So you find yourself in the middle of a pandemic – with a little extra time on your hands – and you want to get back into mountain biking. Problem is, you don’t have a mountain bike. In fact, aside from a strong will and an able body, you don’t have anything that relates to mountain biking because you sold it all when you sold your old mountain bike.
(Yes, I sold everything last year. It’s the second time in my life I’ve made that mistake and this will be the third time starting over – but the first time in this unique situation.)
Problem is, there aren’t any bikes in stock – anywhere. And it’s not just mountain bikes – it’s all bikes, man. Bike shops have been wiped out all summer. And it’s not just bikes themselves – it’s damn near every accessory, save for a few pannier racks, as well.
So what the heck are you supposed to do to quench your thirst for crushing trails on some fresh knobby tires? You could order a new bike and have it here in time for Christmas – or – you could comb through the classifieds…
And that’s exactly what your boy did – and, though it was a long strange trip – I couldn’t be happier that I was patient and waited out the waves for the perfect one – one that met all my needs; present and past.
Let’s get down to brass tacks…
Right now there is an insane amount of turn of the century chromoly-bombers peppered all over places like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and beyond. It’s a feeding frenzy for someone on the back edge of their thirties looking to pick up something affordable, that they know will last – based solely on the fact that it made it this far (like us, Mikey – The Goonies!).
When I was fifteen, I had a 1996 Diamondback “Topanga”. Solid frame, solid fork, solid bike. I rode it right from the shop to the trail and started an addiction I’ve been enjoying ever since.
But I always wanted a Specialized “Rockhopper”.
I remember it being the first bike I ever saw with a front shock and it hit me like the first time that Marty McFly saw that tricked-out black Toyota SR5 in the first “Back To The Future”.
But unlike Marty, I never got my Rockhopper. I never experienced the kush ride that, that Manitou fork gave the bike on the trail. In fact, I all but gave up on mountain biking when I turned 17 and pawned my Topanga to finance my very own SR5 – which was way better than Marty’s.
But mountain biking never left me. Hell, I even worked for the largest bike rack manufacturer in the world for ten years. And at some point in that mix, I built a dream bike – a 2012 Santa Cruz “Heckler” – which was better than my SR5 and Marty’s SR5, combined – and worth easily thrice as much.
Oddly enough, that Heckler was just too much bike compared to where I was going to ride and what I was going to do – so it sat in the shed, collecting dust – and that’s the bike I sold last year, along with every tool and accessory I had, to finance upgrades on my new house.
So, anyway – here we are. Present time. Present pandemic. Present “lack of product” situation – and I’m staring at a goldmine in the classifieds:
Trek. Pre-Trek Gary Fisher. GT. Specialized.
Every bike I saw in all those mountain bike magazines as a teenager had become garage ornaments in the last twenty some-odd years, and now – in these weird and wild times – were all up for grabs.
Now before I go any further and tell you how to land your next trail chariot, I want to instill some hope and tell you that I landed a pristine 1998 Specialized “Rockhopper Comp FS”. It had been kept in great shape, had been regularly tuned-up over the years, and had that gravy Manitou shock I used to dream about. In fact, this thing was so cherry, it was still rolling on its original, factory tires.
It was my size, and even had bar ends! BAR ENDS! But obtaining this trophy bike took time, patience, and a willingness to not grab the first retro-relic that I saw. Yes. I did end up with my dream bike. But I had to get through a few other bikes first and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t having a mid-life crisis and buying a bike to fill a void – but that I was looking to get back on a bike and needed something that was safe and functional as well.
So yes, there are late model bikes for sale all over the Internet – HOWEVER! – a lot of these bikes had the shit kicked out of them before Y2K and were left to rot in the corner of a shed or garage. Lubes coagulated. Rubber dry-rotted, and the folks selling these bikes are literally selling them as if they just rolled off the assembly line (though the reality is that some of them are coming out of a dumpster).
Also, the world of online sales isn’t the most honest place to spend a buck. Each post is trying to lure you in by a seller who’s not out here playing games. They don’t want a return customer – they want your money. This isn’t amateur hour – some of these sellers are extremely cut throat – so you need to enter this arena with your game face on, ready to test ride – and ready to haggle.
