I have been slightly alarmed by the low numbers associated with once very valuable vintage motorcycles lately, but after scanning the results of the Bonhams Collectors’ Motorcycle Auction at Barber Motorsports Park, I’m more than slightly alarmed. Many of the sellers who threw the dice and listed their motorcycles at “no reserve” were gobsmacked by the lack of bidding, while a huge majority of sellers who listed reasonable reserve prices loaded their bikes back into their trailers at the end of the day and took them home. It wasn’t pretty. Other than a few outliers, namely the Steve McQueen Husqvarna 400 used in the filming of On Any Sunday, the auction was not encouraging to the market. What is strange is that the prices of vintage cars (especially German and Italian) are skyrocketing, while the vintage motorcycle market has been in a steady decline for the past few years. From my observations, the hardest hit sector seems to be the 250cc’s and under bikes. Once appreciated for their intricacy or entry-level charm, these bikes have recently been trading for a quarter of what they would have gone for about five years ago.
For those of you thinking, “Okay, it’s just one auction, relax.” I would totally agree, and unfortunately point out that the recent Bonhams auction is just one case of this decline. The Las Vegas auctions in January sent a lot of bikes packing at low prices, as well. Perhaps more worrisome is the current state of Ebay. Like or not, Ebay is one of the primary places to sell vintage motorcycles and parts these days-many vintage bikes, especially the sub-250cc bikes have been losing their footing. From my personal experience, and the experience of the vintage motorcycle enthusiasts I associate with-It’s definitely a buyer’s market.
Though none of us are “in it for the money,” the investment/financial gain aspect of restoring and collecting vintage motorcycles is a definite draw. I could spend my money and time on modern motorcycles (that happen to work much better), but then I’d be just tossing money away as my shiny new bike depreciated. The great thing about vintage motorcycles is the sweat equity we can create as we pull diamonds out of the rough.
All markets are cyclical, momentum should swing back into vintage motorcycles eventually, even the small ones. However, with many of the Baby Boomer crowd nearing the latter stages of their lives, collections are being disbanded, and most of these sellers do not have the option to hold out. The question does arise though- with these “original owners” no longer with us, will the Golden Era of motorcycling (50-60’s) be forgotten? Are these cleared out collections going to create a surplus in the market that will never be corrected? Are there enough younger enthusiasts to prop up this market? We sure hope so, and that is also one of the goals of this website-to honor the era of motorsports where bike and cars were designed by hand and cut from metal.
Motorcycles have gone through quite a few fazes in recent years-the chopper phenomenon, the cafe racer craze, and the more recent retro fad. Perhaps motorcycles just need a few years for the dust to settle and let people decide what the really appreciate, instead of letting the trends dictate those desires. We definitely do not want to see vintage motorcycles ascend into a category much like the vintage Porsche scene, where true enthusiasts are being priced out of their passions. However, it sure is hard to see our prized possessions, and those bikes you figured would help fund your retirement, roll off an auction block for less than we paid for it decades ago.
Think I’m wrong? Post a comment below!!!! I’d love to hear other perspectives on this topic.
By Gabriel Trench