03 September 2015

Your Secret Vice Is 20 Years Old Today!

Admit it:  It's the site you go to when nobody's looking.

It's the site you click on to in the confines of your cubicle, when you think the boss is out to lunch.

It's the site where, every time you get your credit card bill, you're shocked at how much you've spent.

What site is it?

No, it's not Sexy Asian Ladies or Hot Firefighters.  And it's not the offshore casino site.

You know what I'm talking about:  eBay, the world's secret vice.

From TrueNorth

Today it turned 20 years old.  It began when Pierre Omidyar wanted to find out what would happen if everyone in  the world had access to a single global marketplace.  

Over Labor Day weekend in 1995, he wrote the code for an auction website on which he listed a broken lazer pointer he was going to throw away.  That lazer pointer, of course, became the very first item sold on AuctionWeb, as eBay was known for its first two years.  

(Omidyar couldn't believe someone would buy a broken lazer pointer. He sent a message to the buyer reminding him that the pointer was indeed non-functioning.  The buyer replied that he understood and was, in fact, a collector of used lazer pointers.  Now that's a strange hobby!)

Within a week of AuctionWeb's launch, a pair of autographed Marky Mark underwear sold for $400.  Other items sold on the site during that week included a Superman metal lunchbox for $22 and a Toyota Tercel for $3200.

I tried to, but couldn't, find out what was the first bicycle-related item sold on the site.  I suspect it was sold not too long after AuctionWeb was launced.  After all, AuctionWeb/eBay started in the San Francisco Bay area, which was arguably the most cycle-centric area of the United States before Portland stole some of its thunder.  Also, eBay seems as if it was made for cyclists, as so many of us are selling our old bikes, parts and accessories as we acquire new ones, or are looking for replacement parts--or stylish jerseys and bags-- that are no longer made.

EBay has been called the world's largest garage sale.  For cyclists, it's the world's biggest swap meet.  

Now I'm going to look for a pair of neon yellow triathlon handlebars.


  1. Reading this made me wonder how long I've been a registered user on eBay -- I just looked it up (they list that info on your feedback page) and it turns out I've been on there since early 1998. Not quite from the beginning - but I can't believe it's been that long! I remember discovering it though, and being amazed at how great it was for a vintage bike geek like myself. Like the worlds biggest, coolest garage sale where you can find just about any vintage bike or component -- no matter how obscure -- if you just search long enough.

  2. Brooks--I've been a registered user since 16 January 2001. So I guess I'm a "second-generation" member. I love the way you describe eBay: It's like a garage sale. I think of it as a flea market: If you don't find what you're looking for today, try again next week, or the week after!

  3. My first purchase on eBay back in 2002 was a Schwinn unicycle. I never did master that darn thing; it went back on the Bay years later. I think I made money on that deal!

  4. Chris--A unicycle? Hmm...

    I understand there's something of a minor fad for them now among hipsters and wannabes.

  5. For me, shopping for bikes and parts on ebay is like heroin, or at least coffee, because it's a daily routine. My most recent purchase is a Mercian frame, which I plan to build up for my wife. My ebay karma is pretty good. I have been happy with all of my purchases and have scored some screaming deals. Selling has been a learning experience because I've had to learn about shipping rates for bikes.

  6. MT--One of the first items I sold on eBay was a wheelset I never used. Like you, I got a lesson in shipping rates--the hard way I didn't list shipping cost and ended up spending a large portion of the price I got for those wheels to ship them!

    I got one of my Mercians on eBay, too. They turn up, but not often.