ASSESSING A BICYCLE'S VALUE & CONDITION
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The Tires And Tubes
Note 9: If a customer tells you that a bike with flat tires holds air, that may be true. Bikes that have not been used for a long time naturally lose their air. If one tire is flat, and the other is not, you will definitely have to fix one flat. To you a flat is no problem, but to many sellers, a bicycle with a flat is a machine worth nearly nothing. Perhaps you can talk the seller into paying you to take the bike. (Just kidding.)
Even if you are confined to the simple plan, you can fix many flat tires. There are several liquid tire sealants which you can buy from department stores and bike shops. They cost about $1 per tire. You remove the valve core, put some of the sealant into the tube, replace the valve core, pump up the tire, and spin it around a few times to coat the inside with the goop. All the brands seem to work about equaly well if you use them exactly according to instructions. How well is that? Well, not that great. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.
Look over seemingly good tires carefully. Looking over the whole 7 or so feet of tread, you may find a totally bald spot on another side around the rim. You may find a big cut or other problems around the edges.
Tires can be replaced for just a few dollars each. If you do not have used tires, look in the department stores. Sometimes they have tires for very reasonable prices.
Crazing, or series of cracks, caused by being in the sun for long periods, unless severe, does not affect the structural integrety of tires, but your customers will think so, so crazing devalues the bike somewhat.
Note 10: If the chainguard is missing, particularly on a coaster brake bike, the rider may get into trouble when pants become stuck between the chain and sprocket. Many riders are willing to take the risk, but I'm not sure it is fair to sell a coaster brake equipped bike without a chainguard, unless you warn the buyer. Sometimes it is difficult to install a non-OEM (not made by the factory for that particular bike) chainguard. Many multi-speed bikes are not designed to use a chainguard.
Note 11: If the seat is badly ripped, you can replace it easily enough, but used seats are often in short supply. Because they are upholstered, and upholstery is easy to tear, most used bikes have torn seats. New seats are usually cheaper at department stores than at bike shops. Most department stores carry bike seats.
Examine the seat clamp. If you can force the seat to swivel up and down, the seat clamp may need replacement. They cost only $3 if you have to buy a brand new one. If the seat slips, see whether the seat clamp is fully down into position on the seatpost. Often the top of the clamp surrounds air. By moving the clamp down, the problem is solved.
The Handlebars and Stem
Note 12: The most common problem with handlebars and stems is that the stem does not fully tighten on the bars and the handlebar will slip up and down, when forced. You must usually replace the handlebar and the stem to correct the problem. This is most common with handlebars that exert lots of leverage, such as high-rise (aka "stingray") bars. Avoid the temptation to weld the handlebar to the stem. Unless done just right, the stem may break in two at the weld at a later date.
Always test for looseness, both up and down, and sideways. If you sell a bike with slipping handlebars or stem, your customer could get hurt. Stand in front of the bike you are testing, with the front wheel trapped between your legs, your feet close together. Force the handlebars sideways. With hard force they should slip, but the force necessary should be far more than ordinary riding circumstances would provide.
If you buy a bike with dented or bent handlebars or stem, the only way to sell it is after replacement of the offending part. If the top bolt ("expander bolt") is missing, you could have a bike that has a stem that rusted into position. Sometime in the past, someone working on the bike removed the expander bolt, yet couldn't get the stem to budge. The mechanic then gave up, and left the bolt out. Another possibility is that the mechanic did not know that the stem will not come loose until you release the wedge. (Proper procedure to release a handlebar stem for adjustment: loosen the expander bolt 4 turns, then tap down with a soft hammer to release the wedge.) In any case, the stem bolt is missing, and unless the stem is a standard Wald stem, a replacement bolt will be hard to find. Most stem manufacturers do not provide replacement bolts. If the stem is rusted into position, you may have great difficulty working it loose.
