Saturday, February 5, 2011

When a Bike Is Not for You, What to Do?

Regardless of how much time we put into looking for a new bike, how much research we do, how many reviews we read, and even how wonderful the bicycle seems during a test ride, sometimes it happens: We buy a bike that isn't right for us. Perhaps the handling ends up not being to our liking. Or perhaps the bike is too heavy, too aggressive, not aggressive enough... There can be so many reasons. And often, those reasons only become apparent after we get into the swing of using the bike.

And so there we are: As far as resale value goes, our new bicycle is now a used bicycle. And we feel excruciatingly guilty for having made the wrong choice.

Once we realise that the bicycle we so longed for is not all we had hoped, the question is: what to do next? We may try to deal with the situation by continuing to ride the bike even if we are not entirely happy with it, hoping that over time we'll get used to it. We might make modifications to the bike, in attempts to get it to handle how we want it to handle. Or we could admit defeat and sell it. Some of us tried the first two approaches, before ultimately deciding to sell. Others just cannot bear to sell the bike - either because of the monetary loss they will incur, or because of sentimental attachment.

It's a tough call which decision is best. It took me a while before I could bring myself to sell my Pashley, while an acquaintance sold her Batavus just a month after buying it. "Mama Vee" of Suburban Bike Mama has been struggling with her Sorte Jernhest cargo trike for nearly two years now and is still torn over what to do (in fact, she has just issued an exasperated plea for help, so perhaps someone can advise her!).

Not counting myself, I know of about half a dozen ladies in the blogosphere who either have recently sold, or are considering selling the bicycle that was supposed to be their "dream bike." We did everything right and the bike seemed like the perfect choice at the time. And yet it wasn't. If you've ever been in this situation, how did you deal with it and what was your ultimate decision?

39 comments:

  1. I've bought and sold a bunch of bicycles before settling on my current rides. I need a shortish top tube and finding the right fit for me is trial and error so, if it didn't fit, it was cut loose. I took a very hard hit financially when I bought an expensive bicycle about 15 years ago which didn't fit me well, I ended up selling it for about half of what I paid and used the money to buy a custom frameset which I still ride. It's one of my favorite bikes but it was a hard lesson. I'm make better choices now about what I need and what will work, it helps that I work in the industry.

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  2. This topic is near and dear to me as well as I've purchased a few bikes and sold them. I purchased a beautiful, heavy dutch bike (not unlike the Pashley, but heavier), but found it too heavy and it didn't stop well when loaded. It was a beautiful machine, but didn't work for me, so I sold it without regret. Fortunately, it sold quite easily and not a too big a loss. Since I know I like to try new bike styles and sometimes they don't work out, I try and factor resale into the purchasing decision up front. While not a big driver, I do consider it.

    I have not figured out how to change major parts on a bike in a cost effective way. If one plans to swap out parts, it will be even harder to recoup the money later on if the swap doesn't result in 'a keeper'. A new handlebar and stemp could cost 150 at the high end. Being patient and searching for used parts (or an entire bike) would save a great deal of money but will take time. Buying a used bike is another way to minimize the risk of selling and taking a hit later on, but great care must be taken to understand what the bike will need in terms of repairs and upgrades up front. I have purchased 2 used bikes and both wound up needing new wheels. These cost a good percentage of the purchase price of the bike. No 'ROI' there. Lesson learned - always check the wheels on a used bike carefully. Wheels are expensive and are the major wear item on a bike. These days, even tires are expensive.

    Unusual bikes, like the trike or an electric cargo bike I built, would probably not be easy to sell without a large loss. The market is just too small for such bikes. Take this into consideration when buying an unusual bike.

    I understand I will not generally make money selling a bike, but it is nice not to loose too much either.

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  3. We learn what we want or need only by dissatisfaction with what we have. As Anon 6:41 has said, this can be an expensive lesson. If someone is new to cycling or just getting back into it after a long hiatus, it might be wise to start with a used bike, which would bring the price of tuition down.

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  4. I am in this very predicament. I am waiting until spring to see what is available but now my choices are limited to something in the price range what the resale value of my current bike. I wish there was a meet up for people to try to trade bicycles, but commuter bikes are so rare here....

