Friday, July 20, 2012

Why Restore an Old Bicycle?

 Will restoring an old bicycle add value to it?

I have been getting feedback on my blog from several viewers. One such viewer asked me the above question which makes for an interesting discussion topic. The reader might ask, "can something that's been sitting in my barn or on my porch for 30 years still be valuable?".  All you have to do is watch the show American Pickers, and the question will answer itself.

The truth is, there is always a market for classic or vintage items. Whether is for collectors or sentimental value, restoring old items to like new conditions is an investment that will yield returns when it's time to sell. Most vintage bicycles become conversation pieces or end up in Jay Leno's garage. But there are some people who restore bicycles just because they don't want to buy anything new. They might be able to get the latest carbon fiber road bike, but instead recognize the quality of a classic bicycle. The saying "they don't make them like they used to" can be justly applied when it comes to bicycles. Now I am not saying that anything new is not worth buying. Nowadays there are great performance designed bicycles that may offer more utility or comfort than bicycles of the past. The difference between a new and old bicycle is the difference between a Honda Element and a 57' Corvette. Style over utility. Feel over performance. The fact that anything over 30 years is still around is testament to the quality of it's design. 

On a recent visit to a well known bike shop in Dallas, I was shopping around for some Schwinn Bicycle grips and checked in to see what they had. When asking one of the techs if they had any Schwinn parts, the tech replied that Schwinns were low quality bicycles only sold at Wal-Mart.  Knowing better than the tech and having worked at several bike shops, I smiled, biting my lip and nodding my head, refraining from a all out lashing of his ignorance and lack of persona. But then again, this was the RBM in Dallas, surrounded by the Highland Park and Lakewood communities, where people usually ride their $5,000 road bikes around a nine mile circuit known as White Rock Lake. In fact, upon closer observation, the majority of their bicycles were worth over a thousand dollars, on average. I'm not trying to defame this bike shop or take any business away from them, I'm just relating what happened.  Later on another tech was a little more helpful in at least pointing  the way to other sources where I could find out more on vintage Schwinns.  

This lack or alleged lack of knowledge about old bicycles is fairly common in the modern bicycle shop environment. One reason is that reps at the shop are usually commissioned salesman that want you to buy something new. Bike shops have to buy new bicycles in bulk quantity at a discounted rate and pay the manufacturer back within a reasonable amount of time, otherwise the are responsable for the full MSRP on all the bicycles purchased. That's why I like the Mom and Pop bike shops better. They don't carry a lot of new inventory, their overhead is lower, the pressure to sell is less and they tend to have more knowledgeable staff.

Another reason for this reaction is the bike boom of 2008. More people who did not know about bicycles got into cycling and many people lost their jobs and found work at the bike shops. So many reps only know about the products they sell, and tend to demean anything that is foreign to them, because they haven't heard about it.

The reader might ask themselves "Is an old classic worth as much as a new bicycle from a bike shop?" A rep at a large chain bike shop will probably say no. But I want to answer that question to the contrary. 

I am currently doing a restoration of a 1980 Schwinn Cruiser 5. I have seen these same bicycles sell on eBay from $600 to 1000 dollars. Granted, this bicycle might not be worth as much as a Specialized Tarmac, but even 600 dollars isn't chump change.  That's why the rewards are worth the investment.

Just like my current restoration project, there are many classic bicycles, many in the Schwinn family, that are worth a lot of money in like new or restored condition. Collectors, enthusiasts, or just practically minded people are willing to spend the cash to buy them, even in a down sloping economy. From a business standpoint or simply for personal enjoyment, restoring an old bicycle makes sense. You take something you already have and add value and utility to it. Its taking something that currently does not exist on the market, making it unique and desirable to others. No one turns heads driving a Honda Element, but a 57' Corvette? Now you get the picture.


  1. Interesting blog entry. I have always believed that vintage items bring whatever a seller is willing to pay. There is a mystique to vintage items that some sellers are willing to pay for. From bikes to cars to etc... if the seller is willing to hold on to antique items long enough the right buyer will eventually show up with cash in hand. Personally, I like "old respectable junk" and tend to hang on to these items over newer bikes and cars but that is just me. I drive old vehicles and bikes because they are a joy to own and work on plus it is a reflecion of my personaliy. Others avoid older items due to various reasons such as maintenance costs, lack of parts, lack of skill, lack of money, or all of the above and then some. Restoration of objects is a risky venture $$ wise but it is worth it if the owner enjoys the process and the fruits of his or her labor in the end! Just my 2 cents worth....Happy Trails!

  2. Thanks Greg,

    Older stuff can be risky due to the availability of parts and possible "dead ends" in the restoration process when a part of the bicycle is beyond repairable. As you mentioned, there is usually a longer turnaround for these items to sell, because the right minded buyer usually needs to come along. Some small bike shops in Dallas will have consignment options for bicycle restorers where the overhead will allow them to sell their bikes faster. As soon as I get a good fleet in my garage I may start putting stuff out there in the shops or online.