This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine. Read Part 1 here.
Part 2 of our annual Cyclists Travel Guide dives into specific tips and tricks for how you can buy or sell your next bike on the secondhand market, whether you’re scouring local classifieds or casting a net around the world.
When shopping for a used bike, most consumers will go to one of the online classified resources listed below, but there are brick-and-mortar options. Ask around your local bike shops to see whether they do consignments, check out any used sporting goods stores, and consider peeking in the windows of a pawn shop. Heck, you might even find something at an estate sale or a garage sale. (One of the best bike purchases I’ve made over the years was a sweet Cannondale I found in my church’s classifieds pamphlet.) I’ve seen some gems in some weird places, so if you’re desperately seeking a bike and finding none, don’t be afraid to get creative.
If you’re wondering where your local newspaper’s classifieds section disappeared to, this is it. Craigslist is your best bet for buying local and in-person. Craigslist’s mobile app makes it easy to search a bigger radius and other markets, while websites like searchcraigslist.org can search nationwide listings. craigslist.com
If Craigslist has any global competition, it’s gotta be Facebook Marketplace. And sellers are at least linked to their profiles so it’s less anonymous than Craigslist. facebook.com/marketplace
It’s the internet’s largest mountain bike marketplace, but there are a few gems to be found in the touring, gravel, road, and fat bike sections. pinkbike.com/buysell
More Lexus Certified Pre-Owned than Bob’s Used Cars and Chicken Feed, The Pro’s Closet specializes in high-quality used bikes more than $1,500. theproscloset.com
If you live in or around Utah and you’ve asked yourself why the Craigslist market seems so thin, it’s because of KSL. classifieds.ksl.com
When it comes to buying in person, especially if we’re talking about no more than a few hundred dollars, cash is king. Naturally, COVID has changed things — nobody wants the germs from bills that have been passed through who knows how many hands. And, of course, meeting a stranger from Craigslist with $2,000 cash in your pocket isn’t the greatest idea. Lucky for us there are plenty of safe, reliable options to pay for your new-to-you bike, whether you’re meeting the seller online or in a dark alley (don’t meet in a dark alley!).
PayPal is as easy as exchanging email addresses with the other party, but there’s one important thing to note: whether you’re the buyer or seller, make sure the exchange is covered under PayPal’s Purchase Protection, otherwise you could be out of luck in the case of a dispute. With Purchase Protection, PayPal will refund your money if the bike you paid for never arrives or if it arrives in significantly different condition than was described. It’s good peace of mind when sending a complete stranger money over the internet.
There are two options when sending or requesting payment: Friends and Family or Goods and Services. The latter is automatically covered (with a fee the seller incurs), and the former has optional coverage. If you’re the seller, you can actually send the buyer an invoice on PayPal, which adds an additional safeguard. Moreover, when selling an item online that needs to be shipped, PayPal will actually hold the payment until the buyer confirms that the item has arrived.
Venmo is a smartphone app (owned by PayPal) aimed at millennials for the purpose of splitting restaurant checks and utility bills and such, and anecdotally at least, I’ve seen a huge rise in Venmo’s popularity for Craigslist payments. However — and this is a big however — Venmo explicitly states that it is not to be used for goods and services transactions with strangers. If you do use Venmo to buy a used bike from a stranger, you will not be covered by their purchase protection.
There are oodles of similar peer-to-peer money transfer apps nowadays, and the common denominator is this: no protection, at least not the kind you get with PayPal. Think about peer-to-peer transactions as just like handing over cash — if you’re not satisfied with the item you bought, you’re out of luck. If you’re buying in person, Venmo should be fine, but beware using it to pay someone online.
If you have an iPhone, you can set up your Apple Wallet and use Apple Pay to give or receive money. It’s built right into the Messages app, so it’s no more difficult than typing a text message. Unfortunately, for peer-to-peer transactions (as opposed to buying something from an approved merchant) Apple Pay only works with other iPhones. Moreover, just like Venmo and Zelle, there’s no purchase protection, so you’re on your own if you have a dispute with the buyer or seller.
Don’t have an iPhone? The Google Pay app is similar to Apple Pay and should work with any smartphone, Android or otherwise. Does it offer purchase protection? Good question. There are options to dispute or cancel a payment, but it’s unclear whether or not peer-to-peer transactions are covered in any way.
Despite the fact that I haven’t written one in (checks watch) several years, it is my understanding that the personal check is still a perfectly legitimate way to pay for goods and services. Most people selling stuff on Craigslist (including me) would probably laugh at you if you tried to pay with a check, but it’s an option to consider for big-ticket items like bikes.
A few years ago, I sold my nice carbon mountain bike to a guy who insisted on paying with a check. At first I demurred, but I verified the name and address on the check with his driver’s license, and I also had his phone number and place of business, so in a small town like Missoula, I felt like I could track him down if the check bounced. Would I take a check in a big city like Salt Lake or New York? If you think I would, I’ve got a bridge to sell you (cash only).