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  5. I keep it around for out-of-town friends to ride when they come to visit.

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  6. Anonymous highlights the cost of climbing the learning curve, you don't know what you want/need till you find you don't have it and sometimes you've spent a bunch of $ not getting it.

    In Mama Vee's case she has a lot of what she needs but lacks the final piece. Without having someone close by who has some practicle expertise in engineering and fabrication, and who isn't focused on getting into her pocket, she's stuck in trial and error mode to find a solution. For the lack of a simple steering damper she's at an impasse and can't use the available solutions...

    We can't all be inventors/tinkerers/habitual DIYers but a few more roaming around would'nt be a bad thing...

    Spindizzy

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  7. I think part of it is wrapped up in expectations. High hopes or expectations often lead to disappointment, especially for those of us who are picky. Luckily, during my 30 years of riding I've always found used frames and built up my bikes with used parts. The joy was in the building and letting go was easy b/c it meant another project was under way. Usually I'd make trades, occasionally I'd sell them, but never did i think about money lost. If the bike couldn't fit in my house or for my purposes I'd find it a new home. BTW, this isn't true of my relationships, still have the same children and wife;-)

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  8. On a related note, sometimes we buy a perfect bike and then WE change. Or our riding mix changes. The person doing the choice need not even misjudge particularly. Either way, it IS a tough call to sell a "pretty new" bike.

    The only bike I ever bought for myself new was a bad choice. It took me twenty years to realize it and I still have the bike. Had I know what I know now, I'd have taken it back to the shop within a week.

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  9. I've tried moving the seat forward and backwards along the rails, also channging the stem or handlebars might work as well, for me the most important thing is tracking true while riding with no hands. All in all it just comes down to that feeling we like to have.

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  10. I'm the queen of bad bike choices. I have a road bike sitting in my garage that I bought new so I could ride longer distance and my thighs could be as pretty and skinny as they were 5 years ago. I rode it once in the bike lanes around my house and was scared to death of all those cars possibly hitting me. And I hated going fast and then stopping to check for traffic at each light and stop sign. Kind of defeated the purpose of long distance riding. I also bought a red cruiser last year at a silent auction. My friends talked me into bidding way too much for it because it was my birthday and so cute. It's a no name brand and I haven't been on it once since putting it in the garage. I also have several vintage schwinns sitting there collecting dust. They are so heavy and hard to maneuver plus the ride is rough. They look pretty though. Part of me thinks I may just refurbish the classics with some internal hubs and gears so they will be pretty and functional but all that extra cost really may not be worth it so maybe I should Craigslist them although I doubt they will sell for what I think they are worth.

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  11. thank you! and thanks for the last paragraph, I think my biggest issue is feeling like I messed up on a purchase that was so $$$. But esp at the time- there were not many options. Being able to test ride it before having it shipped across country was key. Right after I bought it Madsens came out and so many other options. and... my kids have grown so most cargo bikes we are growing out of. and frankly I really love my sorte. I love her so much- I just want her with power. thanks for the link.

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  12. If you can't use it then sell it is my advice. That said, with the collection I own I should take my own advice!

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  13. Oh I would sell my Pashley and buy a Pigeon Blue Retrovelo in a heart beat. I don't know what's stopping me actually. I think it may be just her sheer prettiness : )

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  14. Mamavee, if your kids are outgrowing most cargo bike options, have you considered a tandem and/or trailercycle? This is how we are getting our kids (6 and 4 years old) around:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5154737435/in/set-72157625011352879/

    This type of setup should work for years. And with pannier bags and/or a front rack, the tandem can haul lots of non-human stuff as well.

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  15. Amy: everything sells for what it its worth. It's worth what someone will pay for it.

    Jennifer: I almost pulled the plug and ordered a Pashley sooo many times. I DID order a Retrovelo sight unseen, test unridden. It is my favorite bicycle ever. It's pretty, it handles well, it's fast when you need it to be, it's comfortable, it's not too heavy to carry up a flight of stairs by myself. I'm very happy that I never bought a Pashley and I don't want one now.

