How To: Decoding Craigslist Ads

How To -


Decoding Craigslist

For years, hours upon hours have been poured into trolling craigslist ads. We search relentlessly in hopes of discovering that perfect bike that satisfies our passion and doesn’t deplete our bank accounts. But there is a secret language that craigslist ads utilize that could be more deceiving than you’d originally thought. We set the record straight by decoding craigslist.

Here are some key words that all of us have come across only to find the owner stay as vague as possible in their descriptions.

“Must Sell”
My bike payment is past due, my credit card is past due, and I’m late on rent…take your pick, I need cash.

“Fixed Price”
I bit off more than I could chew, my bike payment is now past due and I have negative equity in it.

“Must Sell / Fixed Price”
I’m an idiot that doesn’t have the first clue about the laws of supply and demand.

“No Title / Lost Title”
I’m too lazy to look for it or go to the DMVfor a replacement. At best it’s a parts bike; but more than likely it’s stolen.

“Salvaged Title”
I crashed it and bought it back from insurance. You should treat it as a parts bike or track bike ONLY.

“Carbs Need Adjusting”
I left it outside uncovered with old gas in it all winter and now the carbs are gummed up and it won’t start or run properly. Good Luck!

“Project Bike”
I bought it thinking I was on a Discovery Channel special, but it’s too hard, too expensive and I know nothing about fabrication. Your turn.

“Classic or Vintage”
Yes, it’s old, but not old enough to be a true collectible. So…I hope you know more about it then me.

Nobody liked them enough to buy them when they came out.

“Chromed Out”
I’m a poser and would rather spend money on having my bike look good standing still than spend it on gas, oil and tires.

“Never Dropped”
It’s never or rarely ridden or my pockets are so deep I was able to repair it so you can’t tell.

“Never Seen Rain”
I either live in Arizona or I’m afraid of water falling from the sky.

“Custom Paint”
I crashed and wrecked the plastics. Instead of getting it fixed right, it was cheaper to paint and hide the damage

“Good Beginner Bike”
It’s been dropped and crashed plenty. The plastics and case are scratched/ cracked and the pedals/levers are bent.

“Must See”
I want to get you in front of me so I can convince you that this bike is worth the outrageous asking price.

What have you found bizarre or a little sketchy on a craigslist motorcycle ad? 

  • Loren Andrews

    True on every level. This is especially true for the morons in the bay area. Take a 20 minute gander at the ads you see here and you will see morons trying to sell crashed 250′s for 3200, 600′s that are 6 years old for 1-2K of the showroom price and so on. And you will most of these above captions in one ad. Trying to find a good bike is like trying to find a needle in a hay bale manufacturing plant.

  • Kr Tong

    Salvage title: the insurance has decided theyd rather buy the bike off the owner rather than pay to fix it. When a single panel of bodywork can cost $700 on a bike retailing for $4k, a tip over can mean a salvage title. The owner has the opportunity to buy the bike back.

    In essence a salvage title means nothing. A bike with a clean title can be absolutely wrecked because the owner either didnt have comprehensive/collision or didnt want to pay the premium to fix it up before selling. So in many, many cases an owner would rather not report the incident to insurance.

    Lost/no title can mean extrenious backfees. You can look them up with the vin and license plate. If the title is lost but returns as clean, you and the owner simply fill out the proper form. If the bike has lots of backfees it may be easier to wash the title by registering it in the state over.

    Its not really cheap paint you need to worry about on bikes. Its cheap plastics. Ive seen a huge number of sportbikes with new ebay fairings. Most of which will last two months before all the tabs snap off and blow away on the freeway.

    • Generic42

      My bike has a salvage title for a scratched fairing and scratched exhaust because the wind blew it over, you are spot on.

    • FastPatrick

      I was straight-faced until the last one. Nice.

    • KeithB

      “Salvage title: the insurance has decided they’d rather buy the bike off the owner rather than pay to fix it.”