You also need to be going into this realizing that these bikes are going to need a little TLC, so budget for at least a couple of hundo over the price you pay for the bike.
As I said, my Rockhopper was in great shape – greased up like a pig at a county fair and looking as fine as pie – but the pedals were on their way out, and the saddle turned my ass black when I sat on it. Nothing major, but these bits and pieces add up quick – especially in a market where there’s high demand for these components. Scarcity drives up demand and demand drives up prices. Keep that in mind!
My mantra through all of this was:
The world is not in a rush right now, and neither am I.
I highly recommend subscribing to it or something similar to it because you’re going to want to have a little zen on your side to come through this with your sanity intact, as well as the right ride.
That said, be mindful about getting into a used bike that needs any major components to be replaced because – dead serious – it’s slim pickings out there. Like bikes and their accessories, components are a commodity right now – and far and few between. Local bike shops are decimated right now, as are most online retailers that specialize in bike parts.
Amazon has a fair supply of forks, cranksets, and the like – but I’m always weary about getting those types of things from places that aren’t authorized dealers. So, really, unless you’ve got a line on bike parts – or don’t plan on riding until the Spring – think twice about grabbing something all banged up thinking you can flip it around and hit the trail lickity-split. It’s not like you can return it.
Also, you don’t want to walk into any of this with your fly down – be prepared for anything. Something as innocent as wanting to tool around the neighborhood with your kids, and casually cruise some trails, could turn into your life’s work.
I found, and relied on Bikepedia to familiarize myself with my Rockhopper from tip to tail in terms of sizing, components – you name it – and it’s made repairing and upgrading a breeze. It also might come in handy when checking out your chain-driven dream: as people swap out components all the time and you want to make sure you’re not getting a pig in a prom dress – but a viable trail demon, as designed. After-all, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that some of these bikes were re-cobbled together for a quick sale between two perfect strangers where the buyer has no recourse. Trust no one.
PRO TIP: there are a slew of component and accessory brands out there that you may never have heard of – that will suit your needs better than the super hip brands out there. I wouldn’t go “off-brand” for a major component, but you might find a saddle, pedals, and the like. Every brand starts somewhere, and in the world of cycling, these manufacturers know they need to put out a legit product to stay in business. Do your research, you’d be surprised what’s out there – and the kind of dough you can save with lesser known name.
REAL TALK: RIDE BEFORE YOU BUY!
In 2020, bike manufactures can’t get on the same page about bike sizing – how do you think they were handling it in the Wild Wild West of the 1990’s? I’ve ridden three “medium” framed bikes – and all three had different stand-over heights because of the way they were built or what they were built on. I had the chance to ride a 1997 Gary Fisher “Marlin” that the owner was practically giving away – I mean seriously; this dude didn’t know what he had and could have gotten another $200. But, when I sat on it, my berries were getting split by the top tube – no bueno.
Remember, Patrick Swayze had to jump out of a few planes, rob a few banks, and kidnap his own girlfriend before he found his perfect set of waves. Be patient and stay the course!
The other thing that’s not easy to get your hands on right now is a bike rack. All of the major players are working double time on the assembly line to get something out to the masses – but most racks are backordered through September. As someone who used to swim around in bike racks and rack parts, I’ve found it extremely hard to find a bike rack.
I would like to tell you that the secondary market for these racks is as flourishing as the bike segment, itself – but it’s really not. This may start to change seeing that summer is almost gone – but you would be better off getting online and in-line to get something back ordered. That said, if you’re serious about this and if you’re really going to do it, do it now – even if you haven’t grabbed a bike – because all of that stock coming in is either being spoken for or being watched like a hawk.
So! To recap and wrap this up: it’s a buyers market for sure when it comes down to going old school and getting the bike of your dreams – but you’re going to have to put in work and earn this one. Heck, some shops are turning into consignment shops just so they have bikes on the floor and their store doesn’t look like it was robbed – but they’re gone just as soon as they come in.
Bottomline: You’re not just going to randomly walk into a bike shop and walk out with a new or used bike anytime soon. You’re going to need to do your homework and be patient. But I’ll tell you wait – determination pays off. As, at some times, inconvenient as this experience was for me, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome!
Your chariot awaits!