Note 13: In the case of a one-piece or a cottered crank, looseness is not an expensive condition. Adjusting or even replacing one-piece crank bearings is easy. On a cottered crank looseness means a worn out crank cotter which is easy to replace. If, a cotter is broken or hammered all out of shape, you may have difficulty drilling it out.
A loose cotterless crank is another matter. Generally there is no permanent repair except replacement after a cotterless crank has come loose once. You should check out the replacement cost, unless you know you have an exact replacement crank in stock. Some of these can cost up to $60 to replace.
Some children's bikes and unicycles use exceptionally poorly designed cranks made from bent steel rod about 1/2" in diameter. These are easily bent, but nearly impossible to find as replacement parts.
CONSIDERING THE MARKET
Next, I consider the market. Perhaps I don't need another women's 3-speed, with the 17 of them I already have. The bikes that sell well, you can always stockpile, but the very common ones often do not even have a salvage value, since you will already have lots of the parts they can provide. Here in Southern Oregon, I can always use mountain bikes, cruisers and all types of children's bikes. I sell many men's 3-speed and men's 10-speed bikes, and some women's 3- and 10-speeds, but I am flooded with customers in the store who want to sell more of these common bikes to me. Sometimes I don't even more than glance at thin tire bikes at yard sales. _____________________________________________________________
About Mountain Bikes
Then there are the uncommon bikes. 6 out of 10 customers who come to buy from me want to see mountain bikes. There is a shortage of used mountain bikes. I cannot get enough used mountain bikes to suit all the buyers. What do I do about it? I buy all the used mountain bikes I can even ones that cost too much. I will take less than the usual 3 to 1 mark-up on a mountain bike if I have to. I'll pay as much as $175 on a bike I know I can sell for only $200 because I know I'll get my $25 profit in a matter of days, almost guaranteed. $175 is a lot of money on the line for a $25 profit, but I have what the people want, and that's important for long-term reputation. Reputation would not matter as much if I was consigning. And, I know the bike will sell. And it will bring people who come shop at my place because I have mountain bikes, these are people who will leave my place owning a bike, not a mountain bike. 80% of the people who want to see a mountain bike, only have the budget for a cheaper bike. Many of the people looking for a used bike first ask about mountain bikes, because they are what is most in fashion right now. These people really want a bike for exercise or commuting, or one that does not require a lot of knowledge to operate, at a budget price. After they view the market, perhaps after you talk with them, they will buy something other than a mountain bike. So, although it is prestigious and good business for you to have mountain bikes in stock, if you can't because they just aren't available, you will still sell a bike to most customers who are looking at mountain bikes.
Many used bike sellers I know, do not have mountain bikes, the type most demanded by the market. These sellers just ignore this portion of the market, there are plenty of other buyers looking for children's bikes, cruisers, any sort of cheap transportation, or a fast 10-speed.
Maybe it is just as well that there is a shortage of mountain bikes because they are the riskiest bicycle investment (because they cost more and have a smaller mark- up) and because they are the most time-consuming and difficult to repair and tune-up correctly. It is rare to buy a mountain bike in perfect tune. These are not a good investment for someone who is just starting out.
You may be disappointed in the shortage of mountain bikes because they are your favorite kind of bikes, but there is good news. Last year I couldn't find more than one or two mountain bikes per month. So far, this year there are twice as many available. Within the next year, or two at most, the market will saturate, and there will be thousands of mountain bikes for you to choose from. The manufacturers are still selling millions per year. Where are they all going?
On Specifics Regarding Mountain Bikes:
As you probably know, most bikes with 18 speeds have the same overall range as bikes with 15 speeds, the same low and the same high gear, just a smaller difference between one gear and the next. Never-the-less, customers immediately ask whether a mountain bike has 15 or 18 speeds. Therefore, an 18 speed is easier to sell.
If I get a 15 speed mountain bike that needs a new freewheel, I replace the 5 speed freewheel with a 6 speed one, creating 18 speeds. The cost of a 6 speed is close to the cost of a 5 speed freewheel, but suddenly the value of the bike goes up.
