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Buying and Selling Used Bicycles and Bicycle Equipment

@sheldonbrowncom
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by Sheldon "For Sale" Brown
revised and expanded by John "or to give away" Allen
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Want to unload an old bike you aren't using anymore? Looking for a bargain, or a bicycle or part that isn't made any more?

Thanks to the Internet, you can connect with potential purchasers all over the world! If you make effective use of the Internet you can find a buyer for almost anything -- or find almost anything. Local e-mail lists, bike clubs. swap meets and charities offer other possibilities.

Note: I am not professionally involved in buying and selling used bikes, though I do a bit on the side. Please do not email or phone me to ask how much your old bike is worth!

Where to Advertise, Where to Look

Local sales channels can still make sense, but the Internet has transformed the market for used items. It is now possible to advertise an item for sale as widely as you like, even worldwide, at a very low cost. If you are selling, you no longer have to wonder whether some hardcore aficionado might have paid a higher price. If you are buying, you can search worldwide. There are several major approaches, depending on what you would like to buy or sell:

On the Internet

eBay: auction site with worldwide reach. Bicycles are expensive to ship, typically $150 to $200 just for packaging at a bicycle shop, UPS or other shipper's store, but if a bicycle's value is high, eBay is a good way to sell. A local buyer may also pick up the bicycle in person and avoid the shipping fee. Easily-shipped items such as classic cranksets and saddles can be of less value and still justify shipping costs. You can set a reserve price below which you will not sell the item, and you only lose the few dollars of eBay's fee if the item does not sell.

For buyers, eBay offers excellent search tools. You set the maximum price you are willing to pay for an item, and if you win, you only have to pay slightly more than the next highest bidder. Uncertainty, though, is a headache: prices of desirable items escalate in the last minutes of an auction, there is only a time limit, not a live auctioneer to call for a final bid, and you don't know whether you have won until after the time has run out.

eBay has buyers and sellers rate one another, and payments are made through eBay, so the likelihood of fraud is low.

Craigslist (in the USA) -- perhaps other, similar sites in other countries. Craigslist is a free want ad/for sale site, organized by categories and by locality, and makes good sense when selling lower-value items for which there is a broader local or regional market. Be sure to observe the cautions which Craigslist recommends, as there is no intermediary for transfer of money, or rating of members as on eBay. See Craiglist's warnings about scams.

Going Going Bike -- Auction site for used bicycles in the UK

bikeforums.net -- a large online forum with a for-sale section. You have to pay a small fee to post in the for- sale section. Paying the fee starts an automatic, recurring payment, which you must stop or it keeps being charged until your credit card expires. bikeforums.net reaches a large number of bicyclists.

Old-Roads/Menotomy -- This Web site has a number of specialized forums dealing with different sorts of older bikes.

rec.bicycles.marketplace. This Usenet Newsgroup is widely read, though it is a spam magnet too. (The link to the left may not work, depending on the setup used by your service provider.) If you're not familiar with Usenet, click here.

Off the Internet..

Swap meets are held from time to time, here and there, sometimes in connection with bicycle riding events. You can learn of swap meets from other bicyclists, through bicyclists' organizations, or with an Internet search. The neat thing about a swap meet is the ability to browse through a substantial number of items and actually see them, feel them, even ride a bicycle you might buy, hang out with other like-minded people and talk bicycle. [John Allen adds: May I tell you about the inch-pitch chain I bought for $15 at the Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, USA velodrome swap meet when they were going for $100 on eBay? Of course, I had to travel to Trexlertown to find the item and make the deal...]

Bicyclists' e-mail lists -- bicycle clubs locally, and people with specialties such as tandeming or antique bicycles have e-mail lists where it is possible to want ads and for-sale ads. A Web search on a bicycling specialty or for regional bicycle clubs will find these.

Bicycle donation and earn-a-bike charities -- these charitable organizations collect bicycles and parts for young folks to assemble, so they learn mechanical skills and have their own bicycles to ride. These organizations may ship other bicycle overseas to third-world countries where they are used in similar teaching programs and for daily transportation. Yet other bicycles are sold locally to support the organization. Donated items may be written off as a tax deduction. Bikes Not Bombs, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is such an organization.

Freecycle e-mail lists -- The sturdy old three-speed which a clueless person left in the trash isn't going to bring in money, but someone might be happy to fix it up to ride around town. You can give away things on Craigslist, but in addition, many communities have Freecycle groups. Example, with links to other Freecycle sites: Newton Freecycle, in Newton, Massachusetts, USA.

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How Much to Ask

This is a tough one. Looking up prices of similar used bikes on the Internet may give you a general idea of value, but don't get your hopes up too high.

What is a choice collectible to one person may be just some old bike to somebody else, so actual selling prices can vary over a tremendous range.

Nice old bikes can sometimes be picked up very cheaply at yard sales, or can sell for very high prices between collectors. This makes it very hard to set a value.

