First, why buy used? Very simply, a used bike for many people represents the best value for the money. Bicycles haven’t fundamentally changed much in over a century (visit this link to see a 1910 Pierce Arrow, shaft driven, full suspension bicycle with a cut-out seat). You can pay a lot for a bicycle, but for you that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best deal.
–Bicycles 1911 and 1985
Other than specialized applications such as racing, crosscountry, or downhill (sports that require absolute top fitness) many bicycles manufactured within the past decade or five are very affordable and very ridable . A good, high quality roadbike made in the 1950′s or 1960′s– 40-50 years ago– is still a joy to ride. Good mountain bikes produced in the 90′s are still up any challenges that the average rider can throw at it. Mountain bikes with their fatter tires make excellent comfort bikes as well.
Because bicycles haven’t changed much, they can (usually) be upgraded with new or even good used components. Almost any part on a bike can be replaced if needed or desired. This means that a bike can be customized for you, your riding style, but perhaps more importantly now, your budget. Find a good, basic bike that fits you, your style (road, city, mountain), clean it, repair it (if needed), then ride it– become familiar with it, then customize it for you.
You can do it one piece at a time if that is what your budget allows. One or two pieces at a time is actually the best way to do it; sometimes what you think will work–doesn’t. A seat is never as comfortable as all your buddies think. Those handlebars that are great on the open road don’t allow you to see when riding around town.
And speaking about buddies–peers–remember this bike is for you. Just because your mom, spouse, mate, significant other, local hero, analyst, or other (fill in the blank) makes a suggestion, take it for what it is, a suggestion. Everyone has an agenda–even me. Take any suggestions and research them for yourself. (One of the biggest agendas seems to be misery loves company, as in “I spent waayyy too much for this carbon fiber water bottle cage so you need to, too.) You will find that most bicycle owners love to talk about their bikes, but find those that ride like you do (or plan to) and seek out their opinions. There a number of good forums for cyclists, from the hard core racers to the weekend warrior, to the “I just want to ride, have fun, get a little exercise” crowd.
One last thing to consider, you probably will outgrow your bike fairly quickly. It doesn’t mean your getting taller, however. What that means is that as you get stronger, ride more; you may want to upgrade. If you learn that the style of bike you purchased isn’t for you, you can change. And for whatever reason you do change bikes you won’t take a hit on depreciation. It’s conceivable that you could actually make money on your used bike, something that isn’t going to happen with a new one.