Saturday, September 09, 2006

Buying My Used Bikes Online

I've bought two bicycles online; a 2003 Cannondale Scalpel 3000 cross country bike at MTB Reviews classified's and my 2002 Cannondale T2000 touring bike on eBay. Buying online is inherently risky but it can also save a lot of money. If you do your homework you can buy the bike you want and not get cheated. Obviously my buying only two bikes doesn't give me exhaustive experience in this but I learned a few things for the next time I decide to purchase my third bike online.

In the winter of 2003 and 2004, I was into adventure racing and needed a light mountain bike for the upcoming racing season. For some reason I decided I wanted a Cannondale Scalpel. I don't remember why now, but just like my decision to join the Marines, it seemed like a good idea at the time. A new Scalpel cost between $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the components and front fork. Used models were much cheaper. For a few weeks I trolled eBay. I was looking for one in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. Only a few offerings piqued my interest. I realized that buying a used bike required patience and flexibility.

At the time I preferred eBay to web based classified ads. EBay's rating system and anti-fraud measures provide a better sense of security than just buying from some guy online. But the limited time frame of an eBay auction forces a buyer to rush his decision to purchase. In all of the eBay listings of bikes I liked, none had ALL the information I wanted. So I had to use eBay's "ask the seller a question" process to get more details. Sometimes the sellers responded and sometimes they didn't.

On a lark I checked out was for sale at MTBR's classifieds and saw the 2003 Scalpel 3000. I really, really liked it. It was priced at $2,000; beyond what I had budgeted. However it was a terrific deal and would be a great racing bike. The seller was a sponsored racer who got a new bike every year. He also provided his name, address, and phone numbers. With a little due diligence courtesy of Google I was able to confirm his identity and even find a photo of him racing my new bike. We exchanged a half dozen emails and he provided plenty of additional details about the bike and its condition. I was pretty satisfied he was on the level and trusted his assurances the bike was in good shape. So I agreed to the purchase and recieved the bike within the week. Except for a few cosmetic dents on beneath the crank, the bike was a bit dirty but exactly as described. I was very satisfied with my purchase and it served me well for the year that I raced with it.

Family and work responsibilities resulted in my "retirement" from adventure racing in the spring of 2005. I'd considered using the Scalpel for riding to work and even bought a rack that could be mounted on a full suspension bike. But it was ridiculous to use such a bike for commuting; almost as ridiculous as commuting in a Hummer or Range Rover. So I decided to sell it and purchase a touring bike with the proceeds. I was still stuck on Cannondales since they also make respected touring bikes. So my next pursuit was finding either a Cannondale T2000 or T800.

At the start of my search, neither EBay nor Road Bike Reviews classified's listed any Cannondale touring bikes for sale in my size; they just don't manufacture a lot of them compared to other models. But by using eBay's saved searches feature, I was emailed everytime there was a new listing for a T2000 or T800. After a few weeks the T2000 I would eventually purchase came up for auction. It was being sold by a guy in New England who toured with it extensively. He and I exchanged a good number of emails and he was able to provide lots of additional photos of the bike. Unfortunately he wasn't actually with the bike at the time of the auction. He was out of town and could only tell me about the bike from memory.

I was particularly interested in several areas of the frame that appeared to have big scratches in the finish. I realized these were only cosmetic issues but if I was to resell the bike I wanted to make sure it looked as good as possible. This was especially important to me from my recent experience selling my Scalpel (which I'll address in detail in another post). And like the Scalpel 3000, I really, really liked this bike. It was glossy black and in pretty good shape. I'll admit that a bike's appearance is important to me. These days some bikes seem to have such goofy color schemes. A bike could be in excellent shape and have terrific components but if it is sky blue with yellow decals for instance, I won't even consider it.

With all the photos and the good communication with the bike's seller, I was confident in the purchase of this bike. I was ultimately the high bidder at $900 for a bike that retailed at $1,600 but also included a few upgrades. Had the bike been a less desirable color, I probably wouldn't have bid as hight. But I got the bike and I was very happy with my purchase.

Before the seller was to ship the bike, he emailed to tell me that there were scuffs and scratches in the finish that were worse than he described. He was willing to let me off on the purchase but we settled on free shipping. I've had the bike for over a year and I still love it. It is rugged and rides great and was a terrific deal in my opinion.

When I purchase my next bike, it will most likely be a used bike and online. The internet is a terrific resource and with patience and a lot of pestering for details and photos, I'm confident I can keep from ever getting burned.

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