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Home » Cycling » The Anatomy of the Used Road Bike: Things to Look for to get the Best Used Bike You Can

The Anatomy of the Used Road Bike: Things to Look for to get the Best Used Bike You Can

February 2016
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I have a little bit of experience in used bicycles, maybe just enough to be dangerous, but whatever.  There are quite a few tricks one should know about buying a used bike before one jumps in that pool – without knowledge, there are simply too many things that can go wrong, as can be understood by my purchase of the bike in the photo above.  First, there is nothing technically wrong with that bike.  It operates quite well and is quite cool (as old bikes go).  There were plenty of problems that I ran into because I wasn’t informed well enough at the time but, in fairness, I only had four whole months of cycling experience when I bought that bike.  I was 40 years old, but previous to getting into cycling to shake up my running boredom with a triathlon or two, the only bike I owned was a steel POS mountain bike purchased at a Sears for less than $150, brand new.  So, the problems in order of importance:

  1.  The frame is too small.  Not a little bit too small, it’s a lot too small.  I am tall enough to need a 58-59 cm frame, that’s a 54.  The smallest I should go, with that style of frame (Standard frame, compact (Criterium) geometry is maybe a 56.  It took a few new parts to make that bike fit close enough that I could make it go fast.  Even so, the first time I brought it into a shop, the owner noticed it was too small instantly, just by watching me wheel it into the shop.
  2. The crank arms are too small.  According to most accepted fitting and measuring practices (including the online calculators) I need a 172.5 mm crank arm.  The cranks on the Cannondale are 165’s.  7.5 mm may not be much, but on a crank arm that’s huge.  It feels like I’m pedaling a little kid’s bike when I go from my Venge or 5200 to the Cannondale.
  3. Those down tube shifters.  A few people will say they prefer down tube shifters, I thought I’d be able to muscle through their obvious deficiencies next to integrated brake lever shifters.  I was wrong.  Entirely.  If you’re planning on riding fast, with a group, or in an activity other than just cruising around the block to get in shape, they’re useless.  Being able to shift into the perfect gear for your cadence, the speed a group is going, or to tackle a hill, instantly and without removing the hands from the hoods is too much an advantage to overcome with “want to”.  Unless you’re Peter Sagan… but that’s a lot of “want to” right there.

Those three things led to the purchase of this, because I did want to ride with a group and I wanted to ride comfortably, and fast:


Now, just so you can see the size difference between the old Cannondale and the new(er) Trek:

That’s a pretty stark size difference right there.  The first photo of the Trek was the day I brought it home (thankfully the old particle board entertainment center has been replaced with something that consists of a product that actually grew in a forest at one time and fits the television – woof).  Anyway, I digress…  See that big ole’ saddle?  That was too wide for my sit bones so that went first.  I actually went through the process of having my sit bones measured and ended up with a Specialized Romin saddle that I’ve come to enjoy thoroughly (both of my road bikes have that saddle).  The handlebars were next, because I hated the one’s that came on the bike (they were too wide and I hated the drops).  Then the brake surfaces wore so thin on the wheels that they cracked a couple of years ago so I put the wheels that came with my good bike on the Trek.  Then I had it painted and with all of that done, it looks like this:


So here’s the anatomical breakdown:

Anatomy of a Used Bike

Add all of that up (including the items I didn’t have to pay for but someone else would) and you’re looking at about $1,980 for a veritable, carbon fiber, horse.  Eventually I’ll throw some decent wheels on this steed, because the wheels on it now are noticeably slow, but for what I use that bike for (training and easy miles), it’s great.  Take away the unnecessary money (the paint, decals, housings, handlebar and seat post) and it’s less than $1,430…  Now that’s a fair value for a great bike – all though I don’t think any of the upgrades can be legitimately argued against.  The bike, in my humble opinion, went from pretty okay to awesome sauce.

Anyway, a few additional costs you should expect to incur should you go the used bike route:  New pedals, without a doubt; Bikes never come with pedals (new or used).  Possibly a new saddle and maybe some new bar tape.

With all of that out of the way, it cannot be stressed enough, be very careful when purchasing a used road bike if you’re not well versed in the ways of the cyclist.

**Apologies to the purists for having the bike in the middle ring.  I know.  It’s colder out there than it looks and I didn’t realize the error until I was already inside.  I wasn’t going back out.

***Weight is around 21 pounds and some change, give or take, with cages and pedals. I can get it down to 20 and a lot faster with a decent set of wheels, but that’s for another time, down the road.  Right now I need to live with the wheels as they are.



  1. Anon says:

    Can’t get over the sheer gulf between your bikes and mine – you spent more on decals than I spent on a whole basic bicycle! Not that it isn’t worth the money, and I do have to buy various bits subsequently to get my bikes in running condition. Different strokes for different folks…

    • bgddyjim says:

      Ah! I’m a middle-aged man. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, and don’t run around on my wife. I am not obese, or even overweight for that matter. I don’t even have expensive hobbies. Except cycling. I average five hours for a century (100 miles). My fastest is 4-1/2 hours. That’s about 22 mph average, on open roads… I am fit, healthy and strong. I haven’t been to the doctor for a problem in more than a decade. I take no medication and am an extremely healthy. I also make a fair living but live in a modest home and my wife and I drive modest vehicles…

      I’m worth a few nice bikes.

      You don’t even want to know what I have wrapped up into my wife and daughter’s bikes. 😉

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    Lots of great information here Jim. I would seek out experienced cycling friends here before wading into the used market, unless you want to fly up for a consult. 🙂 Happy riding!

  3. ekels22 says:

    The picture showing the size difference in the bikes really made me think. I ride a 56 Roubaix and i’m 5 10 (my first road bike). I’m really interested in trying out a more race set up frame in a 54 to see how it feels. Even with an injury that took me out for 3 months this summer I got in about 3500 miles. Of course my legs got stronger and I got faster but you get to a point where an aero position makes a big difference in speed. Looking to purchase another bike this spring.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Ah, I’m 6′ and my Venge is a 56 – and the owner of the shop said he could have gotten me on a 54 too. Being over 40, I’m not going to be flexible enough to go lower than where I’m at though so the 56 made sense.

      Anyway, the Roubaix is a compact frame geometry… the sloped top tube gives it away. Just be sure to pick the right frame if you go with a 54. You might not fit right on a standard 54 (flat top tube).

      Try a Venge, brother. Go big! In fact, Assenmacher’s in Swartz Creek has a 54 Venge with 105 components on sale for something like $2,700 (a thousand off original retail price). Looks exactly like mine but without all of the upgrades. Good luck!

  4. bonnev659 says:

    funny I was thinking of having a beater bike to ride to and from work.. going to a used bike shop “SHOP NAMEpromotes bicycling by providing affordable used bikes and community-wide access to the tools, skills and information necessary for bike maintenance and safe riding. Freeride is completely volunteer-run and all of our profits are reinvested in our mission.”

    so worth a shot at them. I will let you know how I make out once I go. As the shop is only open 2 times a week in the winter.

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