March 12, 2012

How to Sell a Motorcycle on Craiglist

Or more precisely, how not to sell one.

To get a feel for the market and what kinds of bikes are available, I've been scanning advertisements from a variety of sources. The most prolific--and consistently hilarious--has been Craigslist.

Craigslist is a wonderful invention. It allows people in a community to connect so that they can buy, sell and trade all manner of goods and services. The best thing about Craigslist is that it allows anyone to post an ad. However, the worst thing about Craigslist is that it allows anyone to post an ad.

When you want sell something, the classified ad should be an invitation to contact you for more information. More often than not, the ads I see serve more as a warning to stay away from this crazy person selling his or her bike. Far, far away.

To a buyer, there's usually some apprehension before contacting a seller about an ad they've placed. You wonder things like: Is this person interested reaching a fair deal, or are they just waiting for that one sucker to come along and buy that hunk of crap for three times what it's worth? How difficult are they going to be to deal with? Will they try to mislead you about the true condition of the bike?

Any ad typically helps the buyer answer some of these questions right off the bat. Ideally, you, the seller, want those to be good answers. You want the buyer to feel like they have a good reason to trust you (or at least no reason to distrust you) before they pick up the phone or send that email.

Here are some things to avoid when listing a bike (or any other item, really) on Craigslist. As a bike buyer, any one of these is enough to totally put me off trying to contact the seller. When I'm really productive, I can read dozens upon dozens of ads per day. If you don't make it completely effortless to understand what it is you're selling, I'm going to pass you up and just move on to the next one.

No photos

You're selling a physical item. Why on earth wouldn't you take at least one quick snapshot and upload it with the ad? To me, an ad without a photo says, "this person is not interested in selling the bike." If you can't be bothered to take a single photo, I automatically assume you're too lazy to follow through with any other part of the sale as well.

Some sellers state that they have pictures and will send them to if you text or email them. This is silly. I'm not going to spend my time trying to acquire something that should have accompanied the ad in the first place.

I also see people say that they have photos but they'll upload them later. Well, why not just post the whole ad later when you're better prepared?

Bad Photos

Second only to no photos are bad photos. I always see ads that say, for example, "2009 Yamaha R1, mint condition, custom paint job, etc, etc" and they they post a single grainy cell-phone picture of the damn muffler. Really?

Look, you don't have to hire a professional photographer and rent studio time to get some decent photos of your bike. Just wheel that bad boy out into the sun, borrow your friend's point-and-shoot, take a dozen or so pics and upload the best four. (Bonus points if you're able to upload high-resolution photos to a third-party service and link to them in the ad, but that's not a requirement.)

Stock Photos

I see this frequently when someone is advertising a bike that they bought brand-new from a dealership last summer, put a dozen miles on it, and then decided motorcycling wasn't for them. I don't care if the bike looks like new. I don't even care if it never left the garage. I want to see a photo of the actual bike in your possession. If I wanted to see the manufacturer's photo of the bike, I would Google the thing. Stock photos are lazy. Don't be lazy.

Bad Spelling/Grammar/Writing

Perhaps this makes me an elitist douchebag, but I believe that a person's character can be measured by how effectively they communicate in writing. I recognize that there are some people who have disabilities or can't write very well. Not to sound heartless, but that's not a valid excuse. This is a business deal, so please treat it like one. If you know your writing or typing is not up to snuff, you'll be doing yourself a favor by asking someone for help. Heck, I'll do it for you if you ask nicely.

You don't have to sing the glorious praises of your motorcycle in Shakespearean prose. Just take the time to make your ad well-written and informative because my time is valuable to me and I am sure not going to waste it deciphering a cryptic message cleverly disguised as a Craigslist ad.


