How to buy and sell fitness equipment amid COVID-19

Kyle Bennett’s beat-up, 10-year-old Giant Faith mountain bike sat in his garage unused for months. The industrial designer from Santa Cruz paid $450 for it a year before and had thoroughly thrashed it. So he put it up for sale on Facebook Marketplace.

In one hour, his post got 60 replies.

Perhaps even more surprising? His asking price was $600.

“The bike was gone in two hours,” he says. “A guy drove 100 miles and handed me cash, with no bargaining. But if I’d been patient, I easily could have gotten $1,000 for it. People were bidding. In the pandemic, people post bikes for outrageous prices — and are getting them.”

Today, with gyms mostly closed due to the pandemic, people are desperate to stay fit. But they can’t get new bikes and fitness equipment. Bike shops are sold out. Buying new dumbbells and weight benches is practically impossible.

The solution: Go online and buy and sell used stuff.

There are lots of websites, from bicycle-specific sites like BikeExchange.com, BicyleBluebook.com and PinkBike.com to general sites like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp.com, CraigsList.org and LetGo.com.

Cleaning out your garage has never been this lucrative.

You know that old beach cruiser with flat tires hanging in the rafters that you couldn’t dump for 50 bucks? Now hose it off, pump the tires, shine it up with Pledge and get $250 for it!

If you’ve got old dumbbells and weight plates lying around, you may be sitting on a gold mine. The going price of $1 a pound jumped to $3 a pound or more when the gyms closed, according to Anthony Duke, a PE teacher and football coach from Murrieta, who has become a weight equipment expert in the last three months while buying and selling on OfferUp.com.

“Done right, that old $10, 10-pound dumbbell will now get you $35,” he says. “Old weights I bought online for $50 I’ve sold for $500. Two 25-pound bumper plates — which have the rubberized coating that you can drop on the floor — got me $900. The trick is making it look as good as possible.”

Duke picks up discarded weights anywhere he can — other online sellers, the city dump, trash cans, the dank corner of garages at estate sales. He paid 20 cents a pound for weights dumped by the Yorba Linda Fire Department. Then the refurbishing begins. He soaks them in vinegar, scrubs with a steel brush and S.O.S. pad to remove rust, spray-paints them black and uses a fat sharpie to paint the raised letters and numbers white. He’ll reupholster $150 weight benches and sell them for $500.

The same strategy works for bikes. Duke’s next-door neighbor Stephen Nelson, who was a noncyclist in February, turned himself into an expert rider and mechanic during the pandemic — buying, rehabbing and selling a dozen mountain bikes and beach cruisers on OfferUp.com and LetGo.com.

“Used bikes are the new ‘new bikes,’” says the fitness coach. “I’ll buy beach cruisers for $50, clean them, touch up the paint, put on matching grips, shine up the rims and sell them from $350 to $400. A legacy product like a GT Performer BMX bike with mag wheels from the 1980s can go for $1,500 or more.”

Mountain bikes can be particularly lucrative. Nelson bought a Lapierre full-suspension for $900, tuned it up, replaced a broken brake lever and sold it for $1,750. A “crummy” Trek full-suspension from the early ’90s went for $800. His biggest score was a “thrashed” Pivot 429, which retailed for $7,700 new. He paid $1,200, cleaned it with a high-pressure hose, spent $350 on new handlebars, grips, a rear wheel and a seat, touched up the black frame and derailleur with model paint, and sold it for $4,000 four days later.

Common sense dictates the best marketplace deals, say Duke and Nelson. If you’re looking to buy or sell, here are some tips from the experts:

If you’re selling

Spit and polish: Clean gear sells for higher prices.

Think Instagram: Well-staged pics with a clean background fetch more. “Shots in a dark corner of your garage make it clear you just want to dump it,” says Nelson.

Meet the buyer in a public place. “I like to meet them at a Walgreens so they can access an ATM,” says Duke. This also protects your privacy.

Accept Venmo, Zelle and cash. (But maybe don’t walk away with too much cash, if you know what we mean). Beware checks and credit cards.

If you’re buying

Try before you buy: If possible, see the product in person before you make an offer. Avoid committing to a price without seeing the item so you can negotiate honestly if you spot flaws.

Gauge seller motivation: Buyers can score great deals by scrutinizing — and lowballing — quality gear that has been poorly staged.

Consider how you’ll pay: Some sellers will accept Venmo or Zelle. But if they insist on cash, meet in a safe and public place.

Schmooze: “To stand out from other buyers, I compliment the seller,” says Nelson. “I’ll write, ‘I’ve been looking for one of these for sooo long. Wow, I love that color and that hydraulic seat post you put on it.’ That way, they feel you’ll provide a good home for it and tend to go easy on the price.”