£450 was my final offer, and it had neither matched nor exceeded the reserve. The only circumstances under which the Pinarello could now be mine was if I remained the highest bidder and that £450 was close enough to the seller’s valuation that he/she might let it go for less. By now I'm not sure I even cared.
I left my house at 18:41 and the auction was due to reach fruition at 22:10:11. I assumed this time-scale was dependent on the exact moment the sale was floated and calculated on the basis of that – how else can you explain those extra 11 seconds of opportunity?
When I logged on to eBay the following morning I was quite relieved to see that I had failed in my bid. But it was funny: my final offer had been the second-to-last tender of the day, before some opportunist came in with a bid of £460 at precisely 22:10:08. How’s that for taking it down to the wire?
As far as I could tell, at 22:10:04, the leading bid – my bid – was visible at £400. Somebody else then attempted to trump my bid with an offer of £422. I’d set my maximum bid at £450, so they were destined to fail, but this now placed me as the highest bidder with an offer of £430, because eBay raises the bid (in increments determined by the current value) on your behalf. Waiting in the wings, the eventual winner then submitted an offer of £460. I can only wonder what would have happened if, with the bidding set at £430 with just 3 seconds to run, the bidder had decided to chance his arm on a maximum offer of, say, £440. At least I think that's how it works...
But they still hadn't made the reserve. Had they taken a chance on my bid being close? Were they confident that the seller would acquiesce to the sellee and take whatever they could get? Was I missing something concerning the nature of eBay? Was this a green light for the winning bidder to now enter into a personal dialogue with salesperson whereupon they’d thrash it out between them, reaching some sort of fiscal compromise? Consumed by intrigue, I sent the following email to the seller:
'Hey - are you selling your Pinarello for less than the reserve? I see that I was outbid at the last minute. If I'd known what the reserve was I might have bid higher in the first place. I don't really understand why people keep their reserve price secret - it just encouraged me to pull out of the bidding early. Anyway, if you let me know what you are prepared to take then I might still be interested.
Also, why did you buy a new saddle if you intended to sell the bike? I think you priced a lot of people out of the auction by having to cover that cost in your reserve.'
I wasn't expecting a reply to this and nor did I get one – which is a shame. It is a shame if only because it would make for more interesting reading, especially if the seller had somehow taken offence and sent me some sort of invective in return.(I never intend on being provocative or insidious, and it genuinely surprises me how irascible some folk can be when questioned via the medium of email. This rarely happens vis-à-vis, after all; people tend to take you at face value. There’s something about the email that seems to fool people into attributing a more cynical tone to the text. Maybe that says more about them than it does me. Or have I missed some sort of social convention here?) Anyway, the Pinarello was gone, the Raleigh had been long shipped and presumably received (to a disconcerting silence on the receiver’s part) and I was finally at liberty to buy that lovely looking Carlos.
And so I did. On Friday I climbed aboard the train to Waterloo, changed onto the Northern Line, vacated at Highgate and walked back down Archway Road. I felt strangely anxious as I neared the Vintage Bike Cave, so much so that I sought refuge in a delicatessen on the opposing side of the road, for a coffee to settle my nerves. This can be explained in part by a job vacancy at the Vintage Bike Cave that I had expressed a vague interest in. It seemed like it might be a nice place to work, I was unemployed, and working with bikes has to be kind of fun, no? But I was having second thoughts about that, because I’d noted the 70 minutes it had taken me to reach the Vintage Bike Cave, which was tolerable post rush-hour, but would be less so mid.
I felt a little calmer after drinking mediocre coffee, and when I arrived through that back door the Carlos looked as impressive as I had remembered it. A ride around the block did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm and I knew that if there was any residual hesitation on my part, now would be the time for it to reveal itself to me.
And so the deal was done, the job was discussed (and left mutually open-ended), and I was on my way.