The situation is the same with the public's attitude about 10 and 12 speed bikes. Between 10 and 15 speeds, however, there is a valid difference, usually. A 15 speed is a 10 speed but with an extra sprocket on the crankset. This is usually a small one, giving you a bike that has 10 speeds like a 10 speed, plus 5 much lower, hill climbing gears. Some manufacturers of cheaper bikes sort of cheat. These cheap bikes have 15 (or 18) speeds, but all three front sprockets are close to the same size. This enables use of slightly less expensive O.E.M. (Original Equipment Manufacture) derailleurs that don't have to accommodate wide range gearing. Sadly, the misinformed public will buy these bikes because they are "15-speeds", without getting the wide-range gearing which is what they may have really wanted do get had they known what they were doing when they went shopping. It is not as easy to convert a close-range 15- speed into a wide-range model, but it doesn't matter, your customers will buy it anyway, it is "15-speeds.
If you get a very inexpensive 10 or 12 speed mountain bike (or road bike, for that matter) and if you are handy at repair work, you may add another front sprocket to the crankset yourself, tremendously increasing the range of the gearing and the value of the bike.
Most mountain bikes made before 1987 did not have index shifting. Index shifting means a rear shifter that clicks into a specific position for each gear. These change gears quickly, without practice to get a smooth shift and are preferred by most knowledgeable riders. Many customers prefer index shifting, therefore bikes with it are worth more.
Many people selling bikes, and most people buying bikes know little about sizing. In the case of a child's bike, it is simple, See if the child can fit well on the bike, can control it well during a test ride, and will still fit reasonably well for a while as the child grows.
For an older child or on adult who wants to be comfortable and safe on a bike, there are specific guideposts regarding size. The rider must be able to put both feet flat on the ground and have 1-2" clearance over the top tube of the bike. This applies to children's bikes too. The obvious danger of large bikes is that people could hurt themselves by slamming into that top tube in an accident. But a more important reason, is that a fear of bumping into that toptube will prevent a person from being able to control the bike well during a problem. If the rider is losing control, that rider should be able to put their feet on the ground to stabilize themselves, without considering the location of the top tube.
A bike that is too small will not allow the seat to be raised high enough. The rider should have the seat high enough that the legs are almost fully extended at the bottom of the pedaling stroke. This is the most efficient position. A person that could ride 20 miles comfortably with the seat at the right height would have sore muscles after 4 miles with the seat at the wrong height. On a too-small bike, the handlebars will not be comfortably located relative to the seat. Too-low handlebars give the rider sore arms, back and less control. Although a customer new to bicycles may feel that the handlebars are wrong, if the bike frame is the right size, the handlebars are in the most comfortable location, after the rider gets used to the bike.
There are some exceptions to the rule. Mountain bikes are engineered to have 2-6" clearance when the rider is standing over the top tube, giving more room to maneuver in off road situations.
Riders that are unconfident with bicycles in general should have the seat very low so that they can always touch the ground with both feet. When they become accomplished riders (when they no longer wobble), they will allow the seat to be raised. Hopefully they will select a bike with a small enough frame that the seat can be low at the beginning, but big enough to raise the seat sufficiently later.
Women's bikes are quite flexible regarding the size of the rider. Often the handlebar is higher than on a men's bike with a similar seat tube length. A small woman will be able to be comfortable with the seat down and the handlebar relatively high. Most inexperienced riders (and many expert riders, too) like the handlebar high. A tall woman can use a long seatpost and have the handlebar where it is "supposed" to be. Men should ride women's bikes more often, but there is a stigma. Most modern women's frames are as strong as the men's bikes, but some of the older ones could be bent easily at the lower part of the seat tube.
BMX bikes are very much in style now. They are patterned after off-road competition bikes, where most of the riding is done standing up and the seat is kept low. Most kids who ride BMX bikes, even though they ride sitting most of the time, prefer the seat low, because this is stylish. I think this concern over style is unfortunate, because commuting on a BMX bike is hard to do with the seat so low. I have heard that a child who rides with the seat too low can acquire permanent knee damage.
