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Buyer's Guide: Pre-Owned Road Bikes

By Bruce Lin

Buying a new bike is exciting, especially when you have the world’s biggest selection of pre-owned bikes at your fingertips. As you start researching and making decisions, all the different options and terminology involved with choosing a modern road bike can start to seem overwhelming. If you’re looking to take the plunge and try a Certified Pre-Owned road bike, or any road bike, these are the basics you need to know to get started.

There are lots of different paths you can follow on your road biking journey, and it can take time to really learn what you truly need or want. The best part about buying used, especially with an option like Certified Pre-Owned bikes is that it’s easier and more affordable than ever to get on a high quality used bike. If you have any questions, our Ride Guides are always here to help you on your journey.

See our Road Bike Collection.

Contents

Cornering on a road bike

Rider Type

  • What type of rider are you?
  • How will you use your bike?

To define your own riding style and help narrow down your bike choices, imagine your dream riding scenario. This level of fantasy exists in some form within all of us, even if you've never ridden a bike before.

Do you see yourself hanging on to fast pacelines and sprinting up hills? Are you trying to set new personal records for speed and distance and on climbs? Or do you imagine pedaling long distances and exploring new, rarely traveled roads? Are you a racer? A fitness nut? An adventurer? A weekend cruiser looking to relax? 

The answers to these questions can help you understand what equipment you need. Things like bike type, frame material, drivetrain, wheels and tires, and geometry affect how a bike will ride and what type of riding it caters to.

If you want to maximize speed and efficiency then you'll be best served by a more aggressive road racing bike. It will be stiffer and lighter, the handling will feel quicker, and the lower position will help you attack if you're trying to set new personal records, ride with fast groups, or race.

If you're more concerned with comfort, then maybe a more upright endurance bike is better. It will be designed to have more compliance in the frame and fit larger tires. This will improve comfort and also allow you to explore more roads with rough surfaces, dirt, or gravel as well. Despite being more relaxed than a road racing bike, it will still be able to go fast when you need it. 

If you're interested in carrying extra bags on the bike for ultra long-distance riding or regular commuting, then a touring bike might be up your alley. You can tour and commute on any bike, but a touring style bike is designed to be as relaxed as possible and provide more options for attaching racks, fenders, and other accessories. 

Your dream riding scenario is something that might change or evolve over time. Saving money and buying Pre-Owned and Certified Pre-Owned bikes lets you continue to explore, experiment, and develop yourself as a rider. With helpful options like Guaranteed Buyback, it's easy to change course and try something new.

 

Bike Type

Road Bike TypeRoad bikes are easily identified by some shared characteristics: drop (curved) handlebars, narrower tires with smooth, slick, or minimal tread, and no large mountain bike-style suspension components like forks or rear linkages. This allows road bikes to ride efficiently on paved road surfaces and go farther and faster than other types of bikes.

Road bikes can be split into a few basic categories: road racing, endurance, and touring.

If you need help discerning a bike's intended purpose or finding a bike that is right for you, you can always contact our expert Ride Guides for assistance.  

Road Racing

The vast majority of road bikes you will encounter in the used marketplace will be standard road racing bikes. This type of bike is designed to be lighter, often more aerodynamic, and to maximize converting a rider’s pedaling effort into speed. These are the types of bikes you will see being ridden by professional road racers.

But you don’t have to be interested in racing to enjoy one. Road racing bikes are perfect for anyone from casual riders looking to improve their fitness to more performance-oriented riders looking to ride regularly, accumulate mileage, participate in group rides, or beat their own personal bests on Strava.

Road racing bikes will usually have stiffer frames to improve power transfer. To minimize weight and aid in acceleration road racing bikes will often fit between 23-28mm tires, with some newer designs having additional clearance for larger 28-32mm tires.

The riding position will generally be lower, more aggressive, and performance-focused, though this can be adjusted to your liking with cockpit components. The frame geometry will generally be geared toward more responsive handling to help riders change direction easily and attack climbs, descents, and corners.

Aero road bikes are also a very popular option. Aero road bikes feature more frame shaping designed to improve the bike aerodynamics. The greatest force riders have to fight against is wind resistance and aero bikes can make riders faster by reducing the energy needed to maintain speed. You can read more about the advantages of aero bikes in our "Do you need an aero road bike?" article. 

Popular models: Specialized Tarmac, Trek Madone, Cannondale SuperSix Evo, Cervelo R3, Giant TCR Advanced, Scott Addict  

Endurance

As riders have branched out beyond riding perfectly smooth, paved roads, endurance bikes have emerged to help take the edge off. Endurance road bikes are actually quite similar to their road racing counterparts, and many riders will use endurance bikes for road races when course conditions require it or if they just prefer the extra comfort.

