited bicycle tool kit for about $20 or a more extensive one for home use for $75 to $100. Ramon recommends the Park brand of tools and at least getting a set of metric open-end wrenches, a set of metric Allen keys and a tire lever for fixing flats. Of course, buying tools adds to the cost of refurbishing the bike. If you won't use tools often, it might be better to let a pro complete the repairs.

If you haven't purchased a used bike, maybe at a garage sale or from a classified ad on, do some homework ahead of time and inspect the bicycle carefully.

Lots of rust is a bad sign, possibly indicating it's been left in the rain, which can lead to a host of problems, Ramon said. Try to raise and lower the seat. Sometimes the seat gets stuck and becomes unadjustable.

Frame problems are bad news, Yeager said. "Don't buy a bike with a bent frame or any clear signs of frame damage," he said. "It probably can't be repaired and will lead to further problems down the road."

Similarly, wheels that don't spin properly could be a problem. It could mean a simple, inexpensive fix such as repairing a few broken spokes, or it could need a new wheel, which can be pricey or hard to find for older bikes. "Unless you know what you're looking for, it's probably best to stay away from used bikes that have wheels that are seriously out of balance," Yeager said.

If you're unfamiliar with bikes, take along a knowledgeable friend.

"Consider the simplest bike that will meet your needs. Having 15 or 20 gears or 'speeds' really isn't necessary for most cyclists. It's just more stuff that can break and cause problems," Yeager said.

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