Confessions of a Bicycle Hustler
Before anyone gets too excited, I’d like to point out that this post isn’t about stolen bicycles. If you’re wondering what happens to those, this article has a few ideas.
A bicycle hustler is someone who buys and then sells (flips) used bicycles for profit.
A few years ago I was looking for a way to make extra cash. I’d come across recraigslist.com, and read about how the author buys and sells used appliances through Craigslist, and had turned it into a career.
I decided I might be able to buy and sell used bicycles here in Victoria. There’s a few reasons this is an easy way to make money.
First of all, a used bicycle is a difficult thing to assign a value to, for the average person. Second, they are in high demand in Victoria, Canada’s cycling capital. Third, they are easy to move around. Finally, there are a lot available – a quick check of UsedVictoria currently shows 1600+ ads.
Since then, I’ve bought and sold a few hundred bikes. I lost count somewhere past 200. When I first started, I didn’t really know much about bicycles, and wasn’t more than a casual cyclist myself.
At some point I decided to take Missing Link School’s bicycle overhaul program, and then on completion I got a job as a bicycle mechanic at a local shop.
This meant that rather than just buying and reselling, I could buy, repair and sell, thereby adding value to the bikes.
What I’ve found interesting is that there are quite a few people doing this, that I’ve bumped into while buying and selling.
One guy I met buys and sells vintage 70’s road bikes, popular with the student crowd. He buys them less than $100, fixes them and cleans them up, and sells them for $250+. Another guy focuses on ‘90s mountain bikes, selling them to grown up kids of the ‘90s. I even ran into a 12 year old kid that was buying and selling for profit.
These ‘hustlers’ can be cutthroat – on a few occasions I’ve contacted someone about a used bicycle, have been climbing in my vehicle to go pick it up, and have received a message that the seller received an offer over the asking price, and would be selling it to someone else.
Let’s say someone lists a ‘70s Bianchi 10 speed for $50. You would need to be contacting the seller within minutes of the ad being posted to snag this deal, and perhaps over bidding, to secure it, because you’d be fighting at least a half dozen other people ready to race across town to pick it up. All people that would be looking to resell it afterwards for a few hundred dollars.
Arbitrage is defined as the buying and selling of something, in different markets, to take advantage of differing prices for the same item between those markets. Some people do this between eBay and Amazon – they’ll buy something on eBay and resell it on Amazon for a profit, or vice versa. This is possible because some people prefer to shop on one site or the other, and are not comparing prices between the two – market value for something might be different between the two sites.
The arbitrage that happens here in Victoria in the used bicycle market is actually happening in the same market – there is money to be made in the differing prices between what a bicycle gets listed for, and what its market value is. Basically the seller has made a mistake, priced the bicycle lower than its market value, and the reseller is profiting by correcting that mistake.
This is also possible because of the timelines of events. Craigslist and comparable sites like UsedVictoria and VarageSale will receive most of their postings on Mondays. But they will receive the most visitors Saturday morning. Because sellers are posting on Monday, and buyers are looking on Saturday, there is the opportunity for a reseller to pick up a bike at the beginning of the week, and resell it on the weekend for a profit.
Maybe it’s like ticket scalping. Concert tickets go on sale months in advance, scalpers pick them up and then resell shortly before the concert for a higher price – whatever price the market will bear. On the one hand, this could be considered a service – you are paying a premium for your ticket, in order to be able to buy it last minute, rather than having to plan ahead. On the other hand, scalpers are despised when they buy up tickets, so that they are unavailable for people that wanted to buy them at the outset, and then fans have no option but to buy them from scalpers at an inflated price.
But I think this is flawed thinking. A scalper can only sell a ticket for what someone is willing to pay. The scalper only exists because someone is willing to pay more than what the original vendor listed the ticket for. Were the tickets listed at the maximum anyone would be willing to pay, there would be no room for the scalper to make a profit. If all the tickets were scooped up by scalpers, than likely the vendor priced the tickets too low.
I guess that makes me a bicycle scalper. However, I do add value to the bicycles, by cleaning them up and looking after needed repairs. I also add value in terms of customer service – I can explain the bicycle to a potential buyer, whether the bicycle is a good fit in terms of the buyer’s height, the condition of the bicycle and what might need to be replaced next, etc. Sometimes I’m adding value (or profiting from arbitrage) just because of my location – I’m on a bus route, relatively close to the university – I may have picked up the bicycle I’m selling in Sidney or Langford, and have made it easier for a student to get to.
Bicycles aren’t the only thing that gets hustled. For a while I bought and sold video games in the winter months when the bicycle market cooled down. Furniture is also another big one – UsedVictoria’s top searches each month usually include the keywords ‘Ikea’ and ‘dresser’, and if you are ever at a garage sale upon opening, you’ll find there’s a few guys racing around the city in vans trying to snag furniture for resale.
It’s a fun way to make some money, and could really be done with anything you might have an interest in – musical instruments, motorcycles, collectibles, etc.
If you’re in the market for a used bicycle, I’d recommend either watching the ads like a hawk to snag a good deal, or asking the seller what work has been done to the bicycle. Whether buying from a reseller or someone who has taken good care of their bike, a recent tune up or drive train replacement is a good sign. Worn out bikes are often sold for cheap because someone has taken them to a bike shop that has quoted $150 for a drivetrain replacement, so they instead sell off the bike on UsedVictoria to a naive buyer without mention of the needed repair.
Cycling is a great hobby and eco-friendly mode of transportation. If you’re looking for a used bike, or looking for a money making hobby, I might see you out there. Also, I started a Facebook group for used bicycles in Victoria, with 1000+ members, that might be worth checking out.
P.S. Don’t be afraid to haggle.