      I bought a used FJR form a guy (honest about history) and the bike was “re-built” by a local bike dealer.
      Looked it over and did not see 1 tiny bit of evidence it had been crashed. I suspect plastic damage and that can be expensive!
      Having owned it for a while and bee “under the hood” a number of times, still impressed with how clean it is.

    • Jason

      ‘Lost/no title can mean extrenious backfees. You can look them up with the vin and license plate online at If the title is lost but returns as clean, you and the owner simply fill out the proper form. If the bike has lots of backfees it may be easier to wash the title by registering it in the state over. Just make sure that its in the current owners name or the current owner knows the registered owner personally.”

      Just make sure you get the title worked out before you purchase the bike. Once you have paid for it the owner has no incentive to make the effort required to get you a title. In some states (like my current State of Alabama) it is impossible for the new owner to register a bike without a title. They simply won’t do it. I bought a bike with no title from a guy that bought it from and estate sale thinking that it would be easier to get a new title as long as the bike came back as not stolen. Not a chance. The DMV says I need the person on the title (now deceased) to apply for a lost title in his state.

  • Jason 1199

    “Email me for pics” because I’m a crotchety old guy posting this for my son who’s bike is taking up space in my shed and I can’t be bothered to learn how to upload images.

  • Joe

    Even though this article is written in a negative tone, there are some valid points. More importantly, for those with the knowledge and mechanical ability there are some incredible deals available on CL daily. I am on my 10th or so bike, most from CL. So many low mileage beauties available for fractions of the cost new. BUT, you must know what you are looking at. Don’t know how to rebuild a carberator, adjust chain tension, replace fluids? Then bring someone who does to check out the bike with you. If you’re afraid of learning the basic skills required to handle your own maintenance, then this article is not for you. Buy new and pay the hefty dealer premiums for your maintenance. Want to learn how to do your own? Pick up that $500 honda that’s been sitting for 10 years, invest in a shop manual and take your time. There is no greater sense of accomplishment then fixing and maintaining your ride on your own.

  • Nathan Haley

    “No test rides [even for serious buyers]” carb trouble.
    “It ran great when I parked it” 5 years ago in a grass field, often seen with old Honda Interceptors
    “My favorite bike ever, but it’s time to move on” not the seller’s favorite bike ever
    “Thinning the herd” seller has 22 other bikes and probably knows how to take care of them
    “Willing to trade for _____” means buyer should seriously consider getting whatever the seller is willing to trade for instead

    • Kr Tong

      I wouldnt allow test rides. Even with cash in hand. Say they drop the bike and you hold the money. They could come back with an officer and take their money back.

      And yes, bikes are stolen this way.

      • Rameses the 2nd

        They can totally steal my bike after giving me my asking price in cash. I wouldn’t even call cops on them.

      • Nathan Haley

        As Rameses pointed out, you’re holding the cash and the title so the risk is on the person riding the bike. The officer would give the bike to whomever holds the title as long as there is no bill of sale. If you’re scared, snap some photos of the bike pre-testride signed by the test-rider as being taken that day.

        I think “I’m never allowing test rides” is a philosophy propagated by people who don’t maintain their bikes, who don’t want people to know that the carb only works properly above 6000rpm and 3rd gear doesn’t work at all.

        • Kr Tong

          I just meant test rides are how bikes are stolen. You see someone park their car in front of yoir house so you figure theyll come back for it later. Little do you know somes ducking behind the door and boom, cars gone, and bikes gone.

      • Scott

        So I get to give a big ol pile of cash and pray the bike runs good and doesn’t have any other issues? Ya, I’d say you keep the POS, I keep my money and move on.

      • Jonathan Booker

        I’ve sold 4 bikes and allowed test rides on all of them without trouble. Also I’ve test ridden all but my first bike without handing any money over. This has never been a problem.

