Buying, any second-hand bike can be a daunting task at the best of times. Even more so your first serious road bike. With so many critical aspects you need to get absolutely right, such as correct bike size and fit, road-worthiness, frame and fork material, component compatibility, amount of wear to parts to consider, suitability to your needs and arguably most importantly, the budget, it can all seem overwhelming.
To help make the buying process easier we asked club member Naomi Insole to talk us through her own recent experience of buying her first serious road bike.
Naomi joined East Grinstead Cycling Club in 2022 at just 22, already an accomplished Cyclist and Triathlete with her University Triathlon Club. In her first season with EGCC she took part in plenty of group rides with the club and had a phenomenal debut Time Trial season.
These achievements were all despite the fact she was riding a heavy, entry level steel framed road bike which was at least two sizes too big. Her Carrera TDF had taken her on a journey where she fell in love with riding but it was time to embark upon developing her cycling with a new and better bike that wouldn’t hold her back!
Reflecting on your goals is a good way to start determining what sort of bike you might want. I wanted a bike that was versatile enough to be comfortable for group rides as well as being light for the climbs and quicker to serve me well in triathlons and time trials (not that I was planning on breaking any records though!) As I am a student it was important to me that I invest in one good and reliable bike that could enable me to develop my riding, whilst not being overly specialised and expensive! Having done some searching online I then began to appreciate what was available typically for what price. This helped me form a reasonable budget limit for my search.
When I began thinking about buying a new bike, I was very fortunate to be lent a bike from a friend at EGCC. This was an extremely helpful experience, as I began to appreciate the importance of bike size and fit. I previously had not realised how my first bike was to large for me, and found there was a difference using a women’s’ frame. It also gave me a flavour of what was out there! I would highly recommend asking cycling club friends if they have a suitably sized bike that you could try out as this really helped me to feel more confident to choose my own bike.
I found the frame size of bikes to be a confusing experience as bike sizes vary from brand to brand and even between models of the same brand! However there are some ways to try and make it simpler. These were some key points I kept in mind:
The most important measurements:
-Reach is the least adjustable measurement on a bike. Stems can shorten or lengthen reach by only a few cm before the handling is impacted. This is the most important measurement to get right
-Saddle height can be adjusted within a much greater range but it does need to be ball park.
I found the website 99spokes.com was very helpful, as it allows a comparison of different bike model geometry (specific to a year and model of frame). The bike I had been lent felt very well fitted for me and I compared this bike to the bike I ultimately bought using 99-spokes comparison data. Although they were different frame sizes, the reach was actually the same!
There are many different places to search for your next bike, including Facebook Market Place, eBay and resell charities. It’s also worthwhile asking if members of your club are selling a bike or know of anyone who is. Even if they don’t, such conversations can open up opportunities to try out other bikes and gain some more knowledge about buying!
Whichever method you use to find the bike, it’s important to be cautious about sellers, some red flags could include:
-An inability to answer basic questions about the bike.
-Vagueness about the bike’s history.
-Claiming to be selling on someone else’s behalf.
-Only agreeing to arrange viewings in public places like a carpark. Are they trying to hide other elements of their identity too?
-Not allowing test rides before you part with any cash.
There are some wonderful deals to be found on second hand bikes but if the price seems too good to be true, it may be stolen or damaged!
A trustworthy seller should be happy to talk you through the bike history and tell you want part changes they’ve done, be a cyclist themselves (hopefully it’s their own bike they are selling!)
A test ride is absolutely essential to check the fit and working order of the bike too. Another good sign is if they are happy to meets at their home, work or repair shop location.
Once you’ve found a bike you’re interested in and arranged a viewing, it is helpful to prepare yourself. I made a checklist of everything I needed to check about the bike.
Checking for wear:
A bike with the original parts (which are listed on 99spokes) shows either that it’s done low mileage or has not been looked after depending on the condition of the components.
Key areas to pay close attention to are:
Chain ring teeth wear
Chain wear (take an inexpensive chain wear indicator tool with you)
Brake blocks. If they’re in bad condition a good opportunity to haggle down the price but easy to fix yourself.
