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Is excess bike gear taking over your home? (Photo: Fred Dreier)

You Have Too Much Old Bike Stuff. Here’s What to Do with It.

Is your home filled with rusty cassettes, threadbare Lycra shorts, and butyl tubes awaiting repair? Columnist Eben Weiss knows what to do with your used bike junk.

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Bicycling is arguably the cleanest and most efficient mode of transportation and recreation known to humankind. “Well, what about walking?,” you may be wondering. Okay, there is a study that says walking is more efficient once you exceed a certain gradient, but you do have to wonder if the researchers were the pocket of Big Shoe.

Nevertheless, if you ride a lot you do generate a fair amount of “waste” in the form of worn parts and clothing. Furthermore, you may even find yourself compelled to swap out a component while it still has some life left in it, so naturally you tuck the old one away for future use. The problem is that, over time, this stuff can accumulate to the point where it takes over entire rooms of your home, destroys your personal relationships, and ultimately collapses and kills you when you attempt to retrieve that old quill stem you archived sometime during the Reagan administration. 

So how to decide whether to keep something or to toss it? And if you’re already surrendered your garage or your basement to your cycling cast-offs, how can you reclaim it again–or at least justify hanging on to all that crap?

Deciding whether or not to hang onto that old frame you won a race on in 1996 is a fraught proposition, so let’s set it aside for now and focus on the low-hanging fruit that will yield results right now. For example, do you have a Well-Intentioned Inner Tube Pile? You know, that massive mountain of punctured butyl you totally plan to patch on a rainy day?

Yes, throwing an inner tube away after a single puncture is a grotesque display, like lighting a cigar with a $100 bill. Repairing a tube is easy, and there’s little excuse not to do so. Even if you don’t fix them, flatted tubes also have myriad auxiliary uses: wrap your chainstay to silence chain-slap (less of a concern in the age of clutch derailleurs); cut them up and use them as ties when shipping a bike; you can even salvage the valves and use them for tubeless conversions. These are all good reasons to keep punctured tubes.

At the same time, if several years’ worth of rainy days have passed and your Well-Intentioned Inner Tube Pile is only growing larger, it may be time to admit to yourself you’re an idealist when it comes to reusing and repurposing stuff, and that the actual space is more valuable to you than the symbolism. We’ve all gotten rid of bikes and components over the years we wish we still had, but I’m willing to bet there’s not a cyclist on Earth who’s nostalgic for the old inner tube they tossed six years ago.

An out clause for those with separation anxiety: Keep five tubes but no more. This will free up space yet still cover you in a pinch (pun intended). 

Tires are–quite literally–more cut and dried, in that if they’re cut or dry-rotted you should just get rid of them. Also, as someone who’s been known to hang onto worn tires for years, I can assure you that tread does not grow back, so you might as well divest yourself of those too. Certainly if you’re excessively crafty you could make something out of your old tires to sell on Etsy, but if you’re a normal human with a normal schedule you will be way happier if you liberate yourself from the onerous presence that is your tire pile. If you’re conscientious and/or prone to guilt trips, just ask your local bike shop, as they may accept your old tires and tubes for recycling.

Another out clause: Keep no more than one worn-but-not-structurally compromised tire for each bicycle you own, since in the event of a catastrophic tire failure it might at least carry you through until you can procure a proper replacement.

Speaking of stuff that wears out, let’s talk about your wardrobe. Do you have 18 seasons worth of Lycra taking up half your closet? Time to pare down. First, pull out everything you haven’t worn in the last 12 months. Then, tug on the elastic arm and leg grippers. Do they crackle like old parchment? If so, get rid of it. You don’t have to just throw it in the trash, either–just open up a new window in your browser right now and enter the words “textile recycling,” there’s probably a place not too far from you that will accept it. Same thing goes for socks and other stuff with holes in them, because let’s get real, you’re not darning anything, Betsy Ross. Also, if something doesn’t fit you anymore, accept the reality that the likelihood of your slimming down enough to wear it again is about as likely as that of the tread on your bald tires growing back.

A final out clause: Keep two or three pairs of old bibs for under-short use, or wearing on the trainer if you go in for that sort of thing. And you get to keep a jersey only if you won a race in it.

Okay, now let’s deal with the big stuff: frames and components. Stems, handlebars, saddles, cranks, cassettes and chains… If you’re feeling altruistic and you need to clear out a massive amount of space right now because your in-laws are coming to live with you, then pack it all up and donate it to your local bike co-op. Done, and done.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So, is it all still there? I thought so. If you were altruistic enough to donate it all you wouldn’t be holding onto all that stuff in the first place. Don’t worry, that’s fine. Short of giving it away (or selling it, a process so painful and involved it warrants its own standalone column), here’s the very best way of thinning out your parts pile and taking inventory of what you have in the process:

Build a parts bin bike!

If you’ve been hanging onto parts for awhile there’s a good chance you’ve got close to an entire bike’s worth of stuff–maybe even several bike’s worth! If you don’t quite have everything you need to build a parts bin bike you might even allow yourself to buy a few new things to complete it, since getting all those spare parts out of their bins and drawers and onto a bike is well worth some additional expenditure and accumulation. There are all sorts of frames out there both new and used that are begging to be hung with your old stuff–like pretty much everything Surly makes, for exaple. Building a parts bin bike is like passing an electromagnet over a scrap heap. It imparts order on your equipment stores, it keeps your mechanical skills sharp–and, most importantly, in the end you wind up with a bike, which you can ride, or sell, or donate, or give to a family member as the case may be.  

Your parts bin is a garden. Neglect it and it reverts to a tangled mess of weeds. But if you tend to it, cultivate it, and prune it from time to time, you’ll find it can bear fruit.  In fact, over time, it can even become self-sustaining as you repurpose and recycle its contents.

Remember: you’ve only got too much stuff if you’re not using it.

Lead Photo: Fred Dreier

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