      • Scott Vogt

        ive bought and owned 4 bikes now. I dont feel bad for not allowing test drives on my bikes. I will gladly hand my car keys over to you to test drive for a sale(i live in a smallish town so im not overly worried about theft) . However since i cant determine their riding skill or trust them to bring a helmet i just flatout refuse to let them drive it till the title is in my hand. I have never test drove a bike before i bought it either, although 2 of them i bought were in winter… and they were in pieces

    • Mitchel Durnell

      Yeah now that you mention it, I’ve seen bunches of ads for VFRs that have been sitting for 6 years. So fresh, so few miles!

  • Justin McClintock

    “Street fightered” – I wrecked it and couldn’t afford new plastics.

  • E Brown

    “No Title or Lost Title”: here’s the iteration you see in Illinois – “I never transferred the title to my name in order to save a few lousy bucks. Now I can’t find the original and since it was never in my name, I can’t get a duplicate.” Now they’re pissed at everyone else – the people that skip their ad or offer them parts bike value, the government that won’t help them title it now, the previous owner who not only won’t help them but is kind of pissed the bike’s been in his name all this time.

    My CB400T came with the ORIGINAL title from 1978, signed over to someone in the early 90s. None of the owners since then had paid the $75 to put it in his name for 20 years.

  • Jack Meoph

    Craigslist can be awesome. I bought a complete set of sportbike luggage, brand new, for half price. Some college kids parents bought it for him for Xmas, and he didn’t want to mess up the looks of his bike with luggage. ah thankyou, thankyouverymuch…….. I’ve sold a bike or two on craigslist, but never bought one as I usually buy new bikes. (but I look at the listings all the time, because I’ll be getting my next scooter used, off craigslist) But you can also use craigslist for buying a new bike from last years lineup at a discount, because dealers use it as well as private owners. And if your worried about buying a used bike, lots of shops use craigslist to advertise that they will do inspections on used bikes.

    • Justin McClintock

      Craigslist is definitely interesting. I’ve actually bought several bikes off there since I pretty much always buy used. But I’ve never sold anything on there. At least with buying, you can always pick and choose a little easier. Selling….I just don’t wanna have to deal with the general public. I’m really bad at that. I have all the patience of a lit stick of dynamite.

      • Piglet2010

        To me, the difference between what I could get private sale and dealer trade-in is not worth the time, risk, and aggravation.

        • Justin McClintock

          I’ve never sold a bike (had one stolen, gave two old ones with issues away to friends), but I have been through a couple cars. And yeah….I just trade them in. I don’t wanna random folks calling me and wanting to show up at my house. I don’t have the time and I don’t want them around my place. Only way I sell a car outright is if I’ve already got a buyer lined up when I decide to sell it.

          • Piglet2010

            My sentiments, exactly. The only bikes I have gotten rid of were trade-ins. An established dealer may low-ball on price, but they will not do anything outright criminal, such as paying with a forged cashiers check, or come back later to steal the bike (and your other bikes).

  • BryonCLewis

    “Cafe or Bobber” – take the usual asking price for the bike and times it by 3

  • buck_mcqueen

    How do you spell Craigslist wrong on the giant header in your main image?

    • dead_elvis

      Must have been fixed before I got here, but maybe it was an homage to/inspired by the typical CL ad. (Hint – if you’re looking for a Camaro, you’re likely to find better deals if you search “Camero”.)

  • Luke Applegate

    “Good Beginer Bike” Even the typos are accurate in this article. (in the image) Just joking… but I think Craigslist is where english has gone to die sometimes.

  • hunkyleepickle

    My favorite is still ‘never ridden in the rain’. While i can understand that some people only ride when the weather is good, not only does rain not hurt a motorcycle, but even if you never take it in the rain…..have you never washed the thing with water?? Ha, great article. Also get tired of seeing the ‘never dropped’ one. I never know what to make of that, either they are bullshitting, or hiding damage, i mean really. Haven’t we all dropped our bikes on rare occasion?

    • Ryan Kiefer

      Never dropped? Almost, but nope. Well, not yet, I should say.

