Parting out bikes for fun and (barely any) profit.

crosspost from an old svrider post

Sorry for the long post, thought someone might find it interesting and I’ve been on a bit of a writing kick lately. 

As a motorcycle enthusiast, I found that I thoroughly enjoy tinkering and modifying bikes. Of course this turns into an absurdly expensive hobby very quickly. Trolling craigslist one day, I saw a very cheap, beat to crap sv650, my favorite bike for some mysterious reason, that was not running, needed a bunch of work, and I KNEW I could make into a fine useable track bike for cheap (if I did all the work myself) I just HAD to buy it. 

Well, I quickly discovered that dreaming about bringing a bike back from the grave and actually doing it are two significantly different activities. In short, it ended up like so many other “project bikes,” and that is taking up floor and shelf space in the garage. What a stupid purchase, I thought. 

A few months later, thinking that I should just put it back up on craigslist and take the loss, I realized that while I may lack the knowledge and experience to make it a running bike, I could at least learn something by taking it all apart. Of course that would make the “restoration” even harder, but who ever let common sense stop them? 

A month and a few hundred dollars of tools later (who would have thought that I need the stupid castle nut tool, and a triple tree stand, and various size sockets I hadn’t owned, and an impact gun and a ….), I had a pile of bike parts taking up even more floor and shelf space. And I learned that almost everything on the sv650 is the standard “lefty-loosey, righty tighty” kind of thread (except the shifter rod, which kept me baffled for a few minutes). I also learned that a bike in parts takes up about four times the space that a whole bike takes up. But in parts fits on shelves. Which makes it almost better. Except not. Because half of it is too big or heavy to fit on a shelf. And the shelf space I had so much of is now nonexistent. 

Having stared at the pile of crap errr parts in the garage for another couple of months, I decided that there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I was going to put it back together. Of course, I am (probably) capable of just reversing the order of operations I followed when taking it apart, but the result would have still been a crappy non running bike. And I was not about to sink any more money into the thing as that would have undoubtedly interfered with such adult “pleasures” as paying the electric bill, rent, student loans, etc. I decided that the only way to get that sv out of my life and maybe even recouping that “bargain of a price” would be to part it out. 

Sorry, I took a while to get to the point, didn’t I?

As a super motivated seller and member of the community, I figured I knew exactly how to go about it. I made a partout thread and everything. I even researched what almost every part of the bike was selling for on ebay. And to make sure I was competitive, I priced everything at like half. Of course I mentioned a couple of the decent parts, and then said “make me an offer for anything”. 2 days later I had to buy a bigger membership on the forum (limited private message space), had a whole lot of people annoyed that I didn’t know the answers to their questions, but I did have a few dollars in paypal and needed to ship the things. Of course I had thought of this and scavenged a bunch of boxes from work. 

Packing up a few nuts and bolts isn’t hard. I’ve sent lots of small parts in flat rate boxes and those are wonderful. It’s when you need to pack and ship a wheel or gas tank that things get…interesting. Most of the time you either have a box that isn’t big enough, or a box that is too damn big. A bigger box is a problem because you need to pack it with stuff to keep the parts from bouncing around, as well as costing more to ship (after a certain number of inches, the post office wants absurd amounts of money for shipping). So I learned to make frankenboxes, to grab every box from the janitor before he throws it in the dumpster, to save every bit of bubble wrap, packing peanuts, etc. that I come across, and most importantly that girlfriends don’t like to live in a parts shipping department nor do they like parts under the bed, in the kitchen sink, in the bathtub, and pretty much anywhere else I could put them (my garage was/is a few miles from my apartment, so parts come home for washing or packing up). I also eventually learned that shipping some things is really really really stupid. Like $60 to ship a $30 gas tank. Uh, no. 

I also learned that the absolute majority of the time is not spent taking apart a bike. It’s not even spent packing things up and taking them to the post office. It’s spent on the computer trying to figure out what the hell a part is worth, what you should ask for it, answering questions that you don’t know the answers to. For example, “I will gladly buy this shock from you for $10 shipped, but only if it works on my bike. Do you know if a shock off a 1999 sv will work on a 2005 gs500?” (yes actually). Then I learned that everyone has their own name for half the bike parts. Either that or they kept me guessing what they wanted “how much for that triangle bracketey thing that holds the plasticky thing with the hose coming out?” 

