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Old 02-02-12, 05:09 PM
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You can get a decent used bike for $200, but it might not be everything you want. With that as a upper limit to the budget, I'd probably look for a late 80's/early 90's mountain bike made by either Trek, Giant or Specialized (limiting to these three mostly because they are common enough that it should be sufficient). You can probably get a bike like that for around $100 (though they'll be asking for $150). Don't get one with a suspension fork. This bike will probably be a 21-speed (3 front, 7 rear) with thumb shifters or possibly grip shifters and cheap mountain bike tires. You probably want something that is listed as 15" (which refers to the length of the seat tube).

Ride the bike and make sure it's comfortable for you. Make sure that the brakes respond well and that you can shift into all the gears. After you ride it, lift each wheel off the ground and give it a spin -- the front wheel should spin freely for a minute or more, the rear will only spin backward and you'll hear clicking from the hub). While lifting the front wheel, move the handlebars back and forth and make sure they move smoothly. Avoid any bike with visible rust or dents. Make sure you can raise and lower the seat. You should at least ask the seller if he/she would be willing to let you take the bike to a shop to be checked out before you buy it.

You'll want to replace the tires immediately with something that has a smooth or semi-slick tread. Don't go cheap here. If you can budget $70 for tires, that would be good. Also budget for spare tubes, a mini pump and a multi-tool. I know you don't want to have to think about things like that, but you should still be prepared. A helmet is a good idea, but for the kind of riding you want to do it probably isn't absolutely necessary.
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