Bike resellers could be robbing you blind: Here are examples

By C. Scott Brown – idRIDER #1154

If you’re in the market for a great bicycle, you’ve probably thought about buying one used. Quality bikes can cost thousands of dollars, so slashing even a few hundred off can be quite alluring.

If you search online in your city, you’ll probably find plenty of listings for used bikes on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other sites. At face value, you’ll likely think most of the listings were created by the bike’s owner or someone directly connected to them. Maybe they recently upgraded and are selling their old bike, or maybe they’re selling one for a friend.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. In some cases, these aren’t normal folks selling a used bike: they’re resellers, flippers, or “refurbishers” — people who sell lots of used bikes as a lucrative side hustle or maybe even a full-time job.

Because these resellers are trying to maximize profits, they could be masking or even outright lying about how they obtained the bike. The bicycle itself could be incredibly overpriced — and maybe even dangerous to ride. A “refurbished” bike could have just been cleaned quickly and not really been refurbished. It’s also very possible that they are selling stolen bikes.

Before buying a used bike, you should learn how unscrupulous bike resellers take advantage of buyers.

Reselling a bike: There are few protections for the buyer

If you wanted to buy a used car from someone, what would you do to ensure you weren’t buying something they stole? First, you’d likely inspect the title. This legal document proves ownership of the vehicle and would need to be transferred to you after the sale. You’d check the Kelley Blue Book value of the car to ensure you’re not overpaying. You’d probably also use the vehicle identification number (VIN) to pull a Carfax report to see if this car had been involved in any crashes or other legal issues. Finally, if you’re smart, you’d also have an independent mechanic inspect it to avoid ending up with a lemon.

Unfortunately, buying a used bicycle usually doesn’t allow for all these ways to protect yourself. Outside of having a bike mechanic look things over, most of the protections car buyers have don’t carry over when buying bikes. This puts a significant burden on the buyer to ensure things are on the level. However, many bicycle buyers don’t even think they might be being duped and skip doing their due diligence to protect themselves.

Is that bike reseller selling stolen property?

While you’d like to think your local bike reseller is honest, there are plenty of real-world examples in which that turned out not to be true.

In 2022, authorities uncovered a criminal enterprise in which high-end bicycles were stolen from affluent Denver, CO, neighborhoods and trafficked to Mexico. There, they were sold at a reputable-seeming online store. In the end, a statewide grand jury indicted eight men in this very lucrative bicycle theft ring.

In 2018, a shop called Cycle City in England was found to have employees who paid thieves directly to steal bikes so they could then resell them for a profit.

In 2010, a police sting at a beloved bike shop in the East Village of Manhattan found that employees would knowingly buy stolen bicycles.

These are only three news stories in which reputable-seeming bike resellers were found to be knowingly selling stolen property. There are probably so many more that we don’t know about, though, because police departments don’t take bicycle theft very seriously.

Tricks bike resellers pull

Even when a reseller is not selling stolen property, there are still many ways they could take advantage of a buyer.

Sometimes, sellers will pose as so-called “theft recovery agents,” which means they work with local law enforcement to turn in stolen bikes. They might even go so far as to post a link to an article about how they discovered a stolen bike and returned it to an owner. While this is a good deed, it’s really just a distraction. In reality, they might repurpose stolen bicycles by, for example, mixing parts of two bikes to make them look different.

Another common trick is to cover up deficiencies with bikes rather than repair them. This could be as simple as putting a sticker over a crack in the frame to hide it from the buyer. Not only is this scamming the buyer, but it also puts riders in considerable danger.

Yet another trick is to play on a buyer’s heartstrings. The seller could post a story about the bike belonging to a deceased relative or a child who is sick in the hospital. They could say they are fundraising for a good cause. However, this could all be fabricated to earn a buyer’s trust.

Even when someone isn’t actively scamming a buyer, that doesn’t mean they are completely on the level. Each sale of a used bicycle should be taxed, but this is easy to avoid using methods like cash-only sales. This is easy to forgive if you only sell one bike every few years, but professional resellers could sell dozens of bikes monthly and earn thousands in profit.

We need a ‘Carfax for bikes’

The most obvious solution to the rampant problems we see in the used bike market is empowering people with information. With cars, you have a VIN, legal paperwork, and companies like Carfax. Why don’t we have protocols and services like these for bicycles?

idRIDER is such a service for the entire biking community. The app creates an irrefutable blockchain record of events through user-submitted photos, ultimately ensuring the connection between the owner and their property — far superior to a traditional VIN or paper title.

Using idRIDER, a potential buyer could easily check the status of a used bike to ensure the seller is the true owner. They can also see how long the bike has been around, any maintenance the owner conducted, and where the bike has been stored during its lifetime. If the
bike isn’t already on idRIDER, the buyer could also ask the seller to upload their information to the app before the sale, affirming the transaction and protecting both parties.

Additionally, idRIDER empowers cyclists and other recreational riders by giving them a platform to build community. This includes connecting owners with reputable repair shops, giving advice on buying/selling/upkeep, or just suggesting terrific routes or offering a place to stay. As a bonus perk, idRIDER also offers rewards for participation in the app, which you can redeem at local bike shops for new gear or services.

idRIDER won’t stop bicycle theft, nor will it eliminate unscrupulous bike resellers. However, idRIDER can certainly make it easier for buyers to know they are making a legal purchase and that their money is going to the bike’s owner, not lining the pockets of a reseller. It can also help law enforcement recover stolen bikes.

How to protect yourself when buying a used bike
If you are planning on buying a used bike, here are some tips on how to keep yourself safe:

  • Ask for details on where the seller obtained the bicycle. Ask plenty of clarifying questions to ensure the story stays consistent.
  • Inspect the bike for any identification number, such as a serial number. idRIDER supplies weather-proof QR codes called idTAGS, which you can scan to check on the status of a bike. Does the bike you’re buying have a tag like this? Use it to ensure the bike is not stolen and its history aligns with the seller’s claims.
  • Compare a stock photo of the bike model to the one you might buy. Has the bike been modified in any way? Inspect those modifications to make sure they are safe.
  • Are the sale prices of the used bikes too good to be true? If a person is selling a highvalue bike at an incredibly low price, something illegal could be happening.
  • Peruse other online listings in that local area. Do you see the location behind the bike in many other photos? This suggests the person is reselling on a large scale, which is a red flag.
  • Does the listing say it’s connected to a brick-and-mortar shop? Call the bike shop directly and make sure they know about this connection. If they don’t, you should not buy from that seller.

If you discover a bike reseller is selling stolen bicycles, scamming buyers, or otherwise acting unethically, we encourage you to document anything you can and notify the police.

The registration process was quick and easy to register my family’s bikes. Now I have peace of mind knowing if something happens to my bike, I have a much better chance of getting it back.

Every responsible bike owner should take a few moments to register their bike with idRIDER. I did.

For anyone who thinks it’s not worth the 3 minutes to register your bike – think again.

idRIDER helps ensure stolen bikes do not end up on the used bicycle black market – and instead stay with their rightful owner.

I was so thankful that my bike was able to be identified and returned to me. Without proper identification of my bike, there was not a chance I was going to get it back. I was lucky that idRIDER was so careful and took time to find the punched in serial number. I wouldn’t expect that level of care from just anyone. Having a way to identify my bike was crucial to its return, and I think having various ways to identify and get the word out about stolen bikes can help to get them back to their owners.

Did you know?

In 2019, bicycles were second only to motor vehicles in number of thefts.