Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Tomorrow is June 1, so it’s not too long before the official start of summer riding for those of us in the northern hemisphere. And, what better way to do it than on a new road bike? Which is part of the reason that for the past two Tech Talks we’ve been sharing tips on shopping for and buying a new road rig.
And not just RBR’s tips, but yours, too. If you missed any of the conversation, catch part 1 here: A Few Tips for New Road Bike Buyers and part 2 here: RBR Reader Tips for New Road Bike Buyers. Be sure to scroll to the comments below the articles for more excellent advice from expert RoadBikeRider readers.
No discussion of bike buying is complete without a look at the used bicycle market. Because not everyone can afford to buy new and there are awesome used road machines to be had. So this week, let’s get into some tips for buying previously owned road bikes. Then, we’ll wrap up next episode with how to inspect used road bikes you’re considering to be sure you don’t buy a lemon (and, you don’t need to be a mechanic).
Know What You’re Looking for First
When you go shopping for a used road bike, you can be overwhelmed by the number of choices and the huge differences in quality and condition. That only makes sense, though, because “used” covers literally all road bikes.
This means an online search can bring up everything from vintage models from the 1940’s to barely used ones from 2018. Expect to see every possible frame size, men’s and women’s models, and all manner of components and wheels, too. Not to mention frames only and even things that aren’t road bicycles, because some ad creators don’t have any idea what they’re selling and list incorrectly.
The sheer number of bikes and massive differences can be confusing. To prevent this and to help guarantee you find a nice used road bike, you need to start the process by narrowing down the search.
To do this, the best plan is to know a few key things about the used road bike you’re hoping to find. Some of these key things include (the more of these you know, the easier to search):
- Frame size
- Bicycle type, such as “road” (you can also try “endurance,” “touring,” “gravel” and so on)
- Bicycle brand name
- Bicycle model name
- Bicycle model year
With this information, you can search for specific bicycles online and quickly find what’s available. Listings change frequently, so keep checking if you don’t see the right bike straight away – though that does happen sometimes if you search for a popular model.
If you’re not set on a specific brand, you can search with any of your qualifiers, too – and add others. For example, if you know you need a 54 centimeter bicycle and want a titanium frame, you can type in “54cm titanium road bicycle” and bring up everything that matches. Once you start searching, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. It’s fun.
It’s Never Been Easier to Find Used Road Bikes
Where do you search for that great deal? Before the Internet and cellphones, if someone was in the market for a used road bike, they asked at their bicycle shop, looked through the classified sections of newspapers, went to flea markets and scoured yard sales. Or, another approach was to simply ask everyone they met if they had an “old road bike” they’d let go.
All these things still work and are worth doing, but it may be more natural and easier for today’s shoppers to use social media like facebook or a neighborhood app, such as Nextdoor to see what friends may have for sale.
And, the two longtime giants online, craiglist.org and ebay.com are still great resources for finding nice used road bikes. But, it’s up to you the buyer to beware and avoid the scammers you can run into.
I’ve purchased and sold hundreds of items on both these sites and have run into a few unsavory characters. But, using common sense, it’s not difficult to avoid trouble. If you’re worried about it, find a friend who has bought and sold online and ask their help. There are always signs of crooked sellers, and experienced shoppers won’t be fooled.
In my experience, the best scenario you find on eBay and craigslist is bicycle shop employees selling last year’s bike so they can upgrade to the newest model. They won’t always explain this in the ad, but in the conversation with the seller you’ll find out.
What you look for in the ad is a bike that’s described as almost new and that looks great in the photos. It looks great because they work in a shop and know how to take care of their bikes, plus they have access to all the parts needed to replace things when worn.
Typically, you will also find the bikes selling at very fair prices because the bike shop employee got a shop discount on the bike and can now sell the bike at an even bigger discount than someone who paid full price for the bike.
Maybe the best used-bike buying tip – and one that doesn’t require any special knowledge, is that belonging to a bicycle club can be the easiest way to finds nice buys. Because you are or will be riding with the group, you’ll meet people like you and can learn about what bike is right. And, it’s likely someone in the club might have a used road bike they’re no longer using. It’s a nice way to get a good deal on a nice bike from someone you know and can trust.
Be Sure to Check Your Friendly Local Bicycle Shop
While it’s not as common as it used to be, bicycle shops may sell used bicycles. It’s possible they might rent bikes and sell off their fleet every year. Or, they might take customer bikes on consignment so that these customers can upgrade to a new model. Or you might even find a shop that specializes in used bicycles only.
Just like with a new road bike, when you buy a used one at a bicycle retailer you will get a properly fitting and tuned and ready to ride machine. Plus, it will likely come with some kind of guarantee and you’ll have a reliable place to return to should you need adjustments and repairs.
In this way, buying from a bike shop takes all the risk out of the purchase. What’s more, since they deal in used bikes, it’s possible they’ll take your bike in trade when you’re ready to upgrade.
Don’t Buy a Stolen Bike
Bicycle theft is rampant worldwide, so I’ll close with this last important tip hoping that together we can make it a little tougher on the bike thieves out there.
When you start beating the bushes for used bikes you can run across stolen bicycles for sale. No matter how good it looks, you don’t want to end up on a stolen bike because it’s possible you could get arrested for being in possession of stolen property – even if you have a receipt from where you bought it. And, you don’t want to help bike thieves stay in business.
A few tip-offs of a used bike that’s actually a stolen bike include:
- It’s a brand name and popular model bike that’s almost new and they’re asking a crazy low price
- The bike is being sold at a flea market or a backyard bike seller’s place
- A seller who can’t or won’t tell you how they got the bike
- A seller who doesn’t know what they’re selling, for example they’re unfamiliar with bicycle terminology or frame materials and components – or they don’t even know what size it is and don’t know how to measure it
- Something mismatched on the bike, like a front wheel that’s different from the rear – a sign that the bike was locked when stolen
- Signs of hiding or tampering with the identification on the bike, such as missing decals or licenses or serial numbers (often beneath the bottom bracket)
Any legitimate used bike seller should be able to say where the bike came into their possession with confidence. If they’re the original owner, they might even have the original sales receipt. Some bicycle shops put stickers on bicycles showing that they were sold by the shop and many stores keep track of the bikes. So you might be able to check on a bike that way, too. Please be wary and help take a bike out of crime. I have more tips on preventing bike theft and also on recovering stolen bikes here.
These used bike tips will help get you started shopping for a great bike. Next week, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions anyone can use to make sure they’re getting a mechanically sound used bike they’ll enjoy riding for years.
Ride total: 8,919
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.