Updated: December 7, 2020
I'm the guy riding a bike that costs more than my car. When friends ask me how much they should spend on a new bike, I can tell they're a little afraid to hear my answer. But here's the thing, I don't think they or anyone needs to spend much on a bike. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be like me. You can ride an affordable bike and be just as happy as me (and probably richer).
It’s no secret that cycling can be very expensive. Countless forum topics attract clicks with titles like “Why do bikes cost so much?” or “Are bike prices out of control?” The subject of rising bike prices gets people going, especially with so many halo bikes now costing more than $10,000. Explaining the economic and technological factors behind bike costs would take us deep into another rabbit hole.
Instead, for you newer riders, I'm here to tell you how to buy smart and get the most for your money. I'll explain why you should spend a reasonable amount — about $1,000-2,000 — on a high-quality pre-owned bike, ideally made in the last 5-10 years.
$1,000-2,000 may seem like a lot of money to some. To others, it may seem like too little. But this is a good starting point for newer riders who are motivated to get into cycling but aren't ready to eclipse the cost of their cars.
If you don’t plan on riding often, if you’re only doing brief rides and locking your bike up permanently outdoors, if you’re not sure you’ll take to cycling as a hobby, or if your life circumstances just don’t allow it, it’s entirely okay to spend less than $1,000 on a budget bike to satisfy your needs.
Otherwise, I believe the old adage of “buy cheap, buy twice” (or "buy once, cry once") applies here. Spending approximately this much will get you a good, pre-owned, recent model-year bike that won’t need many upgrades if any. This price range opens up a huge selection of good options for entry-level machines.
A quick disclaimer: I work for a business that sells bikes. The Pro's Closet offers a large selection of entry-level bikes. I would love for you to buy a bike from us. But even if you don’t, I think you should always seek the best value possible.
Buying pre-owned allows you to get a slightly higher-end bike with better components when compared to buying new. You can easily find great used bikes in this suggested price range from private sellers. But some of the added benefits we provide are a 30-day return policy, reliable shipping, a full inspection and tune, and a dedicated customer service team. We even offer Affirm financing that lets you ride a bike now and pay later.
Find the right bike and you can be confident it will hold its value better, have better components and technology, and will allow you to enter the sport with a solid foundation for growth.
Check the original price
Just like cars, boats, skis, and computers, bikes depreciate. The moment a new bike leaves the shop floor it loses some value. Our expert used-bike purchasing team here at The Pro's Closet has studied this phenomenon for years. They have developed a simple rule to follow when purchasing a used bike, which you can use too.
As a business, we avoid buying bikes that have an original MSRP lower than $1,500 because bikes at and above that price are of much higher quality and will maintain their value and desirability for longer. A quick Internet search will help you determine the original retail price of any bike you're looking at.
Understandably, a bicycle that costs over $1,000 is a big purchase. However, if you can spend a bit more on your bike up front, it will be a better investment in the long run.
When you buy a bike on the very low-end of the price spectrum, the value simply isn't there because it is often in poor condition or equipped with components that don't function well or are prone to wear. Worst of all, bikes like this will be difficult, if not impossible to resell later because their desirability is so low. It will be very hard to recoup any money you've put in.
Plus, bikes in the sub-$1,000 range are usually built with generic, bottom of the barrel components, or that have severely outdated designs. These bikes won’t function as well, they will be less durable, and they won't be as nice to ride.
Read this story to learn more about how depreciation affects the price of used bikes.
Keep it current
Bikes are constantly evolving. New technologies and standards are introduced at an overwhelming pace. Some riders get a new bike every season just to stay on the newest equipment. But that is unreasonable for most of us, and in reality, it’s far from necessary.
We've already established that you should look for a pre-owned in the $1,000-2,000 range that had a new retail price of $1,500 or greater. But how old is too old when it comes to model year?
The third rule of thumb is to seek out bikes made within the last 5-10 years. These are more likely to have components and technology that work as well as any of the latest and greatest bikes. Drivetrains that are one to two generations older generally have comparable technology to the newest parts. They may not have all the bells and whistles, but they won't ruin your ride.
For example, my first "real" road bike had a 10-speed drivetrain when all the new bikes had 11-speed drivetrains. Did I miss that extra cog? Not at all. The bike still worked great and I loved riding it.
As long as the componentry on your bike is from the last 5-10 years, it also has the added benefit of compatibility. Bikes are constantly being refined, new and improved technology is always trickling down from top-end offerings into more affordable options. If things do go wrong, it’s easier to get replacement parts if your bike is equipped with newer components that are compatible with modern technologies.
