20 Tips for Navigating Craigslist > Bicycles.
Most online guides on the subject of used bikes revolve around questions concerning style and frame material. Cruiser, mountain, mixte, road, or hybrid? Aluminum, steel, titanium, or carbon fiber?
I take the resolution of these kinds of questions as a starting point. I trust the reader has done his or her research thoroughly, and has come to the inevitable conclusion: A lightweight, lugged-steel, American or Japanese-made diamond-style road bicycle made during the “Bicycle Boom” — the period between the mid 70’s and the late 80’s — offers the most bang-for-your-buck. These frames are well made, durable, and the components are fairly standardized and therefore easily upgradeable.
CAVEAT : Author rides, obsessively collects, re-builds and sells lightweight steel bicycles manufactured during the “Bicycle Boom”. In the face of this possible conflict of interest, I hope the reader trusts that I have done my own research thoroughly.
So. You know what you’re looking for. It’s time to hit up your local Craigslist > Bicycles.
1. Look for pictures. An ad that promises pictures “later” or on-demand is mad suspicious.
2. Big, bright, high resolution pictures are nice and inspire confidence. Grainy cell-phone ones don’t.
3. Price point. In the Chicago market, plan on spending between $280 and $500 to get a bicycle that will serve you well. If rust is significant, pay no more than $60. You’ll spend the balance replacing components.
4. Not all steel bicycles are built alike. If the bike is a single-speed, or you plan on doing your own conversion, straight-gauge hi-ten steels are fine. If you plan to ride the bike as a 10- or 12-speed, “chromoly”, “lightweight”, “4130”, “Va-lite” “double-butted” are keywords to look for. These words signify, higher-quality steel alloys, and will reduce the weight of a multi-speed bicycle to an acceptable sub – 30 lbs.
5. A single-speed is great for city riding, and conversions are excellent recycling projects. A single-speed conversion simplifies the bike mechanically, and makes it lighter. Keep it mind that if done right, a conversion will cost upwards of $250. It should include a new wheelset and drivetrain.
6. If the above keywords aren’t mentioned in the ad, email the seller and ask for pictures of any decals on the frame.
7. Request a test ride. If the seller balks, keep looking. During the test-ride, check that the chain runs smoothly, the shifters shift cleanly and that there is a reasonable cause-and-effect relationship between the application of the brake levers and the termination of forward motion.
8. Brakes. In general, “more is better” applies. For fixed gear bikes, a hand brake may be required by law. If you are running a single brake, front is preferable to rear.
9. Crappy bar tape isn’t a deal-breaker. Squint your eyes and imagine how the bike would look with new tape. If what you’re seeing is amazing, go ahead and buy the bike. New bar tape can be had for $10.
10. Bullhorns and riser bars are comfortable. Drop bars look cool but may grow tiresome for those of us with shorter arms. “Chopping and flopping” drops to bullhorns involves about 30 minutes of bike shop or DIY labor, and will most likely require new brake levers, bar tape and cable/housing.
11. During your test-ride, keep a weather eye out for any damage to the frame. Misalignment is common in two places– the rear triangle (chain and seat stays) and in the head-tube. A sign that a bicycle has been in a head-on collision is cracked paint an inch behind the the head-tube lugs. If you see the tell-tale paint line on the top-tube, get a bike mechanic to evaluate the frame for you.
12. Don’t be afraid to low-ball. If the seller has confidence in what he’s selling, he’ll laugh and say no. Please do low-ball via email first, not in-person after the test-ride. Make a reasonable offer after a test-ride that takes into account any defects undisclosed in the ad, like “How about taking 30 bucks off since the bike obviously needs new tires?”
13. Don’t be afraid to say “Thanks but no thanks.”
14. Avoid sellers who offer to deliver the bike to you. It puts you in a position of obligation, making it harder to say no.
15. If the seller wants to ship you the bike from Nigeria, search again.
16. !!!!AVOID ANY ADS THAT LOOK LIKE THIS!!!!!!!! EVEN IF THEY PROMISE A REALLY SWEET AND AWESOME BIKE!!!!YOU WILL BE SOOOOORRRYYY!!!
17. In the Chicago market, many experienced mechanics/ re-builders sell fine single-speed and fixed gear conversions on Craigslist. They often itemize new components, as in: “NEW chain, NEW bottom bracket, NEW wheelset.” These are good things.
18. Look for the keywords ‘Fully Overhauled’. This is another service that re-builders often perform to add value to a single-speed or fixed gear conversion. It usually means that the bearings in the headset and bottom bracket have been stripped, de-greased, re-lubed and re-packed.
19. Beware the jankity single-speed or fixed gear conversion. Examine the photographs carefully. If the chainring (front) is a double or a sprocket cluster remains on the rear hub, search again.
20. Respect the seller. Keep appointments to see the bike. Communicate promptly if your plans change.
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