Whoever is looking for a bike, take this advice from my friend Miles’ step-dad. He was a competitive biker back in the day, and he still fixes bikes for a living. An amazing period, with a great wealth of information. Big thanks to him for helping me purchase my first road-bike, a Nishiki Prestige (pictured above) for only $175 (I talked the guy down from 200) ! It runs like a dream, and is in mint condition. Also it looks pretty sweet with the red tires and all.
Here is the original E-mail he sent me. Hopefully this will help other people who are looking for bikes themselves.
Hi Eric (I’m Tom),
I think we can do this, I’ll scour Los Angeles Westwood craigslist and send some ads to you so you can go out and look at bikes. The best deals are the late 1980s Japanese bikes, the ones you want have aluminum alloy wheels, but a steel lugged frame. I highly recommend Centurion “Iron Man”, Nishiki ‘Prestige”, Miyata 600 and higher to 1000, Fuji “Team”, Shogun “1000”, Univega several models with 700c wheels, Schwinn “Tempo” and a few other models made in Japan like”Prelude”
In the mid to late 1980s, the dollar was strong against a weak Yen, the Japanese were producing world class bikes and selling them in the U.S. at prices that other manufacturers couldn’t touch. This ended about 1990 and started about 1985 so you want to look for bikes from that time period only. After 1990, bikes became overly complicated and the frame quality declined as the Japanese economy was pulling ahead.
Another possibility is an American bike like a Trek, or a British bike like a Raleigh, but the chances of finding those (a good quality one)for $200 is slim. (keep in mind that all the companies made low-end or junky bikes during this period as well as fabulous bikes, so here are things to watch for.
#1 Frame tubing, The best Japanese steel was Tange #1 and Tange #2, there will be a sticker under the seat on the frame tube saying whatever the tubing is, Tange 1 and 2 are double-butted chrome-Moly and that is the lightest and strongest. Double butted means the inside diameter varies, towards the ends that need extra strength, the tubing walls are thicker because that’s where the stress is. The middles of the tubes are thin. You don’t want to buy bikes where the tubes are dented at all or repainted, original finish is a must. Paint scratches are O.K. but dents are a deal breaker.
At 5’11”, depending on leg length, I’d recommend a 56 to 60cm frame, the measurement is from the centerline of the crank axle up the mast to where the seat-post drops in. People selling bikes often give false measurements so you need to bring a metric tape measure.
Avoid bikes with 27” wheels, if the bike has 27” wheels, it means the bike is either cheap or too old. Make sure you get 700c wheels, on aluminum rims, with aluminum hubs, bring a magnet if you can’t tell the diff.
The deraillers should be Shimano, it’s possible that they could have SunTour, but those are most likely older than the time period we are looking for.
Bikes of this period have a head sticker, not a headbadge, (unless it’s a Schwinn)
#2, spin the wheels, there should be no wobble or hop, this is important, the wheels should spin for a long time, if the wheel stops after a couple seconds, something is wrong.
#3 don’t worry about bad handlebar tape or worn or rotted tires, those should be replaced anyway when you buy a used bike, you never know where the last owner’s hands have been and you don’t need gross stuff on yours.
#4 bring a 5mm and a 6mm Allen wrench, loosen the seat post and make sure it is still adjustable, same with handlebar neck, bikes left in the rain often get alumi-ferric corrosion in those areas and get stuck, and you don’t want that. The seat post clinch bolt is usually only turnable on the chainwheel side remember, one side does NOT spin. Sometimes people put the clinch bolt in backwards though, so carefully try the other side if the bolt on the chainwheel side does not spin easily.