The Ultimate Guide To Buying a Used Road Bike

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When you are in the market for a new bike, you need to stop and think a minute. Is it really worth spending nearly $4000 on a brand new road bike? It doesn’t make sense, when all you want to use the bike for is your daily commute. Getting from point A to point B every day shouldn’t take that much out of your wallet.

Instead of going for a new bike, why not go for a used one instead? You will be able to save a lot of money, and wind up buying a bike that is a far better brand than the one you were going to get brand new. Of course, buying a used bike isn’t that easy.

You can’t just walk up to a seller, give them the money, and then pedal your way away. The chances are you’ll end up in a ditch 5 miles out, the frame snapped clean in two. No, when buying a used road bike you need to be sure that you are making the right decision. Never ever rush into these types of choices.

So what do you need to look out for when you are buying a road bike second hand? Of course, you may have found out about the bike through a wide variety of sellers (we’ll get to that in a bit). You need to be very careful indeed. Here are some useful tips to make sure that you aren’t being cheated out of your money.

Cycling on a road bike

Pre-buying check list

Some of the concerns that might arise include whether the bike has been in a bad crash before. You must always ask the seller questions out of the blue. These will catch them off guard, and will allow you to tell if they are lying to you at all. Remember, you can always walk away from the deal.

Before even thinking about selecting a bike, you need to have a few things sorted out in your mind. You can’t just go and Google “used road bikes for sale” and buy the first one that looks clean. That is what an absolute beginner would do. You should know better than that.

The first thing you need to do is make sure of your size. This is the single most important feature when it comes to buying a road bike, whether it is new or used. Usually, you would be riding an upright bike. If you have owned a bike before, you will already know what size fits you.

Like a good suit, a bike needs to be fitted to a cyclist, not the other way around. As Ollivander said to Harry Potter: “The wand chooses the wizard.” Without the right size of bike, you will be walking into work every morning feeling like you got hit in the crotch with a sack of bricks. Which is fine if that is what you are into.

After finding out your size, search for the bike range that you need. Once you have some likely sellers in mind, VISIT THEM. You have to inspect the bike before you buy it, and you have to make sure that you aren’t being done over! This means you have to get up close and personal with the seller, and ask them rapid fire questions they should be able to answer immediately.

Road bike gears

Inspecting a used road bike

The inspection is the most important part when it comes to the actual transaction. Before any money changes hands, inspect the bike thoroughly and closely. You don’t want to find out that you have a cracked frame AFTER you take the bike home.

The chances are that you will not have taken any magnetic scanning equipment with you. However, a visual inspection is more than enough for you to ensure that you aren’t being cheated. Pay extra attention to these areas when inspecting the bike:

1 – Seat post

Make sure that the adjustable seat post actually works. You can do this by lifting the bike and then letting go. This doesn’t mean you lift it 10 feet off the ground with a crane. A few inches should be enough. Listen closely when it drops. If you hear rattling, that’s a point for suspicion.

In addition to this, use a torch to check the area around the clamp that holds the seat post in place. This is a particularly high stress area, so there shouldn’t be any holes in the material. This applies especially if the bike is a carbon frame. While you’re at it, check out how easily the saddle twists in the post, to make sure it hasn’t died on the inside.

2 – Frame

When checking the frame, use a torch to inspect every inch of it carefully for even the smallest crack. Run your fingers along the length to make sure there isn’t the tiniest defect in the frame. A small crack could lead to a big fall if you go over a pothole at the wrong speed.

The mounting plate for the front derailleur should not have any powdery deposits on it: these are a sign of corrosion and we all know what that means. Try taking a pen or a finger and sliding it over the surface. Grittiness to the touch and a residue on your finger are a big no-no.

3 – Steering assembly

When buying a certain model of bike, check out the technical specifications of the bike brand new. You can do this at the manufacturers’ websites. Compare the specs of the original to those of the bike you are looking at.

If you see any differences, such as a noticeably different fork that can only have been replaced, ask your seller why it was replaced. Any replaced parts on the bike deserve the same question. If the answer is that the bike was in an accident, don’t buy it. You don’t know what other damages were incurred in the accident!

4 – Frame attachments

Check the attachments on the frame. Everything applies, from cable guides to the rivets. If you see any that are badly rusted, ask for permission and then scrape at the corrosion. If it is just surface rust you can easily get rid of it when tuning the bike.

Then, inspect the area between the chain stay and the smaller ring. You should see a plastic/metal plate. If this is absent, inspect that area very closely. If you see any scratches, it should mean that the plate has been manually removed. This should ring a warning bell in your head.

5 – Wheels

Make sure that the wheels are true, and that the tires are in good condition. When checking the wheels, look for evidence of rust around the spoke holes. Check the rims. If the brake shoes have been worn out, they may have cut grooves into the rims.