Ultimately, the size of the bike is the decision of the customer, but I think it is good when an educated sales person can advise the customer.
The reason for this discussion of size is that there are bikes of different sizes out there, so another consideration is size. If you have many bikes of a certain size already in stock, another of the same size is less valuable to you. Also, you will sell less of the extreme sizes, so you must keep your inventory as balanced as possible. You want to keep a few bikes of all sizes so that you can suit anyone who walks in, but you want mostly to have the bikes that most customers will buy. If you are going to buy your first investment bike, you probably will want to get a middle size, not a slower-selling one.
BMX bikes, cruisers, folding bikes, and most women's frame bikes, come only in one size. Most American made 3- and 10-speed bikes are made only in one size. Children's bikes are measured in terms of the wheel size. So a 16" kids bike has 16" wheels. Mountain bikes and better 10-speeds have a range of frame sizes.
10-speed style bikes usually are made with a seat tube that measures from 19" to 25" with 21" and 23" being the most common. 10-speed manufacturers tend to sell sizes of every odd inch, 19",21",23",25". There are a few bikes with 17" and 27" frames.
Mountain bikes come in a range of from 17" to 23". Rarely you will see one as small as 16" or as tall as 26". Because of differences in the overall design a 20" mountain bike fits the same size person that a 23" 10-speed would fit.
BETTER QUALITY ROAD BIKES
Many bicycle enthusiasts ride a $600 mountain bike and have a $400 road bike that they ride on Sundays. Do you fit this picture? That's great, you are probably using you car less than other people, therefore polluting less, making less noise and danger. But perhaps you don't really respect cheapo bikes. Most people I know that are doing professional bike work, are not inspired at all by Sears bikes or Huffys, but perk right up when a Campagnolo-equipped Colnago comes in. This is not a profitable attitude. I say there is more money in the cheap bikes, both in selling them, and in the repairing. Not only that, I have more fun working on Murrays and Western Fliers. I consider it much more of a challenge to get a cheap American or Taiwanese 10-speed tuned up and running well, than tuning an expensive European model. The European bike is easy. On the fancy bike, if you have a problem, replace the part. On the cheapo, bend it, weld it, bang on it, and soon it will be a smooth and reliable running system, capable of reasonably close to the same performance as the bike costing hundreds more. I believe in cheap bikes. The customers that buy cheapos are a much more assorted lot, and far more interesting than the homogenous group that buys the expensive stuff. But you like the expensive stuff, and I'll tell you about this category too.
If you ride with the "club" you may already have the connections to sell expensive bikes. If you are using the simple plan, you need to specialize in bikes already in good condition. Most people selling higher priced used bikes know how to take care of them and they are therefore in great shape. Actually, there is good profit to be had with these better bikes, just not as much and for as little risk as with the cheaper bikes.
It is difficult to buy in this market because there is so much flexibility regarding worth of a bike. A bike is worth as much as the customer is willing to pay. One guy may think a certain Holdsworth is worth $800, but to most other folks, it would not be worth over $400. If you buy it for $600, you are in trouble unless you find that guy who will pay $800. Basic rule: don't go for a marginal deal. Unless a bike is a "killer" deal, don't buy it.
Next question. Can your one potential customer pay the $800, or is he a wishful thinker? In this high price market you will have many shoppers who really like your wares, but cannot get enough money together. With these people you don't wheel and deal for a 10% discount, you arrange financing, or take something in trade, or wait for the right customer.
Name-brand is important. Many of your customers are as interested in the mystique of the bike as its performance A Colnago, Zeus, or Masi is worth more than a similarly equipped Schwinn or Fuji because of name recognition. A bike without its frame tubing manufacturer's sticker is worth $50 to $100 less than one on which the sticker is intact.
