The Time I was a Shady Bike Seller on Craigslist Toronto

I found myself with a glut of bikes in the summer of 2008.

My mother had picked up cycling a few years before. Each year she’d upgrade to a newer model, and leave a perfectly fine bicycle locked in her garage. She lives beyond Hamilton in a town with very little interest in used bikes. So, I offered to help her sell them in Toronto. I wasn’t seeing too many repeat listings on Craigslist, cycling was hot in the summer of 2008, so I figured this would be easy.

The first bike I listed for a fair price in comparison to what was being posted. It was a couple years older, a Giant hybrid in perfect working condition. Right away I received about a dozen e-mails. If I couldn’t understand what the person was saying I didn’t reply. Not to be a snob, but if you can’t type a simple sentence, I’m afraid we’ll have a hard time doing business. Really, it’s me, not you.

Then I received a few replies that resembled this:

“Got in garage the basket of my bicycle flavour forever to trees”

Really? I don’t know what kind of spambots are trolling Craigslist, but they sent me some of the most bizarre haiku poetry I’ve ever read.

Well, I exchanged a few e-mails with potential buyers and arranged for them to come see the bike. I had a great spot picked out, in front of a bank on a busy corner. Don’t have the cash? Pow, there’s a Green Machine! Wanna jack me for my bike? Look at all the witnesses!

There was a chill in the air that day. In fact, it was downright arctic outside. I had on a black windbreaker with the hood up and pulled a black toque on underneath. For some reason I also felt that black jeans and black converse runners were also necessary.

Looking downright shady, I stood by the corner looking for someone who I would hope would recognize the bike from the photos I’d sent. A few minutes after our scheduled meeting time I started to think I’d blown it. Why all black? Geez, I should have put on sunglasses and carried a big chain to complete the look.

Well, a few minutes later the cyclist who would end up purchasing my bike showed up. Everything went exceptionally easy. She took a quick test ride. I told her about my mother’s bike adventures (as this was obviously not my bicycle) and I heard about how her bicycle had been whisked away in the night by some heathen.

By the end of the summer I had sold two more bikes this way and was on the look out for friends and family looking to get rid of their old bikes. What a thrill this was. The buyers approached me with hesitation and yet I was always almost sick with worry that this would be the time I would be robbed at knife point.

So, got an old bike you want to get rid of? Make like thousands of Torontonians and sell it online. Here’s a few pointers to help you get started:

1) Be detailed and honest in your listing: List the size, make and model of the bike you are selling. Be honest about problems and as an added way to attract attention, state who you believe this bike would be good for, such as, “Perfect for a casual cyclist, under 5’8″ who doesn’t know anything about bike maintenance.”
2) Use a new or “junk” e-mail address: It was only my first listing that received a few spam replies. But, better safe to use a new, free address than risk your busy, personal inbox filling up with useless messages.
3) Meet in an open, public space: Buying or selling, meet near a busy road and near a bank machine, too.
4) Be willing to negotiate: I priced the bicycles I sold near what I was hoping to get for them. If someone wanted to negotiate, I was ready. You can always say, “No” and walk away from a transaction.
Sold a bicycle on Craigslist or any other online classifieds site? Share your stories in the Biking Toronto Forum.

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