Like Venmo, Zelle is mainly for exchanging money with friends and family members and does not offer purchase protection for peer-to-peer transactions.
Most major banks now have smartphone apps, and chances are your bank’s smartphone app also has a digital money transfer option. (Many banks use Zelle for this purpose.) Contact your bank for information on how the money transfer works and what kind of payment protections exist.
A good alternative to the personal check is the money order, which, because it’s prepaid, can’t bounce. You can purchase a money order from a post office or from many grocery stores and convenience stores. In the U.S., money orders are capped at $1,000. If the bike you want is more than that, look at getting a certified check from your bank.
(Editor’s note: This section wasn’t included in the March print edition because, well, we forgot it.) So you’re finally ready to sell your bike. You’ve polished it to a shine, taken high-quality photos from many angles, and listed all the components in detail. Now the big question: how much do you sell it for?
Pricing a used bike is a bit of a dark art. There is no single authoritative source, so you’ll have to do some research mixed with a healthy dose of guesswork and a sprinkle of hope. But when it comes down to it, there are only two maxims in the world of used bikes: one, whatever you think your bike is worth, it’s worth less. Two, whatever someone will pay is what your bike is really worth.
To price your bike, start with the general principle that, if your bike is a couple of years old, it’s probably worth somewhere between one-half and two-thirds its original cost. There are, of course, moderating factors like rarity, condition, size, and the status of the market. If your bike is in great condition but is either a very small size or very large, that effectively limits your pool of potential buyers and thus lowers the price. If your bike is in poor condition but it’s very rare and in high demand, you could justify a bigger number. And if, say, the world were gripped in a global pandemic and bike shops everywhere were sold out of everything with two or three wheels — well, then you can probably name your price. You get the idea.
Next, go online. Check out your bike’s worth on bicyclebluebook.com, but take the results with a grain of salt. It’s only one factor among many. Get on your favorite search engine and look for bikes like yours in similar condition and see what they’re listing and selling for. Look at eBay, Craigslist (in multiple locations), Pinkbike Buy/Sell, newspaper classifieds, wherever you can find used bikes for sale. (checkaflip.com is a cool resource that will give you an approximate value for your bike based on eBay listings.) The more data you can compile, the better.
Next, consider the market you’re selling in. Are you listing your bike on eBay where anyone in the world could buy it? Are you posting it on Pinkbike Buy/Sell and limiting it to North America or the U.S.? Or are you sticking to a local market on Craigslist or in your newspaper? If you’re selling your bike in a market flush with them (Seattle or Boulder, for example), you should expect a lower listing price. If, however, you’re posting your bike in a place with high demand and low supply, go ahead and raise your price.
The next thing to consider is how quickly you want to off-load your rig. If you need the cash to cover a new bike or to pay the bills, then price that baby to sell. But if you can afford to be patient, feel free to list it with a higher asking price. I have happily waited for months without lowering the price simply because I didn’t really need the money that badly and I knew the right buyer would eventually appear. Patience is a virtue, but so is a quick sale.
Before you fork over your hard-earned money for a used bike, give the frame and fork a good look, inspecting for damage that could potentially lead to a failure down the line. Even if you plan on taking the bike to a respected mechanic before you buy it, we can give you an idea of what to look out for. And depending on what the bike is made of, you should look for different things.
Of all the materials discussed here, the plastic fantastic is probably the one to be most concerned about. Carbon has been vilified over the years because of its supposed tendency to suddenly snap in half, causing a calamitous crash without warning. While carbon’s reputation for spontaneous combustion has been mostly blown out of proportion, it certainly isn’t a “forever” frame material like steel or titanium. Would I buy a used 1996 carbon road bike? Maybe, but just to put on the wall. If you insist on buying an older carbon bike, and you’ve determined that the frame is up to snuff, consider replacing the fork. Most carbon failures over the years have been fork failures, and those are the ones that hurt the most. A new, modern carbon fork will last for years and give you peace of mind.
Unlike most other frame materials, carbon is a textile, not a metal. It cannot corrode or rust. But unpainted carbon can break down if exposed to UV rays over a long period of time (this is one reason to avoid older carbon frames).
As with any other bike, you’ll want to check the carbon frame for cracks and soft spots. If the carbon deflects under the pressure of your thumb, you’ve found a serious weakness. Carbon’s strength is load-dependent — a carbon frame can handle years of cycling-related abuse, but if your plastic rig tips over onto a sharp rock, well, now your nice bike has a new speed hole. So look the frame over carefully, but know that minor damage shouldn’t necessarily cause you to walk away. Like steel and titanium, carbon fiber is repairable. Specialist outfits like Ruckus Composites and Calfee Design repair carbon bikes all the time.
Still nervous about buying a used carbon bike? I don’t blame you. Unlike with metal bikes, weaknesses in carbon can be invisible. If you’ve found your dream machine but you’re concerned about its structural integrity, carbon specialists like Ruckus can inspect the frame using ultrasound.