Too Few Details
 "1995 Honda for sale. Runs good. Call Bob."
Some people, like our good friend Bob here, seem to think that the year and make are all the information a buyer could possibly want in order to decide that this is the right bike for them. When the only thing you can think of to say about the bike is that it "runs good," I have to take it to mean that the paint has all rusted off, the frame is broken in two, and both wheels are curiously absent. As a buyer, this is the bare minimum of information I want to know, in rough order of importance:

  • Year, make, model
  • Mileage
  • General condition
  • All cosmetic and mechanical flaws (especially: has it been down?)
Key words

Don't crud up your ad with a bunch of unrelated keywords. It's obvious to anyone with half a brain what you're trying to do and it makes you look terribly amateur. I flag posts like these as spam when I run across them. I saw an ad today where the seller had a paragraph of random keywords--longer than the actual description of the bike--and almost all of them were totally unrelated to motorcycles. (Names of sports cars, movies, rappers, and of course narcotics references. I wonder what his other hobbies were?)

Custom Parts

You're a bike guy. You bought your baby fresh out of the crate from a reputable dealer. Then you lavishly threw money at her with a smokin' aftermarket exhaust system, performance carbs, flush mount turn signals, the whole works. Now its time to part with her, but you don't really want to let her go. After all, you two have a history together. A connection. The ad you place on Craigslist lists every accessory and upgrade, and goes into excruciating detail about everything you've ever done since you owned her.

Let me say this as plainly and clearly as I can: I don't care. I want a motorcycle, not your hobby. The more "custom" a bike is, the less interested I am in it. For all I know, there's an even chance that you messed everything up while doing all that work. As a second-hand motorcycle buyer, I'd much prefer a stock bike that was ridden regularly and only wrenched on for ordinary maintenance.

And most importantly, don't list a ton of upgrades in your ad and then say that they all add up to thousands of dollars worth of value. If anything, your supposed "upgrades" have only devalued the bike.

Contact via Phone (or Text) Only

If you can muster up the courage to post an ad to Craigslist, then certainly you can find it deep within yourself to answer a couple of quick questions via email before I ask to come look at the bike. I totally understand that you might not be an email kind of guy. But in this modern age, that means you're not a motorcycle selling kind of guy either.

No Tirekickers/Joyriders/etc (a.k.a. "I Hate People")

This one is my absolute favorite. I appreciate individuals who don't beat around the bush and tell you exactly what's on their mind. But there's such as thing as being a little too forward.

Nobody likes to have their time wasted. I get that. But when you put these kinds of qualifications into your ad, you're admitting upfront that you don't trust your prospective buyers. For sure, there are some that can't be trusted. But you make that determination on a case-by-base basis after you've talked with them for a little while, not before.

Price is Firm

Translation: "I am insecure about my abilities to reach a mutually agreeable price with an interested buyer."

Like it or not, every buyer is going to assume that you're open to some negotiation on your price. That's just how motorcycles are sold, man. Always have been, always will. If you have a target in mind, then price the bike slightly higher and anticipate that the buyer will negotiate you down to your target. It's just that easy. And you never know, you may get lucky and someone will offer exactly what you're asking. If that happens: Yay, profit! But when you say up-front that you're refusing to negotiate, that tells buyers that you're probably impossible to reason with.

Closely related to the firm-pricers are the sellers who say "no lowballers." This I do not understand. If someone makes an offer below your expectations, what's so hard about saying no? Or making a counter-offer? I also see statements like, "don't offend me with a ridiculous offer." How am I to know exactly what's a lowball or ridiculous offer in your book?

There are lots of used bikes for me to choose from. I'd rather do business with a seller who doesn't come off as grumpy or easily angered.

Alright, so that pretty much wraps up my short list of pet peeves. (Believe me, there are plenty more.) If any sellers are reading this, please remember: When you post an ad to craigslist, you reveal a lot more about yourself than you might realize. If your ad falls short, you drive away potential buyers, simple as that. Yes, some of them will be annoying, clueless, sneaky, and smelly. If you want a decent amount of offers (and hence a better chance of a good selling price), you'll just have to learn to deal with them in order to reach the serious, interested, and honest buyers.


Anonymous said...

You misspelled "worth".

add up to thousands of dollars with of value.

charles said...

Thanks, anon. Fixed!

Anonymous said...

Excellent and Required reading ...but who's going to teach them to read?

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I have one to sell and needed this perspective. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I love it, very good information

Anonymous said...

Great advice! But you still didn't tell me how to put an add in craigslist!!

charles said...

To post to craigslist, go to, select the city nearest you, click on "post to classifieds" and follow the instructions. Hey presto!

Anonymous said...

