The Four Idiots to Avoid

Unky Dave!

Love your Q&A column. The somewhat cynical, no BS input you give is a lovely contrast to the “this product is amazing and will help you sprout a unicorn horn” or the “there there, little one, you’re not dumb and this is what you might want to possibly maybe consider doing” babble that can pop up on bike sites.

A few questions — feel free to address them as you like (yes, I was being polite, eh? I know you’ll say whatever you damn well please).

1) What should somebody be looking for in a used bike?

Long preface: As a young adult of the arrested development variety, I’m trying to balance future and current financial needs with satisfying my bike envy that I get whenever I go for a ride. Demo days where I’ve tried out a new bike for nothing haven’t helped (I’m looking at you, Rocky Mountain!). So far, I’ve found whatever I can through online buy and sells that get the job done, but last year’s 7-year-old used bike’s teeth are showing, and it leaves much to be desired. My pig bike with moderately cracked wheels and bent swingarms still lets me ride, and I know that’s priority #1, but I’m always on the lookout to upgrade from one beater to another.

So, when taking a beggars can’t be choosers attitude, what do you think somebody should give special attention to when finding a used rig?

2) So much talk about trail building… There’s the “stop changing the ‘character’ of MY trail” talk. There’s the “let’s make this accessible to everybody” talk. And there are countless other opinions to boot. Where do YOU stand on this? How do you feel about change coming to the trails you’ve ridden for years?

3) You get some great questions, and you get some, ahem…. yeah. But either way, you answer with a unique, honest, refreshing style. So let’s get meta — what’s the one question you wish was asked of you, and what would you have to say.

Thanks Dave,

Dear Cheapskate:

First off, it’s Uncle. Not “Unky”.

And even though we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot and your transparent attempts to suck up are terrible, I will answer your questions.

Used Bikes

I was thinking about this yesterday. I ended up standing in the Mt. Seymour parking lot for a good long while, watching bikes roll by. It was a really odd mix of the latest and greatest and the scarily clapped out, with a noticeable lack of anything in between. What does that mean? The conclusion I came to is that mountain bikers break down into 1 of 4 categories:

People who need to ride a brand new on trend bike, no matter the cost or logic involved.
People who ride whatever they have and only start to worry about a new bike once the wheels fall off of the old one.
People who have a bunch of 2-5 year old bikes cluttering up their garage that never get ridden.
Whatever describes you, dear reader, because you can’t possibly slot into one of these tremendously limited categories, now, can you?

This suggests that there are a lot of great bikes to be scored on the used market (categories 1 and 3). As well as a lot of bikes that may cause serious injury if ridden further than the parking lot (category 2). We could expand on this and talk about the psychology of each of these groups and bargaining strategies for dealing with them, but we’ll focus on the more technical aspects for now.

I’ll also make the assumption that you’ve decided what type of bike you need, that it is the right size, that you can afford it and that you aren’t physically repulsed by whatever bike you happen to be looking at. You’ve found a bike, swapped a few e-mails with the owner, and are now standing in front of the bike, holding it in your cheap, uneducated hands.

Step #1 – First Impressions
Chances are that if the bike is looked after, it will look to be in reasonably good condition, age considered. Yes, people crash on even the most well maintained bikes. But if there are scratches and dents all over the thing from having it hurled into the back of a pickup truck to rattle around with a bucket of gravel and a pickax, you’re probably not looking at a bike that has had regular oil changes done on the suspension components. The flip side to this is that some people ride the shit out of their bikes and they might look brand new but are ready to break in half if you are too aggressive pulling them off your bike rack. So, feel free to judge a bike by its cover, but know that it isn’t the whole story.

Step #2 – Is the seller an idiot?
I should add to that. The wrong kind of idiot. I mean, the anal retentive, bike obsessive is one type of idiot. But that’s your kind of idiot right now! The other kind of idiot that won’t be a problem is the kind of idiot that bought an expensive bike a few years ago because he liked the colour, never rode the thing and is now selling it to make room for his new kite board. Which, incidentally, looks like a lot of fun and I kind of want to try.

