I have had several bad experiences with buying bikes and having them shipped. I had one which was probably near mint when it started it's journey from the west coast via UPS, it arrived with crushed forks, a set of mangled Honjo fenders and bent bars. It arrived with nearly the entire front end of the bike protruding through the box, both axles sticking out and badly scraped up, and the seat and post litterally out of the box. To make matters worse, the idiot driver dropped it off at curbside, on trash collection day. If the guy across the street didn't see it and call me, it would have most likely gotten picked up with the trash. When I called UPS to complain, they simply told me that it was normal and that their drivers are on a schedule. Most of the problem was with the way it was packed, no padding, just disassembled and dropped into a box loose, which was in itself far to light weight to carry a bike. When I ship a bike, I pack it much like they come packed new, I remove the pedals, seat and post, front wheel, and handlebars and stem. I either wrap or pad the painted areas with foam pipe insulation or bubble wrap, turn the fork 180 degrees, and insert the wheel along the left side of the frame with the left crankarm through the spokes. I then secure the rim to the frame and fix the cranks as not to be able to turn. the seat post and seat get tied and suspended within the main triangle. Handlebars get secured to the top tube. I reuse the fork and drop out protectors that come with a new bike as well. I also try to find a box that is close in size, as is will save some on shipping and it's easier to secure the bike within. I use a hot glue gun to ad doubled cardbourd panels near anywhere that the bike could posible try to protrude. I have also used small blocks of wood glued crossways in the box to help prevent crushing of the box sideways. The bike is lowered into the box as one unit, no loose pieces. I can understand some people charging to pack a bike, but in such a case, I must say I would certainly expect a quality job. I have bought and sold many bikes on eBay and of the many I have recieved, I can only think of a few which were really packed well. Most were just lucky I guess. Somehow only two have had really significant damage. Myself, as long as I have a source for boxes free, I won't worry about charging a packing fee. I do ussually try to start the auction or at least set a reserve in which I won't loose on the deal. Remember also the seller looses up to 2.9% if the buyer pays by PayPal as well. On a bike that didn't draw enough bids, I could see it not being worth the trouble to even list it, especially if they started the bid at say $10. It's been my experience so far that FedEx is by far the most cost effective means to ship coast to coast, (less than $35). They are faster than UPS and much easier on the packages, at least so far. Overseas shipment of a bike is best by USPS, the others simply want to much and have too many rules. For example, an average sized bike can be shipped to Japan in two boxes, for a total cost of about $90 regular parcle shipping, (slow). I myself consider this a hobby and not a business, but my bad experiences with UPS has also made me stop using them at work. FedEx has also made shipping easier now with their online system of printing lables and direct pay, no waiting in line to drop off packages. I can be in and out in less than a minute. Also, many of the local bike shops sell their new bike boxes for anywhere from $5 to $10 dollars, free boxes are getting hard to find at times. The local building supply is also a good source for boxes though, most high end replacement windows come in nice heavy guage boxes which work well for a bike.
>>>Joe Bender-Zanoni wrote: Another wierd thing is that horribly packed bikes can come through entirely unscathed! They are very strong structures.<<<<
Oh so true. Steel frames, in particular, are pretty tough things. I once received a frame (Columbus Genius tubing with fork and HS installed) sent from Italy. The frame was only wrapped in plastic, heavy brown paper and tape. NO BOX! It was sent by common mail, USPS handed off by the Italian equivalent. It was totally unscathed. Amazing. I also once received a bike that was literally hanging out the bottom of a box where the bottom flaps had given way. But no damage! This is why I always strongly advise NOT trusting the staples in a used bike box, and taping the bottom of the box as well as the top.
Bad things can and do happen. But LOTS of bikes and frames get shipped safely every day.
Pack carefully, ship and pray (cross your fingers, chant, whatever "extra" measure works for you) and get on with life.
Falls Church VA