I Just Sold My Bike on Craigslist

I counted the bills as the man loaded my bike into his car. “Twenty…eighty…one-twenty, one-forty…” I made it to $350 and nodded, mentally saying goodbye to my metal steed.

In two months we will be moving across the country. When we moved here, we shoved everything into the car and drove it three thousand miles to upstate NY from Portland, OR. We planned to ship the car to Santa Barbara in our next move, however, we realized that putting our bikes on the rack on the back of the car probably wouldn’t fly with a shipping company.

Rather than worry about it, or wait until the last minute of loading up the car only to realize (surprise!) there’s no room for our bikes, I listed my bike on Craigslist. As I pulled up the site, I suddenly had flashbacks to when I first bought the bike back in Portland.

Searching for a Bike on Craigslist

When I was looking to buy a bike, I scrolled through the listings for days, struggling to find a decent road bike for less than $400. Then I found 2 in one day. The first owner of a decent looking Kona never responded to my message to ask if it was available, and the second confirmed that I could come by and take the bike for a spin.

Like many other online shoppers, I tend to get sucked into researching a product heavily before I buy it, so I combed through forums and tried to figure out what year the bike came out. I learned a few things:

  • It is tricky to find the exact year if the owner doesn’t tell you. However, I did find out that it was a 2007 model based on its carbon fork.
  • Prices vary so much that it’s hard to pinpoint the true “market value” of a bicycle.
  • The marketing pitch for bikes on the original manufacturer’s site is way more appealing than the Craigslist descriptions.

Craigslist Description

Women's Specialized "Sequoia" Road Bike. 24 speed. Carbon fork. Aluminum frame. Small/medium frame size. Would fit someone who is 5' to 5'6". Great shape and ready to ride. Unisex frame. $275.00. Cash only.

Marketing Description

If you've ever felt torn between a "traditional" road bike and a dedicated touring rig, you're not alone. Now, though, the Sequoia Elite gives you both by combining the two into one genre-bending bike. It has everything you need to hit the road and never look back.

While the Craigslist description was helpful practically, the marketing sold a dream. I stashed that idea away for later. We visited the Craigslist couple and I took the bike for a spin, getting used to changing the gears and hunching over drop handlebars. I negotiated the price down to $240 and we loaded it into our car. Every morning I smiled as I cruised along the bike path to work, eventually even selling my rarely-driven car in favor of biking everywhere

A Little Experiment

Then I did something I’ve never done before. When I got home I reposted the bike for sale, copying the images from the original posting, but replacing the description with the one from the manufacturer.

On my new and improved listing, I posted the price as $500, over double what I had just paid for it. Five people e-mailed me within the next day.

I took the posting down, as I liked the bike and had no need to sell it, but it taught me three valuable lessons: marketing matters, prices are often arbitrary, and I could resell this bike later without much hassle.

Information about the 2007 Specialized Sequoia from BicycleBlueBook

The difference on Bicycle Bluebook between MSRP ($1,100) and buying from a private party ($200) demonstrated how much you can save just by buying a bicycle that is a few years old, rather than new.

Time To Sell On Craigslist

When I made it to upstate NY in September, I had already missed most of the summer days, and the bike went into our basement. Out of sight, out of mind, it gathered dust for the next year. Now as we’re planning to move, it made sense to sell it. There will be plenty of bikes in Santa Barbara, after all! 

Yet when it came to listing it on Craigslist, the nostalgia came flooding back. As I reviewed the bicycle specs again, I remembered my first ride when I marveled at how fast I could go with very little effort and suddenly I didn’t want to sell the bike anymore. I recognized this feeling as the endowment effect: an emotional bias that causes individuals to value an owned object higher, often irrationally, than its market value.

There Will Always Be Another Bike

Even though I suddenly felt like no bicycle could measure up to the smooth ride of my 13-year-old Sequoia, of course that is simply false. The truth is that there is an abundance of stuff. It will be easy to find a bike that is just as good, if not better, than this one.

I fired up a new listing on Craigslist and combined the marketing messages with the old Craigslist description I had saved (I now do this with everything I buy online to make reselling easier later). Next, I pressed “Post” and in two days had cash-in-hand and one less thing to worry about in our move.

This is the post I made:

Anticipate the Endowment Effect

What I find interesting is just how strongly I felt the endowment effect take hold, and in contrast, how much relief I felt after I sold the bike. I went through the same rollercoaster when I sold my car. Anticipating that last-ditch effort my sub-conscious made to hold onto the bike made it much easier to power through. In the end, I sold the bike for $110 more than I bought it for, and with a little patience, I could have sold it for more. I highly recommend selling things you don’t need in the next year, with the confidence that you can always buy it again. Let Craigslist take the hit on depreciation and be a temporary storage place for things like cars, bikes, and anything you’re letting sit around ‘just in case’. Invest the money and see growth instead of letting your possessions gather dust in a basement.
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14 Comments

  1. we must have sold over 10 grand worth of our “stuff” in the past 3 years on ebay. i love ebay because you don’t have to meet the buyers. “buy it now” is generally the way to go along with patience.

    that’s a pretty cool looking bike, but you’re right. they’ll have bikes in s.b. i used to go thrift shopping there and they have the best stuff because everybody is filthy rich.