A good way of checking if the wheel is true is to gauge the distance between the brake shoe and the rim. Then spin the wheel slowly. You will immediately be able to spot any discrepancies in the wheel.

And why not read a review of the wheel before buying the bike?

6 – Drivetrain

Use a chain checker (or your hand) to life the chain off the teeth. If it lifts up past the teeth, then you ae going to have to replace that chain as soon as you can. If you feel like this needs to be a factor in whether you buy the bike or not, so be it.

In addition to this, check the pedals. The cranks are usually very strong, but are notorious for breaking at the worst moments. Look for cracks in the joints as well as where the brand engravings are. Any grooves that you see are possible danger zones.

7 – Cables

Check the quality of the brake cables in the spot where it moves past the seat post and to the rear wheel. This is an ideal place for a cable to get damaged. The same applies to the cable that twists around the fork. All of these are warning signals for you.

Check that the cables are in tension by squeezing the brakes and suddenly letting go. The lever should snap back almost instantaneously. If it doesn’t, or if there is too much play in the level, you are going to need to tighten the cables.

8 – Test Drive!

This is the defining moment. Always test drive the bike that you are looking at before buying it! You need to be sure beyond all else that the bike is the right fit for you. Consider putting it through its paces to make sure that it is on top of its game.

Try riding it without hands, to ensure that the wheels are true and keep the bike in a straight line without going off road. Test the brake response and try some sharp turns to check the overall balance. If you are satisfied, you are ready to buy!

Used road bike

The risks of used road bikes

Bike are among the easiest vehicles on the road to steal. This means that when you are buying a used road bike you need to make sure that it isn’t stolen. You don’t want to lose your money and the bike to the police when they come for it.

Before buying the bike, there are a few simple steps to follow to make sure that you aren’t buying someone else’s stolen precious:

1 – Price

If the price is way too low for a bike of that quality, there should be a siren going off in your head. Why would someone in their right minds sell that bike for THAT price? You need to tiptoe very carefully around a bike with a price that seems too good to be true.

2 – Pictures

If you are buying the bike online, check that the online listing has pictures of the bike that is being sold. Don’t go for bikes that have listing images taken off the internet. You can usually tell these because they have a stock, professional look to them.

This is one of the best ways to find out if the bike is legitimate. Get in touch with the seller and ask them as many questions as you want about the bike. This includes what work has been done on it as well as its usage. A true bike enthusiast will be able to answer with no problems at all.

3 – Reason for sale

Ask the seller the reason for the sale of the bike. If it is an accident, it is still going to be better than it having been stolen. One of the things you need to watch out for is a nervous sounding seller. Anyone too anxious to get the transaction over with is someone you need to look out for. The best thing you can do is check if they have a receipt for when they bought the bike.

4 – Use a database

There are many online databases that register owned bikes, such as Bike Register. These sites will allow you to check the frame number of the bike that you are looking at in order to ensure that the bike hasn’t been reported stolen or missing.

Two road bikers

Where to buy a used road bike

One of the best places to find used road bikes is your local bike shop. These people usually refurbish the bikes that are sent to them, so that you will be able to get a serviced bike. However, the problem is that most of these bikes are professional bikes.

If not, you can look online. Sites like Craigslist and EBay are your best options. These offer online payment with PayPal, and they usually have money-back guarantees. This means that your investment will be safe even if the seller has cheated you. You can also use these to buy spare parts for your bike that have been used with care and love.

Be careful when shopping on sites like Gumtree. Although the site is very reliable indeed, the private sellers on them are the same as those everywhere. In addition, they don’t offer buyer protection so it is a risky business indeed.

Road bike cycling

A worthy investment?

If you are a daily commuter on the lookout for a cheap bike you can use for your casual urban rides, including the trip to work and back as well as some evening biking on the weekends, a used road bike is for you. However, always remember to stay safe when buying bikes online.

Go to a sale with someone else, and make sure people know where you are going and who you are going to meet. The risks are very real, as there are some very unsavory characters out there. If you get one that is in great condition though, you are in luck. You will be able to invest in a bike from a great brand like Trek for the same price as you would a brand new Giant, saving hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in the process.

Also Read: The Best Bike Bell Review And Buying Guide 2023

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3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide To Buying a Used Road Bike”

  1. MY wife and I have been thinking about getting a new bike for her, but we didn’t know how to choose her the right one. I really like that you say to look at the cable tension by squeezing the brakes and letting go. It would be nice to know that she will actually be able to stop the bike when she needs to.

  2. How old is too old when going for a used bike?
    I’m looking to get a road bike, for training and taking part in some triathlons. I’m not sure wether to use my budget (around 1k euro) to buy brand new, or buy something used, but a better model.
    I’m currently looking at a BMC Team machine SLR01 – but it’s the 2010 model, i’m not sure if it’s worth getting something 2016/2017 instead?


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