Fixing up an old bike vs. buying a new one

I was recently sitting and (g)oogling some bikes on TomsBikeTrip. Slowly but surely the conviction set in that one of those bikes was NEEDED; perfectly suited to the eight mile commute for my new job.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a car anymore, but I find my screen-shopping of bikes approaching the level I used reserve for guitars. I once bought a guitar online without playing it – don’t ever do that, it’s stupid.

The situation is I already have three bikes, one of which is a folding bike. In my mind, too many really. Two of them would have to go to make room for a new tourer.

I realised my conviction was only a masquerade. An upgrade of what I already had was all that was needed.

About two hours were wasted looking at those bikes too.

Older Generations

You know when you are a kid and everything’s shiny and fascinating? I recently gave my goddaughter a little hummingbird made from beads I bought in the Otavalo craft market in Ecuador. She was of in awe it, and carried it around all the next two days with her.

There is something of that kid in most adults when it comes to their favourite things – beardy men with motorbikes and cars, hipsters with their fixies, and not-morning people with smartphone-controlled coffee makers.

So much of that sense of fascination often relates to the next-in-line, state of the art. That childish wonder lingers faintly in older things too, it takes redirecting the search in ourselves to find it again. Away from what the marketeers would have you buy. To the inherent fun in things of themselves.

I mean taken at face value a bike is a beautiful feat of engineering. It’s so graceful in operation. Walking around a town in Holland and seeing all those bikes whizzing about everywhere is a joy.

All the trials and tribulations and generations of knowledge gone before us to produce that bike, or any of the thousands of examples of technology surrounding us each day. Relative to almost anyone alive two hundred years ago, the choice on many fronts is kingly. Be grateful for all the useful shit about us.

Choice & Repair

Over the thirteen months or so that I lived in Ecuador, I noticed it’s not very easy to find decent quality bikes – unless at really silly prices new.

Second hand stuff there tends to be non-brand, with cheaper components – a fixer like mine would even prove difficult to source. 26″ wheels are the norm there, 700c hybrid or road wheels/bikes/components are even harder to find.

With the vast choice at home, the temptation to pluck a brand new thing off the shelf is strong because no-one seems to have the time to do much apart from buy new solutions.

Given too many choices can apparently be a bad thing, not looking at all may be a good first choice.

With a new chain ring in place, and a few changes like a pannier rack and new grips, my mountain bike (which I built from a rescued frame) is now actually fit for purpose and the solution saved about 500 euro. The trade-off is that the bike is fairly heavy. It’s easier to spend that money on a bike with a lighter frame than keep your existing bike, cycle more, and strengthen the legs.


This thing really moves, but not the fastest out of the block

Time and Energy

In trying to live a more downsized life, one of the relatively quick realisations is that

stuff = time + energy + money

Minimising stuff reduces the amount of time and energy and money put into it (I’m not a minimalist of any sort either, for the record ).

Time and energy and money are really the same thing, although often only one of these is accounted for (you may know which). Assuming you want to keep everything working well, this is especially true.

With bikes, this is all even more readily apparent with the level of upkeep and maintenance they require especially when used frequently, and when you want to do most of the repairs yourself.

In an apparent inversion of this, it’s not uncommon to find people who don’t cycle with lots of unused and unusable bikes. When you depend on them for transport, bikes really matter.

Seeding an attitude that values longevity and function over form bears fruit over the longer term. Repairing old things by default can be good for your mind, wallet, the environment and even allow you to pick up some useful skills.

Making older stuff work and stay working is just fun too.

3 thoughts on “Fixing up an old bike vs. buying a new one”

  1. I find myself looking at bikes on the internet too, until I remind myself that I already have a decent bike and I don’t want the risk of a nicer bike getting stolen. I would probably also find ways of pouring more money into a nicer bike and justify it as “necessary maintenance.” Good discussion of the trade offs. It’s nice to get a reminder every now and then that the stuff you have now is just fine.

    1. earthworldjim says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Dylan. Only very recently we had the exact same discussion! It was about whether we wanted to fork out for touring bikes (because we’d love a pair of them) but actually there are other things that take priority at this point in time – including as you mention – not wanting to run the risk of them being stolen, living as we do right in the middle of a city. We opted out as we are not touring, and our current bikes do just fine. Often doing nothing makes a lot of sense 😉

  2. Ric Hyslop says:

    I find myself in this quandary too. For many years, I enjoyed road riding and did a little bit of mild racing. And later a friend bought me a mountain bike but it was too big so I sold it and bought one which fitted me. I preferred th road bike though, but kept the mtb for fun stuff and commuting. Now that I am retired, I ride at a more leisurely pace and recreationally. Recently I saw what I considered to be my ideal bike and have been thinking on acquiring it. But I would get rid of my hybrid bike as I don’t have storage room. The mtb would stay though even although the new bike is very similar. So it all boils down to a new bike or a fixed up 20 year old bike. As I like to consider it: Which one would give the most pleasure, a) the known bike or b) the perceived pleasure of the new bike costing a few hundred dollars more than putting a few dollars into the old one.

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