The Complete Guide To The Home-Operated Bicycle Business
Part 3B. Assessing A Bicycle's Value and Condition
Bicycle Coaster Brake and Three-Speed Hubs
Coaster BrakesNote 7: A bicycle's coaster brake should work right. Turn the bike's pedals forward and backwards several times and look for the following symptoms:* Very stiff operation, particularly in a Bendix indicates old, dried up grease, probably needs overhaul, but not parts.* Very loose bearings are commonly due to a broken or missing brake arm strap, the piece that holds the brake arm to the left chainstay of the frame. When the brakes were applied, the arm tried to unscrew. This can be repaired by repositioning the arm, and replacing the brake arm strap. Sometimes the axle threads are damaged severely, examine closely.* Erratic operation, where one time the brakes apply after 1/4 turn of the pedals and 1/2 turn of the pedals another time, or where you have to pedal forward more than 1/4 turn to engage, means that overhaul or another rear wheel is necessary.If possible, test-ride a bike with a coaster brake. Three-Speed HubsMost Sturmey-Archer 3-speeds are in good condition internally. If one gear slips, usually only a simple adjustment is required. Most Shimano 3-speed hubs should be examined carefully for smooth, proper operation; they are fragile, and will fail completely after minor symptoms.A 3-speed internal problem is not a problem if you have a spare wheel of the same type Shimano and Sturmey-Archer (the two most common brands), are not interchangeable unless you replace the shifter and the cable too._____________________________________________________________ The Hand BrakesNote #8: Most caliper brake problems are simple. Most are in the cable, replace the cable and the problem is gone.Look at the cable inner wires, especially where they join the brake hand levers. If even one strand is broken a cable must be replaced. After one strand breaks, there are less strands left to bear the load that already was great enough to break one strand on a strong cable. Therefore a cable with one strand broken is much weaker than a new one. This is important because brake cables do break often, and they break when you need them most; when you are pulling hard on the levers in an emergency stop.Missing parts sometimes requires replacing the whole unit because some use non-standard parts. Most of the little nuts and bolts are interchangeable. Be careful about brakes that don't quite fit the bike. On these, you will have trouble getting the brake pads to go low or high enough in their adjustment slots. These are seldom the fault of the bike's owner. The manufacturer chose the wrong brakes! (strange, but common*) Another common brake problem on "racing"-style handlebars is hand levers that won't tighten up or fasten securely to the handlebar. These must be modified or replaced.* If you owned a bike company, and you accidentally ordered 10,000 brakes that were too short or too long to properly fit the bike, but you could sort of get away with it, would you try? Well, you probably wouldn't, but several bike manufacturers have done just that!_____________________________________________________________ The Bicycle's Tires And TubesNote 9: If a customer tells you that a bike with flat tires holds air, that may be true. Bikes that have not been used for a long time naturally lose their air. If one tire is flat, and the other is not, you will definitely have to fix one flat. To you a flat is no problem, but to many sellers, a bicycle with a flat is a machine worth nearly nothing. Perhaps you can talk the seller into paying you to take the bike. (Just kidding.)Even if you are confined to the simple plan, you can fix many flat tires. There are several liquid tire sealants which you can buy from department stores and bike shops. They cost about $1 per tire. You remove the valve core, put some of the sealant into the tube, replace the valve core, pump up the tire, and spin it around a few times to coat the inside with the goop. All the brands seem to work about equaly well if you use them exactly according to instructions. How well is that? Well, not that great. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.Look over seemingly good tires carefully. Looking over the whole 7 or so feet of tread, you may find a totally bald spot on another side around the rim. You may find a big cut or other problems around the edges.Tires can be replaced for just a few dollars each. If you do not have used tires, look in the department stores. Sometimes they have tires for very reasonable prices.Crazing, or series of cracks, caused by being in the sun for long periods, unless severe, does not affect the structural integrety of tires, but your customers will think so, so crazing devalues the bike somewhat._____________________________________________________________ The ChainguardNote 10: If the chainguard is missing, particularly on a coaster brake bike, the rider