Nice article, lots of good tips. Here are some of my thoughts on selling bikes on craigslist.

For me personally, I only like to list out a phone #. This weeds-out the internet tough guys. Texting and emailing are for people with low self-esteem who fear rejection since the communication is not in real-time like a phone call. How many times have people not responded back to a text or email, even with just a 'thanks for your time'? Happens all the time. How many people have hung up on me when they didn't take my counter-offer? None that I can remember. I still get a 'thanks anyway, bye'. A phone call still falls under the rules of common courtesy, whereas email and text don't.

This is all a numbers game. The probability that a potential buyer will seal the deal is less than 5%. All you can do is be patient and someone in that 5% will come along.

At first I used to get frustrated, but now I feel pity for the tire kickers and dreamers. Most of them don't have the money, but that doesn't keep their greasy fingers off the keyboard or phone.

The classic excuses never get old:
-I get paid this Friday
-I'm waiting for my income tax refund
-My car won't start, I can't make it. Let's reschedule for tomorrow (and never hear from them again)
-Will you deliver?

This is my personal favorite:
-I need to get permission from my wife.

Love that one. I bet your wife doesn't ask your permission when she goes out and blows $1,500 on a stupid gucci purse. In my book, you're not a real man if you have to ask your wife. You're not buying a home or a new car, you're buying a friggin' used motorcycle. Do what real men do-Lead

charles said...

Hi Anon, I sympathize with you, but I still think that a "no emails" policy puts the seller at a disadvantage. Lots of people use email these days because it's much more convenient. When I was shopping for a bike, I didn't always have the time to pick up the phone right then and there and passed on a lot of otherwise good deals. What some sellers do is answer questions by email but still require a phone call to setup the appointment.

As for the excuses, yeah, I'm sure there are a lot of them. When I bought my bike, my friend with a truck was out of town. I had to spend a lot of time convincing the guy that yes, I was actually going to come back the very next day to pay for it and pick it up. :)

charles said...

About the numbers game: if you find that only 1 out of every 20 people (95%) are serious about buying the bike and you'd like to improve those odds and reduce hassle, you can always lower the price of the bike. You'll get more serious buyers quicker, but not quite as much money.

Of course, if you really want the best sale possible (for you), then it's just a fact of life that you have to weed out lots of weirdos, just as we buyers do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charles,

Yes, the dreaded price drop always seems to work. OK, OK, I'll give email another shot.

Funny story about the truck. Hey, was that you who called about delivery and needed permission from the wife? J/k! LOL

Anonymous said...

Love the article. A few of my pet peeves (in addition to those I share with you) are: 1) pictures taken in a cluttered garage or in a crowded driveway with junk all around. This gives me the impression that you don't take care of your stuff. 2) No title but "you can easily get one from DMV"...if it was so easy, you do it and make the bike more valuable. 3) Same as #2 but having to do with parts or mechanical problems..."missing an engine but you can find these on ebay for $50" 4) Using words like "tiers" and "breaks" instead of tires and brakes. There is an online dictionary if you need it.

charles said...

Hi Anon. Yes, those are excellent points. I know what you mean about the title. I also see a lot of ads that say something like, "Runs great but a test ride won't be possible since it needs a new battery." Suuuuuure. I often wonder what comedy would follow in those cases when the buyer shows up with their own battery.

Dwight said...

Great article! I never thought much about listing the upgrades.. good point!

I do find it funny the one "Anonymous" guy above was talking about how only a real man calls and doesn't use technology, yet he had to be Anonymous and was too afraid to post his name. He's also the kind of guy I wouldn't buy a bike from, that's for sure. He needs to understand even if I find a good bike, I have to see who that money is going to. Not going to a-holes or shady people. There's always another person out there getting rid of their bike for good reasons that i'll gladly take.

5 motorcycles so far, and all from good people. The agressive ones who think they are so deserving or try to force me to pay more never get my business, that's for sure. I don't need someone to talk me into buying a bike. If your bike can't speak for itself then i'm walking away.

Ed said...

Need thoughts on allowing a "test ride" and how to arrange payment.
Have 2008 FLSTC that will be on Craig's List shortly.

charles said...

