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Finding Community While Buying a Used Bike

May 6, 2012

The Cervelo P2 SL I bought

**The more important part of this post is my very positive experience actually buying this bike used. If you just want to read that, skip down to the second half of the post (marked in bold).

When I started this journey to Ironman Arizona, a new bike was on the wish list. Something I wanted, that would make my race preparation better, but that was not absolutely critical to completing the race. I owned a 2004 Trek touring bike. Its all-steel frame is designed for distance riding, but emphasizes stability over speed (it’s designed to hold rider plus all their bags through remote terrain where you can’t just place a cell call to someone to pick you up if you break down). But with better wheels, it would at least be good enough to get me through the race. I’m not going to go into all the differences between a triathlon bike and road bike here, but basically a triathlon bike is not as good for riding in a city or large groups where you need quick response time, but is better for maximum sustained speed and also fatigues the hamstrings less so the legs remain stronger for the run portion of the race.

When it became clear that my insurance settlement from my cycling accident last summer would be enough to buy a new bike, a triathlon bike moved from the “maybe” to the “going to buy” list. I would not go back and choose to get hit by a cab to get the money to buy a new tri bike — but having gone through that injury, at least I now get something out of it.

When I started shopping for a tri bike, I assumed I would probably buy a new bike. Used bikes present many of the same pros and cons as used cars: you can get a lot more bike for your buck, and if you get the right used bike it can still be in very good condition and have lots of use left, but there is less selection, it can require a lot more shopping time, and most critically it can be difficult to assess bike quality. Used bikes present the additional challenge of getting the right frame size. For cruising five miles around the city, it might not make much difference if the frame is a little too big or small. For riding 112 miles, it can be the difference between finishing the race comfortable and injuring something. As a somewhat experienced cyclist, I have some idea of what my bike should feel like if I’m actually testing it — but I would still rely on bike shop employees to help me identify exactly what frame size I should get.

After doing some looking around at bike shops, I decided to at least look into the used market more carefully. I realized I could afford something new, but it was going to cost a bit more than I expected. And I would have to be careful on limiting any extras and just got the most basic entry level tri bike (which of course is still a good bike). Because the tri world is relatively small, many of the used bikes are sold online. Communication about the bike and purchase are over email and eventually the bike is shipped. I began to veer back towards buying new. Yes, for the same price I could get a better used bike. But once I added in costs of shipping, uncertainty about frame size, uncertainty over frame condition, I began to think it was better to go new. I might get less bike, but at least I would have a bike shop there to make sure I got a bike that fit me right. Maybe if I knew exactly what bike I wanted and had time to wait, used would make sense. I went to my local bike shop to actually test ride some bikes. I still wasn’t ready to purchase just yet, but a step closer.

Buying my used tri bike

Before going back to the bike shop to actually purchase a new bike, I decided to give one last look at the sale forums on beginnertriathlete.com. [Side note: I’ve spent countless hours on that site, using it to log my training, and reading all sorts of valuable articles, blogs, etc about basic tri stuff.] And I found a post for a Cervelo P2 SL from a seller here in Chicago! This bike is arguably the best triathlon bike at the entry level price bracket. It’s made of aluminum, not carbon fiber, but some triathletes even consider it superior to bikes much more expensive than it because it has very good race geometry. Based on the ad, I thought it might be the right size, but it might be just a little too big.

After a couple emails back and forth with the owner, he invited me to his apartment to test the fit myself. I told him the sizing of my present bike and riding preferences. Like me, he jumped right into long course triathlons when he took up the sport. He was only selling the P2 SL because he was moving to Australia for a couple years. He agreed with me his bike might fit, but might be a little too big. He’s also 1.5 inches taller than me, again in line with might fit but might be just a little too big. When I went over to test the fit, I spent at least 30 minutes at his apartment. He put the bike on his trainer and let me ride it for a while in his apartment, so I could see how the fit felt. He told me about his experience riding the bike (including in an Ironman) and the one accident he had on the bike, pointing out where the handlebar was scraped. He also warned me the drivetrain felt a little sluggish and probably needed a good tuneup to clean it up. I thought the bike felt good, but I wasn’t sure how a tri bike should feel. And I was still at the same point: it might be a little big.

