The Craigslist Chronicles: Buying a classic bike online


| 11/8/2011 12:43:30 PM


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Needs TLC: Junkyard Kawasaki 
"Ran when parked." 

I was looking for a project motorcycle. My current old bike was running surprisingly well, occasionally for days at a time, but I was feeling antsy; I needed another project bike. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but I’d know it when I saw it. I wasn’t looking for a Henderson or a pristine low-number sandcast CB750, just a reasonably priced, close-to-running bike I could tinker with, get running, and ultimately put on the road.   

Unless you’ve been living in a cave (without wi-fi), you’re aware that the era of brewing a pot of coffee, unfolding the Sunday morning paper and perusing the “Motorcycles for Sale” ads and finding an easy-to-work-on bike 10 minutes from home is long over, and you’ve no doubt heard about Craigslist, the free Internet advertisement website that lets you post anything for sale. And when I say anything, I do mean anything. But as I had no need (at the time) to have a woman in a slinky Star Wars outfit beat me with a kielbasa, I went straight to the motorcycle ads.

One thing is immediately apparent; Craigslist motorcycle ads are a free-for-all rodeo. No longer do you have to consider whether or not that junker bike that’s quietly rusting back into the loam is worth the effort and time of placing a $25 advertisement in a newspaper. With free listings, and the investment of a few minutes at the computer, you can easily add your non-running scrapyard-candidate bike to the immense loop current of junk that’s being peddled on the Internet.

I quickly learned several things; Spelling, as we know it, has gone the way of the quill pen on Craigslist. At first I was aghast at the spelling in the ads (“ths bik huals azz”), but soon got used to it. Still, though, I couldn’t figure out why sellers couldn’t even spell the name of the motorcycles they were selling. Hint to sellers; the name of the bike is usually emblazoned on the tank and /or side panels of the motorcycle you’re selling. On the other hand, maybe there was a company that once made “Sporsers,” because there are a lot of them on Craigslist.

Another thing I learned was that every older motorcycle on Craigslist is a “collector’s bike.” I don’t know if this was caused by too much watching of The Antiques Roadshow” or some of those 24-hour car-auction cable shows, where motorcycles occasionally appear, but everyone seems to think they have a gem sitting in their garage. There are a lot of $2,000 bikes on Craigslist that would cost an additional $2,000 worth of work to be worth, well, $1,000.

bbillington
12/5/2011 2:38:11 PM

I'm glad to say that the basement bike was not a Craigslist lead that I sent to John. Nice read!


rhinetom
11/30/2011 9:43:59 AM

1983 HD Shovelhead with 18K original miles. Was $12K now, $7.5K San Antonio, Texas will ship. Contact me at tnorling@satx.rr.com. Have many photos I can send you.


john haddad
11/19/2011 6:44:41 AM

Very entertaining read! - but I got my '07 BMW F650 GS from craigslist, from a beautiful young lady, for a very good price!


rob hall
11/11/2011 6:44:42 PM

A wonderful article! LMAO! As a LEO who has frequently dealt with Meth heads, the hair on the back of my neck rose when reading about the basement bike. Glad it turned out okay, but, phew! Extremely well written, and funny as all get out! Thanks!


david duarte
11/11/2011 6:41:35 PM

I managed to luck out and get a pretty decent bike on Craigslist. I found a 74 Honda CB200 for sale. When I came to see it, the guy started it up on the first kick. The left side cover was broken and it had obviously not been pampered. It had no title, but I did have the guy sign a bill of sale, and I was able to register it without any major drama (Connecticut doesn't title bikes manufactured before 1981). It took a little doing, but with new tires and various and sundry other parts, I rode it up to Lake George and back with some friends on other little old Japanese bikes. What a hoot!


idbagh1
11/11/2011 6:07:55 PM

I have had the same questionable experiences here in the southwest on CL and I just loved reading the article. My wife makes me pack my pistol with me every time I venture out in search of a find. Does anybody know what a heal shifter is or a nice ferring? Yes, my $200 bike without title ended up costing a total of $1700 to get it on the road including all the paperwork fees, not including the time involved. I agree with Mr. Fleming. Sometimes an owner is just too lazy to get a duplicate title saving a prospective new owner much aggravation. Grrrr...And we love old bikes!


idbagh1
11/11/2011 6:01:29 PM

I have had the same miserable experiences here in the southwest on CL and I just loved reading the article. My wife makes me pack my pistol with me every time I venture out in search of a find. Does anybody know what a heal shifter is or a nice ferring? Yes, my $200 bike without title ended up costing a total of $1700 to get it on the road including all the paperwork fees. Not including the time involved. I agree with Mr. Fleming. Sometimes an owner is just too lazy to get a duplicate title saving a prospective new owner much aggravation. Grrrr...And we love old bikes?