may get into trouble when pants become stuck between the chain and sprocket. Many riders are willing to take the risk, but I'm not sure it is fair to sell a coaster brake equipped bike without a chainguard, unless you warn the buyer. Sometimes it is difficult to install a non-OEM (not made by the factory for that particular bike) chainguard. Many multi-speed bikes are not designed to use a chainguard._____________________________________________________________ The SeatNote 11: If the seat is badly ripped, you can replace it easily enough, but used seats are often in short supply. Because they are upholstered, and upholstery is easy to tear, most used bikes have torn seats. New seats are usually cheaper at department stores than at bike shops. Most department stores carry bike seats.Examine the seat clamp. If you can force the seat to swivel up and down, the seat clamp may need replacement. They cost only $3 if you have to buy a brand new one. If the seat slips, see whether the seat clamp is fully down into position on the seatpost. Often the top of the clamp surrounds air. By moving the clamp down, the problem is solved._____________________________________________________________ The Handlebars and StemNote 12: The most common problem with handlebars and stems is that the stem does not fully tighten on the bars and the handlebar will slip up and down, when forced. You must usually replace the handlebar and the stem to correct the problem. This is most common with handlebars that exert lots of leverage, such as high-rise (aka "stingray") bars. Avoid the temptation to weld the handlebar to the stem. Unless done just right, the stem may break in two at the weld at a later date.Always test for looseness, both up and down, and sideways. If you sell a bike with slipping handlebars or stem, your customer could get hurt. Stand in front of the bike you are testing, with the front wheel trapped between your legs, your feet close together. Force the handlebars sideways. With hard force they should slip, but the force necessary should be far more than ordinary riding circumstances would provide.If you buy a bike with dented or bent handlebars or stem, the only way to sell it is after replacement of the offending part. If the top bolt ("expander bolt") is missing, you could have a bike that has a stem that rusted into position. Sometime in the past, someone working on the bike removed the expander bolt, yet couldn't get the stem to budge. The mechanic then gave up, and left the bolt out. Another possibility is that the mechanic did not know that the stem will not come loose until you release the wedge. (Proper procedure to release a handlebar stem for adjustment: loosen the expander bolt 4 turns, then tap down with a soft hammer to release the wedge.) In any case, the stem bolt is missing, and unless the stem is a standard Wald stem, a replacement bolt will be hard to find. Most stem manufacturers do not provide replacement bolts. If the stem is rusted into position, you may have great difficulty working it loose.
_____________________________________________________________The CrankNote 13: In the case of a one-piece or a cottered crank, looseness is not an expensive condition. Adjusting or even replacing one-piece crank bearings is easy. On a cottered crank looseness means a worn out crank cotter which is easy to replace. If, a cotter is broken or hammered all out of shape, you may have difficulty drilling it out.A loose cotterless crank is another matter. Generally there is no permanent repair except replacement after a cotterless crank has come loose once. You should check out the replacement cost, unless you know you have an exact replacement crank in stock. Some of these can cost up to $60 to replace.Some children's bikes and unicycles use exceptionally poorly designed cranks made from bent steel rod about 1/2" in diameter. These are easily bent, but nearly impossible to find as replacement parts._____________________________________________________________ CONSIDERING THE MARKETNext, I consider the market. Perhaps I don't need another women's 3-speed, with the 17 of them I already have. The bikes that sell well, you can always stockpile, but the very common ones often do not even have a salvage value, since you will already have lots of the parts they can provide. Here in Southern Oregon, I can always use mountain bikes, cruisers and all types of children's bikes. I sell many men's 3-speed and men's 10-speed bikes, and some women's 3- and 10-speeds, but I am flooded with customers in the store who want to sell more of these common bikes to me. Sometimes I don't even more than glance at thin tire bikes at yard sales. _____________________________________________________________ About Mountain BikesThen there are the uncommon bikes. 