    I did buy two bicycles (a Trek Belleville and an Electra Townie) that I thought I would love and wound up not liking at all. I lost a little money on the Belleville. The Electra was used and sold quickly to a friend who loves it.

    Learning which bicycles are right for you just requires experience. I don't think there is a way around it. In seven months I have gone from only liking mountain bikes and strongly disliking road bikes to discovering transportation bicycles, falling in love with vintage lugged steel and now to adding a road bike to my stable for longer group rides. I'm no longer fond of my old mountain bike as a piece of sports equipment, but it is a good bicycle and I see its potential as a touring bicycle or cargo bicycle.

    Who knows where I will be in a year? It's a pretty good bet that I will still love the Retrovelo. Did I mention that I love it?

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  16. One thing that intrigues me about Retrovelo is that I have yet to hear of one being sold or returned. They must have done something right. And if you find the Paul/Paula too expensive, there is the 3-speed Klaus/Klara for about $700 less.

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  17. Catch and release. People change. Needs change. Styles change. Plus that new bike smell is addictive.

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  18. Steve A said...
    "On a related note, sometimes we buy a perfect bike and then WE change. Or our riding mix changes. "


    Very true. For me the Pashley experience was tied up with the growing pains of riding a bike for the first time as an adult and developing my preferences.

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  19. I think Steve A hit it. Sometimes we change. The worst time for me to pick a bike is if I haven't been riding for awhile. A few weeks of daily riding and those hills just disappear and the bike just fits a bit differently. This fall I spent a few days riding in Maine including riding from Portland to Kennebunkport. The next day rode to Wells to catch the train to North Station, Boston and follow my usual commuting route home. Again, after climbing hills on the Maine trip, my local route seemed even flatter!
    However, I also work with several cyclists. Some have one do-it-all bike. Others, like the CEO and me, lean towards the bike "wardrobe". Different bikes for different needs.
    For me, any bike I have should be rideable in city traffic. I don't want to have to put it in the car to get it someplace to ride. That also means, no toe overlap. I have also physically changed. Due to extensive PT last year my reach is longer. This after about 15 years of having a shorter stem put on most of the new bikes I bought.
    And, just moving one town over changed some of my needs. As much as I liked my old 3-speeds they just doesn't work for my regular commuting. I have lighterweight single speed and heavier mountain bike with a 7-speed IGH. My project this year is to build up a longer-distance commuter/weekender mixte with an 8-speed IGH or a compact cassette.
    For the bikes that I have sold in the years, I look at the use value that I've gotten out of them. There was an inexpensive Giant hybrid I bought when recovering from a broken ankle - wanted to just ride on the bike path with friends, nothing fancy. It helped a lot. A year later, I took it in to be converted into a commuter when I changed jobs but saw a Breezer Villager u-frame on the floor. I bought the Breezer and sold the Giant. Then I changed jobs again and the Breezer wasn't practical for riding out into the 'burbs. I traded it for a Greenway. Then I had some money for my "dream bike" a San Jos8 so I got the San Jos8 and sold the Greenway. Then, my back tightened up and I had converted an old Gary Fisher to really big handlebars so I could ride last year. My back was better, but not perfect this spring so I had the folks at Harris switch out the road bars to Northroad style bars on the San Jos8 and road that quite happily...until I was hit by a truck. That bike sits crumpled in the basement as I wait for the insurance settlement. In the meantime, I converted the Gary Fisher to a commuter and bought a single speed because...I had hand surgery a month ago and can't shift the grip shifter on the Gary Fisher and since Shimano does not make a 7-speed thumb shifter for the hub I took the easy way out and bought another bike. And I wanted a single speed anyway :)
    So it's taken me about 20 years to realized that there will never be one "perfect" bike for me but I will end up with a few that I love to ride.

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  20. For me it's been helpful to think of bikes as very substantial pairs of shoes/boots! (And the cost may be equivalent over the long term, if one thinks of how many years we hope a successful bike to last, compared with the right pair of shoes).

    That analogy sustains two bits of logic: (1) if a shoe simply turns out not to fit, one isn't being thrifty or sustainable or cautious in continuing to wear or horde it, even if giving it away or selling it means losing some or all the cost of purchase. (2) if a shoe fits but is only wearable/appropriate/useful in certain contexts, that's ok, as long as one has space that it can share with other pairs of shoes, and a range of shoes that fits with one's life and bank balance at any particular time.

