Buying a Used Bike from Craigslist

Buying a Bike on Craigslist

You’ve got a limited budget, but know that there are people out there who would like to sell their bike for less than it might cost to buy a new one. How do you make sure you are getting the right bike, at the right price, for the right conditions?

Look for This, Not That

When a seller just puts up one long shot photo of a bike in their ad, it’s tempting to think that the seller knows what they are doing – especially if you’re a novice at deciphering bike components, bike sizing, and are eager to get on a bike.

Remember: If the price is great, and it is in working condition, AND it fits, then it’s a great price! If the price is great, it is in working condition, and it does NOT fit, there is no money that will MAKE it fit for you – and therefore is NOT the bike for you.

Let’s take a look at a couple of randomly-selected ads, and how to look for something in your price range that’s still going to suit your needs.

Filters

Filters can really help weed out the dreck.

First off, make sure you are using filters to do your search. If a seller doesn’t have a picture included, that should be an automatic disqualifier. You can search by owner or by dealer (or both) – dealer prices can be higher than expected, though if a bike is being sold by a bike shop they should be making sure the bike functions and is in good order before selling it. Private party owners may think their bike is worth more than it is (“but I bought it for $1000 five years ago, I’m going to sell it for $700 – even though I put several thousand miles on it and never maintained it!”), so caveat emptor.

A Good Ad, But Missing a Few Details

This ad definitely gives you some good information on the bike for sale.

This ad – randomly found on a Craigslist search today – presents some decent pictures (some are blurry), good description, and willingness to meet anywhere in the metro Nashville area. If the seller is willing to meet you at a bike shop, you can have a bike technician do a quick once-over on the bike to make sure the brakes, shifters, and cables function as well as going over the frame to ensure no cracks are present.

What is this ad missing? Well, the year purchased, for one; maintenance records on the bike; how many miles (approximate) are on it (note the cycle computer on the handlebars in the long shot photos); how many owners the bike has had.

These questions can of course be cleared up by communicating with the seller, but wouldn’t it be lovely to have this information up front?

Not the Best Ad

This ad will result in more time trying to communicate with the seller.

This ad doesn’t tell me anything about the bike – size, shifters, condition of wheels or drivetrain; in fact, you can get this model bike brand new out of the box for about $80 (and you’d still need to take it to a bike shop to make sure it’s in proper working condition). It’s a department store bike – and very attractively priced at $25 – if you were looking for a tooling-around bike without much expectation, this might work, but you’re still going to need to figure out the size and other conditions. That takes time – do you have time to communicate with a seller who isn’t well versed?

What You Need to Know

You should absolutely know – or be able to see – the following:

  • Size of the bike (you can then do research on the frame geometry and standover height to get an idea if the bike will work for you)
  • Type of shifter
  • Type of brake
  • Year purchased
  • Approximate number of miles ridden – or, barring that, how frequently used
  • Last known tune-up

There are certainly some diamonds in the rough on Craigslist, and as long as expectations are managed on both sides, you can happily purchase a used bike from a private party on Craigslist. By all means, make sure to add the cost (or time, if you can do some basic maintenance yourself!) of a tune-up into the purchase price of the bike – you will want to make sure your new ride is taken care of before you go toodling off on the streets and greenways of Nashville.

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