david_5
11/10/2011 5:35:26 PM

"Ask me sometime about the guy with the 500 matchless who proudly showed me the "fix" for the loose fit between the bike's exhaust port and the exhaust pipe. He welded the pipe to the head!" I had a similar experience with my BSA. Previous owner had installed adapters in the head to use Triumph pipes (actually after-market "Sportster" straight pipes.) By, "installed," I mean high-temp JB Weld. One pipe blew out while riding. That winter I had the adapters welded into the ports.


tom winegar
11/10/2011 4:36:15 PM

The story about the creepy guy with the creepier basement sure rings a bell, I traveled to Western Kansas to look at a bike and was greeted by two scary looking guys to a house smelling of narcotic and it wasn't pot. I followed them to a shed and was invited to enter first but being already on guard and imagining a length of pipe coming down on my skull I entered sideways which evoked a toothless grin from my hosts. There is another thing about Craigslist that is a bit of a pain, I run across a number of sellers that think that if they respond to an inquiry that they should be rewarded with a sale. I respond by asking them how they would respond to a store manager expecting the same. I have a hearing issue that makes using a phone impossible and have missed out.....or rather, the seller missed out on a sale because they either had eliminated the email link or refused to respond. With it's deficiencies apparent, Craigs' is still the best place to find an untouched original at a decent price. There are risks however such as one's obsession to have a bike of their dreams and overlooking the bent frame or worse yet restoring a rare collectible machine only to have it taken from you by the local DMV because it has been reported stolen. Rule one, always tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back. Rule two, trust no one.....and Rule three, try to take someone with a frugal demeanor along to counter your obsession to have the dream wreck of your dreams.


richard backus
11/10/2011 3:52:21 PM

Good catch Biker Bonnie. It's fixed now! Richard Backus/Motorcycle Classics


rosst120r
11/10/2011 3:40:54 PM

It's a funny but sad commentary... ying and yang. While there is a lot of trash out there, better it should be used for parts than to go to the scrapper when the owner ODs. I recently sold a good running Triumph in 2 days with a CL ad, zero cost. eBay would have involved non-local buyers, shipping, etc, not to mention a couple hundred in fees. My rules are, if it doesn't have a picture in the ad, it isn't real. Very few exceptions...


don fleming
11/10/2011 2:32:03 PM

I've bought a few "vintage" bikes off craigslist,several on "bill of sale". The registration is difficult and time comsumeing, but can be done. I don't ever spend over $500. on an old bike and never more than $200. without title.Even with a title,you must always check the date that the bike was last registered, If it's 4 or 5 years behind, you could easly be looking at $500. worth of back fees, on top of the registration fees! Here in California, if it's been more than 10 years you only pay the current years reg. fees because the vehicle has been taken off the DMV computer. Most people pay more for the bike and only get one with a title, I only buy the cheep ones because I'm on a very limited budget and have the time and patience to fool with them.


denis martyn
11/10/2011 2:26:33 PM

Very funny John Luck, and so very true. Those of us who chase old motorcycles probably all have similar experiences to relate. Ask me sometime about the guy with the 500 matchless who proudly showed me the "fix" for the loose fit between the bike's exhaust port and the exhaust pipe. He welded the pipe to the head! Then there was the guy back in the 70's who wanted to sell me his choppper. He had extended the front end 12 inches by threading three four inch slugs together. Two of those fittings extended beyond the lower triple clamp. I still shudder when I think of it. However, those sellers, and many others, had all advertised in the newspaper. So, the Craigslist funnies are just the SOS in a new format. Keep your sense of humor, John. As you obviously know, it all makes for good stories, and that's half the fun.


biker bonnie
11/10/2011 2:21:58 PM

"Spelling, as we know it, has gone the way of the quill pen on Craigslist." AND THIS ARTICLE,too? APPARENTLY >> "That would be just about as valid as your bill of sal." (SALE) But did enjoy reading it.


david_5
11/10/2011 1:07:27 PM

Oh yeah, there are a lot of flakes on Craig's List, especially in the Musical Instruments section. I once got email from some dude in England asking me to send an international money order to buy a laptop I'd never seen. However, I did find my current ride, a '71 BSA, on Craig's List. Would only run with a battery charger attached, and with straight pipes it was hard to hear if anything was making bad noises. But, it did run, so I bought it. Three years, another $1000 in upgrades and parts, and a LOT of work and I have a classic road burner.


mike
11/10/2011 11:33:02 AM

Thanks for the story; I thought I was the only one who had these types of issues! You win with the basement bike, no way I would have gone down there.


bruce isaachsen
11/10/2011 8:10:16 AM

John, Great article. I have had similar experiences with Craigslist but also good ones as well. I seem to be able to find bikes in reasonable shape even if they are under tarps. It is ironic that the horse selling world has similar "code" as the used motrcycle world. You brightened my day.Bruce Isaachsen





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