I discovered that there are some absurdly expensive unobtanium parts. Like the ignitor box for a 1st gen. Why the hell is it so much money? An ECU for my vw which is about 50x more complicated was a third of the price. And some absurdly cheap parts. And some parts that absolutely nobody wants (ever try to sell a stock airbox? There are literally two people in the country who need one and one doesn’t know how to computer and the other is broke.)

Eventually, I did manage to sell most of it, give the frame with sorta title to frankenbike, and even made a few bucks on the overall exercise. But once I did the math, it turned out that if I included labor time (online and physical), the “profit” after disassembly, answering questions, packing, packing materials, and shipping came out to be about $2 an hour. Yes, I would have improved my financial situation better by working part time as a janitor (no offense to janitors). Sure I never set out to make money on the thing, and I gave half the bike away for just shipping costs, but it is just an immense time sink. 

Being the dumb **** that I am, next year, when I saw a very cheap, beat to crap sv650, my favorite bike for some mysterious reason, that was not running, needed a bunch of work, and I KNEW I could make into a fine useable track bike for cheap (if I did all the work myself) I just HAD to buy it. 

You can guess how that one ended :P 

Don’t get me wrong, I love every minute of it, especially seeing some cheap parts that were useless to me make some guy’s bike whole again (or a fairly expensive part on a svotm-level bike). I made a bunch of friends meeting people off the forums. I met a bunch of super cool people. And some “interesting” ones. I don’t actually count my time spent online, or in the garage, or even packing stuff (these are all activities I enjoy and always a learning experience). But don’t expect this to make you rich. And don’t expect it to be easy. 

Tl;dr: I’m a crap mechanic, and parted out a few bikes, it was fun, and not really profitable. Shipping things sucks.


Some tips from the somewhat experienced in case you do decide to go this route:

-If you're thinking of doing this for a profit, don't bother. Get a part time job. You'll make more and do it easier. Some people manage, but it takes a lot more patience, knowledge, and business sense than I have. 

-Ebay’s “completed auctions” search shows you what things actually sell for, not what some dreamer asked for them. 
-Don’t use ebay. The fees will kill you. Use craigslist, forum classifieds, facebook, etc. 
-Price things so that people want to buy them from you. Yes it means you’re giving things away for a lot less than you could. It also means you won’t be sitting with a pile of parts that nobody wants for 6 months. 
-A lowball offer is still money heading your way, and a good feedback from someone to whom you gave a deal

Dealing with buyers (these come naturally to me, it’s who I am, but even if these go against your nature, you probably want to follow them):
-Be nice (no ****? Really? I have to tell you this?)
-Be excessively nice. You are part of the community. Not a vendor. Not a business. (unless you are a business, then you aren’t reading this guide, are you?)
-Answer questions honestly. Excessively honestly if you have to. All it takes is one guy to say “mad8vskillz screwed me on a deal” and everyone will believe it and you’ll be stuck holding your dick. Remember that whole community concept? Don’t screw your friends. It will come back and bite you in the ass. 
-If you have problems with a buyer, it’s much better to take a loss on the sale, than to take a loss in rep. Someone cursing will still make a few people think twice about dealing with you. 

-Try to sell locally if you can. Meet new cool people. Buyers are happy cause they see what they’re getting, you’re not throwing out tons of money on shipping, some things are not shippable without some extreme effort. 
-Use padded envelopes when you can
-Use flat rate boxes when it makes sense (note, you can also send them as just priority mail if they’re light and/or not going far). 
-Use flat rate boxes to stuff bigger boxes for padding (free packing materials)
-Save every bit of newspaper, cardboard, bubble wrap, etc. You will find a use for it and still need more.
-Price things online with actual weight and packaging dimensions before quoting shipping. It’s often not worth it to ship. Of course you will end up getting screwed somehow anyway. Live with it. It’s part of the game.

-Office paper boxes (the ones you get your printer paper from) are free at most offices, and make good free disposable storage bins. 
-Have lots of pans, trays, buckets, etc. on hand
-Label EVERYTHING and keep hardware with components (ziplock bags in various sizes are your friends)
-take pictures of everything. Put it all in a spreadsheet. Keep the spreadsheet up to date. So that you don’t need to remember whether you have a thing or not. I also use my spreadsheet to keep my thread updated
-keep brake systems closed if possible. They last longer and don’t drip fluid all over the damn place. Less mess is good.
-Keep hardware IN the thing you are removing if possible. Buyers appreciate it, and it’s easier to know what’s what.




