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.
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 – randomly found on a Craigslist search today (May 22, 2017) – 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 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.
UPDATE: AUGUST 2020
Because of the overwhelming demand for bicycles and bicycle parts, a lot of people are bringing their older model bicycles out from garages and sheds all over the country and putting them up for sale, often at inflated prices. Although it can be easy enough to make minor repairs on a bicycle, there are several things to consider here:
- Supply chain weaknesses: Right now, the demand for 26″ tires, tubes, and wheels has exhausted much of the supply – and other wheel sizes aren’t far behind in depletion. 7 speed freewheels and cassettes (the gears on the rear wheel) are also harder to come by.
- Estimates range from mid September to late October before manufacturers are able to produce enough inventory to get out to stores, distribution points, etc.
- Bike shops are magical places but mechanics aren’t magicians – if you need repair work done on your bike, it may take some time before supplies are back in stock; in the meantime, more expensive components may be available. Cut them some slack.
UPDATE: MAY 2022
Supply chain issues have smoothed out somewhat but certain parts are still difficult to find. If you’re buying a bike that needs work, make sure the parts are available BEFORE you commit to the purchase!