How to get a pretty good touring bike for less than $150

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This is an article outlining a process, which I have used several times to produce a road worthy road bike for a really low price plus some labor. So, if you have more time than money, you are willing to ride non-current hardware, and you don’t mind getting your fingers dirty, read on.

First last and always, the best source for bicycles and bicycle parts that I have ever seen is on Amazon Think about it. They do have a business to run, so they have to sell their goods to pay for their overhead, but the cost of their goods is zero, so they can sell them really inexpensively. As an example, I have purchased over a dozen road bikes in the past 12 months for less than $25 each, most of them for less than $15. What kind of bike can you expect to get for $1 – $25? That is a fair question. The ones that I have been looking for are road bikes because that is my main interest. I look for specific components on them.

This is the list of components that I look for:

  • Aluminum three piece crank – if it has a one piece crank, pass it up.
  • Lugged steel frame – 4130 chrome-moly is stiffer than any other kind of steel on bikes. Fillet brazed frames (to be avoided) will have rounded joints between the tubes, and a larger bottom bracket size with a one piece crank.
  • Aluminum chainrings – steel chainrings are nothing but cheap and heavy
  • Quick release hubs – found on better road bikes instead of axles with conventional nuts only removed with wrenches
  • 27-inch rims – 700 mm is the current diameter, but they are not showing up on the Amazon yet
  • Aluminum hubs and rims – lighter weight and better stopping in the wet
  • Cast fork and rear “drop outs”– found only on the better bikes, rather than stamped steel “drop outs”
  • Aluminum handlebars and stem
  • Shifters on the down tubes – on better bikes
  • Wheels that are true, or can be trued
  • Nishiki or Fuji brand – generally have pretty good components, better than most

Things to avoid: (there seems to be a trend here, stay away from steel components)

  • One piece cranks – heavy, if it has a one piece crank, pass it by
  • Steel cranks with cotter bolts – they are ankle biters and are heavy
  • Steel chainrings – heavy
  • Fillet brazed frames, with the smoothly rounded joints – heavy
  • Chromed steel rims – heavy and poor braking when wet
  • Chromed steel hubs – heavy
  • Built in kick stands – heavy and unnecessary
  • Chromed steel handlebars – heavy
  • French bikes – nothing against the French, but they build their bikes with different sizes than the rest of the world and much of the hardware does not interchange. Brand names like Peugeot and Motobecane are sometimes fine bikes, you need to be aware that their bits and pieces are going to be “French Only”. The same is true, though to a lesser degree with Schwinn. They have some particular dimensions unique to their bikes.
  • Rims that are too far gone.

If you are in doubt if a component is made of steel, borrow a magnet from the front door of your refrigerator and try it out. The results are indisputable. If it sticks, it is steel. From this list, I have found bicycles at Goodwill stores ranging from $25 down to $1.

I have found that the most consistently good values are at the Goodwill Surplus Store, though I have also found bargains at their retail stores as well. They typically mark the items down each day until they are sold. I have watched bikes be reduced from $35 to $25 to $15 to $10 and finally sold (to me) for $5.

Sometimes there will only be one good part on the bike, but it is a bargain for the part, so I get the whole bike in the bargain. Another time, I paid $25 for a Schwinn Super LeTour, gave it to my brother who rode it on a local ride with little more than a bath and a lube. It had a lugged chrome-moly frame, with aluminum bars, rims, Shimano 600 side-pull brakes and quick-release hubs. He did need to replace the saddle and eventually the tires. The saddle was $49 and the tires were $19 each. So for a total of $112, he was up on two. Those items, the saddle and tires are things that I consider consumables, like brake pads on you car. They do wear out and need to be replaced periodically.

I make a practice of visiting the Goodwill Surplus Store about twice a week. When I see something I want, then I will go back daily until it is reduced to a price I am willing to pay or it is sold. When I mentally kick myself as I drive away for not making a purchase, that is a pretty good sign that I need to go back the next day. The same practice can be applied to Mountain bikes, and BMX bikes although the specifics of what to look for will be different.

So now that you have a bike, how do you make it roadworthy? Simple, take it all apart, right down to the bare frame, for starters. If you are into bikes, this is not a big deal. If you have never done this before, it will require a couple specific tools, available at a good bike shop. I have found that investing is good tools is better than money in the bank. Give the bike a total disassembly, cleaning and reassembly. Always replace bearings that are defective in any way. It is common for crank spindles to have pitted bearing races. They must be replaced. You will also probably need to replace these “wear items”, depending on their condition: brake pads, saddle, tires, tubes, rim strips, handlebar tape and control cables.

You will finish with a bike that is ready to roll and can be used for any number of local bike club rides. Ride it for a season or two. You can use it as a stepping stone to better cycling, to decide if you want to get more involved in cycling, without spending an arm and a leg.