How to Buy a Second Hand Road Bike for Triathlons
Now, I realize this will probably horrify most "bike experts" of which, despite racing bikes for nigh on 30 years, I don't identify as. HOWEVER, I do consider myself a fairly proficient bargain hunter and can let you into some techniques I use to score a deal to help you with one of triathlon's main expenses. Both my road and TT bikes are second hand (see this blog on the differences).
Now, under what circumstances would I suggest getting a second hand road bike in the first place? 1) You're trying your first triathlon and aren't sure if you'll like it. I hear this often. You definitely don't want to invest in a new bike or a triathlon specific bike (which tend to be more expensive). You need something that will turn your legs over in training and you can attach aerobars to so you can still go fast and look the part. Then, if you decide you hate triathlons you still have a nice recreational bike to enjoying cycling with. 2) You've got a fancy time trial or triathlon bike that you race on and a) you want to preserve it and train on a beater and b) it's just more comfortable/safer in the hills and in a peloton than what your race bike would be.
First, you need to find out your approximate frame size. I say approximate (queue horrified gasps from bike experts) because I think you can afford to screw this up + or -2cm because a good bike fitter can make adjustments to the seat and stem to get you in the right position. But obviously the closer you can get the better. Use the chart below (ref: https://bicycleflorida.com/2020/05/17/road-bike-size-chart-adults-kids/)
OK. Now get onto Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace or your favorite online selling website. I'd stay away from any specialist bike selling site as you're more likely to run into people that actually know what they're talking about and you're less likely to pick up a bargain. Remember, if you get to the end of this blog, you're going to be the smart one in the garage driveway. Now write in the search bar "bike 56cm" or whatever frame size you're looking for. I'd stay away from anything under about $400. Choose a few that you like the look of (color is important for some people) at the price you want to pay. From the listing get the brand, name and if possible the year of the bike, go to the Value Guide of the Bicycle Blue Book website and type it in the search bar (eg. 2020 Specialized Allez Sport). This will tell you if you're getting ripped off or not.
Go back and ask the seller a few questions if they aren't in the posting. They might not know the answers to but at least you'll get an idea of what their history is with the bike. Some questions you can ask are: Does the bike come with the original components? How much has it been ridden? What year was it from (or a guess)? Any cracks in the frame or dints (if you don't have all the photos)?
It's not necessarily a bad thing if the bike doesn't have its original components especially if it's an old bike. They could be upgrades and/or recently changed which would be a positive, especially to the drive chain or wheels which are often the most expensive other parts aside the frame. You might need to do some googling of the components to see if the upgrades have actually improved the value of the bike.
But let's not start getting lost in the weeds here, if there's something you like the look of which seems like a good deal, schedule to see it, bring an allen key set a pedal wrench so you can use your shoes and pedals if you have them and TEST RIDE it. You don't need to be an expert or ride it very far to hear a weird creak, figure out the gears don't change smooth or if the brakes don't work. If it feels good and the price is right buy it.
Take the money you saved, buy triathlon friendly bike shoes, cleats and pedals (more on that here) and some aerobars. Now bring all the stuff to a professional bike fit. When they berate you for not getting the right size frame tell them what a bargain you got (don't tell them about this blog) and they will make some measurements and figure it out. Again, choose a color you like, because the most important part is your desire to turn the pedals around for long periods of time. You're welcome!