Campagnolo parts are worth more than Shimano, Suntour, or even Phil Wood, because - you guessed it - name recognition. Campagnolo is the ultimate in prestige names. (In mountain bikes, the name to look for is Shimano Deore- XT)
Racers buy sew-ups, but almost everyone else wants high performance regular tires. The thinner, the better. The bike will sell better without a spoke protector and without reflectors, but I leave them on because I don't want to be responsible for a stylish customer who has a disastrous overshift or altercation with a car. Toe clips add much more to the value than the $10 they cost. A matching (frame-fit) pump helps sales. Make sure you have brand new handlebar tape on the bike.
Please allow me to summarize here, before we go on. There is a better profit margin in lower priced bikes. With cheapo bikes, you make more money with less risk. CHILDREN'S BIKES ARE THE BEST SELLERS and the easiest to repair. By the way, scooters are dead, they don't sell like they used to. Freestyle BMX may be dying as we speak.
| | | CHILDREN'S BIKES ARE THE BEST SELLERS | | |
A CLOSER ANALYSIS
Given all these considerations, lets look at those sample bikes we analyzed earlier more critically, because assessing their potential for making you money with just numbers may give you an incorrect picture. At the same time, read me carefully, I shall show you some other considerations in buying.
Bike: mens 3-speed Raleigh being offered for $15
Parts required: rear tire, tube $3
total cost: $18
Formula: $18 x 3 = $54 Retail: $45
This Raleigh is one of the "common bikes" and easy to buy but harder to sell. Men's 3-speeds are at every third yard sale. (Women's 3-speeds are even more common.) Kid's don't buy them, only middle age and older men who have had 3- speeds before and know their practicality are interested.
People in this age group tend to buy bikes that match their sex, and tend to buy in couples, so if you stock a men's 3-speed, you should consider having a women's too.
Kids want style, and 3-speeds are out of style. Bottom line: You can make money with this bike but it may take a while to sell it. Not a good choice for your very first investment bike. You would do well if you discount it to perhaps $29, but that would be only $11 profit. You can do better.
Bike: girls 20", curved frame being offered for $3
Parts required: handlebar, stem $3
total cost: $6
Formula: $6 X 3 = $18 Retail: $20
The girls 20" bike will always sell well if the paint is in good condition. Sometimes even when the paint is bad, because the idea of a re-painting project will appeal to one of the parents. Most girls do not demand that the bike be up to current BMX-type style. This one is a very good deal because the repair is easy, the profit is high and likelihood of quick sale is high. Those of you limited to the simple plan may even look at the stripped handlebar stem and feel that you can handle that repair within your limits. The price of $3 I listed for the handlebar and stem is approximately what you would have to pay for used parts. These parts are fairly universal and easy to buy at yard sales, or even at a local bike shop. High-rise handlebars and American stems accumulate in the junkpile of bike shops, therefore they are cheap.
Bike: BMX plain frame, steel wheels being offered for $10
Parts required: none $0
total cost: $10
Formula: $10 X 3 = $30 Retail: $45
Yes, this is exactly what you are looking for!
Bike: men's European 10-speed being offered for $25
Parts required: none 0
total cost: $25
Formula: $25 X 3 = $75 Retail: $80
Lets assume for discussion purposes that this bike is a Peugeot UO-8, 21" frame. A name like Peugeot or Raleigh carries a certain mystique that sells. But even if it were a Jeunet or a Humber, this deal is ok. 10-speed bikes are not as popular as mountain bikes, or even children's bikes, but they do sell, especially if you can sell a Peugeot for $80. Be especially careful buying a European lightweight bike, these are the most likely to have hidden problems that can suck away your profit. French, Italian and pre- (approx) 1975 English bikes have a special problem. They have non- interchangeable parts. Most of the parts on American 10- speeds will fit on other American 10-speeds. Most Oriental bike parts interchange. Most French parts interchange with other French parts too, but try to find French parts!
