Dan Lucas is a family-man, a walking bike part encyclopedia, and a previous Airborne sponsored rider. A few weeks ago I asked Dan to help me build a mountain bike for less. Here today is a write up of his process for getting a bike-shop worthy ride for a blue-light special price.
Brad Lane: Before you start buying, what are some of the first things you should consider?
Dan Lucas: There are a ton of things to consider, the first thing you want to do is decide just what type of riding are you planning on doing (cross country, downhill, all-mountain, etc.) It might be a little daunting to fit it into a category, but the better you can narrow it down the easier it will be to pick the right frame to start with. Where you live may play into what kind of frame you buy, but budget will be the biggest factor. Suspension is flashy and will make you more confident. But it’s not always the best course to take for a new rider, or for a bike on the cheap. Looks for a solid hard tail. You will save a ton of money and learn some valuable bike handling skills that will translate into a full suspension bike when you upgrade in the future.
BL: What are some of the online resources you need to keep an eye on?
DL: The internet is an excellent source of classified ads for used parts. This is where you save your money, but you need to know the right questions to ask and what to look for. The first thing you will want to look for after determining what kind of bike you want are the big things. The three I usually focus on first are the frame, wheels and fork.
Dan’s Tips for Buying used parts on the Web.
- If it looks too good to be true… It is.
- Be patient, don’t buy the first one you find.
- Watch out for scams. Trades are nice but can often be means for a scam. Set up the trade through your LBS and pay it forward by buying a part in-shop or providing a six pack.
- NEVER buy sight unseen. Ask for detailed pictures and if they don’t deliver, do not buy.
- Haggle! Most people have forgotten you can ask for a lower price.
- USE PAYPAL. Do not send a check or money order, most people won’t take that anyway. Paypal will guarantee a purchase up to a certain amount. You can also get a Paypal receipt, further avoiding you from getting scammed.
- Bundle. When you offer something like “150 bucks,” include shipping in your offer. “150 bucks plus shipping.”
- Buy Local! Craiglist.
BL: Do you need in-depth bike mechanic knowledge to successfully build a bike for less? If so, where you can obtain this? Are bike shops willing to help?
DL: Yes and No. You can find most info you will need online. But nothing beats using a real life person to help you along the way. Most areas will have some sort of bike club, if not more than one. Look them up on the web or stop by the local bike shop (LBS) like Underdog Bikes (shameless plug!) and talk to the guys behind the counter. Chances are they know someone or will be willing to help in their off time in exchange for liquid payment and greasy pizza. Search for clubs in your area on Facebook. This is a great way to extend your network of friends in the sport, find riding partners and learn the ropes. Your LBS is a great way to have your bike put together for the first time. They will install it right, make sure the bolts are torqued properly, grease the things that need grease, and have it riding smooth. Some parts are tricky to install like headsets, or a crown race, these are important parts and if installed wrong will cost you money and time. Take it to your LBS, make some friends, and support local.
BL: Will a bike built from random parts ride differently then a bike pulled out of the box?
DL: Once again a tricky question. I will say that yes it can ride differently, but if you’re patient and make smart choices it can ride just as good or better than new. I don’t recommend buying every part used. Some things are just never the same after a hard season of riding like cassettes, chain rings, and wearable items. Beware of used things like derailleurs, they may “work” but may be bent or broken. If you do buy something used that’s technically important, like a set of brakes, have your LBS bleed them and install new pads. They will feel like new regardless of the scratches and missing paint. A fork is also a place where you can save some money. I like Rockshox as a brand to start with. You can find them used for a steal and they are super easy and one of the most inexpensive brands to have serviced. A fresh set of rings and wipers on a fork will do wonders.
BL: So if you do everything correctly, what kind of savings can you expect?
DL: I would say by doing it this way you can save hundreds. A brand new middle-of-the-road trail bike will set you back two to three thousand dollars. A basic used build for a ride can run anywhere from $1,200–1,500, with the right choices.
Take it from Dan the Man, who has built more bikes then his wife can count, Frankenstein bikes done right can ride hard and won’t drain your checking account. All that’s left to do after you’ve assembled your masterpiece is put on your helmet and fly through some single track.