    I wouldn't have learned to think in this way if it weren't for Lovely Bike, though I can't remember if Velouria makes this comparison. By the way, I don't mean the analogy to stretch too far: as far as I'm concerned, bikes are beautiful tools/vehicles to use, NOT clothing/accessories to wear, and I don't dream of boots etc the way I do of bikes, though I'm very grateful for the right ones (comfortable for long walks, warm, grippy, fun) when I find them. But no "shoe p0rn" for me!

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  21. Unless I'm mistaken the price on the Retrovelos have really come down in the past year. I could have sworn the Paul/a's were in the $2500 range, but are now significantly below the 2K mark, and the Klara/Klaus is downright not unreasonable.

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  22. no nickname - As far as shoes go, I think I wrote once that if someone suggests I have too many bikes, I ask them how many pairs of shoes they have. Because unlike most women I know, I only have a few pairs (yes, seriously!) and yet I never ask them "why do you have so many shoes?" or "how can you afford so many shoes?". I can't afford shoes, because I spend too much money on bike stuff. They can't afford bike stuff, because they spend too much money on shoes. Both seem absolutely fine to me, choose your poison!

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  23. "Velouria said...
    no nickname - As far as shoes go, I think I wrote once that if someone suggests I have too many bikes, I ask them how many pairs of shoes they have. Because unlike most women I know, I only have a few pairs (yes, seriously!) and yet I never ask them "why do you have so many shoes?" or "how can you afford so many shoes?". I can't afford shoes, because I spend too much money on bike stuff. They can't afford bike stuff, because they spend too much money on shoes. Both seem absolutely fine to me, choose your poison!"

    Bike collecting is a very satisfying past time for many people myself included. I've dabbled in bikes for decades collecting, trading ,refurbing, giving away, etc. enjoying many hours while not spending nearly as much money as any other hobby I know of.

    I've been a photographer, an engineer, a soldier, a father and none compare with the joy I've had being a father and a cyclist.

    So I'm gonna say a person can own as many bikes as they have room for and still not be wrong or overzealous about the hobby.

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  24. Interesting read! I just sold my 1968 VW Karmann Ghia convertible and (knowing that I'll be missing her when the nice weather returns) am planning to replace her with a nice new bike.

    I've been searching the city for a Pashley Princess, but everyone seems to be out of stock till spring - so if anyone out there has one available, please let me know. (I am 5'5", so would likely need the smallest size).

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  25. Natalie - If you're 5'5" I'd say you need the medium. Try putting it up as a "want" on the Trading Post!

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  26. i googled and saved and traveled to test ride and decided to get a pashley sonnet bliss...i was SO excited...and i got it home, and...my vintage peugot mixte works better for me in my hilly town. :/ if i hadn't decided to learn to snowboard this year...and spent so much money on stuff for that, it might've been a harder decision to decide to sell, but, i just bought a leather saddle for the mixte. i'll probably get some new handlebars and grips as well, and then just be happy with it. :-D the trick will be finding a buyer for the pashley come spring.

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  27. When I bought my Pashley it was the highest quality loop frame bike available in NYC and within maybe six months Adeline Adeline had opened and began to import tons of bikes of equal or better quality, including Pashley. I was happy with it initially even though it was not just right but as I got more experienced with the style of bike, I was less happy.

    I lucked out a bit in that my Pashley was simply too small for me, so I really needed to sell it no matter what. I did toy with getting a larger one but when I rode the two larger Pashleys, they actually didn't feel that different from my small frame, which told me there was something I didn't like about how it handled that wasn't specific to its size. I was sad because I think they are gorgeous. The girl who bought mine was elated, so that was nice. I wasn't really worried about recouping its value, but I basically did, thought it took a while to sell.

    Retrovelo is kind of a mystery to me, like why do I love mine so? There are bikes that are more elegant, and certainly many bikes are faster and others carry more -- it's hard to describe, but the minute I rode one it just felt like a part of me.

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  28. I've said this before -- on a Retrovelo you feel EXACTLY like a kid zipping around a corner in a mid 20th century bicycle ad. It is difficult to wipe the smile off your face.