If you regularly ride rough, bumpy, unmaintained, or sometimes unpaved roads, then endurance bikes will make it easier. If your goal is to spend a lot of time in the saddle and cover lots of miles, an endurance bike will provide more comfort for epic long distance, long duration rides. They are also great for those simply seeking a fast bike that is more upright, stable, and comfortable than a more aggressive traditional road racing bike.  

Endurance road bikes often have additional compliance designed into the frame to provide more comfort and control on rough road surfaces. This can come in the form of different construction, special carbon layups, vibration-damping inserts, and small suspension components that affect touch points like the bars and saddle. The Specialized Roubaix and Trek Domane are two very popular examples of endurance bike designs that use unique frame designs and components that provide a bit of suspension to increase rider comfort. 

The biggest differentiator for endurance bikes is the ability to fit larger tires in the 28-32mm range. Larger tire volume increases comfort and traction on rough roads. The riding position will also generally be more upright and the frame geometry will be slightly longer and more relaxed to provide a more comfortable and stable ride. Endurance bikes often feel less "twitchy" than more high-strung road racing bikes. 

Popular Models: Specialized Roubaix, Trek Domane, Cannondale Synapse, Cervelo C3, Pinarello Dogma K8-S, Canyon Endurance CF

Touring

Touring road bikes go a step beyond endurance road bikes and have features that allow them to carry additional gear for extra-long rides or multiday adventures. Their biggest goal is to maximize comfort, accessories, and reliability. Weight and aerodynamics are not usually a big concern for touring style bikes.

Both road racing bikes and endurance bikes can be used as tourers with the addition of strap on bags, but touring bikes are a more specialized tool. Touring bikes are ideal for riders who want to undertake epic multiday rides over a wide variety of roads and surfaces and self-sufficient adventurers looking to ride where few riders go.

They're also great for commuters who want to carry extra clothes or work equipment on their bike rather than in a backpack. The increased comfort and carrying capacity can also be desirable to recreational riders who need a more utilitarian bike for things like groceries. These bikes aren't racers, and riders more interested in the performance side of the sport will be better served by lighter and more efficient road racing or endurance bikes. Still, anyone can get fit riding recreationally on a tourer. 

Touring bikes often have the greatest amount of tire clearance, able to run tires above 30mm wide, in some cases over 40mm, and some even accept mountain bike tires. Larger volume tires are key to rider comfort and the ability to load the bike up with additional gear and can help tourers tackle bad and unpaved roads when they encounter them. The frames will be built with plenty of mounts for additional bottles, luggage, and fenders.

More durable and compliant frame materials like steel are generally preferred. Touring bikes are generally much heavier but much more durable and robust than racing or endurance road bikes. The riding position and geometry will be the most upright and relaxed of the bike types.

Popular Models: Surly Long Haul Trucker, Specialized AWOL, Trek 520, Salsa Marrakesh, Kona Sutra

Frame Material

Choosing the frame material for your bike is going to come down to preference, price, and the type of riding you’re interested in. The integrity of a bike’s frame is paramount to its value and safety so checking for structural damage, cracks, and other potential issues is essential. Carbon often receives the most scrutiny, but all types of frames should be carefully inspected when purchasing a used road bike.

If you choose a Certified Pre-Owned bike from The Pro’s Closet, they are all professionally inspected by a team of full-time bike mechanics and guaranteed to be in perfect working order. They are also professionally packed and shipped so they arrive at your door safely.  

Aluminum

Aluminum is often the most affordable frame material. It will usually be heavier than carbon, but it’s also less expensive and considered to be slightly more durable. This makes it a good option for budget-minded riders and amateur racers who expect to get involved in crashes. Aluminum can be formed into fairly aerodynamic shapes and though it used to have a reputation for being extremely stiff, newer aluminum bikes can provide a ride feel nearly as good as some more expensive carbon counterparts. Aluminum bikes are often the most economical way for new riders to get into the sport. 

Popular Models: Specialized Allez, Cannondale CAAD, Trek Emonda ALR, Canyon Endurance AL,

Shop Aluminum Bikes

For more information, check out our detailed Carbon vs Aluminum article.