Hi Ed,

Well, my understanding is that most sellers like to deal in cash. What I would do is offer a test ride only after you and the buyer have agreed on a price. The test ride is only to prove to the seller that there are no problems with the engine, transmission, and overall handling that wouldn't be obvious from just starting it up and revving the engine. When it's time to ride, the buyer hands you all of the cash, and then you count it, and then you hand over the keys. This way, if the bike is crashed on the test ride, you now (probably) have the funds to fix it. Or the buyer can opt to take possession of the bike as-is and sign the title over. If the bike comes back intact, then of course you would also sign the title over. And then the transaction is complete!

But if we're talking a bike with a good bit of value, the cash route may be impractical. There are other options, however. You could accept a cashier's check. These are as safe as cash since they're guaranteed by the issuing bank. A certified check may be another option. If you go this route and want the extra security (against check forgery), you could arrange to meet the buyer at your bank and sign over the title right there at the bank after the check has been deposited into your account.

You could also ask for a personal check, but not sign over the title until the check has cleared. The downside is that this requires some trust on the buyer's part.

I'm not sure how to verify the authenticity of a cashier's, certified, or personal check before a test ride, however. Perhaps in this case, you can still offer the test ride but follow the buyer on another bike or in your car.

I hope these suggestions help!

Anonymous said...

Yeah but don't just look at it from the perspective of the buyer. What if I want a test ride and don't like it in the end? Then I'm supposed to just hope he'll give me back my money?

Paying in full just for a test ride isn't really acceptable for a potential buyer. That's not a test ride then, but a sale with hoping I can get the money back.
Half price deposit plus 2 ID's is more reasonable.

You are assuming the bike runs great. Yours might, other people's doesn't, that's why I want to test it, it might just as well have a bad clutch or breaks.

Why should I pay a price just to test something which might not even be worth that price. Say the clutch is bad, then I did not only give you all my money even though I don't want to buy it, but also I gave you more than the bike is worth obviously. And I can only hope you have mercy and give me back my money.

charles said...


"Test ride with cash in hand only" is just one of many possible arrangements that a buyer and seller can agree to. If you're not comfortable with such a thing, you can choose to let the seller know and work out something else. You can leave a portion of the sale price as deposit, you can offer to let them make a copy of your driver's license, or you can let them follow in a chase car (or another motorcycle). Every transaction is different. Most sellers are just looking for some assurance that the "buyer" isn't going to simply ride off into the sunset without paying.

Above all, as a buyer, my personal advice is to go into the deal with an open mind. There is always some level of risk involved for both parties, but my motto is to always presume the other side has the best of intentions until you find evidence to the contrary.

CallMeFriendly said...

I'm looking to sell at least 4 of my bikes and wanted to go thru craiglist to do so but, Wanted to know if I had to have some kind of license or permit to sell my bikes? If it help I am selling the bikes in Florida.

charles said...

@CallMeFriendly: Some states require you to have a dealer license if you sell more than a certain number of vehicles in a given time frame. I wouldn't think that only four would run against such a limit, but you might want to drop a dime to the DMV to make sure.

Anonymous said...

I agree mostly, but often put "Price is fair and firm" when selling something that I don't want offers on. What I am finding difficult as a buyer is the new generation of "texters" that have no ability to answer the questions properly. I may send three or four questions out and they only answer the last one, and are often very reluctant to give a phone numbers, even though it is still the most efficient way of communicating.
As a frequent motorcycle buyer, here is a comical list of my pet peeves:
Bike is mint, just needs carb cleaning and battery to run - Do they know what "Mint" means.
95% complete,just missing side covers and seat - If they think that qualifies as 95% complete realise there are probably several other parts missing too.
Bobber project nearly finished - translation: I have messed this machine up so bad and now need someone more qualified to try and put it right.

Anonymous said...

"Half price deposit plus 2 ID's is more reasonable"

1) If you or they give/hold two ID's, they or you are likely driving a motorcycle that you don't own without a license... something lots of motorcycle hating cops (not all are) would love to get a hold of.

2) Having possesion of someone elses drivers license gives you no legal rights or ramifications if they steal or wreck your bike. They just spend $10 dollars and an hour for a new one.

Matt H.