Jim and I went to the annual Seattle Bike Swap this a.m. and scored big-time. The opening line was incredibly long, wrapping all the way around the yard outside the Magnuson Park hangar entrance, wrapping back into the yard and then snaking back out again. There were probably 500 people waiting to get in by the 9 a.m. opening bell. A sign of the times? With the economy tanking, folks are looking for bargains wherever they can find them.
What I like to do once inside the door is make the full rounds, keeping my eye out for tables and vendors who stand out. If there’s a great deal that jumps out at me, I’ll grab it right away. But the thing is, if you eye something from the git-go you’re not going to be able to negotiate much. A savvy vendor will tell you to swing by in another hour or so, and if the item isn’t gone by then, maybe he’ll come down in price. Unfortunately, if the item is gone, you’re SOL.
So you have to kind of roll the dice. My first time through I found a regional dealer rep (Alaska, WA, OR, Idaho, Montana) with brand new stuff, top brand names too. He was asking half off retail, which isn’t too bad. I chatted him up and it was clear he wasn’t going to waver, but half retail was more than I wanted to pay. I decided to wait.
The first tour I didn’t find a whole lot else that interested me. There was a lot of garbage, like any true swap meet. And a lot of prices were way too high. Used stuff going for 20 to 30 percent off retail just doesn’t cut it.
I had to laugh at one table selling used bike chains. If you’re a cyclist, you know a used chain is pretty much worthless unless you know precisely how many miles it has and how stretched it is. A chain measurer is not something I carry around on my key fob. Besides, those things looked pretty tired. As Jim put it, “Major cojones, trying to unload old bike chains.”
The second time around things got a little more interesting. I picked up a pair of good Bellwether tights, used but in pretty good shape, for $5. I got 25 feet of derailleur cable for $10. And a couple of new Nevegal 2.35 tires for $10 a pop. Also a SRAM X-9 shifter set for $40.
By the third time around I wasn’t scoring much for myself, but spotting some killer deals. A new set of XTR SPD pedals for $5, if you can believe that. A pair of barely used Lake mountain biking shoes for $10, alas not my size. FSA carbon bars for $25.
Finally I swung by the dealer rep’s table. The two items I wanted, a new set of Crank Brothers Acid I pedals and a new Giro Remedy full-face helmet in my size, were still there. I got them both for $50, saving myself a good $160 off retail (both are on close-out, but even mail order would have cost me at least $50 more with shipping).
I was feeling pretty good about my take till Jim got back with his cache. His bike pack was bulging and he had a set of carbon road bars in his hand. He’d spent $500 on really hi-end gruppo parts to outfit his new road bike that he estimated would’ve cost upwards of $4,000 retail. I asked him his secret. “I look for the pros,” he said. “They get the stuff for nothing so it’s all gravy for them.” Plus pros tend to be a lot better bike riders than businessmen. Jim’s a racer himself and can spot a pro a mile away. For the less initiated: Look for an uncluttered, neatly arranged table with relatively few items, but all high-end goodies.
For an hour’s worth of shopping we did pretty well. My one regret was not getting a reservation in early enough to get a table. (I was 18th in line to get a booth, which means the sponsoring Cascade Bicycle Club left a lot of money on the table, at $50 a pop. Given lead planning time for the Expo, they probably underestimated demand before the economy cratered.) Seeing the general range of quality, I know I could’ve unloaded half my basement at pretty good prices. As a shopper, I know all the tricks too. And to top it all off, I’m not a pro ;^)
The next big shopping event is the Seattle International Bike Expo, March 14-15, also at Magnuson Park. The deals aren’t as outrageous, but sometimes you can get lucky. And the bling is irresistible! See you there!