So then Matt suggested I take the bike for a longer test ride to really see how it felt. Yes, he wanted to sell his bike, but he also did not want to sell it to me if it was going to be the wrong size for me. So today Matt dropped off the bike at my gym for me to use it for a ride on the trainers. Sweet! I forced myself to ride that 10k mostly in the aero bars, to really see how I felt. After a 10k time trial, I was pretty sure it was going to work. I felt really comfortable in the aero bars. Granted, I was on the trainer, so didn’t need to keep the bike stabilized, but my body position felt good. Per my previous agreement with Matt, since the bike seemed to fit, I rode the bike straight to the shop. Their fit person didn’t have time to do a full fit today, but took a quick look and said the bike is probably a size big for me, but that I could get away with a size big. He was pretty sure he could adjust it to be pretty close to ideal for me. He said that I would be better served by getting that bike and getting it properly fit to my body than by getting the “right” new bike, but not getting the new bike fit. So I left the bike at the shop for a full tuneup. After the tuneup is done, I’ll get the bike fit. That will entail spending a couple hours at the shop, with them measuring my flexibility and body position, measuring me riding on the bike, and then setting seat height and position, handlebar height and position, and shoe position. If I bought a new bike, I might not have had money left for this full professional fit process. But by buying a used bike, I do have the money for the professional fit.

I got a great bike at a good price. But I also realized how much I really am part of the triathlon community now. And how much more I will get out of my training if I embrace that community. Like other sports (and really any activity people devote so much time to), just saying “I’m a triathlete” identifies me as part of that community. Yes, Matt wanted to sell his bike. But he went far beyond what he had to do just to sell his bike. He had other inquiries on the bike after me, but instead of just asking me to buy or pass, he went out of his way to help me figure out if it was really the right bike for me. If he “just” wanted to sell the bike, he could have listed it on a site like craigslist. But he posted it on a site that really caters specifically to the triathlon community. By selling it, he wasn’t only making some money, he was also helping someone else break into the sport.

Yes I’ll pay Matt for the bike. I’m meeting up with him tomorrow for that (he insisted I wait to pay him until I knew the bike would fit). But he did more than just sell me a bike. And I can only partially thank him for that. But I can help someone else get into the sport in the future. Whether it’s selling this bike in a couple years, helping someone with training strategies, or something else, I can help make sure there’s a triathlon community, not just a bunch of people competing in a sport.

But in the meantime, now the fun starts as I learn to ride in the aero position and learn to love my new tri bike!

196 days till Ironman Arizona!

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From → cycling

5 Comments
  1. It sounds like you had a wonderful bike-selection experience. When I bought my commuter bike (an aluminum Cervelo Soloist), I had a similar experience. It was from a bike shop in my neighborhood, and we were both interested in a trade-in for my cyclocross bike. The shop allowed me to hold their bike for four days, so long as I left them mine; they wanted to sell the bike, but they also wanted it to go to a good “family” and to someone who might recommend their shop to friends. To make a long story short, I decided I liked the bike too much to bring it back, so I traded mine in for it instead.

    I thought the P2 was a track bike, but I must be confused – I was surprised to see it with derailleurs and a double, but I shouldn’t be.

    • jbkosbie permalink

      Sounds like a great bike shop. Until now I had always thought of the bike shop as just a place to buy cycling related stuff. But now that I’m spending more time there, preparing for this Ironman, I’m chatting more with employees and actually getting to know them a little. I didn’t buy new, so don’t know if they would have let me take a bike home like that, but they did let me test ride a Specialized Roubaix, even though they knew I had no interest in buying it, so that I could figure out what size to reserve for a rental when I’m traveling later this summer.

      • Actually, the shop let me do an extended test ride of a used bike. (Which I bought from them.) But in the interest of full disclosure and all that, it was a 61 cm frame; they said a lot of people were interested, but it didn’t fit many of them. That’s pretty cool that they let you ride a Roubaix – the more bikes I test ride, the better I wind up feeling about whatever decision I make in the end. šŸ˜€

        The guys at the shop are big into Ironman, and they’ve been asking me when I’m going to join the team. I keep saying “I dunno.” It’s not really my thing. But … after a few years I got bored riding around Seattle, and the people at the shop have given me some really awesome advice on places to go check out. They’re good people.

  2. Beth Kozura permalink

    Jeff, I hope you like your new bike (or your new old bike). Being only 5 foot and having very short legs posed even more of a challenge for me, so I ended up going new, but still had to change out components. My new bike has made all the difference and it is way faster than my old custom made steel bike. Enjoy it and use it in good speed! Getting a proper bike fit is the most important thing no matter what bike you ride.

    • jbkosbie permalink

      I started the bike fit process last week. We spent over an hour before I even got on the bike, between talking about riding habits, past injuries, training plans, and measuring my flexibility and other body mechanics. I didn’t realize how involved that was! Unfortunately a small piece in the base of the seat post broke when the mechanic went to adjust the seat position, so he had to order that piece. I go back in to finish the fit tomorrow. Seeing how much goes into the fit process, I’m definitely glad I opted for the used bike with full professional fitting instead of the new bike with only the best guess, on-my-own fitting. And I’m really excited to start riding! Besides new bike, I also got new road shoes and speedplay pedals. Right now I have mountain shoes with spd pedals. I know the road shoes will give me a bit better power transfer.

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