So there are always a lot of sales going on on craigslist / ebay / etc. How do I tell if what they are selling is worth it?

I don't really know the difference between a $500 bike and $1500 bike. I know weight is one of concerns but 20 or 25 lbs or even 30 lbs it's pretty hard to tell the difference. There are multitudes of brand names and even more variations within the brand name.

There are also the group sets (even discounting too much of customization)

My stats: 5'10, 270 lbs
Purpose: Commuting ~12 miles daily (each way) - (assuming for long rides 50+ a hybrid is better)

I am planning to go to a local shop to try out some bicycles but, i also don't mind used, but somehow doubt someone from Craigslist will let me do a 'test drive'. Hopefully this is enough information about what my purpose and question is

to sum it up:
- What should I look for that will make the difference between a $500 bike and $1500 (both for same purpose) when it comes to Frame/Components

  • 3
    bicyclebluebook.com for pricing and I have never not been allowed to test drive a CL bike
    – paparazzo
    Aug 24, 2015 at 15:09
  • They aren't afraid you will just ride off?
    – StanM
    Aug 24, 2015 at 16:18
  • I guess I just have an honest face. And one question at a time - you are piling on a lot of stuff.
    – paparazzo
    Aug 24, 2015 at 16:26
  • good point, removed the other 2 questions and just left one
    – StanM
    Aug 24, 2015 at 16:34
  • 1
    I originally meant the question to be more about what are the differences between different types of components that are in a different range rather than what to look for in a new bike, but I see how it wasn't phrased well, and to change it now would make the answers confusing.
    – StanM
    Aug 24, 2015 at 19:15

3 Answers 3


I would say that most people on Craigslist would be willing to let you give it a test ride, I mean it's similar to buying a car. Just, as I always tell people, meet with the person in a very public space. Much safer place.

As for what to look for, I would do a little research into exactly what you are expecting to use the bike for. Figure out the kind of bike you need and do a little research on the kind of mech recommended for what you're doing,(frame, gears, wheels, shifters, brakes, drive train.) Once you figure all that out, you can narrow down your selection on Craigslist. Just like looking at different models in the store, online you will find pictures, descriptions, e.t.c. So you can find the right bike for you.

Once you think you've found one, speak with the seller and find out more about the bike. Research things like the bikes brand, how old it is, e.t.c. Once everything checks out, boom. You have your bike!


Generally speaking there are two types of bikes for sale on Craigslist. The first type is one with a manufacturer name, model name, and date of manufacture. The second type is the bike that doesn't have those identifiable characteristics. These second-type bikes might be called custom.

If you have a manufacturer, model, and year then you can use bicyclebluebook or just do some napkin math. My rule for bikes is that a used bike is worth half of what a person paid for it. That's a harsh rule but it runs true in my market. For these first type bikes you are going to have a general idea of the original value of the bike and then it is up to you to decide how much you want to pay for the bike you are looking for. My recent experience is that once I found out what I was looking for I started to see the same makes and models come up and similar price points. I would miss certain bikes at certain prices and I kept an informal idea of that those quality/value/price points were; aware that if I saw a similar combination anytime soon I would jump on the deal.

The fact that you apparently haven't checked out any bikes on Craigslist seems to indicate that you haven't really started looking yet, that you are pre-looking. I propose that once you start looking, and look for a few weeks, things will start to click. You are not going to figure this out in a few days!

As for the "custom" bikes it seems like you have a general understanding of at least the fact that there are differences among frames and among components. For pricing these things I tend to check ebay completed listings to figure out what things are selling for. You could literally add up all the used parts and you should be close to what a bike made of those parts should cost. I might get blasted for proposing this but the economics tend to work out for used bikes in the $500 - $1000 price range assuming discounts and premiums for condition and rarity. The range of components across manufacturers and types of bikes is HUGE. But as others have said, figure out the type of bike you want. That will narrow down the component options. Then figure out price range and you will get it even tighter.

As an example, let's say I figure that I want a road bike. I decide that I want something steel with at least a Shimano Sora group. Figure out what that bikes sell for new. Cut that in half. Here is your target. Now look for steel bikes with that group on ebay and see what they are selling for. See if the "half price" target is accurate and adjust it up or down. Now see if you can find this steel Sora bike. You probably can't. You might find a bike with some Sora parts and some "other" parts. Figure out how those other parts compare to Sora and adjust your price up or down. Perhaps the group is a different manufacturer, figure out where those parts compare to your parts. It is literally going to be this tedious. At first. After a while, as I said, you will start to recognize things and you'll need to research less.

As you go along, you are going to miss out on some great deals. Hopefully you also miss out on some things that would have been a mistake! Your judgment will sharpen.

NEVER BUY A BIKE WITHOUT RIDING IT unless you are willing to deal with some potentially large problems that require things like new wheels or new bottom bracket/cranks or new shifters, etc. Sometimes sellers do not even know these problems exist because they ride on destroyed hardware completely oblivious to the problems.

Oh yeah - keep in mind that quality tires could cost $100 so add or subtract accordingly.


First you need to figure out what type of bicycle you are looking for. Is it a road bike, mountain bike, hybrid, or something else. If you can't answer that question you need to do basic research to figure that out.

Once you understand what type of bike you need, you also have to figure out what size of bike "should" fit you. The only way to see if a used bike actually fits you is to test ride it.

Now that you actually know what type and size of bike you want you can start searching Craigs List. Note that some of the prices on CL are not realistic. It's up to you to figure this out. When you see a bike you like on CL make sure it is the correct size for you. If it is, the ad should list the model and year it was made, plus (at least for road bikes) what the major components are. If this information is missing- ask the person selling it for those items. It usually possible to look up the actual manufacturers specification page for any bike made in the last 15, or so, years. You can see the list price for that bike there.

So now you know what the bike cost new. You can use a site like Bicycle Blue Book to look up it's current value. This will give you an estimate of what the bike should be selling for now. More expensive bikes have more expensive frames and components. Set a budget for yourself, and stick to that budget when looking at ads. Remember most prices are negotiable AND many used bikes will need a tune up, new handlebar tape, new tires, or other things that will cost you extra. Figure this into the budget for your bike.

I've purchased 2 bikes this summer on Craigs List and every seller let me test drive the bike. I would never buy a bike without testing it. One seller brought a bike to "evaluate" that had no pedals. I couldn't try it so no sale.

Finally, always get the bike serial number before you buy and run a check to see if the bike is stolen before buying it! You can check serial numbers at Bike Registry

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