So here are some of the idiots to avoid.

Maximum value idiot – Bought his “top of the line” bike six years ago for “5 grand” and there’s no way he’s letting it go for anything less than $4,000.

Sketchy scam artist idiot – Are you immediately suspicious and a little bit scared when you meet the seller? Does he only communicate via a gmail address and insist on meeting in a parking lot? At night?

Wrong/Deceptive information idiot – Their e-mails are peppered with incorrect information. They reference their hydraulic shifting and carbon fiber tires. The photo of the bike shows one thing, but it’s dramatically different when you show up to look at it.

Weird trade idiot – Is willing to trade his bike for something that is not at all related to a bike. There’s nothing wrong with this, I guess. It just seems like anybody wanting to trade a bicycle for a year of massages or a new camera is not the kind of guy I want to do business with.

Step #3 – Check the bike out
Some of this is probably a bit over-the-top. But if you really want to understand if the bike is in good shape, you have to be thorough. If you don’t understand this information, bring along a friend who does. And bring the right tools – hex head wrenches, torx wrenches, shock pump, etc. You’ll knock a hundred bucks off the price just by showing up with tools.

Wheels – Give them a spin. Are they running straight? Are there any major dents, hops or shimmies? Give the spokes a squeeze. Are they consistently tensioned?

Tires – Is there tread left, or are half the knobs gone? Any major cuts along the sidewalls? Tubed or tubeless? When did they last install new sealant?

Brakes – Give the lever a good number of squeezes. Does it feel consistent, or is it a guessing game as to how much the lever strokes with each squeeze? Look at the pads. Is there material left? Most are fairly easy to remove, so it may even be worth taking them out and having a quick look. Spin the wheels. Do the discs rub at any point? Check the brake hose. Is it worn in any areas? Does the owner look confused when you enquire about their last full bleed?

Drivetrain – Is the drivetrain relatively clean or covered in crap? Are all the teeth present on the chainrings? The Park CC-2 chain checker is a great little tool. See if you can borrow one. If the chain is toast, the rest of the drivetrain probably is as well.

Rear Derailleur/Hanger – Is everything straight? Does the clutch mechanism work? Can you turn it on and off? Grab the derailleur and push it forwards. Both the b-knuckle pivot and the p-knuckle springs should provide adequate tension. The derailleur cable shouldn’t be frayed and should have a cable end crimped onto it. Cable housing shouldn’t be cracked or broken.

Front Derailleur – I have no idea.

Suspension components – Check for any scratches on sliding surfaces. Take a look at the seals. Is there any oil seeping through? Mess with the dials a bit and push up and down on things. Can you feel any changes to the suspension action, or are the knobs just for show? If air, dump all the air out. Does the suspension cycle smoothly through the travel? Grab some front brake. Rock the bike back and forth. Put your hand between the brake arch and the stanchions. Are the lowers rocking back and forth, or does it feel fairly solid? What do they say when you ask them how long it’s been since they changed the oil? Grab the rear tire. Pull it side to side. Put some muscle into it. Feel solid?

Frame – Look for any dents, dings or scratches. Pay attention to any weld areas or junctions. Any cracks? Scratches in the carbon?

Cranks/bottom bracket – Take the chain off the front chainring. Give the cranks a spin. Do they turn freely? Grab the crankarms and feel for any rocking or play in the bottom bracket.

Seat – Any rips in the seat fabric? Are the seat rails bent?

Seatpost – Old school – Undo the seat clamp and slide that sucker right out of the bike. All scratched up? Coated with dirty grease? Way too short for you needs? New school – Make sure it goes up and down. Grab the seat and lift the bike. Does the seatpost extend? Sit on it and cycle the post up and down a few times. Does it hold where it’s supposed to hold? Move when it’s supposed to move?