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  29. Just sell it. My love for chef's knives has resulted in my selling some that did not fit. Same for bikes IMHO.

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  30. With the exception of a department store bike purchased many, many years ago and my Long Haul Trucker, every bike I have owned as an adult bicyclist has been a used bike. So I never shelled out that much for a bike (by itself). Though I have no plans in the immediate future, I do see myself owning a custom handbuilt bike at some point. But I'm afraid that it still won't be "right" and also too scared to ride it anywhere, lest it get stolen or damaged! So the used route is a good way for me.

    In the years of used bikes, I have parted with ones when the luster wore off. For years I wanted to get a classic Schwinn of the Varsity variety. Then I lucked out when a friend of mine gave me a 5-speed Collegiate. It was a fun bike for a very short time, then I realize it's shortcomings, namely chromed wheels that kept breaking spokes and didn't have stopping power in the rain, and a primitive derailleur that only got 3-4 gears, never the full 5. Even though I built it up in my head as a bike I "wanted", I knew it wasn't the right thing, so I sold it.

    My main problem is that I get an idea for a particular bike, say: building a 3-speed out of a '70's Japanese road frame, or taking the same type of Japanese 10-speed and converting it to a single speed. It goes fine for a while, until I get an idea for a new, different bike, get interested in that new bike, and lose interest in the old. And due to limited space, I inevitably will get rid of the older bike. I can never truly recoup the cost I put into these bikes, but at least I can put a decent bike into circulation.

    Right now I've got one bike that I haven't decided if I'll sell it come spring. And there's only one constant in my fleet: the Long Haul, since it is my touring bike and serves a purpose my others can't. That is until I get a hand built touring bike! ;-)

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  31. Velouria said...
    Natalie - If you're 5'5" I'd say you need the medium.

    I would have to concur. I'm just shy of 5'4 and had the 20" Pashley. It was a great fit for me. The 17" just wasn't enough to be comfortable.

    As for the dilemma of keeping it, modifying it, or selling it... I think that is always up for debate. As you pointed out, I think it's difficult to know exactly what will work until a bicycle has been used. The sensible side of me says sell things that aren't right, but that isn't always an easy decision. Buying used bikes is sometimes a good way to cut down any potential losses, I think, but sometimes you just can't find what you want in the used market.

    On the other hand, I don't like to easily give up on a bike either. If there is some sort of modification that can be done to make it more usable, functional, comfortable, etc., I think it can be a great decision to give any available options a try.

    In the end, I think each individual has to make the decision based on their budget, needs, and motivations.

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  32. somervillian- that set up looks really neat. Except I am not a strong cycler and I am 5 feet tall. Something that long would be very unwieldy. I have an xtra and that is too much bike for me. The sorte while huge is more compact and so much easier to handle. I'm just a wimp when it comes to hills. Also my kids are wary and like the three wheel stability. They hate the xtra due to wobble factor.

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  33. follow your heart. hard as it may be to say goodbye, extra weight is something we can not afford to carry around in our lives. be it literally or figuratively.

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  34. Interesting post and comments!. I am finding that I use my Bat less often than I thought I would -- not because it doesn't work in Nashville, but because my lighter, faster mixte works better, especially now that I am a more confident/experienced rider. Like you, I'm getting more into the sporty side of things. But because of how I got it, and how much I like the idea of it, I am not ready to let go of it just yet.

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  35. Steve definitely hit the nail on the head. Sometimes our needs and preferences change, especially if we start to ride more or differently.

    Fortunately for us, bikes differ from other products. In cars or kitchen appliances, as examples, certain brands and models are almost universally seen as very good or very bad, or somewhere in between. On the other hand, a good bike that's not right for you will probably be right for someone else. So there's usually a market for whatever doesn't work out for you.

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  36. My dream bike-or practical and available dream bike was a surly long haul trucker. Top secret ultimate dream bike is a rivendell or custom. When we had our evil dead van scrapped we got a voucher for a bike with the British Columbia scrap it program. $1200 rebate towards a new bike at participating stores. My husband wanted to tour and I thought I needed a touring bike. The surly cost way way way more than $1200 and am still paying for it because I had to borrow to buy the bike and once the refund came, the money had to be used on more urgent matters. Whining aside, it was a bike I could not really afford hence the extreme stress over the bike not being what I'd hoped. A huge amount of the remorse is about the financial burden this bike carries.