      But then, I’m a relatively new rider with a light bike (CBR250R, just crossed 5k on the odo), and I’m a hoss, so I attribute the fact that I haven’t dropped it only to the fact that I was able to stop it mid-drop after, on more than one occasion, somehow managing to kick the sidestand back up while dismounting.

      • hunkyleepickle

        Ha, well I guess you’ve got all the laws of physics on your site then. The stationary drop off a motorcycle is neither uncommon nor all that destructive anyway, most fairings can withstand it. And the bike going down while in motion is very hard to miss and conceal anyway, so ppl should just stop with the no drop clauses in their ads!

    • Scott T

      I’ve seen a CL ad with the requisite ‘never ridden in the rain’ accompanied by photos of the bike pre and post powerwashing at the self-serve carwash.

    • Chris Carter

      I live in Oregon and watch Oregon and Washington CL ads. Whenever I see “untouched by rain” or some variant thereof the first thought that pops into my head is, “What, you never ride?!”

      • Dennis Hightower

        I’d go further and say it’s impossible to not ride in the rain here in Seattle… rain happens… but the ads persist…

    • ‘Mike Smith

      No, never wrecked, dropped, or slid. I ride about 50 miles weekly. Had an old bike fall over in a gravel parking lot, but wasn’t on it, so I don’t count that.

  • Nemosufu Namecheck

    I like ads that mention the area of the country like;
    – “Colorado bike” implying tuned bike that will go faster than rest of country – is this true?
    – “Good beach cruiser” aka all metal rusted out and repainted, put on shiny chain before listing to fool me

    Good article!

    • Mitchel Durnell

      Regarding ‘Colorado bike’, if it’s carbed, the carbs may be tuned to run correctly at the higher, leaner altitude and may be funky near sea level.

  • HoldenL

    “Clean title in hand”

    Surprise! When I fill out your name on the buyer’s portion of the title, instead of letting you do it, and when I hand the completed, transferred title to you, you’ll notice that the name on the title isn’t my name. I went through a divorce, see, and I titled the bike in my buddy’s name to hide the asset from my soon-to-be-ex-wife. Now that I have your money and you have the bike, you have proof that I’m dishonest! Hey, it was great doing business with you, but I have an appointment on the other side of the state that I’m late to.

    (That was my experience last Saturday. Gawd, why was I so naive and trusting going into a Craigslist transaction? Why? Why? So embarrassed to admit this, but heed my lesson and insist on seeing the title before you hand over money.)

    • Dennis Hightower

      Good on ya for sharing…

  • michaelse

    I can’t stand guys who say they have some sort of nonexistent “special edition.” No, it’s not a damn “Corona Edition,” “Konica Minolta Edition,” or “Red Bull Edition.” These things don’t exist as OEM. You crashed it, and decided to put cheap Chinese fairings on instead of OEM. Time to man up and admit it.

    • Mitchel Durnell

      Limited edition Hannspree! I got it special order from my cousin! Shutup!

  • Dale Hudson

    What’s with all the doods that buy a sports bike, kit it out with pipes etc only to sell it in 2 months with less than a 1000miles on the dial? We have heaps advertised in Australia and I have always wondered if they are trashed mechanically because cosmetically they look fine. Anyone have experience with buying these bikes?

    • ‘Mike Smith

      I bet it has something to do with having the crap scared out of them and quitting.

    • Mitchel Durnell

      Military service bonus then ship out

  • Robert Horn

    “New powerband installed”. Seller is rather stupid and hopes buyer is even more so. Possibly inbred relative of the seller of the “CBR600 with 750 big bore kit”.

    “1987 Kawazeki Ninga 1000, $9,000 Firm!” “Yes dear, I put the bike on Craigslist, just like you told me to – I have NO idea why nobody hasn’t called about it yet.”