Carbon

Carbon is the latest and greatest material to be used in cycling. Most high-end bikes will use carbon fiber frames because of stiffness and weight advantages. Carbon is the lightest frame material, and bike engineers can tune carbon fiber so specific areas of the bike frame flex and absorb vibration while others remain stiff for maximum power transfer. Carbon can also be shaped into special aerodynamic shapes. Pro racers are generally using carbon bikes and the lightest, fastest, and most aerodynamic bikes available are often carbon. This generally comes at a price as carbon frames are often more expensive.

Popular Models: Specialized Venge, Specialized Tarmac, Specialized Roubaix, Trek Madone, Trek DomanePinarello Dogma, Cervelo S-Series

Shop Carbon Bikes

For more information, check out our detailed Carbon vs Aluminum article.

Steel

Steel is the classic frame material, used since the bicycle’s inception. It’s revered by many for its supple ride quality and durability. A well-cared-for steel frame will likely last a lifetime. It is often slightly heavier than other materials, but plenty of riders prefer it simply for the feel and the classic good looks. It's also a popular choice for boutique and custom framebuilders who build bespoke handmade bicycles. Steel has also found renewed popularity in the world of gravel riding

Popular Models: All-City, Surly, Fairdale, Waterford

Shop Steel Bikes

Titanium

Like steel, titanium is a classic frame building material. It has a similar supple ride quality to steel, but is much lighter, and has increased durability thanks to its higher strength and resistance to oxidation. The trade-off, though, is a much higher price tag. Few big brands offer a titanium frame, so it is often limited to smaller boutique and custom framebuilders. Like steel, Titanium has also gained more popularity in gravel riding. 

Popular Models: Mosaic, Lynskey, Litespeed, Moots

Shop Titanium Bikes

 

Drivetrain

Road Bike DrivetrainIf you're buying a used bike, it’s important to check the function of the drivetrain and make sure it has been properly cared for. How clean a drivetrain looks speaks volumes, and simply shifting through gears and pedaling around can tell you a lot about how well a bike’s drivetrain is working.

Check the teeth of chainrings and cogs for wear, and chains for excessive stretch in case they need to be replaced. Every Pre-Owned bike at The Pro’s Closet has been professionally serviced by our mechanics, so the drivetrain is always fresh and tuned right out of the box.

Used bikes will often have drivetrain components from older component generations. But any drivetrain that's been properly cared for, serviced, and tuned, will work just as well as new equipment.

The three most common drivetrain manufacturers are Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo. Which brand you choose will largely come down to personal preference. Shimano and SRAM are the two most popular and a detailed comparison can be found in our Shimano vs. SRAM article.

Entry-level drivetrains will generally be cheaper, but less refined feeling and heavier. As you become more experienced, competitive, or pickier, higher-end components will become more appealing.

Basic Component Hierarchy

Shimano

SRAM

Campagnolo

Entry

Sora/Tiagra

Apex

Veloce/Centaur/Potenza

Mid-Level

105

Rival

Chorus

Mid-Upper

Ultegra

Force

Record

Top

Dura-Ace

Red

Super Record


Double vs Triple 

The cranksets of most road bikes will have either two or three chainrings. These are referred to as double and triple cranksets. The double is the most common option. It’s easier to shift between two chainrings than it is to shift between three, and the chainring combinations double cranksets use will cover the gear range needed by the majority of riders.

Triple cranksets are more common on entry-level bikes and touring bikes. Triples have a third extra small chainring that provides additional “granny gears”. They are good for more novice riders that need easier gearing to make it up difficult or steep climbs or touring bike riders that need to ride long distances while weighed down with luggage.  

As mountain bike technology has trickled into the road bike world, some bikes have appeared with 1x (One-by) drivetrains that use a single chainring. Many bikes using this setup are more specialized and better for riding gravel and dirt roads.

Standard vs Mid-Compact vs Compact

Double cranks generally come in one of three standard chainring combinations. For example, a "standard" crank has a "53/39t" chainring combo, with a 53 tooth large ring and a 39 tooth small ring. The more teeth a chainring has, the "harder" or "taller" the gearing is. Taller gearing allows you to achieve higher top speeds, while lower gearing provides easier climbing gears.

Standard Mid-Compact Compact Crank comparison

Standard (53/39t) cranks suit riders who live in areas with latter terrain or fitter advanced riders who can push harder gears and achieve higher speeds. Many competitive racers prefer standard cranks for maintaining pace in groups at high speed.

Mid-compact (52/36t) cranks work as an in-between option for riders who split their time between high-speed riding and racing and extended climbing. Mid-compact cranks are a good compromise for most riders and terrain.

Compact (50/34t) cranks suit riders who ride more hilly or mountainous terrain and are more focused on climbing than riding on flats. They also benefit riders who need to spin more due to joint issues, or more novice riders who need easier gearing.  