Headset – Turn the handlebars side to side. Feel okay? Pull the front brake in, turn the handlebars 90 degrees, rock the bike back and forth, grab the junction between the fork crown and your headtube. Feel any rocking?

Controls – Grips still have some life in them? Handlebar isn’t bent? Carbon bar doesn’t have any deep scratches?

Pivots and fasteners – Put a wrench on any bolt you can see. Anything loose? Any heads stripped out?

Ride it – Pedal around a bit. Shift the bike slowly up and down through all the gears. Stand on the pedals. Play with the brakes. Play with the seatpost. Bounce up and down on it a bit. Run over some curbs. Would you ride a trail on it, or is there something that doesn’t feel right?

You can dive a lot deeper. Or do a lot less. I’ve most likely missed a few things. But if you run through all this and everything looks okay and feels okay, it probably is okay. None of these things will necessarily torpedo your purchase, but you should at least be aware of what might need to be replaced before you fork over the cash.

Step #4 – Don’t be an idiot yourself
I once tried to sell a pair of wheels. I swapped some e-mails with the guy, and even agreed to drive out to him to complete the sale. I got there, and his first question was “Where’s the axle?” I explained to him that axle systems are specific to the fork and come with the fork. “No. The axle comes with the wheel. Where is it?” I realized this was probably heading in a direction that wasn’t going to work for anybody. So I just turned around and walked away without saying anything more.

If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t pretend that you do. If you are planning on low-balling, discuss this before you agree to come look at the bike and waste everybody’s time. Treat the seller with a bit of respect and you’ll probably get some in return.


I went for a ride this week and I was planning on hitting Dale’s trail. And I got to the top and it was all roped off and it looked like somebody was in the process of besmirching it with some heavy equipment. I was a bit bummed by that, because I really liked that section of trail. But I liked it a few years ago before it was TAPPED. And I liked it again after. And I’ll probably still like it once this work is done. Trails come. Trails go. Trails change. Such is life.

Imaginary Questions

Uncle Dave would never dream of asking himself his own questions.


Time to put Dave’s winning buy and sell strategy to work Cheapskate. You’re going to need a used freshie to ride in the Whistler Bike Park. You’ve been hooked up with two day passes to the bike park.


Cheapskate, you’re in luck. You’ve won two Whistler Bike Park Day Passes!

Any more tips, or types of idiot, you’d like to add?

Trending on NSMB



Woah there, lifting a bike by the dropper post is the reason 100's of shops stay in business. Do t do it, itll fuck the post.



Finally, my cheapskate-ness pays off! Thanks for the input, Dave.



Don't forget to check the cranks for play, namely - while rolling, stand up and pedal backwards. If the cranks have any kind of play when you rotate them over the top/bottom position, they are shot. Happens a lot with hussefelt cranks and similar…



"Trails come. Trails go. Trails change. Such is life."




Cheapskate! I'll buy those day passes off ya!



Sorry John -- those passes will be going to good use, so long as my nearly- broken-down cheap bike, suitable only to a person of my frugal tastes, can handle another few trips to the park.



"The conclusion I came to is that mountain bikers break down into 1 of 4 categories:

People who need to ride a brand new on trend bike, no matter the cost or logic involved.
People who ride whatever they have and only start to worry about a new bike once the wheels fall off of the old one.
People who have a bunch of 2-5 year old bikes cluttering up their garage that never get ridden."

So errr, what is the 4th?



The 4th - "Whatever describes you, dear reader, because you can’t possibly slot into one of these tremendously limited categories"



Wait… we are all one of the idiots to avoid?



Well I'm sure to uncle Dave…. Crotchety


Welcome to Uncle Dave's world.



4 types of bike owners

4 examples of people you should be leary of buying a bike from.

Just because the numbers are the same doesn't mean these are referencing one another.



No worries or cares about the math, Cam. And thanks again for the pizza on my way back up after the Ladies Trail Day -- I'll be back out at the next one I can make.


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