Where to Buy a Used, Not-Stolen Bike

Thanks to Bicycling Magazine for this article on Perfecto!

Many cyclists want to buy used bikes, but don’t have many good—or at least trustworthy—options. You can find gear organized by industry pros at face-to-face markets—think swap meets, sporting goods consignment stores, and a few bike shops that sell second-hand bikes (like Portland’s Sellwood Cycle and Boulder’s Community Cycles)— but the lion’s share of used bike sales start online, through Craigslist and eBay.

While the goods are cheaper than new, there are risks: fraud and counterfeit, for two, and the possibility that you’re buying from a thief who’s using the Internet to anonymously fence stolen goods. Aside from the “ick” factor of buying a stolen bike (not to mention potential safety issues that might arise during any in-person transaction), criminal law provides few remedies for buyers of stolen goods, which, when found, are often confiscated without compensation. A few weeks ago, Rob Lawson, a tech entrepreneur in Los Angeles, launched a website that he hopes will change things.

Perfecto is billed as the world’s first online marketplace for used bikes—exclusively—focused not just on connecting buyers and sellers, but also on helping ensure that all sales are legit. That’s an ambitious goal; we caught up with Lawson to learn how he plans to make it happen, and the considerable challenges inherent in using technology to attempt to create a theft-free marketplace.

“I’ve ridden a bike all my life and had bikes stolen when I worked in London, in New York City, and here in California,” Lawson tellsBicycling. “My kids have lost two bikes each. I’m very familiar with the personal pain of bike theft.

But it was buying a used bike (a Specialized Roubaix Pro) that gave him the idea to start Perfecto. “I ended up connecting with the [owner] on Strava, and we were able to talk about the bike and where he’d ridden it and how much,” says Lawson. “There was a human connection that built trust on my side that I wasn’t buying a stolen bike, and he was more comfortable selling it to someone who he’d gotten to know. So the question became: How could you use data to produce a market that was better for cyclists?”

To shop on Perfecto, buyers and sellers must create an account. The preferred method is to link your Strava account, which provides a kind of used-bike report, because Perfecto auto-fills any fields you created on Strava for make, model, and components, and—of course—how far and where the bike was ridden. Users can also log in through Facebook, or create a dedicated Perfecto account.  

Perfecto also prompts you to enter your bike’s serial number, which it runs against several databases of stolen bikes, like BikeIndex. Lawson declines to elaborate upon which law enforcement databases Perfecto accesses as well, to deter thieves.

Listings will look familiar to any user of online marketplaces: a brief description, photos, and specs. But the seller’s name and city location are also listed, and the specs can include mileage and serial number. Buyers can filter to see only bikes posted with a Strava profile or serial number, and also narrow the search by type of bike, frame size, price, mileage, and more.

Payment is via Braintree, which supports credit cards and Paypal, among other options. Buyers and sellers can chat through Perfecto; if a buyer bids and the seller declines or does not respond in five days, the sale does not go through. If a sale does go through, the funds are held in escrow until the buyer acknowledges proper receipt, to ensure that the buyer gets what was advertised. (If the buyer fails to complete the accepted sale form, but also doesn’t file a dispute notice, the funds are automatically released after 14 days.) Perfecto works with several shipping partners, and Lawson says shipping is typically $60 to $100 in the continental US. Fees? Perfecto takes six percent of the total sales price – half of which goes to Braintree. Lawson points out that’s about 50 percent of the commission that eBay charges.

Despite the name, Perfecto isn’t perfect, and Lawson admits it’s impossible to say for sure that there are no stolen bikes in its listings. If you’re not on Strava (or are but are not active), the added seller features aren’t very meaningful. Serial number databases like BikeIndex are a great idea in theory, but BikeIndex itself has fewer than 60,000 bikes registered, and if you haven’t registered your bike yet, a thief could easily do that with a stolen ride and claim it’s his. It’s possible to create fake Facebook profiles. And it would also be possible to create a fake Perfecto account.

While being free of stolen bikes isn’t a guarantee, it’s Perfecto’s goal, and Lawson is adding functionality to the site to help reach it. There is a dispute resolution process, and Perfecto scans listings for questionable sales (of which Lawson says he’s removed several).

Lawson plans to add more integration for other social account logins, and has started to approach bike manufacturers about building a more proactive system around serial number registration—anything he can do, he says, to build more trust and reassurance in the system.

But the overall aim is to rally a sense of community around buying and selling used bikes. “Some people might like the anonymity of Craigslist or eBay, but I think if you’re spending $2,000 on something, you don’t want that to be anonymous,” he says. “And— this is very subjective—but I feel like bikes are emotional things. I think the community wants to know who the people are who they’re buying from and selling to."