    • 80-watt Hamster

      That second example could definitely make sense of some of the absurd pricing I see, especially in the off-season

    • Davidabl2

      Robert,Robert Surely you’re not allowed to sell anything that isn’t a Harley if you put misspellings in the ad.. and if you misspelled “Harley” as “Harely” you couldn’t sell one. Probably the same deal with a Ninga, Ninjah, or a Njinn. Although I’d buy a Njinn if i was pretty sure that he/she/it could grant me three wishes if i let he/she/it out of the bottle. Or if I could pay for the ’87 Ninga in Turkish dollars ;-)

  • Tune

    Nice article, I plan on buying a motorcycle this spring as my first vehicle and bike. I think with gear factored in i have anywhere between $2400 and $2700 to spend on the bike itself depending on if I want to get pretty nice gear or go the cheap route.

  • lordorica

    “I am selling my … ” – Duh, of course you are.

  • Tom Byrne

    Bought a 79 CB400 Hawk from a gent who maintained it very well (oil changes, plugs, tires etc.). He was selling because he was having hip issues and this bike is a kickstart only model. The only thing wrong I discovered was that the mufflers were starting to rot from inside and, when I was rejetting for my new exhaust, the right crab had the jets reversed (probably when the crabs were rebuilt). She has 11,000 original miles and runs like new. I originally bought it as a fix and flip project, but my family likes it after my Plum Crazy Purple paint and it is now a permanent member of the family. Craigslist can be fun, but you need to be careful and knowledgeable.

    • dead_elvis

      “Crabs”, from Craigslist? Not sure you were in the motorcycle section… ;-)

      • Tom Byrne

        :o :)

      • Piglet2010

        Auto-correct fail?

        • dead_elvis

          Well, what fun is that kind of reasonable thinking? Killjoy!

    • Davidabl2

      I am hoping that it’s much easier to rebuild ‘carbs’ than “crabs’ on a motorcycle.. because i’ve done that. And while I’ve fixed crabs we always ate them afterwards.Never actually tried to ride any “fixed crabs.”

  • Joe

    HEY: RIDEAPART – How about starting a classified section? A place where we can buy, sell and trade amongst the comfort of our own peers?

    • Piglet2010

      Well, not so sure about some of the people that post here.

  • ThinkingInImages

    “Must see” usually means “I washed and waxed it for the first time in a decade (so you can’t spot the rust)”. Even the owner is surprised.
    “Classic/vintage/rare” usually means “odd”, since nobody would see a “classic/vintage/rare” motorcycle on CL.
    “Must sell” usually means “lost my parking for this heap”, “it hasn’t run in years (since a run-in with gravity – honestly it wasn’t my fault)” and “if I leave it on the street it will get picked up as recycling”.

    Note to CL sellers: take a lot of clear pictures. If the pictures look bad, I can only imagine how bad the motorcycle is.