6 out of 10 customers who come to buy from me want to see mountain bikes. There is a shortage of used mountain bikes. I cannot get enough used mountain bikes to suit all the buyers. What do I do about it? I buy all the used mountain bikes I can even ones that cost too much. I will take less than the usual 3 to 1 mark-up on a mountain bike if I have to. I'll pay as much as $175 on a bike I know I can sell for only $200 because I know I'll get my $25 profit in a matter of days, almost guaranteed. $175 is a lot of money on the line for a $25 profit, but I have what the people want, and that's important for long-term reputation. Reputation would not matter as much if I was consigning. And, I know the bike will sell. And it will bring people who come shop at my place because I have mountain bikes, these are people who will leave my place owning a bike, not a mountain bike. 80% of the people who want to see a mountain bike, only have the budget for a cheaper bike. Many of the people looking for a used bike first ask about mountain bikes, because they are what is most in fashion right now. These people really want a bike for exercise or commuting, or one that does not require a lot of knowledge to operate, at a budget price. After they view the market, perhaps after you talk with them, they will buy something other than a mountain bike. So, although it is prestigious and good business for you to have mountain bikes in stock, if you can't because they just aren't available, you will still sell a bike to most customers who are looking at mountain bikes.Many used bike sellers I know, do not have mountain bikes, the type most demanded by the market. These sellers just ignore this portion of the market, there are plenty of other buyers looking for children's bikes, cruisers, any sort of cheap transportation, or a fast 10-speed.Maybe it is just as well that there is a shortage of mountain bikes because they are the riskiest bicycle investment (because they cost more and have a smaller mark- up) and because they are the most time-consuming and difficult to repair and tune-up correctly. It is rare to buy a mountain bike in perfect tune. These are not a good investment for someone who is just starting out.You may be disappointed in the shortage of mountain bikes because they are your favorite kind of bikes, but there is good news. Last year I couldn't find more than one or two mountain bikes per month. So far, this year there are twice as many available. Within the next year, or two at most, the market will saturate, and there will be thousands of mountain bikes for you to choose from. The manufacturers are still selling millions per year. Where are they all going?On Specifics Regarding Mountain Bikes:As you probably know, most bikes with 18 speeds have the same overall range as bikes with 15 speeds, the same low and the same high gear, just a smaller difference between one gear and the next. Never-the-less, customers immediately ask whether a mountain bike has 15 or 18 speeds. Therefore, an 18 speed is easier to sell.If I get a 15 speed mountain bike that needs a new freewheel, I replace the 5 speed freewheel with a 6 speed one, creating 18 speeds. The cost of a 6 speed is close to the cost of a 5 speed freewheel, but suddenly the value of the bike goes up.The situation is the same with the public's attitude about 10 and 12 speed bikes. Between 10 and 15 speeds, however, there is a valid difference, usually. A 15 speed is a 10 speed but with an extra sprocket on the crankset. This is usually a small one, giving you a bike that has 10 speeds like a 10 speed, plus 5 much lower, hill climbing gears. Some manufacturers of cheaper bikes sort of cheat. These cheap bikes have 15 (or 18) speeds, but all three front sprockets are close to the same size. This enables use of slightly less expensive O.E.M. (Original Equipment Manufacture) derailleurs that don't have to accommodate wide range gearing. Sadly, the misinformed public will buy these bikes because they are "15-speeds", without getting the wide-range gearing which is what they may have really wanted do get had they known what they were doing when they went shopping. It is not as easy to convert a close-range 15- speed into a wide-range model, but it doesn't matter, your customers will buy it anyway, it is "15-speeds.If you get a very inexpensive 10 or 12 speed mountain bike (or road bike, for that matter) and if you are handy at repair work, you may add another front sprocket to the crankset yourself, tremendously increasing the range of the gearing and the value of the bike.Most mountain bikes made before 1987 did not have index shifting. Index shifting means a rear shifter that clicks into a specific position for each gear. These change gears quickly, without practice to get a smooth shift and are preferred by most knowledgeable riders. Many customers prefer index shifting, therefore bikes with it are worth more. _____________________________________________________________ FRAME SIZEMany people selling bikes, and most people buying bikes know little about sizing. In the case of a child's bike, it is simple, See if the child