Road riding and beautiful road bikes have to be two of life’s greatest passions. And when you first get into cycling, everything’s wonderful. But live the roadie lifestyle long enough and you’ll likely suffer the frustrations and hassles a lot of veterans complain about.
Such as, the maddening, ever-increasing pace of technology that makes almost-new, cutting-edge road bikes seem obsolete only a couple of seasons after you cleaned out your funny-money account to purchase them. Or the way components, clothing and accessory prices have jumped five-fold in half as many years. $500 shoes, $300 helmets, $85 tires. Really?
And if you even had the bucks to keep buying the latest and greatest, how can you get over the guilt of tossing hardly used components and gear into cold storage just to keep in step with all those must-have innovations, features and benefits they keep coming out with faster and faster?
These issues bother me as much as they bother many of you, judging from my email. But I have a recommendation, something that works for many roadies, including me. It’s called ebay.com. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I believe it’s the largest online auction in the world and, as long as you have an Internet-connected device and a credit card, you can take advantage of this amazing modern marketplace.
Disclaimers: I make my living from bicycle shops, and I know that some of them feel that ebay is stealing their business. I don’t agree at all. I think it helps them and the bike industry, too, in many ways; a lot of which I explain here. Also, I realize that craigslist.org is a free and local alternative to ebay; however, in my experience with both, ebay is more reliable and safer. You do pay a percentage of every sale to ebay, but to me it’s worth it.
ebay is on my mind because I’ve been using it a lot lately and because even though it’s been available for many years now, I keep running into cyclists who haven’t used it or are afraid to.
So here are some simple ebay tips and suggestions so that you understand how helpful it is, and especially so that you appreciate how it can help with many of the annoying roadie issues I mentioned and let you keep enjoying your cycling and changes in technology, not stress over it.
As ebay and Internet technologies have improved and advanced, it’s become super easy to use ebay. Once you set up an account with ebay and PayPal (the financial side of ebay), and also set up one with the United States Post Office, you have a seamless way to buy and pay for things and can print postage and ship boxes right from your mailbox, or hand them to your mail person.
And with a PayPal account, people can buy your items and instantly put the payment in your account. ebay makes the transaction almost automatic, and even prompts you to print the shipping label so that you’re ready to ship the item as soon as you’ve packed it. You can even have the Post Office send you boxes if you don’t want to pick them up.
Tip: Using free Priority Mail packaging, you can ship lots of typical bicycle parts quickly and at reasonable rates. It helps to have a scale to weigh packages to ensure they meet the requirements for whatever size package you’re using. The packages are self-sealing but I recommend having a tape gun and tape to ensure the best seal so your parts arrive safely. Also get some bubble wrap or stock up on recycled newspapers and wrap things carefully.
This might be ebay’s greatest trick. It’s wonderful for finding those key parts that the companies no longer offer and your local bike shop sold out of years ago, such as an 8-speed STI shift lever or a certain seat you loved but wore out and need to replace. Or for me, a rare axle I needed to repair a 1970s Maxi-Car hub. After calling all over, I finally found it from an ebay seller in Paris.
Just remember that every day, new stuff is offered for sale. So, you sometimes need to patiently search for a few weeks to find it. Yet, it’s amazing what turns up if you keep looking. Also, there are ebay sites in different countries and it’s easier than ever to purchase from them since you can pay with your PayPal account -- no wire transfers or checks needed. I’ve discovered that some things I can never find here are common on ebay France or UK.
Tip: This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted searching foreign ebay sites and forget you’re not in the U.S. anymore (or the U.K., or Canada, or Australia, or wherever you may be!). Be sure to pay attention to the money symbols. You may be bidding in pounds or Euros. Don’t assume it’s U.S. dollars. And carefully check the shipping price since that will be higher from abroad, etc. Also, check to be sure the seller ships worldwide. Not all do.
Once you start finding obsolete parts to fix up your favorite bikes, you’ll probably realize (as I did when I started using ebay), that almost everything has value to somebody. And once that light bulb goes off, you may get motivated to dig through your storage bins to see what you can unload.
It still amazes me what sells, even used items that seem worn out to you or trashed might hold real value to someone else. Sometimes it’s the small parts they are interested in, not the whole component.
If you’re not sure whether something has value or not, a good test is to search for the item you’re thinking of selling. If you can find it -- and it’s probably there -- you can watch it until the end of the auction to see whether it sells and what it sells for.
If an item has received bids, it’s a pretty good indication that there are buyers for it and that you could sell yours, too. Sell enough old stuff like this and even if you don’t get very much money for it, the money you make turns into a nice little nest egg eventually. Plus, there’s a great feeling knowing that your old bike parts went to good use instead of sitting there collecting more dust in your attic or garage.
Next week, in part 2, I’ll give tips on finding bargains on newer road gear and some tactics for buying and selling. Share your own ebay tips on the Community Comments page.
Jim Langley has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for 38 years. At RBR he's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop and moderator of the technical forums on the Premium Site. Check his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached 7,058.