Brake tracks / discs, are they heavily worn or still rideable?
Rust!! Has the bike been stored outside in the elements or poorly maintained. If you can see rust on components and bolts you could expect the non visible parts like bearings to also be in poor condition.
Bolts, are any rounded off. These show low maintenance standards and can be expensive to remove and replace.
Is the frame number still visible or has someone tried to remove it. This could indicate the bike is stolen.
Ask Awkward Questions!
Ask if the bike has been crashed? What type riding was the bike used for? Did it ride in the rain? it’s harder for people to lie face to face.
You may suspect a bike might be stolen or that they are lying about damage. Don’t call them out on it, just walk away saying you need to think about it.
Check for yourself:
A crashed bike may still be absolutely fine, most bikes do take a tumble or fall over at some point. Regardless of their answer you need to check it over thoroughly, but honestly is a good indicator.
Deep scratches to the outsides of shifters, the rear derailleur, saddle, pedals or quick releases maybe a sign the bikes has been crashed.
If this is the case you’ll need to take extra care to check the bike is still safe to ride.
Damaged bar tape is often a crash indicator.
Poor condition tape can also be a sign the bikes not been well cared for.
Carbon fibre could be fractured and metal frames bent out of alignment. It’s worth checking over the paint work throughout the bike for signs of this.
Carbon fibre fractures tend to be more obvious when it splinters it damages the paint and the area may be obviously weakened.
The key areas to look over are around the bottom bracket shell, the sides of the fork, where the handlebars could swing to hit the top tube, as well as the seat and chain stays.
Some chain marks to the paint are to be expected on used bikes, but only if they have not damaged the carbon itself. Pay particular attention to behind the chainrings. A dropped chain can cause significant gouging to carbon if not carefully removed.
General wear an tear is to be expected, scuffs from shoes, chips from stone strikes or light scratches to the top coat are nothing to worry about structurally, but should be reflected in the final price.
The age of the bike is significant here, 10 year old dura ace will not offer the same features as 105 from 2 years ago.
The old parts may also have more wear and be harder to find replacements for. Although if retro is exactly what you are looking for this may be less important to you.
Check the headset, bottom bracket and wheel bearings move smoothly and freely. These parts are serviceable but will give a good indication of how well the bike has been looked after.
With modern integrated headsets, a change of headset bearings could also be akin to key hole surgery, which could either be expensive, or for the home mechanic; infuriating! If the bike has internal cable routing, particularly through the handlebars and stem consider this extra cost if those bearings do need attention.
What will you need to spend to get the bike working for you?
-Are the tyres worn?
-Does it need a new drive chain?
-Are the cables / Hydraulics all running smoothly.
-Lift the bike and spin the wheels, are they true or need work? Feel the hub bearings for grittiness or play too.
-Check the headset isn’t loose or seized. Pull on the front brake and push the bike back and forth to check for the tell tell knock of a loose headset. Also lift the front wheel off the ground by the frame to check the front wheel freely falls to each side.
The test ride
Decide if it’s safe to ride BEFORE you test ride.
Take this opportunity to move the saddle height. A seized seat post can be a major issue, best to identify this straight away.
Check the gears all move smoothly and the brakes function under load.
Does the bike feel comfortable and fit well?
Saddles, pedals and stems can be changed but the frame size needs to work for you. I spent ages riding up and down the road on the bike I eventually purchased because I wanted to be sure, don’t worry if you feel silly, it is worth it!
Don’t be pressured! You may be told other people are coming to see that bike later that day. Don’t let this influence your decision, this is a long term investment you want to be happy with! If you need to think about it, do!
See a few bikes, it’s good to compare options out there and ride a few different models to see what you prefer. Don’t worry if you view a bike but it isn’t quite right, every experience brings you closer to finding the perfect fit!
If you’re not confident in checking over wear or the long term safety of a bike, come back with someone who you trust who has the experience to help you check before you part with your hard earned cash. I found it very helpful and reassuring to discuss the bike I was thinking of buying with an experienced cyclist before I bought it. Now I absolutely love my Bike!!
By Naomi Insole