Bike: adult 3-wheeler being offered for $40
Parts required: grips $1
total cost: $41
Formula: $41 X 3 = $123 Retail: $125+
This could be good. However, be willing to expect to wait for a sale because the clientele for these bikes is limited in most communities. Furthermore, the people who are looking for one of these three-wheelers are usually older folks who want extra stability because bikes scare them. After they test-ride the three-wheeler, they may find three-wheelers are scary too. These bikes are also appealing to some handicapped people, but after a test-ride, they may feel that the three-wheeled bicycle idea does not measure up to their expectations. Also, industrial applications such as maintenance man's vehicle in a large factory, may fall short of the idea when tried in actual practice. These machines are slow and clunky. Many customers test them, few buy. This would not be a good first investment, but if you have several bikes for sale, an adult three-wheeler can be a good addition. Please consider that the three-wheeler takes up as much space and investment money as two or three regular bikes.
Bike: BMX chrome-moly frame, alloy wheels being offered for $20
Parts required: 2 x tires, tubes $12 handlebar, stem $6 grips $1
total cost: $39
Formula $39 x 3 = $117 Retail: $100
These bikes sell very well. There is a problem with style though. Some kids are so conscious of things a few months out of style, they make a big fuss about it and drive their parents away from the sale. On the other hand, just about any light weight chrome-moly BMX bike with alloy wheels is well worth $100. It will sell. Especially if it happens to have a chrome (color) frame. An added plus is plastic wheels, which are stronger than spokes ones. It is usually the parents that buy and maintain kids' bikes, so plastic wheels are appealing.
Kids want hand brakes and a freewheeling rear wheel. Never mind that a coaster brake is much more durable and these bikes are the kind that get the roughest use. Ultimately, on a style feature as important as this, the kid is the boss, and will scream and scream if the parent attempts to buy a coaster brake. So if this hypothetical bike is a coaster brake, forget it. (Unless you know the exact makes and models in the BMX world and know this one has particularly good and modern components.) You would have to sell it at a discount or at least install a hand brake to make it look like a "real" BMX bike. Well, maybe not "forget it". There are times like this when my "total cost should equal less than a third of retail" formula needs adjusting. Whatever this bike is, you should be able to get $65 or more for it, and that's still good money. A BMX bike will always sell fast. If this bike has hand brakes and chrome, grab it!
Bike: 10-speed, American being offered for $8
Parts required: h-bar tape $2 inner tube $3
total cost: $13
Formula: $13 X 3 = $39 Retail $49
So typical. These are the bread and butter bike. The price is right, although there are lots more available if you don't get this one. It will sell if you keep the price down. Why not mark this one $39, and sell it fast. This is a good first bike. It would be ever better if it had upright handlebars.
AVOIDING STOLEN BIKES
Although a hot bike is uncommon at a yard sale (thieves don't want to sell out of their own homes), you must be careful about stolen bikes. Buying a stolen bike is almost as bad as stealing it yourself, because this encourages the theft of another one. More directly, if you happen to get caught with a stolen bike, your reputation could get wrecked overnight. This would definitely have an adverse effect on sales volume.
The best protection is to get the original store receipt with the bike. Often this is not available, so at least write down the serial number of the bike along with the name, address, phone and drivers license number of the seller. If the seller is young, it is wise to check with the parents. Many communities have some sort of computer help available to you. In Santa Cruz, where I used to live, the police offered that I could call them at any time and check a potential purchase bike serial number. In Talent, Oregon, where I live now, I have to fill out a simple form when I buy a used bike, and send these forms to the police department once per week. Remembering when I was 12 years old, how I felt when my pride and joy bike was stolen is all that is required for me to cooperate with the bureaucracy. Recovering stolen bikes is something police do well. The computer lists that they compile help society a great deal.