    I wasn't able to test ride it before hand with so few built up and also got the wrong size. I was so happy, so excited waiting for the bike to be ready and then once I got it I was not happy with it. I also had a terrible experience with the lbs and shop I bought the bike from. Talk about sexist, rude, elitist, lazy, bad customer service! I love the olive colour, but that's about it. For some reason it does not handle well when loaded and is very unstable overall which makes for some scary moments. I don't really like the 26 inch wheels which I didn't think would be a problem. I've had it a year and a half and still have not had an a-ha moment, or fallen in love. I ride it EVERY DAY too. The lht is a much loved bike and it is a smooth ride, sturdy and all, maybe I go a dud, but just doesn't work for me. It is sluggish, wobbly and.....not lugged or sparkly like I'd prefer. I have vintage lugged steel bicycles that I bought unexpectedly for under $80 that I love and enjoy to ride. I would have been better off buying a vintage step through or mixte and upgrading it with components and gearing comparable to a touring bike.
    I have quite a few bikes now but was always a one or two bike girl and would ride my bikes until the bitter end. So it's hard for me to give up on a bike and sell it-especially knowing I will not get much for it. I can't even bear to sell the horrible aluminum bikes I bought under duress in the early 2000's.
    The one stroke of luck is someone gave me a lugged steel touring bike missing vital parts. My plan is to build it up cheaply(not with swank parts like I want to), compare it to the lht and sell the lht if I like the trek. I'll clean up the lht, replace anything funky and sell. And then I will paint the trek a beautiful green!

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  37. In response to Steve A and Mayamocha, I tend to have the opposite experience. The more I think I change, the more I stay the same. I had a lugged '88 Schwinn Tempo frame that I bought NOS on Ebay. I used a Nitto Technomic stem to get the bars up nice and high and put on a nice sprung leather saddle. Ultimately it roade very nicely. But after a couple of years the paint was in not so great condition (apparently it wasn't built at the factory due to paint adhesion problems). I was about to have it powdercoated when my wife suggested I just suck it up, buy a new frame and be done with it.

    Always happy to buy a new frame, I took her up on her suggestion, looked around and got a great deal on a new aluminum and carbon Marin Argenta frame (only $330). However, despite the sizing chart on Marin's web site, the frame proved to be a little small (I was actually worried it would be too big!). So I put the seat post up pretty high and I put on one of those dorky steerer tube extensions to get the bars up where my back likes them.

    I have to admit, despite the dorky steerer tube extension, it looks beautiful, its a shade lighter than the old Schwinn, its nice and stiff and at this point I'm very happy with the bike. My one regert is that it only accepts up to a 700x25 tire. Anyway, while admiring the bike in my garage, it occurred to me that the reason now find the bike so comfortable is that the riding position is almost indentical the way I had the old Tempo set up. I can't say I regret buying the new Argenta, but perhaps I'd have been better off painting the Schwinn after all...

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  38. I have come to terms with the fact that I'm going to lose money on bikes. For the most part I try to adapt them to meet my needs, and I often get a kick out of remaking a bike into a new format to suit my changing riding needs. But sometimes, when I just don't feel the love, it makes more sense to let them go (and suck it up that I'll only get a fraction of what I put into it). It helps (me) to focus on how happy & excited the new owner is, rather than on how much $$$ I'm losing.

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  39. I know I'm late to the game, but I'd say this is (yet) another reason to buy a used bike. At least here in Portland, used bikes basically keep their full resale value, as long as you keep up on maintenance and replacing major parts as needed (wheels, headsets, etc.). So essentially, buying a used bike is like getting it on loan from the universe for the cost of upkeep. That way if you have to sell it, you can recover all or most of the value. Of course, if you want something very rare, or if you're in a market where the product you want isn't sold new and therefore is less likely to show up used, that's difficult. But perhaps more patience in searching out the used option can pay off in lower risk...

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