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Buying A Used Road or Triathlon bike.
By Tom Demerly.

There are more resources to buy and sell used bicycles than ever before. On line auctions such as E-Bay, classified listing services such as Craig’s list and internet forum classified sites such as Slowtwitch and Road Bike Review are all resources for selling and buying used bicycles and equipment.

The used market is frequently perceived as a good way to buy an entry level bike for new athletes who aren’t sure if they will stay in the sport of cycling or triathlon long enough to justify a purchase. Buying a used bike as your first bike may be a good strategy for saving money on initial selling price but it may lead to additional costs that could approach or even exceed the purchase price of a new bike.

The Advantages of Buying Used.

The primary advantage of buying used may be price. In general, used bikes are sold at a discount or depreciated price from their original selling price. The amount of discount or depreciation depends on the amount of use and the size of the used market.

Another advantage of buying a used bike may be informational provided you have a relationship with the seller. If you are buying a used bike from someone you know who has been in the sport long enough to have experience they may be able to assist you with advice and insights on whether the bike is right for you and fits you correctly. If you have known the person for some time and will likely ride with them once the sale is made it is like having your bike shop along for the ride when you train together. This may be an advantage to you, but a disadvantage to the person selling the bike who may not want the responsibilities associated with servicing the bike after the sale. This is something to discuss with the seller prior to the purchase. Be sure expectations on both parties parts are clear prior to the purchase.

The Disadvantages of Buying Used.

If you are a triathlete or road rider then you will be riding your bike in a performance setting. Performance road and triathlon bikes are built firstly with light weight and high performance in mind. As a result they need frequent maintenance and they have a number of wear items. Wear items on a bike include the tires, chain, cables, chainrings and cogset. When you buy new you are getting new wear items. A used bike may be approaching the time when these wear items need to be replaced. Replacing all the wear items on an entry level road or triathlon bike usually costs about $300-400 depending on the specific equipment and what you are paying for qualified labor. Here is an idea of how that breaks down:

- Tires, (2) $49.99 each.
- Tubes, (2) $5.99 each.
- Chain, Shimano 105, $34.99.
- Cogset (cassette), Shimano 105, $79.99.
- Chainrings, 53/39 tooth, Shimano 105, $29.99 and $45.99
- Total Cost of replacement wear items: $302.92
- Approximate labor to install: $ 60.00
- Total: $362.92

This takes into account replacing all wear items on a used bike which may not be necessary at first. However, the cycle of replacing these items runs about one to two years if the original owner has kept up with routine maintenance. If you ask the seller if they have replaced the chain, chainrings and/or cogset and they haven’t in the last 2 years it’s likely you will inherit this replacement cost.

The primary drawback to buying used is fit and position. Unlike buying a used car, bicycles (and especially performance oriented road and triathlon bikes) are fit specifically to the rider. The single largest opportunity for comfort, safety and overall performance is with optimizing fit and position. No other aspect of the purchase is more important that bike fit and rider position. There are 16 variables used to control the riders fit and position. They are:

Handlebar width, drop, bend and reach.
Aerobar length.
Aerobar pad width.
Stem length and angle.
Seatpost fore/aft position.
Saddle selection.
Saddle height.
Crank length.
Chainring size (gearing).
Cassette (cogset) size (gearing).
Pedal system.
Cleat adjustment.

It would be almost impossible for all 16 fit parameters to be identical from one rider to the next. Good, comfortable fit and position is most important to new riders, so it is likely the fit from one rider to the next will be significantly different. In the best of circumstances this can lead to discomfort and compromised performance. In the worst of circumstances this can lead to injury or unsafe bike handling which could contribute to a crash.

Most retailers include at least some of the cost of a fitting I the purchase of a bike. Components that need to be changed to achieve proper fit are usually exchanged at no charge for equal value items. That means if a new bike you are considering comes with a 110 mm stem length but you need a 100 mm stem there is no cost to make the change- same goes for swapping equal value saddles, cranks, etc. These can be significant value in having these costs included in the purchase price.

Another factor that has influenced that has changed the way we buy used bikes is the internet resources. These have made selling used bikes much easier for the seller and driven up resale values for the buyer especially on competitive sites such as E-Bay were buyers compete to see how much they will pay. It is almost “backwards retail” where the bargaining moves the price upward instead of downward. Combined with the vagaries surrounding exactly what you are getting and its condition along with the costs and logistics of shipping the secondary internet bike market clearly favors the seller.

As you consider the economic realities of buying used it becomes less and less appealing.

New vs. Used.

When you consider total costs involved in a bike purchase combined with what it will cost to own it and maintain it during the first year we get a clear picture of the advantages and drawbacks of each:

New Bike Purchase Used Bike Purchase
Initial buying price higher Initial buying price lower.
Most costs associated with assembly included in price If bike is not assembled (i.e. shipped via an internet purchase) there may be costs associated with qualified assembly and tuning.
Many retailers may include some maintenance/labor with purchase of bike during first year. Labor will be an additional cost as purchased normally at a local bike shop.
Most costs for fitting are included in price of bike. Qualified fitting will be an additional cost.
Most retailers will swap same priced components at time of purchase for precise and comfortable fitting and position. Components to facilitate accurate, comfortable, individual fit will need to be purchased at additional cost.
Reduced or no labor charges for costs of changing size specific components at time of purchase. Buyer likely to incur costs of labor for installation of size specific components.
Original warranty intact to original owner. Most bicycle warranties do not transfer to secondary owner.
Condition of bicycle is known:

All components are new and have maximum lifespan and are under applicable warranties.

Condition of components may not be known. Bike may require replacement of basic wear items resulting in additional cost.

It is the specialty nature of buying a performance oriented road or triathlon bicycle that makes each sale unique. No two bikes are configured exactly the same for two riders. Especially for a new athlete just entering the sport the right set up is critical and can save time and frustration when getting used to new equipment.

While used bikes can be a viable buying option it is important to consider the real costs of buying and operating a used bike versus a new bike. While the initial purchase price of a new bike may be as much as 40% higher than a comparable used bike it may quickly become the less expensive alternative if fitting and maintenance costs on the used bike begin to add up. Additionally each rider has to place some value on their time and tolerance for the logistics associated with buying a used bike (and a new bike).

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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