How Not To Buy A Stolen Bike

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August 3, 2015

It's estimated that used bikes are bought and sold in America to the tune of $2 billion per year. Most of them, perfectly legal. But many sales happen on Craigslist and eBay, two places that have no protections for stolen bikes. So, if possession is nine-tenths of the law, how do you ensure you're not buying a stolen (and beloved) bike?

Our friends at Bike Index have put together this checklist to help.

What if it's your bike that's stolen? Click here for our Oversimplified guide to the unthinkable.

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Step 1: Check the Ad
There are lots of kinds of bikes for lots of different purposes and lots of different people. If you were honestly trying to sell a bike online, you'd do your best to describe it in the most desirable way to the most likely buyer. If the ad seems empty, generic, or incongruent, be suspect.

Pro Tip: If you've got a friend who's more bike savvy, send her the ad and see what she thinks.

Step 2: Check the Seller
On eBay this is straightforward. On Craigslist you've got to employ workarounds. If you find a suspicious ad, try searching the provided address or phone number for any other listings. If you get more suspicious listings, beware.

Pro Tip: You can contribute to crowdsourced reports by emailing with shady seller info.

Step 3: Check the Serial
The easiest way is to ask for the serial number via phone or email before you meet up.

Most serial numbers are under the frame on the bottom bracket shell. If your seller can't find it there, suggest these other locations. It's very rare for a bike to be without one, so if the seller won't provide it, assume the worst.

The more normalized serial numbers become in transactions, the harder it will be to sell stolen bikes. Making stolen bikes hard to sell will unquestionably result in fewer thefts.

Every Mission Bicycle is automatically registered, and we believe you should register your bike too. Let us convince you why, and show you how, with our Oversimplified guide to registration.

Step 4: Check the Bike
If you feel good about steps 1-3 and arrange a meeting with the seller, confirm the bike in front of you is the one advertised online. Make sure it matches the info given and use your intuition about the seller's knowledge and attitude. For example, a short person with no knowledge of a really tall bike should set off alarm bells.

Most sellers are honest, and most listings legit. But as in all things, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Click here to view or share the complete checklist PDF. Thanks to Bike Index for putting it together.

To see if insuring your new (to you) bike is worthwhile, read our Oversimplified guide to insurance.