The man who worked on the lathe – the proprietor of the Vintage Bike Cave – had scoffed at my reluctance to cycle back to Twickenham. It had been estimated that the journey – a journey that involved dicing with death on London’s very terrible roads – would take over an hour and a half, but I had already planned on riding to Gospel Oak to take the train home from there. This I attempted to do, although it was hard to know which way to go about it. At first I pushed my new bike down the Archway Road as far as Upper Holloway, because I thought it might be a good idea to see how long the walk would take, just in case I did indeed end up working at the Vintage Bike Cave. On reaching the intersection beneath Archway Tower I realised that Gospel Oak was too far from Highgate for this theory to make any sense, estimating that it would take at least 20 minutes on foot, thus negating any advantage the Silverlink Metro direct to Richmond might have to offer. I climbed onto the Carlos and started cycling in the vague direction of Gospel Oak.
It should be pointed out that when I had ridden the Raleigh Record Ace to my courier I was struck by how comfortable it had felt. This was unexpected as I had been riding my Jamis Beatnik in order to preserve the Raleigh for sale, and had got quite used to that smaller machine. This physical amenity, then, took me by surprise, but it reassured me that the Carlos – whose dimensions I had measured to be almost exactly the same as the Raleigh – was probably of an appropriate size (the new found comfort of the Raleigh had also motivated me in continuing to bid for the Pinarello). But now I had the Carlos with me I was convinced that it was smaller than the Raleigh, although still bigger than my Jamis. This bode well for it assuaged any fears that it might be either too big or too small, but the fact that I could simultaneously consider it both left me rather perplexed.
Meanwhile, my normally reliable sense of direction was letting me down. Meanwhile, the normally unreliable BBC weather forecast was also letting me down – or not. ‘It would remain dry for the rest of the day,’ they had told me this morning, but now it started to rain. I found myself in Kentish Town again, but knew I needed to be further west. I took a turn down a road that furthered itself in a westerly direction, but it led me straight into the bowels of an industrial estate. I retraced my steps and pushed my bike along Kentish Town Road instead, for I knew I’d get very wet if I continued cycling. This allowed me to admire the reflection of my new bicycle in the shop-windows I passed and assess its scale in proportion to my own form.
I went too far: found a map of the area just outside Camden Gardens and saw the error of my ways, turned down Hawley Road, but on the wrong side, crossed over the road to join Castlehaven Road, which I knew would take me to onto Prince of Wales Road, allowing me to catch my train at Kentish Town West. As I got back on my new bike to ride up Castlehaven Road, I noticed that my rear tyre had a puncture.
[POST-SCRIPT: I did eventually receive a response from the Pinarello Guy, sent some weeks later and only picked up by me a few weeks after that again. He explained that he was in no hurry to sell the bicycle and that he happy to hang onto it if nobody offered what he considered to be a reasonable price. He assured me that the bicycle was not stolen (I'm not sure where that notion came from), that he wanted to sell it to someone who would appreciate it (admirable) and he intended to put it on eBay again – with a reserve in place – but if I was still interested than I was welcome to view the bicycle before bidding.
So far so very reasonable, but then he went on to explain the point of putting a reserve price in place – to keep it, in secret – and that if I didn't like this method of doing business then there were alternatives, both on eBay itself and on other websites (Gumtree, I assume). Maybe that made no sense to me but it did to him – and others too, apparently. It was obvious I’d rubbed him up the wrong way.
He confirmed that he had bought the new saddle prior to his decision to sell the bike and that it was his prerogative to change his mind. I couldn't argue with that but I got the impression that he thought that I was questioning the value he had placed on the bike itself, which was not the case. I just thought that he hadn't done a great job in trying to sell it. This was my reply:
‘Thanks for getting back to me - I only just picked this up as it wasn't sent to my email (or maybe it went to my spam?)
Everything makes a little more sense, now you've said you don't need to sell and are prepared to wait (I never for one moment thought it was stolen, by the way). It's just hard to know whether something is worth bidding on when you have no idea what the seller is holding out for. But you are right: it is a beautiful bike, and you should expect more than £460 - I was never calling into question your valuation. Unfortunately, money is tight for me right now so I ended up buying a Carlos for £295. It's no Pinarello, but it rides well and serves its purpose (and it’s sized right, which I could never be sure of with the Pinarello).
Good luck with the sale - with that saddle it's got to be worth at least £580. List it next time as a Pinarello 'Veneto' (just the one t) and hopefully someone will meet your reserve.’
I hoped he would not submit a response this second time around – what would be the point? He evidently hoped to make more than £500, but he’d only provided the bike’s measurements after I prompted him to do so, and hadn't even spelled Veneto right.]