Speeds

How many “speeds” a road bike has is equal to how many cogs are on the rear cassette. An “11-speed” drivetrain has a cassette on the rear wheel with 11 cogs on it. With newer generations of drivetrains, manufacturers have been able to add cogs on the cassette to increase drivetrain speeds.

The newest drivetrains will have 11 to 12 speeds. The advantage of more speeds is that they allow for a wider gear range with smaller “steps” or gaps between gears.

Entry-level drivetrains generally have fewer speeds than high-end drivetrains. Older or more entry-level 9- and 10-speed drivetrains will still work great and will cost less, at the expense of refinement, potential compatibility with new components, and resale value. 

Electronic Shifting

Each of the 3 major drivetrain manufacturers also has electronic shifting options. These are generally reserved for their higher-end offerings. Shimano's electronic groups are designated as "Di2", SRAM as "eTap" or "eTap AXS", and Campagnolo as "EPS". For example, if you see a used bike listing with "Shimano Ultegra Di2", it means the bike is equipped with an Ultegra level electronic groupset. 

Electronic groups are more expensive than traditionalal mechanical groups but have a few benefits. They provide crisp, fast shifting, require little tuning, and many new groups have a compatible app for updates and customization. Batteries will generally last several months without recharging. As newer components are released, electronic groups will become more and more common on many pre-owned bikes. To learn more, check out our article: Do you need electronic shifting?

Brakes

Road Bike BrakesRoad bike brakes come in two styles: rim and disc. Rim brakes have been the standard almost since the creation of the modern bicycle. In recent years, disc brakes have become more common. In the near future, disc brakes may take over as the dominant braking technology.

Rim Brakes

Rim brakes slow your bike using a caliper to press brake pads against a braking surface at the edge of your rims. They are light, simple, and easy to maintain. They weigh less than comparable disc brakes, so people concerned with having the lightest bike possible often prefer them. Because of how they are mounted on the frame they are often more aerodynamic. They generally cost less than comparable disc brakes and are easier to work on for novice mechanics.

The greatest downside to rim brakes is that they use your bicycle’s rim as a wear component. Once the braking surface of a rim wears out, the entire rim is no longer safe to ride. This happens faster if you ride a lot, and especially in poor weather conditions. Riders with high-end wheels will often have a second set of “training” wheels to preserve their nice wheels for races and special occasions.

When looking at used road bikes, brake tracks should be inspected for excessive wear. Rims with worn brake tracks should be replaced. The Pro’s Closet’s mechanics perform a full inspection on all our Pre-Owned bikes and replace any rims that show unacceptable levels of wear.

Rim brake calipers can also sometimes limit tire clearance. Newer generation rim brakes and frames have been designed to improve clearance, and touring bikes that fit large tires will often use cantilever or V-brake calipers to allow them to fit.

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes entered road cycling from mountain biking. Disc brake rotors mount to the hub of compatible disc wheels and are stopped by a disc brake caliper. This moves the wear surface away from the rim and preserves high-end and carbon rims, allowing riders to use them every day.

Disc brakes are much more powerful than rim brakes and are less affected by poor weather. Riders who regularly do long and fast descents may prefer them because of the increased confidence and control they provide. Disc brakes have also opened up tire clearance in many modern road bikes, allowing some endurance bike to fit larger 32mm wide tires.

Hydraulic disc brakes are the most common type, as they provide the greatest amount of power and modulation. They require the use of hydraulic fluid in the form of mineral oil or DOT brake fluid and need to be periodically bled to maintain performance. This complication may make some novice mechanics shy away from servicing their own hydraulic brakes but it is an easy process to learn.

When inspecting a used road bike, hydraulic disc brakes that feel spongy, weak, or have excessive lever throw should be bled and serviced. The Pro’s Closet’s mechanics perform a full inspection on all our Pre-Owned bikes and make sure all brakes are serviced, bled, and functioning well.

Riders who don’t want to deal with hydraulic fluid may prefer mechanical disc brakes. These are cheaper and easier to maintain, and are compatible with older non-hydraulic shifters, but lack the same power and feel of hydraulic brakes. Disc brakes are often slightly heavier and more expensive than their rim brake counterparts.

Wheels

Other than the frame, wheels will have the greatest effect on how your bike rides. This is because wheels and tires are rotating weight, so they have a large effect on how easily and quickly you’re able to accelerate. Wheels and tires are also the first points of contact with the wind and the road surface. This means they have a large effect on the aerodynamics of your bike and its rolling resistance. Lighter and more aerodynamic wheels are the best way to improve a road bike’s performance.  