  • Scheffy

    “Vintage” = old
    “Classic” = old
    “Collectible” = old
    “Antique” = old and doesn’t run
    “Need something bigger” = I have a separate line of credit at Wendy’s
    “Need something smaller” = I’ve wrecked so many times that insurance for my Ruckus is more than I spend on food
    “Spotless” = all parts destroyed in previous highside replaced
    “Unique” = begrudgingly realized that chopping the frame did not, in fact, increase resale value or desirability
    “Tons of upgrades” = knowingly refuse to individually list upgrades because I’ll realize I’ve spent more on this bike than most spend on their firstborn (admit it, you fall into this category)
    “Rare” = hard to find because nobody bought it new and/or most blew up long ago, both because of craptastic design; also, replacement for rusted tank would cost more than bike is worth
    “All-original” = haven’t bothered to replace anything, regardless of a persistent misfire and a muffler held on with bailer twine; also, old
    “Just replaced XXXX…” = XXXX exploded and took out everything around it, so I cobbled together a fix and don’t want to deal with the repercussions of a cheap and hasty repair
    “Wife wants it gone” = You see the picnic tables in the back of Chrysler’s new minivans? Sweet!
    “Probably just needs carbs cleaned” = belligerent homeless family currently residing in airbox
    “Needs electrical work” = when last tested, my multimeter read “OH SH!T!”
    “Ran fine when parked” = just needed an oil change when I parked it in pig stable 38 years ago
    “Will upload pics later” = I’m still learning to use the healing brush in Photoshop
    “95% complete” = 5% will cost $17,000 and a trip to an alpine base camp in the Far East to obtain the last known right hand timing case; see also “rare”
    “Down once in parking lot” = wrecked so hard I turned I-71 into a parking lot for 3 hours
    “Light rash on one side” = once ran on its side for 20 oil-starved minutes before paramedics shut it down; also see “down once in parking lot”
    “Kickstart only” = the timing’s off, trying to e-start turned the sprag clutch to powder, and I’ve run out of ankles to break attempting to kick start it myself
    “Needs new battery” = battery needs new bike; immediately refer to “needs electrical work”
    “Loads of character” = bump-start only, horn switch works high beams, high beam switch blows the main fuse, main fuse is a butter knife, kill switch lights harness on fire, headlight is an oil-burning lamp, horn automatically sounds during left handers, leaks more fluids than a 90 year old on an all-Olean diet, but hey… it still runs!

    • Kr Tong

      You had me at 95% complete.

  • Nick Ortiz

    To add on to the “project bike”, i got myself a 1987 kawasaki ninja 600 for free. Initially looking at the pictures and having the owner say there was no engine, i thought it would be an easy fix. Swap an engine and be riding the next week.

    The owner forgot to tell me he dissassembled the ENTIRE bike. What turned from a week project is going to be more like 4months if i can find the time to work on it.

  • Ayabe

    Never dropped also sometimes means what it says. There are actually bikes that are ridden “hard” for thousands of miles that haven’t been dropped.

    • Piglet2010

      I have never dropped my TW200 on pavement.

      At the OHV park…

  • Davidabl2

    Almost everybody that i know that’s gotten a really good deal has had some sort of personal connection with the seller and and hasn’t bought it off CL ,much less Ebay.Neighbor, cousin, knew the widow/parents etc. etc. etc.

  • Piglet2010

    “Ridden only on weekends” = Flogged hard on the track.

  • kevin

    “Used 1-year old gixxer/cbr/ZX/other sportbike with 500 miles with some scratches but I only dropped in once in my driveway I swear!” – little johnny convinced mommy and daddy to buy him a brand new supersport bike after his friends told him how awesome he’d look on it (and how hard can it be anyway it’s only 600cc’s!) which he promptly low sided and is now scared to death of and trying to sell.

  • Mitchel Durnell

    “Just had a baby/baby on way/etc.” – Get ready for a deal! Motivated seller who makes impulsive decisions and plans poorly.

  • luxlamf

    “One Of A Kind” aka “I took something off and bolted something non OEM on it now pay me for my creative abilities!!!” or “Like New”, Never understood that phrase.

  • Robert Glover

    I bought my 2012 V-Strom DL650 as a salvage title. You’d never know it by looking at it. Basically, it got backed into and knocked over, but it had plastic Givi boxes on it that took most of the impact. They totalled it because one of the rear footpeg tabs on the subframe was bent. I fixed it with a hammer and five minutes, and replaced the bent footpeg. It’s been a fabulous bike.

  • Cocaine

    “DMV Back-Fees” I stopped paying the DMV fees on
    my bike 5 years ago, and have encored some penalties. That’s why I have taken
    $200 off the price. Just pay the $600 fee and you are good to go.

    • Cocaine

      If you buy a bike here in California with back-fee penalties, it is possible to get the penalties waved. You will still need to par the registration fees, but you will no longer be responsible for late fees like the $150 CHP penalty. Section 9562 reduced my $740 registration and back fee cost, to $230.

      Next time you buy a bike with expired tags, Save yourself some money, Fill out a Statement of Facts form and sight Section 9562!