Common sense is really the best way to sort out the problem stuff from the rest. Would you really buy a fairly new mountain bike for $30 from a dirty teen-ager who seems to be in a big hurry and unhealthy-looking without some sort of proof that he is authorized to sell it? OK, maybe he didn't steal it, maybe he borrowed it from his sister, and just hasn't told her yet.
On the other hand, at a yard sale, where the 40 year old woman with the 1988 Volvo in the drive, with two screaming 8 year olds in the yard and a big fluffy dog, who wants to sell her husband's old mountain bike for $65, because he just got this new one "over here", which she shows to you, the bike may be legitimate.
You must cover yourself legally, you never know what can happen. You may buy a bike from someone who bought it from someone else, who stole it. In all cases, make a paper trail. To be safest, with every bike you buy, get the serial number, brief description of the bike, name, address, phone number, drivers license, and signature of the seller all onto the same piece of paper. Then if the police come to your door, you can prove that you bought the bike in earnest. Keep this paperwork for years after you have sold the bike. (Unless the police computer is doing it for you.)
Sometimes serial numbers are hard to find. Here are all the common locations where serial numbers may be found:
1. Under the bottom of the crank assembly housing (officially called bottom bracket).
2. On the outside of the left rear dropout (where the rear wheel attaches).
3. On the bottom front of the headtube (front tube of bike).
4. On one side of the headtube.
5. On one side of the seattube near the bottom bracket.
6. On one side of the seattube near the top.
7. On a flat surface of the largest part of the bike (the frame).
99% of bikes have serial numbers. Those that are less likely to have been stamped are custom bikes, least expensive children's bikes, and one-of-a-kind machines. Rarely a regular new bike just doesn't get stamped right at the factory. Usually these still have a serial number, but it is so light that you cannot see it through the paint. Sometimes moving the bike or the light around makes a serial number visible. Some bikes have a serial number obscured by a reflector, cable guide, or chainguard.
Some bikes have had the serial number removed. Although most cases of a filed off number are a legitimate cosmetic patch during re-painting, you should suspect the history of a bike with a missing number.
Perhaps 10% of the bikes I have dealt with were carelessly stamped at the factory and the serial number is hard to read. When recording these numbers, never make an assumption. Any unidentifiable digit should be recorded as a "?". Therefore if you have a number that is probably 47896 but maybe it is 47396, you would write 47?96.
If you do not fully trust a seller (even if you do) your protection is:
Best: store receipt with the seller's name on it and an ID like a driver's license with a photo on it.
Second best: a photo showing the seller and the bike in the same picture, preferably with different haircut, or something in the picture indicating it wasn't taken yesterday.
Third best: an older relative of a young seller that will say the bike is not stolen.
Be careful with kids, often they will want to sell their own bikes legitimately enough, but without their parents permission. You may buy it legally enough, but ____ help you if you have sold it two days later when the parents come in to buy it back.
Fourth best: Tell the seller that you need to consult with the police, can you use his phone? See if the seller handles this request calmly. This threat/test may be even safer than the actual call itself.
I don't want to scare you, just get you to take care of potential problems. In 14 years of trading bikes professionally, I have never had a stolen bike that I know of. And I am not as careful as I advise you to be. I go to many yard sales as quickly as possible and I don't have time for all this, I fill out paperwork later, sometimes identifying a seller only with an address. But I do try to look into the sellers character as much as I can and use common sense. Remember that you don't need to buy every bike that seems to be a good deal. There are plenty of cheap used bikes around.
THE POLICE AUCTION SCAM
Have you heard of the police auction? Almost every town has one or two per year. The police sell off all the bikes that accumulate in their storage. Who owns these bikes? Not the police. These bikes still belong to the original owners! How can the police sell you these bikes if they don't own them? I don't know.
If you buy one, sell it, and the original owner finds out where it is, this embarrassing situation will cost you some money. If you don't have a good binding receipt showing that you bought that bike (complete with serial number) from the police, you'll be in a bit of a sticky situation! And guess what? Where I have been, the police auction people will not give you itemized receipts.
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