I first moved to Toronto with a carbon fibre mountain bike in tow. I’d had the bike for years and it meant a lot to me (and well, it still does). I took my old faithful through the Don trails almost daily and discovered that riding around again was a blast.
But something was missing. I kept the bicycle in my room for fear of theft. I didn’t even buy a lock for it because I could never stand to leave the guy alone and rubbing up against some abrasive ring and post.
So, this was my problem. All this time on my hands to bike around, and well, I couldn’t even think of leaving my trusty steed alone for ten minutes.
I needed another bike, but without much income I had to get something cheap. I needed my first beater bike.
Craigslist is an online classifieds site that you’ve probably heard about. Job hunters, apartment renters, furniture buyers and those with a taste for more illicit “items” turn to Craigslist every day. And so my search began here.
First, I set my budget. $150 max.
Second, I decided on what I wanted. I already had a mountain bike, so anything with chubby tires was out. I’d never owned a road bike or “10 Speed” but I knew I wanted skinny tires, drop bars and a large frame.
A word of warning; searching through Craigslist ads can be an exercise in frustration.
“You want how much for that??” “C’mon, I could get that at Canadian Tire for half that price.”
Expect to skip over a lot of ads. But, searching is made easier using the built in search engine on the site. I find that simply scrolling through the ads after hitting “show images” is easy enough.
I found a few bicycles, with images that seemed like a fit. Many advertisers will list their phone number but most will allow you to contact them using an anonymous e-mail address.
My first contacts involve a short list of questions. Ask for further information if the seller hasn’t listed all of the measurements or components. As about any problems. And ask about when the best time to arrange to view bike will be, stating your own availability. This simply speeds up the process.
I immediately ruled out a few of the bikes I’d selected due to broken components, rust spots and general lack of further interest.
I arranged to meet one seller on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Personally, I prefer to meet in a public place where I can test out what I’m buying. Sellers know that you’re showing up with cash in hand, so to avoid becoming a victim of fraud or theft try to keep things in the open.
Partially ignoring my own advice I met this seller at his home. His daughter was playing in the back yard and he was fixing a few other bicycles on the lawn. We spoke briefly about the weather and he let me take the bike for a quick spin.
Having never bought a used bicycle before I missed a few things that could have made me walk away. I discovered this as the bike fell apart over the next few months as bolts rusted away or bent beyond repair. But, on a sunny afternoon with the wind in my hair, who could say no?
I regret not trying to haggle on the price. In fact, I’m pretty sure the seller was a little shocked when I said, “$150? Ok, I’ll take it.”
Of course, any how-to article is incomplete without an itemized list of tips, so here’s how to go about buying your own beater bike (or better bike) on Craigslist:
1) Don’t always trust what the seller claims: Is that bike really being sold for $1,000 a bike shops and he’s willing to part with it for just $120? I doubt it. Many sellers list the specs and brands of bikes so a quick Google search will save you the headache of showing up to view a marked down piece of junk.
2) Ask questions: Why are you getting rid of the bike? How long have you owned the bike? Have you had any problems with the bicycle? The more, the better. An honest seller will address your concerns and give you guidance. Someone who ignores your questions or refuses to answer doesn’t deserve your money, just walk away.
3) Be aware that scammers and thieves use Craigslist too: Never agree to meeting if you feel even the slightest bit suspicious. Set the terms yourself and inform someone you know where you are going. You don’t hear of many horror stories concerning bicycle buying, but better safe than sorry.
4) Be prepared to barter: Many sellers simply want to unload a bike that is taking up space and collecting dust. Be fair, be honest and simply ask for a price you feel comfortable paying.
5) Test your new ride: Take a quick spin, adjust the gears, squeeze the brakes hard and then inspect all of the parts. If you know what you’re doing and can fix parts, you’ll know what to look for. If not, check the areas where cables connect and look for fraying, spin the wheels to see if they are true and twist the front bars to see if they are tight. Bicycle repairs are needed whether you pay $100 or $10,000 for a bike, but looking for problems before they appear could save you money down the line and keep you safely riding for longer.
Have you bought a bicycle on Craigslist? Share your stories in the comments below.