Bike geometry is also constantly evolving and older bikes generally don't handle as well as newer bikes. This is especially true of mountain bikes, which have seen a huge shift in geometry over the last 10 years. Spending more for a slightly newer bike will ensure your bike benefits from the latest refinements in geometry and improved handling characteristics.
If you are unfamiliar with bicycle technology, I would suggest reading any one of our more detailed Buyer's Guides for Road, Gravel, Mountain, and Women’s bikes.
These guides cover bike design and component technology in much more detail. They also provide drivetrain component hierarchies that can help when comparing different bikes. Generally, any bike of acceptable quality will have a drivetrain listed in the component hierarchies of the Buyer's Guides.
Set a solid foundation for growth
My own experience has shown me that getting a higher quality bike from the get-go increases the likelihood that you will enjoy riding and continue to ride regularly.
Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes. I bought my first bike for $250 off Craigslist. It was an ancient Peugeot with six speeds, 52/42t chainrings, friction shifters, center-pull brakes, and various other outdated components.
As my first bike, the Peugeot was troublesome because I had been hoping to do some serious riding. The stiff gearing and imprecise shifting didn’t help my novice-level fitness handle climbs. The petrified brake pads and weak, outdated calipers terrified me on descents. The wheels were impossible to true and I had trouble finding vintage 27” tires and six-speed chains at my local bike shops. Riding long distances on this bike was uncomfortable at best.
I now can appreciate the charm of vintage bikes, but I would never subject myself to riding this bike ever again.
Owning a bike like this can be an adventure. Sometimes it's fun. But a lot more times it's just frustrating and unpleasant. For a broke college kid just trying to get to class, the Peugeot was an okay option. But that's all I used it for. It wasn’t until I upgraded to the next bike that I truly fell in love with riding and felt like I became a cyclist.
I saved up and purchased a used Cannondale CAAD10 (from The Pro’s Closet actually, before I was an employee) for $1,500. At the time it was already a couple of years old with an aluminum frame and an older 10-speed Shimano Ultegra group. But it was lightyears ahead of the Peugeot.
My Cannondale, the first "real" bike I owned was relatively affordable and it pushed me to become the rider I am today. Here it is at the top of the biggest climb I'd ever done at the time. I was so proud, and my bike helped me get there.
The Cannondale was fast, reliable, and refined — three things the Peugeot never was. The drivetrain shifted smoothly. The wheels were stiff and straight, and the brakes actually slowed me down when I was going fast. The geometry was modern and felt agile and exciting. Best of all, it didn’t weigh 30 pounds like the Peugeot. Spending more than I did on my first bike got me something that was simply better in every way. The Cannondale was plenty affordable and honestly, it rode nearly as well as any of my more recent $5,000 road bikes.
The bike’s good qualities pushed me to develop as a cyclist. It made me want to ride more. I started doing longer more adventurous rides. It made me brave enough to take on group rides and the occasional race. I got fitter and became increasingly enamored with the sport.
Because I actually loved riding this bike, it helped me build a solid foundation of skills and fitness. Its reliability meant I didn’t have to think when I went out for rides. It just worked. I upgraded parts as they wore out or broke, and rode it for several years. It's now been replaced as my tastes have become more refined and I’ve come to understand what I really want. Still, I credit much of my development as a rider to this bike.
If you're determined enough, you can be happy and develop as a rider on a $250 Peugeot. If you can, then you're a tougher, more talented rider than I am!
But if your goal is to ride regularly and progress your fitness and skills, a bike in the $1,000-2000 range will facilitate your growth and make it easier to fall in love with cycling.
If you’d like to see $1,000-2,000 pre-owned bikes in our inventory, check out the following collections:
Entry-level road bikes
Entry-level 'cross / gravel bikes
Entry-level mountain bikes
If you don’t see what you’re looking for, be sure to check back later because new bikes are added daily. You can also set a saved search to receive an alert when your dream bike arrives in our inventory.
If you’re looking for a new bike and are interested in learning more about all of the technology or terminology you need to know about to understand what you’re buying, remember to take a look at our collection of buyer’s guides that explain the ins and outs of bikes.
I do want to stress that ultimately the rider plays the biggest part in performance. An exceptionally fit and skilled rider on the worst, cheapest, most outdated bike can outride and beginner on the latest superbike. Though I suggest against buying sub-$1,000 bikes, it’s still possible to become a great cyclist riding one. But starting with a higher-quality bike will make progress as a cyclist so much easier and quicker.
Enjoy your journey as a cyclist!
What was your first bike and how much did it cost? Would you spend more or less if you could do it all over again? Do you have any other tips for riders looking for an affordable bike? Let us know in the comments!