Stolen Bike Part 3: The Haggling

I neglected to tell the best part of the stolen bike story back in August, in which I was miraculously able to buy a replacement bike the very next day, for a comically low price. It all came together so weirdly-but-nicely that it makes quite a good sub-story. This happened the day after my bike was stolen, but days before I knew the police had recovered it.

Bike availability is super poor in Vancouver just now

We have a fit and active population here, and the pandemic sent demand for bicycles through the roof at the same time that Chinese manufacturing was grinding to a halt. By June, it was harder to buy a bike in Vancouver than an avocado in Antarctica.

I was only half aware of this when my bike was stolen. My awareness was quickly raised when I went to the only bike store in my neighbourhood to look into buying a replacement. They were closed due to the pandemic, but due to re-open to the public the next morning at 11am. So I was there at 10:55am… behind twelve other people who’d gotten there before me. And they had no bikes to sell in any case, as I soon learned.

Big line-up at ye olde bike shoppe.

I retreated in defeat. What to do? I don’t depend on my bike as heavily as other anyone who actually commutes with one, but I do use it constantly in the summer, especially with the loss of two thirds of the car-share fleet, and my reluctance to use rental cars during the pandemic. It occurred to me, with a sinking heart, that I might have to spend the rest of the summer without a bike… and therefore without any good transportation options at all.

One more important bit of context: I’m really short

I am unusually short. I have spent my life listening to guys who are 5'8" complain about being “short.”

That’s not actually short, dudes. I am short. 5'3" is short.

And so buying used bikes is largely futile for me. I am a man, and I want a “manly” bike, not a boy’s bike or a woman’s bike. But 95% of the manly bikes out there are simply too large for me, and of course most of those are unsuitable for other reasons.

And then something rather amazing happened

When I got back to my office, there was a note on my door. A neighbour I’d spoken to about the theft had given me a lead on a used bike. “Call Steve for a good used bike,” the note suggested. “It was too small for my son-in-law.”

I called Steve and I asked him if it was true that he had a bike for sale.

“Yes, I have a bike for sale,” he said, in a classy British accent. “But it’s a small one, that’s why I haven’t been able to sell it. There’s no point in you coming to look at it unless you’re really quite short. Are you short?”

“Probably shorter than you, Steve. I’ll be right over.”

And it was just two blocks away.

The perfect used bike

Steve was a lovely older British gentleman, and I was not shorter: two members of the one percent of the caucasian male population our height. Whatever bike had fit him, it was going to fit me.

And it did. Steve had bought it at the same bike shop I’d just abandoned, 12 years earlier. Soon after, he developed arthritis that prevented him from enjoying it, and his wife had been harassing him ever since to get it out of their storage locker.

He had hardly ever ridden it. The underside of the frame was so clean it was lickable.

And it had everything: every basic accessory, all itemized on an invoice. A rack, a mirror, a bell, saddlebags (with rain covers), toolkit, portable pump, lights, lock! None of it was high-end, but all of it was decent, and it was complete, every screw accounted for.

Even a comfort seat. Not my first choice, but a little cushy for my tushy was no kind of deal-breaker.

The miracle bike. It fits! And the price…

That’s not how haggling works

Steve gave me the invoice, which was for about $900, and said, “Make me an offer.”

Tough call! Obviously he’s not getting $900, but this bike was in unusually perfect condition for a used bike. It truly was like new. It would probably cost me $1200 to buy all the same stuff today, and it wouldn’t really be any better.

Very hesitantly, I said, “How about $400?” I figured I was low-balling a bit, and he was really hoping for $500.

Immediately he looked wounded and doubtful, and I feared the worst. Apparently he’d been expecting much more, and he kept me in suspense, shaking his head slowly, until he finally said:

“I can’t accept more than $200. I’m not trying to rip you off here.”

“I’m sorry, did you just say ‘two hundred’, Steve?”

“Yes. Not a dollar more.”

“You realize that’s half what I just offered you?”

“And it was too much. It’s not worth that much to me.”

“Well it’s worth that much to me!”

“But I don’t want to rip you off,” he said again. “I can’t take more than $200.”

I tried fairly hard to talk him up to $250, at least, but he wasn’t having it. It was the strangest haggling I have ever done.

The end

Five minutes later, I had a bike that fit me, in perfect condition, for less than the cost of some repairs that I’d had in mind for my old bike.

And a few days later, I had my old bike back. I went from being very worried that I had have no bike at all, to having two of them … and a hard time choosing between them.

Life is funny.