It just so happens that I bought a used carbon frame last summer. It’s a bike I’d been lusting after for a while, but because it’s carbon — and because I work for a nonprofit — I couldn’t afford to buy it new. So after years of watching Pinkbike’s Buy/Sell listings, a used frameset in my size finally showed up, and priced to sell. Why was it priced to sell? Because it looked like it had been gnawed on by a large-toothed predator. It had paint chips and scuffs galore, some of them pretty big. But the seller provided detailed photos and assured me that the damage was purely cosmetic, that the chips were only in the paint and not in the carbon itself. (It helped that the carbon fork was unused and in its original packaging; he’d only used a suspension fork on the bike.) Eventually my reluctance gave way to my FOMO, so I bought it. Has it exploded? Not yet. And it was worth every penny.
For steel frames, the first thing that likely comes to mind is rust, but a little oxidation shouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker. Unless the bike you’re looking at has been left out in the elements for years, has lived in humid areas near an ocean, or has clearly been neglected to the point of malfeasance, what you’re probably seeing is surface rust, which takes a long time to develop into something that could cause structural damage to the frame. A little patina — or, as the kidz these days call it, “beausage” — could even be a good thing, giving you cause to ask for a lower price. But if you can’t abide oxide at all, you can sand it off and spray some Rust-Oleum on it, or you could pay a professional to strip, clean, and completely repaint the frame. Pro tip: When buying a used steel bike, always remove the components and spray the inside of the frame and fork with Frame Saver. (Or, better yet, pay a shop to do it. That stuff stinks to high heaven.)
What should give you pause are cracks in the frame, especially on or near welds. Pay particular attention to the bottom bracket area and the head tube, two parts of the frame that see especially high loads. Any weaknesses in those areas could lead to a dangerous failure. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — take a close look at the fork. Any kind of damage to the fork should be a red flag. That said, one of the beautiful things about steel is that, for the most part, it can be repaired. Maybe it’s not worth paying the money to fix up a bike that cost $900 retail, but if you find the dream bike you’ve been lusting after for 30 years and it has a cracked weld, it might be worth having a professional framebuilder take a look at it.
Next up is dents. Like surface rust, dents are mostly a cosmetic issue. Unless they’re particularly deep, and as long as the tube is otherwise straight, dents are unlikely to cause a problem. (I have yet to see this in action, but it’s my understanding that dents can be pushed out in steel tubes, though I have no idea how. I believe sand is involved.)
Unlike steel, aluminum can’t rust, so you don’t have to worry about that, right? Well, rust is iron oxide, so you won’t find it on an aluminum bike, but aluminum can corrode. Aluminum oxide is what happens when bare aluminum is exposed to oxygen, and it forms a dull, white-ish layer on the surface. But that’s it — oxidized aluminum doesn’t flake away like rust, so it doesn’t weaken the material. But galvanic corrosion — when two dissimilar metals come into contact in the presence of an electrolyte — could lead to serious corrosion of the frame. An example of galvanic corrosion is using non-stainless steel bolts on an aluminum frame and dunking it in saltwater. (For funsies, ask Lead Designer Ally Mabry what happens when your aluminum bike goes for a swim in the ocean. Designer’s note: I solemnly swear to never sell that bike.)
As with steel, cracks found anywhere on an aluminum frame should be a serious concern, especially because aluminum tubes are generally much thinner than steel tubes. But unlike steel, you can’t bring your aluminum bike to a framebuilder for repairs.
Again, dents are mostly a cosmetic issue, as long as they’re small and shallow. And don’t count on pushing a dent out on an aluminum bike.
Like aluminum, titanium bikes can’t rust, and Ti is particularly resistant to corrosion. In fact, the reason so many titanium bikes are left unpainted is because they essentially protect themselves: bare titanium forms a protective film when exposed to oxygen called titanium oxide. So unless you plan on dunking your (very expensive) titanium bicycle in a vat of saltwater and heating it up to 230°F, I wouldn’t worry about corrosion.
Like steel, cracked welds are a definite concern, and also like steel, titanium is highly repairable. That said, if you find a damaged Ti bike for a song, expect to pay handsomely to have it fixed. The reason titanium bikes are so expensive to start is because the material is very difficult to work with.
Like steel and aluminum, if your titanium bike has a small, shallow dent, I would just leave it alone. It’s possible it could be fixed, but titanium is far less ductile than steel, so it wouldn’t be easy. It would probably be easier for an experienced framebuilder to cut out that tube and weld in a new one.
Pro tip: If you’re looking at a used Ti bike, carefully check any aluminum components, especially the seatpost. Loosen the clamp and make sure the seatpost isn’t chemically welded to the inside of the frame. It happens.
I haven’t checked on this, but I’m pretty sure if you damage your bamboo bike, you just feed it to a panda and grow a new one.