Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What's an Old Bicycle Worth These Days?

Vintage Bicycles: Perceived value versus actual value

To the collector and reseller, with time one learns to understand that the business of buying, owning, and selling vintage bicycles is mostly supported on the perceived value of the item that is being purchased, sold or collected. While it is true that most things depreciate over time (the automobile being the best example of that) not all things are equal, and some things actually appreciate in value as they become rarer and rarer with the passing of time. So what bicycles depreciate and what bicycles hold or increase in their value? What are some things to look for when collecting vintage bicycles? And how can bicycles become a fixed asset that yields dividends when it's time to sell?

Let's consider the first question. Today's bicycles, as well as some of yesteryear's, are manufactured with depreciation in mind. If we were to compare a Huffy from last year with a Huffy from 20 years ago, they would both be worth $40 today. You can, however, up sell a bicycle on the perceived value of it, according to the current trends and what is popular at the moment. A few years ago when road bikes soared in popularity, I managed to sell one Huffy road bike for $200. Granted, I pulled the wool over a newbie's eyes when I did it, but being a newbie myself at the time I hold no qualms about it today. Road bikes started to become more expensive after 2008, with the most basic models selling at $800. Everybody seemed to want one, and there was a big wave of consumer demand for them at the time. This proves that even a Huffy can sell big in the right market.

There are some bikes however, that are worth keeping around as real investments. When money is short they can serve as a financial relief when it's time to sell. Plus they are bikes that someone will want to keep because of the quality of their craftsmanship and their rarity in the market. They are sometimes referred to as "grail finds" since to some they are like finding the Holy Grail when coming upon one. If someone is buying bicycles only to sell them, I believe they are missing the point. While not promoting people to become hoarders, there is nothing wrong with a reseller having a small private collection of these grail find bicycles. Which leads me to the next question in this topic, what bicycles are considered grail finds, and what are some things to look for when determining the collectivity of a bicycle?

Anything Italian- Anything Italian, if it is in the U.S, is usually a grail find. Vintage bicycles from Italy were usually hand made and imported into the United States when bike boomers wanted to ride what the pros were riding. Any Bianchi pre-1990 is worth a closer look, especially if it is a celeste green colored Bianchi. Brands that hold their value or have increased in value include Colnago, Gios, Atala, Frejus, Cinelli, Guerciotti, Ciocc, Legnano, Magistroni, Basso, Zeus, and the list goes on and on. So if there is a bicycle at an estate sale or on an online classified with a funny name, the best thing to do is at least call and inquire a little bit about it. If it's at a good deal, just buy it outright without questions. Sometimes too many questions may raise suspicions in the owner's mind that what they have is worth much more than what they are selling it for.

Campagnolo- An Italian bicycle parts manufacturer that usually made drive train components for high end bicycles, although the bicycle may not necessarily be Italian in origin. Known otherwise as Campy, for short, bicycles that come with this brand of components are almost guaranteed to be high end, top of the line racing machines. If you are not sure about buying a bicycle, but notice that it is campy equipped, buy it without delay. The components might be worth more than the price paid for the bicycle.

Reynolds 531- The gold standard of steel tubing for quality bicycles of the past. Used in the Tour De France with victories as recent as 1995. There will usually be a sticker on the frame or fork indicating that it is made with Reynolds 531 tubing. Many of these bicycles can still compete with today's bicycles in most local races held.

Intricate Lugs- Intricate, chromed or polished lugs on a bicycle are usually a sign of something high end and very valuable. If there is a cutout on the bottom of the bottom bracket,  usually in the shape of a clover or spade, this is usually either a Colnago or a Ciocc. Alan bonded aluminum frames also came with polished lugs, so lugs are not limited to steel bikes only.

Rod Lever or Roller Lever Brakes- Featured on Dutch cargo bicycles or on Asian or English 3 speed bicycles. These bicycles are usually equipped with westwood rims, which allow the brake pads to brake from inside the rim diameter rather than on the sidewalls. These bikes are rare in the United States and are only still common in India and China as working class or utilitarian modes of transport. They are increasing in popularity here in the U.S as a fashion item and as a result of the burgeoning cargo bike community. Depending on the condition, the value of these bicycles start at $400 and up. 

Skip tooth Chain and sprockets-  A skip tooth chain is indicative of any bicycle made in the U.S before the second world war, therefore rare and very valuable if in very good condition. The most valuable example of this is a pre-war Schwinn Paramount track racing bicycle. Some have sold online for as much as $8,000 in the past. However, skip tooth chain cruisers, or paper boy bikes as they were once called, are steadily losing their demand in the collector's market. These bicycles featured a tank with a built in horn or wiring for a front headlight. Mountain bike pioneers would strip these bicycles of their fenders and tanks and take them on the trail with knobby tires. I still see the asking price on some of these bicycles around $2,000, but seldom do I see a reserve price being met at auction.

