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Commuter :: Beaverton, OR
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Here's a different spin on the typical "what type of bike should I get" question. What are some things that I should avoid when deciding on a used bike? I am looking in the local Goodwill/Salvation Army outlets for a used (steel) bike to convert into a fixed gear/single speed. I am primarily looking for a good frame with horizontal dropouts (as parts/components are easier to come by).

Here are a few questions to get you going...
  • Are there bicycle brands that I should stay away from? (I imagine that if the bike is a Huffy I should run, not walk, to the nearest exit.)
  • Are there certain types of steel that I should avoid? (Good=Chromoly. Bad=???)

Any suggestions and information are welcome.

Cheers,
Sven
 

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Game on, b*tches!
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13,528 Posts
Watch out for old French frames. They tend to have weird sized bb's, seatposts, and headsets as well as cranks (specifically the pedal holes-tend to be a weird size but can be tapped out to accept today's pedals).
 

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Steel issues

Lots of rust = bad
Little or no rust = good

The difference between "good" (e.g., chromolly) and "cheap" (e.g, hi-tensile, sometimes known as gas pipe) steel is pretty much just a matter of weight, for these purposes. Pick it up, and if it seems WAY too heavy you might want to avoid it, but keep in mind that turning it into a fixie will make it a lot lighter, because of all the junk you strip off.

Depending on your budget, it's nice if some of the existing parts can be re-used (bars, stem, seatpost, cranks, wheels?). I think part of the fun of building a fixie is doing it cheap, but you may get your kicks a different way.

Inspect for damage. A lot of thrift-store bikes have been banged up. Look especially evidence of a head-on -- i.e., a bent fork. Such a fork is unusable, but the frame may not be significantly damaged. I ride a fixie I got at a garage sale for $5. The fork was trashed, but a $25 clearance fork from Nashbar worked fine.

And don't forget to consider other kinds of sources besides thrift stores. I don't know where you live, but around here (New England) spring is the season of yard sales (generally known as "tag sales" hereabouts). When I'm out riding on weekend mornings I will usually make the detour if I see a tag sale sign. Very often there are decent bikes at very reasonable prices (and of course you can bargain). Also, if your town has a landfill or trash transfer station, they may have a "swap area" where people can leave still-usable junk they are throwing out, and other patrons are allowed to pick through it. It can be shocking what people will throw out.

Have fun.
 

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look at the dropouts

When I was hunting the yard-sale / Goodwill circuit a friend gave me this piece of advice for identifying a quality frame: Check to see how thick the (horizontal) dropouts are. Very thin (3-4mm) ones are 'stamped' and common on less-desirable frames. 'Forged' dropouts are much thicker and usually a sign of a better bike. I don't know if this is a universal truth, but it seemed to be the case for all the bikes I encountered.
 

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n00bsauce
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13,627 Posts
Police auctions can also be a good place to pick up a frame or whole bike for cheap. Years ago (late 70's) I bought a Panasonic at a police auction for $5. It had a broken rear dropout. Took it to a builder who brazed on a new one for $25. I rode the heck out of that bike for 8years and finally retired it for a brand spanking new 1984 Cannondale R400. The Panasonic collected dust for years until I decided to turn it into a fixie about 5 years ago. It's got a new life, a spiffy new powder coat and is now a productive member of bicycling society again. BTW, that Cannondale is now the one collecting dust and is likely to continue to collect it. It's just not as versatile as that old Panasonic. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
 
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