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Cheap Bikes for Sale: Find a Used Bike for Almost Free!

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

1983 Schwinn Caliente, purchased for $28 in 2009

1983 Schwinn Caliente, purchased for $28 in 2009

Finding Cheap Bikes for Sale by Accident

One summer day in 2009, I was walking through the neighborhood near my office at lunchtime. Walking is a great activity: good exercise, costs nothing, and it requires no equipment. I had thoroughly explored the area within a 30-minute walking radius of my office to fit a one-hour lunch break. I was walking one of the streets at the western extreme of my walking range. In fact, I had pushed my range a bit to reach one block further west that I had ever gone before. This would turn out to be a fortunate turn of events

I noticed about a half dozen bikes chained to the front porch of a house. A small cardboard sign had the words "For Sale" written in black marker. The sign was wrinkled and the lettering of the sign was almost completely faded. The condition of the sign matched the condition of the house.

A Cheap Bike is a Faster Way to Cover Ground

Seeing the bikes while I was at the maximum extent of my walking range, or perhaps even a bit beyond, made me realize how useful it would be to have a bicycle at work. I figured my walking speed was probably 4 miles per hour, which allowed me to walk out 2 miles in 30 minutes and then 30 minutes back to work. With a bicycle, I could probably ride 10 or even 15 mph, which would greatly extend my lunchtime range. I could ride to downtown and back and explore vast new areas.

But what would I do with a bike? I drive about 30 minutes to and from work, certainly too far to ride a bike and certainly too much trouble to haul it back and forth. The plan I came up with at that moment: chain the bike in the bike rack at work and leave it there all the time.

Negotiating the Price for a Used Bike

I walked up the rotten stairs of the porch and knocked on the door. An elderly couple appeared in the doorway almost instantly—I suspect they had been watching me for a while. I asked if I could "test drive" the blue one, the newest looking and largest sized bike in the group for sale. The elderly man unchained the bike and walked it down to the sidewalk so I could try it out. The bike seemed to fit okay, and the brakes worked. The tires had some deep cracks and were half flat, probably would need to be replaced.

"How much were you thinking for this one?" I asked.

"$35," was the reply. "It was my son's years ago."

I then realized that I didn't have $35 with me. I pulled out my wallet. It is normally empty, except earlier that week I had returned some clothes that my wife bought and wanted me to return. I can't remember if they were the wrong size or the wrong color or the wrong style. I had received cash for the return—$28—which was still there. I emptied my wallet in front of the man.

"I like this bike. I'm sure it is worth $35, but would you take $28 right now?"

The man paused for a moment and then said, "OK." I thanked the man and rode away. Made it back to work about 20 minutes early, enough time to drive to K-Mart to get a bicycle helmet ($15) and a bicycle lock ($10). I was set! A new hobby for a total of $53.

Schwinn Caliente: A Cheap Road Bike for Under $100

I learned later that this bike was a Schwinn Caliente made in Chicago in 1983. I used the serial numbers stamped into the bike to determine its date of manufacture. Schwinn used sturdy steel and offered a lifetime guarantee on the frame, although that probably applies only to the original owner.

The bike has held up well and has only needed new tires and inner tubes. I bought a set of bicycle levers for $3 so I could change my own tires as needed. Inner tubes can be found for $4, and tires for about $10.

I usually have "buyer's remorse" after I spend money on anything, but this Schwinn Caliente has been great—it is a very low cost activity for 8 or 9 months a year and has required minimal maintenance expense.

Riding a bike is great exercise: bike riding burns about 600 calories per hour, compared with walking which burns 300 calories per hour. I might consider getting a bike rack to haul it back and forth if I see one at a garage sale, but for now sticking in as far into the trunk as it will fit works fine. Just right for a Penny Pincher...

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Schwinn Caliente Star Rating

Pro/Con of Schwinn Caliente

Pro: High quality components, sturdy bicycle, enjoyable to ride. I have left it outside for four summers now and it still runs great! You can buy one for less than $50.

Con: The Schwinn Caliente is heavy for a road bike.

