This Guy Brings Old Bikes Back to Life, Then Sells Them for Extra Cash
Tom Vogel’s side hustle was born out of pure necessity and an innate thriftiness when his kids’ bicycles kept breaking down or ending up stolen.
“At some point I thought, ‘If this is going to be the case, I’m not paying $200 or $300 for a new bike,’” Vogel said.
He’s never paid more than $50 for a bike since.
Instead, the Tampa Bay area-based sales manager hits up pawn shops, Craigslist and OfferUp for deals on dirty old bikes that he fixes up and usually keeps — or sometimes sells for as much as double what he paid.
And all it takes is a keen eye for deals, the willingness to learn and some penny-saving shortcuts here and there.
This year, he tried something new and picked up a collapsible bicycle for $30. After some tinkering, a deep cleaning and degreasing, he had a functional bike he rode for two months. He then traded it as part of a deal that eventually netted $45 more than he originally spent — all for about an hour of work.
That may not sound like a lot, but if you were to buy, say, two bikes at a time, and flip them once a week for a year, that would add up to $4,680. Not bad for a side hustle.
And it’s a lesson in what we know best here at The Penny Hoarder: stretching every dollar. Vogel bought a 21-speed Lamborghini road bike for $50 and spent another $9 to refurbish — and he’s since clocked 2,000 miles on it.
“Talk about your ROI,” Vogel said with a grin. (He still rides — and loves — this bike.)
Vogel has only refurbished and sold about 20 bikes over the last few years because it’s purely a passion project for him. He enjoys doing the work, but moreso, he enjoys being able to find — and fix — the right bike for his wife, kids and colleagues.
It’s important to keep in mind that Vogel has two decades of experience tuning up his own bikes — learning to do one of the fastest growing jobs in the country is not a cakewalk. But here are some of his tips and tricks to get into flipping bikes.
Flipping Bikes Begins With Technical Knowhow
I don’t consider myself handy by any means, but what I lack in handyness, I make up for in curiosity and the heroic ability to pester anyone with questions.
You’ll need the latter to learn how to tune up and repair bicycles.
For introverts, YouTube may be the best place to start, where you can find entire channels dedicated to bike repair.
“YouTube is my best friend,” Vogel said.
Bicycle repair forums are another avenue for building that base of technical knowledge without having to engage in too much social interaction.
For extroverts, however, there’s no better starting point than your local used bicycle shop. Vogel can spend hours chatting with the owners of St. Petersburg-based iRide, where he he goes at least once a week.
That’s yielded a relationship through which Vogel can get a good deal on parts, have access to a workbench and even get coached through more complex repairs.
But Vogel is most passionate about bicycle co-ops, where volunteers help bike owners with repairs on the cheap.
“In exchange, you get bench time,” said Vogel, whose co-op in Iowa helped acclimate him to the tools of the trade.
How to Find the Tools You Need for Flipping Bikes
A bicycle co-op is a great option if you can’t afford all the fancy clamps and wrenches for a full-scale repair. But what if your town doesn’t have one?
Here’s a rundown of Vogel’s essentials:
- Small set of allen wrenches
- Standard pliers
- Needlenose pliers
- Spoke wrench
- Tube removal kit
- Chain breaker
- Mineral spirits
- Soap or glass cleaner
- An old paintbrush
But if you’re a true Penny Hoarder, you can always find a way to do something for free, and bike repair is no different.
For example, here in St. Petersburg, Florida, we have the Pinellas Trail, which stretches 47 miles across our county. It has free, unstaffed bike-repair stations along the way; you could ostensibly park your car near them and do small repairs for free.
Knowing How to Buy is the Key to Flipping Bikes
Vogel has a background in sales, but you don’t necessarily have to be a talented salesman to snag the best bicycles for flipping.
Vogel trolls pawn shops during the offseason (November through about February) to get as much as 80% off what the sticker price would be on a bike. Because they take up space, he says, the shops are willing to let them go for a lot less.
He always brings a pump with him to make sure the bike is at least marginally functional and he won’t have to replace a tire (which at more than $40, can blow up the entire profit margin).
In many parts of the country, you can find big discounts in the winter when people aren’t rushing to buy bikes.
Vogel always buys two at a time so he can talk owners down with a “I’ll give you X dollars for both” strategy.
You should always look out for big brands, such as Cannondale, Trek and Schwinn. And use the Bicycle Blue Book to find out how you should price them. He used to rely on Craigslist but finds that he will get immediate responses when he puts a bike for sale on OfferUp.
“I’ve never had a bike for sale for longer than four days,” Vogel said.
What’s the most important aspect of the transactions? Always be willing to buy — or sell.
“I’m willing to Uber home at any time if someone were to come up and say, ‘That’s an awesome bike, I’ll give you $200 for it,’” Vogel said.
Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He rode over a pothole and burst his bike tube the morning he wrote this. Seriously.