Keep some of the tips in mind when treasure hunting for a collector's bicycle. While some of the bicycles being made today are likely to one day become collector's items, for the good majority of the bicycles being built today that is not the case. Overseas manufacturing has killed most prospects of future collectivity on many new bicycles. The lifespan of a carbon fiber bicycle is five years. The consumer who usually pays top dollar for a carbon bike will want a new one even though it might not be necessary to replace the one they have. After five years a bicycle that cost five grand will be worth only a thousand and less and less after each consecutive year. I have seen carbon fiber bicycles from the 90's being sold for only $150-$200 here locally. So while it's tempting to shell out a few grand on the latest technology, the best buy for the average person that isn't racing in the Tour De France is probably an older bicycle in good condition. Get fitted at the bike shop first, then buy a bicycle on the classifieds later. Fittings are usually free and an incentive shops offer to get people to buy their products. Once the used bicycle is purchased, visit the shop for tires, brakes and other components which may have worn out over time. This is another way to support the local bike shop without fattening the industries profits on the top end. I hope these tips have helped the reader to evaluate the price and collectivity of their old bicycle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Taking the Schwinn out for a Spin

Lately I find myself riding my old steel bikes for than my aluminum bike with clipless pedals. After a five mile run earlier this morning, I hopped on my Schwinn Le Tour and did 3 laps around White Rock Lake. I must say the run did take a lot out of me, but overall I feel I had a good ride. Here's a video I took with my Go Pro camera. Enjoy. Here is a link to the video directly on Youtube if for some reason it's not visible on this page. See link

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lance Armstrong-Final Thoughts

I'm going to make this a short and sweet article of the conclusions I have made of this whole business with Lance Armstrong. First of all, my previous articles may have had a hint of support for the humbled and dethroned athlete. For the record, I would like to change my view about Lance Armstrong. It has taken me a long time to finally withdraw all sympathy and pity I once felt for him. His most recent appearances make it clear that he is guilty without doubt of using drugs and rigging the system to come out on top. When it was revealed that he used cortisone steroids as well as EPO and blood transfusions, that was the final deal breaker in my support for Lance. Lance Armstrong is a grown man that will have to face the consequences of his own actions, even if those consequences may haunt him forever. As far as his victims go, the real victims are the ones who bought into the lies of competitive cycling, throwing away their resources and relationships just so they could compete with the top of the line equipment and use drugs to game the system as well. I am not talking about the professional peloton which includes some of Lance's former teammates and opponents.  They were part of the game and to me are as guilty as Lance himself. I am talking about those who aspired to be like them.

Let this be a lesson to all of us that cycling is something we should do primarily for our health and our quality of life. If someone happens to be faster than most on a bike and they want to compete, there is nothing wrong with that either. But we should not look up to the example that these guys have given us. There needs to be a drastic change in the sport of cycling if it is to survive from here on out. A change in training, a change in expectations and a change in the way cyclists see and treat each other. Bike snobbery has to end, period. Category 1 riders need to not compete in category 5 races. There needs to be a path to success in the sport that is attainable to anyone. Prize pots and entrance fees probably need to disappear altogether for amateur cycling. Scouting for semi pro or paid teams need to start at the beginner level. There needs to be more developmental programs for people wanting to get into the sport but who are not rich. And finally, bike jerks need to be put in their place. Roadies need to quit running stop signs and running over pedestrians just because they do not want to be slowed down. I was riding at White Rock Lake today, when a group of roadies nearly ran over a little girl on a skateboard. That was not cool. This really ruins any good efforts that the cycling community makes to have provisions granted to them, like bike lanes and trails.

What would be drug free racing field look like? It's going to be slower, at least by three miles an hour. There will be more breakaway artists and all rounders in cycling once training changes to consolidate sprinters with climbers and time trialists. The notion that someone can't climb because they don't weigh 90 pounds is absurd. Steel bikes might start popping up in amateur races again once races stop giving prize money. It will be a sport about having fun, unlike the way other professional sports have also failed in this regard.

On another note, I did probably make this group of roadies, which was led by a time trial bike, chase me on my 1970's Peugeot road bike when I blasted by them like they were standing still. That is still no reason to have nearly run over a little girl trying to catch up to me. Their mothers would be ashamed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Restored bike vs. Beater bike

Bikes you Keep, Bikes you sell.

Two Peugeot UO8 Bicycles, one restored, the other fixed up


When finding an old bicycle worthy of restoration, it's easy to go over one's head trying to fix every detail on the bike. I have a simple rule of thumb that will make the decision process a lot easier. Is this bike for oneself, or is this bike to sell? If this bike is not for sale, or you do not have the intention to sell it in the future, and you have money to spare, then by all means customize it to your very tastes. If this bike is for resale, as a lot of vintage bicycle enthusiasts often end up doing as a result of a garage full of bikes and one unhappy spouse, then fix what is necessary to sell the bike. You'll be surprised at how well most bicycles clean up. The scratches and blemishes will sometimes add character to the bike. The key to any item for sale is to sell it at more than what you bought it for plus your investment to fix it up. I'm fortunate to have had amassed a collection of period correct parts for vintage bicycles over the period of time I have been tinkering with them. Having a stockpile of parts and accessories makes this process a lot more affordable. Take for example, the white Peugeot at the top of the page. I was able to get it to riding condition with several parts I already had in my garage, including wheels, tires, cables, derailleurs, and even a saddle. On the other hand, take the green Peugeot featured as well. I bought this bicycle with the intent of making it like new with period correct parts. I had the frame repainted and bought decals for the frame. I bought new shifters from eBay as well as a leather saddle and saddlebag. After it was all said and done, I spent about $250 restoring the green Peugeot. I'll probably take it on a tweed ride or start my own randonneur club locally, who knows! Anyway, for me it was an investment well spent.