can fit well on the bike, can control it well during a test ride, and will still fit reasonably well for a while as the child grows.For an older child or on adult who wants to be comfortable and safe on a bike, there are specific guideposts regarding size. The rider must be able to put both feet flat on the ground and have 1-2" clearance over the top tube of the bike. This applies to children's bikes too. The obvious danger of large bikes is that people could hurt themselves by slamming into that top tube in an accident. But a more important reason, is that a fear of bumping into that toptube will prevent a person from being able to control the bike well during a problem. If the rider is losing control, that rider should be able to put their feet on the ground to stabilize themselves, without considering the location of the top tube.A bike that is too small will not allow the seat to be raised high enough. The rider should have the seat high enough that the legs are almost fully extended at the bottom of the pedaling stroke. This is the most efficient position. A person that could ride 20 miles comfortably with the seat at the right height would have sore muscles after 4 miles with the seat at the wrong height. On a too-small bike, the handlebars will not be comfortably located relative to the seat. Too-low handlebars give the rider sore arms, back and less control. Although a customer new to bicycles may feel that the handlebars are wrong, if the bike frame is the right size, the handlebars are in the most comfortable location, after the rider gets used to the bike.There are some exceptions to the rule. Mountain bikes are engineered to have 2-6" clearance when the rider is standing over the top tube, giving more room to maneuver in off road situations.Riders that are unconfident with bicycles in general should have the seat very low so that they can always touch the ground with both feet. When they become accomplished riders (when they no longer wobble), they will allow the seat to be raised. Hopefully they will select a bike with a small enough frame that the seat can be low at the beginning, but big enough to raise the seat sufficiently later.Women's bikes are quite flexible regarding the size of the rider. Often the handlebar is higher than on a men's bike with a similar seat tube length. A small woman will be able to be comfortable with the seat down and the handlebar relatively high. Most inexperienced riders (and many expert riders, too) like the handlebar high. A tall woman can use a long seatpost and have the handlebar where it is "supposed" to be. Men should ride women's bikes more often, but there is a stigma. Most modern women's frames are as strong as the men's bikes, but some of the older ones could be bent easily at the lower part of the seat tube.BMX bikes are very much in style now. They are patterned after off-road competition bikes, where most of the riding is done standing up and the seat is kept low. Most kids who ride BMX bikes, even though they ride sitting most of the time, prefer the seat low, because this is stylish. I think this concern over style is unfortunate, because commuting on a BMX bike is hard to do with the seat so low. I have heard that a child who rides with the seat too low can acquire permanent knee damage.Ultimately, the size of the bike is the decision of the customer, but I think it is good when an educated sales person can advise the customer.The reason for this discussion of size is that there are bikes of different sizes out there, so another consideration is size. If you have many bikes of a certain size already in stock, another of the same size is less valuable to you. Also, you will sell less of the extreme sizes, so you must keep your inventory as balanced as possible. You want to keep a few bikes of all sizes so that you can suit anyone who walks in, but you want mostly to have the bikes that most customers will buy. If you are going to buy your first investment bike, you probably will want to get a middle size, not a slower-selling one.BMX bikes, cruisers, folding bikes, and most women's frame bikes, come only in one size. Most American made 3- and 10-speed bikes are made only in one size. Children's bikes are measured in terms of the wheel size. So a 16" kids bike has 16" wheels. Mountain bikes and better 10-speeds have a range of frame sizes.
10-speed style bikes usually are made with a seat tube that measures from 19" to 25" with 21" and 23" being the most common. 10-speed manufacturers tend to sell sizes of every odd inch, 19",21",23",25". There are a few bikes with 17" and 27" frames.Mountain bikes come in a range of from 17" to 23". Rarely you will see one as small as 16" or as tall as 26". Because of differences in the overall design a 20" mountain bike fits the same size person that a 23" 10-speed would fit.
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Business Part C
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