    1. Interesting! eBay never crossed my mind because of the shipping aspect, but that’s a good point! And I’m so excited for thrift shopping now 🙂

      1. Yup. I use craigslist for things that would be difficult or too costly to ship. Ebay for everything else. This goes for both buying and selling.

  2. Oh man, I’m going through this exact scenario, just from the other side! It is so hard to find a bike for smaller women!! I have a meeting today to look at a road bike. It’s a 4 year old Liv Avail for $400. Very reasonable and looks to be a good starter road bike. I can’t wait to fly down a path! My hybrid is a great commuter bike but is solid and heavy. Between the weight I’ve lost lately and the lighter bike, I’ll be carrying 10 lbs less!!

    1. Nice! Having a road bike was far-and-away a different (and way more enjoyable) experience for me. It sounds like you are getting a great deal on a bike that’s just 4 years old!

  3. $350 on a bike you paid $240 for like 13 years ago isn’t bad at all!

    That’s a really great tip re: looking up the marketing information and using it to help craft your ad! I have a lot of feelings about selling things online — it might be a regional thing, but I find where I live, it often becomes more of a hassle than anything — but I always admire those who can do it well, and I love getting tips to make my postings better if I ever decide to dip my toe back into the selling-things-online game.

    1. It can definitely feel different depending on where you are. In upstate NY, I didn’t have as good a feel for the market of things and people were more spread out so I had a bunch more people asking me if I could meet them halfway for things. In Santa Barbara, things are much closer together and the online market is bustling!

  4. We call it the craigslist locker. You sell it, and then buy it later on. Usually best for cross country moves. It’s generally cheaper to buy again instead of paying shipping.q
    It helps build up funds while you get rid of things you might actually never use again. And you can update your style when you buy new again. Win win win.

  5. Gotta love Craigslist! the best kind of “upcycling.” I, and a lot of other people, and now, big corporations! are really down on Facebook, and that entire Zuckerberg negative “vibe.” I am a little taken aback on how you, “Frugal Mechanic,” messed with the heads of, and wasted the time and energy of FIVE Craigslisters in order to test your theories on “marketing and resale.” Gotta file that under “Craigslist Flakes.” NOT cool!

    1. Hi Gavin, it’s an interesting thought. If you list something that is normally very expensive for very cheap, and 70 people message you about it, and you sell it to 1 person, did you waste the time and mess with the heads of the other 69 people? I agree with you that it’s not really a ‘cool’ thing to do, especially if it is a frequent thing, but I’m not sure if I would go so far as saying it’s messing with the heads of potential buyers.

  6. Just like your little experiment right after you bought the bike, a key component of our financial plan has been to keep “everything for sale”. Of course, “everything”, sounds a little extreme. But, the point is the mental state.

    Like you, but really, when we buy things that we anticipate will maintain their value or appreciate – we tend to immediately put them up for sale on Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace, etc — or at least create the draft posting. We post a good description like you identified, and have excellent fresh photos to use since when we have the new item in hand, we can easily position it with good lighting and a solid backdrop (we actually wrote a whole three part series on this mentality).

    It’s worked out really well and we have countless stories of being able to flip something we bought and intended to use (or used for a little while) for an easy 50% or 100% value increase.

    Now that you’ve moved, time to find a new steed!

    1. This is genius! I think this is one of the posts, right? https://www.tictoclife.com/spend-more-for-quality-stuff-to-profit-later/ . Having a post ready for if you want to sell it or are at least open to selling while using it in the meantime is a great way to earn some money as well as try out different pieces of furniture.

      I’m still hunting for a new bike– it seems that basic bikes here sell for $150 but nice road bikes go for $500 and up. Still waiting to strike!

      1. You’ve got it (appreciate the plug, too)!

        Of course, you’ve got to enjoy the wheeling and dealing to keep it going — which has been a little harder with a pandemic.

        For bikes especially, it’s been a great way to keep our stable rotating. We have some great single tracks around us and it’s let me try different frame geometries and styles without actually losing any money in the process of switching bikes since I buy them a little lower than they’re worth and sell them a little higher (since I’m never in a rush to sell and wait for the right buyer).

        It also kind of makes the absolute cost of something less relevant.

        Using the bike example: I don’t look at a $300 or $1,500 bike much differently since I’m not working within a “bike budget”, but rather, making sure the amount I spend matches a future expected value of the bike once it’s sold again. I don’t mind spending $1,500 when I know I’ve really just transfered assets (from cash to a bike) and haven’t “lost” anything. I’ll sell it for around $1,500 again once I’ve used it a bit.

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