Bikes at yard sales and the like may go for a tenth or less of what some serious collector might be willing to pay, just because the seller wants to clean out the garage.

A used bike is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it. If there's one person in the world who just has to have what you're selling, and is willing to pay a high price for it, you can do well. On the other hand, if that person just bought one from somebody else, doesn't need two of them, and nobody else wants one, an item that recently sold for a very high price may prove impossible to sell even at a fraction of what the first one brought.

Do NOT advertise a bike without a price. Nobody wants to be bothered making an offer if they have no idea how much you want for the bike. (Obviously this doesn't apply to auction sites.)

If you knew what it was, there would be a "perfect" price that you could ask. With the "perfect" price, the bike would sell promptly, and you'd get top dollar for it.

Unfortunately, there's no way to know what that "perfect" price is, so you will either be too high or too low. My advice is to start out high, and be prepared to come down. If you are too high, it won't sell right away, and then you can always lower the price. If you start out too low, some bargain hunter will snap it up and you'll wind up kicking yourself.

Everybody knows that prices on used merchandise are negotiable. Don't undercut yourself by using phrases like "...or best offer."

Please do not email or phone me to ask how much your old bike is worth!

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Writing Your Advertisement

If you want to get what your bike is worth, you need to give a good description, preferably accompanied by good photographs.

Honesty

It is important that you list any flaws, dents, nicks, scratches, worn-out parts as well as mentioning the positive features. If you don't, you may get stuck having to take the bike back and pay for shipment both ways! Honesty is the only policy! Wishful thinking doesn't work.

Avoid commonly misused terms like "Mint" "NOS" & "Perfect" unless they actually apply.

Size

By far the most important information to supply is the size of the bicycle. If you don't know the size, don't waste your time advertising it, because the size is the most important thing to know about a bike. The only way you'll sell a bike where the size is not specified is if the price is ridiculously low.

When we speak about the size of an adult bike, we're generally speaking about the length of the seat tube. This is measured from the center of the bottom bracket (pedal crank bearing) to somewhere at the upper end of the seat tube. Exactly where to take the measurement at the top is a bit confusing, because different manufacturers do it differently.

If the bicycle has a slanted top tube or step-through frame, also see the page about frame sizing on this site, because you may need to measure differently.

seatbottom seattop-inches seattube-mm
Measure from the center of the bottom bracket to the upper top of the seat tube, in inches or centimeters
(Click on thumbnail images to see larger images)

In addition to the seat tube size, many potential buyers will want to know the top tube length. Top tube length is measured from the centerline of the seat tube to the centerline of the head tube.

It is important to measure the top tube along with a ruler held level, even if the actual top tube runs at a slant.

top tube top tube

These measurements may be in either inches or centimeters. Better yet, use both systems.

Believe it or not, even on the Internet, there are some people out there who are so poorly educated that they can't handle such simple arithmetic as converting between these units!

[It could be you and I'm not going to be so condescending! Your ruler may measure in only one of the systems. You may not remember offhand that an inch is 2.54 centimeters. The computer or smartphone on which you are reading this page has a calculator applet. You also could multiply using a pencil and paper if the suits you. So there! John Allen]

The above applies to adult bikes. Bikes intended for children are generally referred to by the wheel size: 12 inch, 16 inch, 20 inch, etc.

Detail

You should give as much detail as possible, including brands and models of such parts as hubs, wheel rims, crank sets, derailers, pedals, handlebar and stem, saddle.

Always mention the wheel/tire size in your ad. This will be molded into the sidewalls of the tires. preferably, use the ETRTO size marking, which is in a two-number format like 37-722. This is the only format that is consistent for tires from all countries.

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Photographs

Photographs are a big help in selling a used bike, but many sellers don't do a good job. You don't need fancy photos, but try to make sure that at least they are sharp and not too dark. The examples shown here were done in a crowded basement with the built-in flash. I got in nice and close so that the parts were much closer to the flash than the background was. This makes for a dark, non-distracting background.

You should have one photo of pretty much the whole bike as an overview, taken from the right side, completely perpendicular. Get in fairly close...it's OK to cut off the front of the front tire and the back of the back tire, those are not informative, and coming in closer will give you more detail on the parts of the bike that matter. Try to find a background that is not too "busy" so as not to be too confusing.

You only need ONE shot of the whole bike, but you should also include close-ups of key features of the bike's construction, as with these:

dropout seatcluster headlug headlugs

If you have basic skills in HTML, and have some Web space available to use, you can make a page on your own site with lots of photos and text, then place a link to that page in your ad. Here is an example of one I did for an old French touring bike I recently sold:

http://sheldonbrown.org/rochet

I sold this on eBay, and simply pasted a modified version of that page's HTML into the eBay form, so I wasn't dependent on any limitations for how many photos I could put up.

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