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Should I Buy a New Bike or A Used Bike and Rebuild It; Some Thoughts (and Pitfalls): Part One.

I bought a 1999 Trek 5700 in 2012 for $750, all I could afford at the time. In that same year, Specialized unveiled a road bike that would revolutionize the industry and teach me a thing or two about lusting after a bicycle, the Venge. I first saw mine in the spring of 2013 on the most prominent part of the display setting at the local bike shop. That was April. I wheeled the bike out of the shop, paid in full, five months later on August 23rd. The 5200 became my rain bike and the Venge was my “less than 15% chance of rain” bike. I’ve since rebuilt the Trek from the ground up and upgraded the Specialized to a point the Trek is unrecognizable and better than two pounds lighter (21 pounds and change, down to 18-1/2) and the Venge has gone from an 18.8 pound creaky (but fast) thing of beauty to a 16 pound silent, stealthy work of art in the media of carbon fiber and aluminum. The Specialized may look close to the same as the day I rolled it out of the shop, but it doesn’t ride like it.

Today’s bikes, having seen the new Specialized Tarmac SL7 up close and personal (my buddy, Chuck rides a 2021), are definitely beautiful machines.

So, Dollar for Dollar and Pound for Pound, which makes more sense, buying new or rebuilding used? I’m going to ignore COVID, because trying to buy a new bike in this current mess is ridiculous… and will, hopefully, end sooner than later.

Let’s get into this. First, let’s look at cost. My Specialized Venge, as it would be in today’s Specialized Tarmac, though slightly heavier but with electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes, with carbon fiber wheels, you’re looking at $6,500 to $7,000. For the real deal pro model, UCI weight and the whole ball of wax, you’re looking at $12,000 My Venge cost a little more than $6,000 to buy and upgrade and, while you could technically do that with a new Tarmac (buy a $3,000 model and upgrade it) it’d cost significantly more than what I have into the Venge to get it to 16 pounds. My Trek, by contrast, cost me about $3,000 total, and that includes the paint job and I got that down to a respectable 18-1/2 pounds. With another $2,000 I could probably get a mechanical Dura Ace groupset and get the 5200 down to 17-ish, but I’m perfectly happy where it’s at with front-to-back Shimano 105 components. As it currently sits in it’s current form, it’s an excellent ride.

I don’t think there’s any question, as money goes, the buck stops on the ’99 5200 rebuild (though I’d recommend a 2000 or newer 5200 because the post-2000 models have a standard threadless headset. I hate the threaded 1″ headset on the my 5200). There are disadvantages to the older bike rebuild, though…

Before we get into disadvantages, let’s look at a couple advantages of buying used and rebuilding from the ground up:

1. You can customize everything. You pick the colors, paint scheme and decals. They sky (well, and your bank account) is the limit.

2. When parts go bad, having chosen the parts in the first place, you’ll know which replacement parts to get.

3. You’ll have the satisfaction of having the only bike in the world like yours (I dig this about my Trek).

There are a lot of advantages that come with a new rig, though. First, everything will be tight and solid. There’s nothing like a bike that doesn’t have a click or a creak to it. That’s low-lying fruit, though. Let’s dig into a few things with a little meat on them.

First, you’re going to have a massive aerodynamic advantage with a new bike. Massive. Even with a set of carbon wheels on your old bike (which help immensely), most newer bikes will be aerodynamically superior to older models. My Specialized Venge is unquestionably superior to my Trek 5200. I can easily and unquestionably feel the difference at speeds above 20-mph.

Second, technology has come a long way, even in the last ten years. Most new bikes pay close attention to the carbon fiber layup of their frames and the bottom bracket shell is so much better than they used to be. This all adds up to a frame that will help you accelerate the bike faster while being more comfortable to ride. They also allow for wider tires which will smooth out the ride even further (though I prefer 26 mm to 28s, personally – there’s a little too much “squish” to 28s).

Now, this will inexorably lead to the one obvious problem with newer, meaning post 2016; they’re heavy. You have to part with some serious cash to get a bike in the 14 to 15 pound range (6 to 7 kg). Back when my Venge was new you could have the most aerodynamic bike on the market and get it down to 16 pounds for less than $6,000. Good luck getting there with disc brakes.

Still, a $5,000 Tarmac or better, a Trek Emonda, will easily get under my 18-1/2 pound Trek 5200.

Now, here’s a little tip if you do decide to buy new that’ll be worth the weight of that Tarmac in gold: If you’re ready for a new bike, we enthusiasts can speed up the process because the manufacturers have built a network of their dealers across the country to locate and connect new bikes with riders ready to buy. You’ll pay a premium, usually around 10%, maybe a little more, but it’ll speed up the process by as much as 12 months. Talk to your local shop owner and see what they can do, but keep this in mind: if you’re only on the fence about getting a bike, wait. Don’t put a shop owner through the runaround of finding you a bike, only to balk after it’s on the UPS truck. Cycling has a name for someone like that. That name is derogatory and not nice to dirty vaginas. Don’t be one.