A Tale of Two Tandems… For Sale on Ebay

One of the more perplexing things a tandem buyer or even a tandem seller must do it figure out how much a given tandem is worth.  On new tandems, the retail marketplace usually takes care of that as there’s not typically a lot of haggling or discounting unless a dealing is sitting on old inventory or cutting someone a good-guy deal by reducing their margin.

However, the used market is a different ball game, even on dead-stock production model tandems where some sellers are under the impression that their tandems are somehow immune from depreciation or substantially different from other brands of tandem to depreciate at a different rate.  Frankly, given that most tandems are built using common components and the differences in frame characteristics are only better or worse from a purely subjective standpoint, this ‘higher resale value’ label borrowed from the auto industry is really an amazing stretch in the bicycle marketplace.  But I digress.

Where I really wanted to go was the second hand custom-made and high-end used tandem market which can get really get interesting, since the original cost of these machines is sometimes so far off the charts based on the use of chi-chi parts, special paint, custom frame work and the like that sellers struggle with the reality of fair market value when they put them on the market: yes, these suckers depreciate too… and the higher you go on the acquisition cost, the further and harder you fall at resale.  In fact, it’s not at all unlike the high-end car market where a car that was sold new for $100k is only worth $45k just a few years later — gasp, $55k in depreciation — while a $25k car might still sell for $13k, a meager loss of $12k: both lost about 55% of their original value depreciation is what it is and fair market sometimes doesn’t seem all that fair.

So, this brings us to our tale of two tandems.

The first is a very nice used Calfee Tetra S&S from ’03 with a starting bid that’s in the ballpark given the various accessories, better components and it’s condition.  This tandem first came to our attention back in early January when it was first listed on Craiglist for about $8k.  As a observation regarding tandems with custom finishes, while it sometimes seems like a neat idea to have your names put on a tandem, unless a potential buyer can peel those things off (i.e., they’re not covered by a layer of clear coat) that kind of personalization carries the same resale penalty as off-the-wall custom paint colors or paint schemes.  From a pure marketing standpoint, it might have also been a good idea to drop $20 on some black handlebar tape and swapped out the pink saddles for some cheap black ones because, like it or not, buyers can be easily turned off by accouterments as well as unconventional seat/handlebar configurations that make a tandem look overly personalized or sized in a way that seems unusual and less attractive than a more stock-looking bike.  Clearly, given the current replacement cost of an S&S equipped carbon tandem with pretty good components, this would be a great way for someone to get onto a really nice Calfee for the price of a non-coupled aluminum tandem from one of the better frame builders.  The $100 shipping cost is also about right.

Now, here’s one that conjures up all kinds of questions.

This is one of a very limited number of custom Litespeed Triplets (a three-seat tandem bicycle) according to the folks I corresponded with at Litespeed.  They, like me, found the original ‘retail’ (purportedly $38k) and current asking price to be ‘a bit high’.   I’m pretty sure this listing has made the rounds on the various internet forums since that’s where I first stumbled on it several weeks back and I’m still not sure what the full back story is here.  In my effort to substantiate the price of what I thought may have been a one-off Litespeed placed on consignment, I had the pleasure of sharing some notes with the very nice person who was handling all of the questions and what I suspect were a plethora of less than cordial comments and opinions regarding the listing from folks who clearly weren’t “serious buyers’, to wit… the following comment has been added to the Ebay relisting:

Anyone sending questions not related directly to the purchasing of the bike (or specifics of the bike with intent to purchase) will be permanently blocked from future purchases.

My only reason for bring this tandem back into the discussion is drive home two points:

  • When in the market for something like an expensive tandem — and to be honest, even many of the entry-level premium tandems are expensive to the average consumer — do your homework and be sure you know what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at.
    • For example, a quick check of retail prices with any of the tandem speciality dealers around the US (there are just a handful of firms like this who truly specialize in tandems that have been doing so for 10 – 20+ years) will quickly show that a premium steel framed triplet is about $6,500, aluminum $7,500 and Santana offers a titanium model for about $11k with component packages that are equivalent to what is offered on this particular Litespeed Triplet being offered at 2.3 times the price.
    • You should also contact the builder and ask them about the history of any “special” or “rare” tandem which, in many cases, would require obtaining the serial number from the seller.
    • While the builder won’t typically tell you what any customer paid for a custom tandem, they can always quote you a price for a new example of a similar machine.
  • Recognize that the value of a tandem is found somewhere between what anyone selling the bike thinks it’s worth and what a serious buyer is willing to pay.  Sometimes this midpoint can be found, but not always and Too much is as relative as Too little.

In closing, let me pimp a tool and some guidelines I created several years back as a way of providing at least a starting point for sellers and buyers to establish what the fair market for a used tandem might be.  As noted on my used tandem pricing page, the narrative while a bit long-winded at times is where I believe the real value is for consumers and sellers.  The numbers generated by the spreadsheet are, again, relative and subjective since they require some degree of interpretation that is addressed in the narrative.  I believe time has also shown the depreciation tables that Rich Wolf and I came up with in 2002 are still not that far off from what you typically find in the marketplace with some exceptions.  The Excel spreadsheet that downloads from the site has been updated to reflect the current year as the starting point for the depreciation table.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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