Space... the Initial Frontier
One of my biggest problems with playing with bikes has always been space. While things have improved quite a bit since doing work on the sidewalk in front of the house, it's definitely obvious that this hobby takes up any and all available space and then some. In a perfect world, I'd probably need about a 5 car garage, but then as soon as I'd have it, i'd fill it up with crap. Right now, the bikes, lift table, tools, and a workbench are taking up pretty much all of my single car garage. The basement is for parts (and i got some shelving to make it bearable...). This makes for some interesting "challenges". Basically anything that comes off a bike needs to be carried through the house and down the stairs. and anything coming onto a bike, or into the truck, needs to reverse the path. The garage is kind of the same. Any tool needs to go from the toolbox to its target, and then needs to go back ASAP. Because otherwise, i end up dancing in circles looking for a tool, and having to crawl under a bike to catch the one socket that rolled away. Annoying...

Staying organized isn't without its challenges either. In an effort to keep stuff where I want it, I end up buying bins and boxes and so on. And then no matter what, there is always the one part that makes no sense in any of the bins or boxes and gets its own bin. And 6 days later, i have a dozen bins with one part each taking up all the available walking space. The upside is, I've learned all about the pros and cons of various tupperware, shelving, ziplocks, and so on. Yeah, I'm slightly both OCD and ADHD. Which is hillarious. "i'm gonna organize all the things...wanna go for a bike ride?" 

Another hard part of organizing, isn't just the physical stuff, but also the digital pictures, and all the communication. When you have 10 people pm'ing, emailing, facebooking, smsing, calling, and showing up at your house, it's really kinda hard keeping track of who is getting what, what you still have on the shelf, or what you sent somewhere far away 6 months ago... And of course the 20 folders of random parts on photobucket get hectic. I've found the easiest thing to do isn't to try and keep track of what's here and what's gone, but to go through EVERYTHING every couple of weeks and take pictures again, and put them in a dated folder. And of course that dated folder ends up the catchall for random parts for the next six months. I wish I had a normal brain...

So yeah, another random rant, hope you had fun reading it.


Lessons Learned 3 Years Later
So I've been doing this a bit longer since this thread started. I wanted to throw out some tips in case someone else is doing this as well.
-FB is a time sink like crazy. There are tons of tire kickers on fb. You will maybe get like 1 sale for every 20 interactions (questions asked, etc.). Some people will haunt you for the rest of your life asking questions that don't have anything to do with anything. The nice thing, however, is that some people will bird-dog for you as well when they see a guy looking for parts or selling a beater. Love it or hate it, it's useful, but more of a time sink than you'd expect.
-If you need to ship something big (frame, motor, etc.) check out Fastenal 3PL. You put the thing on a pallet, drop it off at a Fastenal store, and they deliver it to the buyer's Fastenal store. Pretty cost effective even if it isn't fast. Yes, I probably just gave away my competitive advantage. 
-International shipping is a FORTUNE. Canada is about double whatever it would be in the US. The rest of the world is 3-4x more. And you have to fill out an annoying little customs form with the ****ty pens at the post office. Try it once and you'll know exactly what I mean. 
-Bulk buyers FTW. If you have a local engine or race builder (or a couple), or someone who wants 17 sets of brakes for whatever the hell reason, cut them a stupid good deal. They will be back. And you just moved a ton of stuff without doing too much. 
-The baking pan. It's metal. It doesn't leak. It stacks inside its brothers. Buy as many as you can. Walmart has cheap ones. Like $1-$2 cheap. 
-The giant steel cookie sheet from autozone. It's like 3FTx2FT and has a nice little lip. Keeps tons of fluids and keeps the mess off the floor. Also pretty good for taking pictures. Check out any parts pic on and you'll see what I mean.
-Some people want to pay you in a weird way. Internationally, Paypal is blocked a lot of places. So is google wallet, fb pay, etc. Don't be a sketch guy getting western union transfers. Look into BitCoin or Etherium. A bit of a pita but also a pretty cool thing to begin with. Except unless you plan to play forex with bitcoins, convert them to USD asap. 
I'm sure i'll come up with a few more, but wanted to bang this one out for now

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