The weird world of Craigslist holds a ton of potential for finding a great bike on a budget — but buyer beware: Your seller probably won’t cough up a refund if you’re unhappy with your purchase. Local bike aficionado Bradley Baysinger, who has bought and sold bikes on Craigslist for years, has found some crazy steals on the site. He’s also walked away from plenty of seemingly solid deals after seeing the bike in person. “You can get a bike for a hundred bucks, which is a great deal — and then you have to spend a hundred bucks getting it running,” he says. Depending on the bike, that may mean it wasn’t a great deal after all.

Visit the “For Sale: Bikes” section of Craigslist and set search parameters to see only listings relevant to you. Use the sidebar options to limit geographic radius, price, and the condition of the bicycle. In the top search bar, enter a brand name, bike style, or size to filter results. To get email alerts for those settings, click on “Save Search.” You’ll be prompted to create an account using your email address.

When you spot a bike that suits your needs, respond immediately — remember, inquiring about a bike doesn’t obligate you to buy it. Baysinger usually starts the conversation by simply asking if the bike is still available. A seller might have several parties interested, so wait until you’ve had a few exchanges to start talking money. “You don’t want to say anything that makes them think you’re going to drive a hard bargain,” Baysinger says. To determine a fair price, research the bike’s market value online at bicyclebluebook.com and similar sites. Any legitimate seller will be willing to provide a serial number for the bike, which you can check against local police records and online stolen bike registries like Bikeindex.org to ensure the bike is theirs to sell.

When you’re ready to buy, make an appointment to see the bike. The low-res images on Craigslist can obscure costly problems, Baysinger says. The only way to really know what you’re getting is to see the bike in person, give it a careful look, and take it for a spin. Even riders who don’t know exactly what to look for can get a feel for the bike’s condition by riding it long enough to listen for weird noises, test the brakes, and notice other obvious problems.

Replacing wheels isn’t cheap, so Baysinger recommends taking the time to examine them carefully. Check each spoke to make sure none are loose, and examine rims for hairline cracks near the spoke holes. Then, pick up the bike and spin each wheel while it’s off the ground. “You shouldn’t feel any vibration whatsoever. Sometimes you can hear a little thump, thump, thump, thump — and that means it needs internal work or the bearings need to be replaced,” he says. He’ll even lift the bike a few inches from the ground and drop it to listen for any jangles or clunks.

A bike in need of minor maintenance can still be worth buying. If you’re not confident in your own ability to differentiate cheap fixes from bigger ones, ask a bike-savvy friend to come with you. At the very least, noticing problems can help you negotiate a better price for the purchase so you don’t end up blowing your budget on repairs. “It’s so hard to sell a bike on Craigslist,” Baysinger says. “It’s seriously a buyer’s market. Don’t be afraid to talk people down on something — they probably expect it.” //

Erika Prins Simonds bicycles as her primary mode of transportation. You can find more of her writing at erikaprins.com.