Carbon wheels are one of the most popular aftermarket upgrade options for road bikes. Carbon fiber is exceptionally light, stiff, and strong. Because of carbon’s strength to weight advantage, rims can be made deeper, wider, and more aerodynamic, without a massive weight penalty. The stiff feel of carbon rims can also sometimes improve the cornering and acceleration of your bike.

Because of these benefits, racers and competitive riders often prefer to use carbon wheels. The addition of a quality set of carbon wheels can often significantly increase the value of a used road bike. Despite carbon’s advantages, some more recreational or utilitarian riders may still prefer traditional aluminum wheels. Aluminum is less expensive and in some cases more robust and resistant to damage.

When buying a used bike, it’s always important to inspect both carbon and aluminum wheels carefully to ensure they are free of cracks or structural damage. The Pro’s Closet’s mechanics inspect and service all wheels on our Pre-Owned road bikes to ensure they run true and straight and are structurally sound.

Wheels are often the first upgrade many riders make to their bikes. To learn more check out our article on How to upgrade your wheels.

Shop Road Wheels

Geometry and Fit

The biggest factor that will contribute to the enjoyment of a new road bike is the fit. A bike that fits properly is a bike that will let you focus more on the ride, and less on any negative sensations occurring in your body.

Determining your ideal fit may take some experimentation. Below is a generalized fit chart that will give you a basic range of sizes to look at.

General Road Bike Size Guide Chart

If you already have a bike that fits well, it’s easy to determine if another bike you’re looking at will fit similarly. There are three basic components of bike geometry you can look at: top tube length, stack and reach, and standover height.

Bike Geometry Toptube Stack Reach Standover

Top tube length is the horizontal distance of the top tube from the center of the seat tube to the center of the headtube. Stack and reach measure the vertical and horizontal distance from the bottom bracket to the center/top of the headtube. Standover height is the distance from the center/top of the top tube to the ground. If these values are the same or very close between two bikes, then they will have a similar fit.

If your current bike doesn’t fit that well, you can use these measurements to determine approximately what you need to look for in your new bike. Top tube/reach influence how long and roomy a bike will feel. If your current bike feels too long, a bike with a slightly shorter top tube or reach will probably work. 

Stack will influence how upright it will feel. If your current bike feels too low, then a taller stack will help. If you have trouble straddling your current bike, then a lower standover height will help. The Pro's Closet provides these measurements in all pre-owned bike listings, so you can understand how the bike you're looking at will fit. 

It can take time to adjust to the fit of a new bike. All contact points (pedals, shoes, and saddle) can be changed and altered for personal preference, performance, and comfort. Fit can be fine-tuned and adjusted with stems, handlebars, and saddle position to suit your body. The tailoring of any bike is an important step in the long term enjoyment of riding.

If you have any questions or concerns about fitting one of our Pre-Owned bikes, our Ride Guides are available 7-days-a-week to answer questions and help guide you in your search for the perfect bike.

See our Road Bike Collection.


9 comments


  • Thank You, I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I read this guide.

    Corey Culbreath on

  • Outstanding!!!!, your words, guides, are soo good, I am an amateur biker, well, a good amateur, your guides have helped me even after I have been riding since 2003. I needed the information for my self edification. I ride a Felt bike purchased in 2006, take good care of it and always dreamed of a “new” improved bike, but mine has lasted with good care, and again wanted to thank you for your guides….

    Marty Perez on

  • I’m just starting to get into riding I’ve been using are bike share bikes here in DC and I can’t wait till I can afford a nice preowned bike like these to go cruise down the path/trails here with. I really enjoyed learning about all the different styles that go into riding thank you.

    Bobby Prestrude on

  • Very helpful and informative article – especially for someone like me who is just starting out.

    Renado on

  • It would be really nice if “The Pros Closet” added a filter for people like me that fit a 51/52 or what is called above Small/M .

    Grant on

  • Thanks for the great guide just what the doctor ordered. Since I’m in the market for a used bike and couldn’t make sense of all the jargon. Thanks

    Kevin L Jordan on

  • Easy-to-follow, informative, and well-written. Makes me want to go ride a bike or two! Thank you for the great guide!

    Hanna on

  • Amazing and comprehensive summary. It’s a perfect beginner guide, I feel much more oriented now. Thank you!

    Eliza on

  • Thank you! This webpage is very helpful. I have do ride, but I don’t really know what I’m doing, so this gave me a great jumping off point. Everything is very clear and succinct!

    Kim on


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