The lesson to be learned here is to do what best suits you according to your needs as a cyclist or as a collector and seller. If I commuted by bicycle more, I would probably keep the white Peugeot because I could use it as a beater bike for riding around muddy roads and won't take a big hit if it gets stolen. I also realize there is a market for beater bikes in college campuses and more urban areas. When a bicycle goes for sale, these are the markets that I try to target. There is no right or wrong way to restore a bicycle, there is only the perceived value that it may have in the buyer's or one's own eyes.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Photo originally owned  by Livestrong. For illustration purposes only.
Lance Armstrong Confesses to Cheating.

Without adding to much color to the situation, I wanted to write an article about the days events, when an anonymous source heard Lance Armstrong confess that he used performance enhancing supplements to Oprah Winfrey. What does a confession mean for the retired 7 time Tour De France champion? Is this confession genuine or the result of legal compromise and breaking a man down?

It's safe to say that with 25 eye witnesses willing to testify against him in a grand jury, this confession, whether sincere or not (only Lance knows if he truly cheated) would have come sooner or later. Hopefully, it comes at a time when he has arranged a plea deal not to be thrown in prison for perjury. As a married man with kids to look after, I would really feel for Lance if he had to go to prison. Along with the confession there will be a slew of lawsuits coming his way from different media companies and some who may have donated to his charitable organization. Lance has sued media companies in the past for libel on his accusations of doping, and some of these companies will be eager to place counter lawsuits in retaliation. I hope his charitable organization is protected to the fullest extent of the law from any prosecution, whether public violations or private lawsuits.

Lance Armstrong will have to pay the millions he earned from the tours that he won. On top of that, he will have to pay millions more in possible lawsuits. What would I have done if I were Lance Armstrong? I would have left the country two and a half years ago, as soon as I was acquitted of the first trial and set up a Swiss bank account and declared bankruptcy in the U.S. I would have stuck a fork in my cycling career and just be happy to be a middle aged man raising my kids, teaching them some foreign language. I would have eventually become a citizen of that country so as to make extradition for a second trial virtually impossible. Of course, Lance did none of that. He decided to stick around, and I admire his courage for that. That may have also become his downfall.

Readers of my blog know that I follow Lance and I am one of his biggest fans. Will I lose any sleep over this? No. Has doping tarnished my impression of Lance? Absolutely not. Is he still one of the greatest, if not the greatest athlete of all time? To the dismay of the USADA and all the other haters, absolutely yes. His name will be remembered alongside Coppi, Merckx, Hinault, Fignon, and yes, even Lemond. Some might say that is stubborn thinking. But I am more disillusioned in the way Lance was prosecuted to reach such a final outcome. I found the scare tactics used disgusting. I am also disillusioned at the world of competitive cycling. It was never my scene to begin with, but as a fairly faster than average cyclist in my peak of fitness (18-19mph average speed  with a 32mph sprint, on an aluminum bike)  I thought I had a chance of at least shaking up the local race classifications where I live. Knowing that even on the local level guys are probably using steroids or some other stimulant, just so they can win $200 or a T-shirt in a category 5 race, shows me how egotistical and elitist the world of competitive cycling has become. Not to mention that competitive cycling, even at an amateur level, can be a money trap of constantly upgrading your race bike. There has even been a new market that was propped up all thanks to Lance Armstrong. The high end bicycle and "sports nutrition" industries in the U.S have flourished thanks to the hopes that Lance Armstrong gave. As he goes down, he takes all these people down with him. But not cycling. The progress that the U.S has made in only the last few years to give commuting cyclists a place on the road is noticeable and should be respected. These cyclists are not Lance Armstrong. They are our new generation of cyclists. People that have left the idea behind them that go can't go anywhere without a car. These people are fathers, sons, husbands and wives. These people deserve equal treatment on the roads as well as their lives respected. 

If Lance somehow escapes the dark cloud of persecution that is about to overtake him, I hope Lance devotes his free time to more strongly advocating commuting by bicycle. He needs to put on a Waltz cap, grow out his beard, ride a bike in jeans and wear a beer bottle opener on his belt buckle. He needs to come down to our level. Ditch the carbon, the Lycra, and the $10,000 bike. Just ride a little, laugh a little, have fun, and stand up for the real cyclists who are actually trying to make a difference. My heart goes out to Lance, he is still my hero, and he can still be a hero to everyone else.