Where to Find Cheap Used Bikes For Sale

  • Garage Sales and Yard Sales: The garage sale listing will often be very general, such as "mens bike" or even just "bike". You will probably need to go to a number of garage sales to find a suitable bike, but you can get a really good price when you find one that will work for you.
  • Craigslist Ads: Watch out for stolen property! Try a wanted to buy ad if you know what you are looking for. Sometimes you can even find free bikes on Craigslist if you want a bike to fix up.
  • Auctions: Universities and Cities auction off bikes that they find abandoned. I once got a nice Huffy Prairie mountain bike at an auction for $7.50. This was purchased at a winter auction. There was a pile of bikes on the ground and the auctioneer asked if anyone wanted a bike. A couple of us wanted to bid on the Huffy mountain bike- bids started at $2.50. I bought the Huffy in 2002 and now my son rides it now.

Can You Leave a Bike Outside Without Damaging it?

Part of my scheme to have a bike to ride at work involved leaving the bike outside chained to the bike rack for 8 or 9 months out of the year. I was concerned that the bike would deteriorate rapidly when left outside. I put a coat of synthetic car wax on the bike tube and generously lubed the chain and gears. For the first year, I used an old sheet as a cover for the bike- I wanted to protect the tires from UV light. However, I was concerned about trapping moisture, so I stopped using the cover after the first year.

The bike has held up really well. I have replaced the tires once and the inner tubes twice in 5 years. I think the UV exposure does shorten the life of the tires, but it is not too hard to change tires and inner tubes. Last summer the tires were losing air, so I found some cheap inner tubes at a local sporting goods shop (Sheels) and installed them myself.

My experience with leaving the Schwinn Caliente outside has been positive. The tires and inner tubes are the only thing that really seems to be effected by leaving the bike outside. I recommend waxing your bike with car wax if you need to leave it outside. I also touch up scratches and chips every spring with Rust-oleum paint that is a pretty close match to the original color.

A bonus to leaving your bike at work- people will think you are working really hard! I showed my bike to some co-workers after I got it. They noticed that my bike was there in the morning when they arrived, and my bike was still there when they left for the day. People thought I was putting in some really long hours—they didn't realize that I drove my car and left my bike at work all the time...

Where to Look

  • eBay: Find used bikes for sale on eBay. Check for local offerings to avoid shipping costs.
  • Consignment Shops: Check places like Goodwill and used sporting goods stores for bargain bikes.
  • Bike recycling organizations Some areas have organizations that offer low cost bikes that are salvaged from the landfill and restored/repaired.
Bike Trailer to haul groceries, books, and dogs

Bike Trailer to haul groceries, books, and dogs

Find a Cheap Bike Trailer and Use Your Bike for Hauling

I found this InStep bike trailer on craigslist for $35. These bike trailers are normally used to haul small kids and sell for about $100 new. I use the trailer to haul groceries home with my bike and to haul library books to and from the library. I also use the bike trailer to give my small dogs a ride! Adding a bike trailer to you bike greatly increases its utility, and you can get a used bike trailer cheap on Craigslist.

Penny Pinching Tips: Find Cheap Bikes For Sale

  • Choose a used name brand bike (such as Schwinn Caliente!) over a new cheaply-made department store bike. Garage sales and are good places to look. Also check auctions, especially off season.
  • Make sure the bike is the right size, your feet should barely touch the ground when standing over the seat.
  • Wax your bike and touch up paint scratches and chips if you need to leave it outside.
  • Find a cheap used bike trailer and use your bike for hauling, increasing its ability to replace driving a car.
  • Remember: used bike prices are negotiable!
  • If you keep looking, you'll find a good used bike for cheap.

This Book Will Help You Tune Up an Old Bike

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on March 20, 2017:


Thanks for your comment. Buying and selling often involves negotiation. I spent some time talking with the seller, and I think he was happy to see this nice old bike go to a good home- plus he got $28 without having to advertise his bike for sale or haul his bike somewhere to sell it. I think the deal was beneficial for both sides, otherwise it wouldn't have happened.

Peter Piper on March 19, 2017:

Don't mean to demean the author here, but the elderly couple live very close to where he works. He could have made a second trip to pay them the difference ($7.00) they were asking originally for the bike. The bike is certainly worth it and from the way he described the rotting porch and the elderly couple, they could certainly use the money! I would have done that myself and I think a lot of people would have done that as well.

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