How can I see if a vintage bike is worth it’s money?
Vintage bikes, especially steel racing and track bikes, have always had their fans and collectors. In the 2000's, a new generation of riders have also taken interest in owning, collecting and in the best case, riding these beautiful machines as an everyday commute or in events like L´Eroica or Tweed Rides. If you consider buying a vintage racer for yourself, make sure you are spending your money on the right one.
What makes a vintage racer valuable?
Some collectors favour nothing but handcrafted bikes that were manufactured only by the dozens to low hundreds. Bikes made by the master builders like Ugo De Rosa, Faliero Masi and Ernesto Colnago are some of the most sought after in the world. These bikes will probably retain their resale value the best in the long run. Other icons like Cinelli, Colnago, Pinarello, Peugeot and Gios are very desirable brands among buyers, even though some or all of their models were mass-manufactured in great numbers.
Complete bikes usually cost more than just framesets, which may in turn be easier to find. Bikes with original or period-correct parts in good condition also increase value. In average, Italian-made groupsets like Campagnolo and Galli are valued more than the Japanese Shimano and Suntour or the French Simplex and Huret.
The asking price will be high if the bike was at some point ridden by a famous pro-rider, and very high if it was ridden to victory in epic competitions like Tour de France or Giro d´Italia.
In all cases; a bike in poor condition is much less valuable than one in great or even NOS (New Old Stock = never used) condition. A frameset in poor aesthetic condition can of course be restored and repainted to look like new, which increases resale value.
How much should you pay for a vintage bike?
The answer is easy; decide on a budget, and then stick to it. Find out what interesting bikes you could afford on your budget, and then do some studying to find out which one would be the best deal.
It is impossible to estimate a correct monetary value for any single bicycle, because the market and collectors interests change constantly. Still, going through the great late Sheldon Browns article on the average value of certain brands should give you some insight.
Study, study, study
A lot of money is spent on vintage bikes, so shady people may occasionally try to sell forgeries as the real thing. The most common case you might come across is adding ‘Colnago’ stickers or decals to a cheaper brand frame. Others try to sell the frame with the wrong fork or groupset. To avoid getting hustled, you should study the brand and the models you’re interested in.
Find out which colour schemes and parts were used to make the bike when it was new. You can even find out what brand of steel (Columbus, Reynolds, Oria, Tange etc.) was used to make the frame and fork. You can google for fanmade scanned bike catalogs or brand-specific websites for information, or ask for advice in various buy-and-sell -communities on Facebook.
What to look out for?
On eBay and other similar auctioning sites, you should consider dealing only with sellers with lots of positive feedback. They can answer all your questions and they know how to properly pack the bike so it arrives to you in one piece and without scratches. Then again, someone might have gone on eBay just to sell that one incredible bike that has been forgotten in their barn for decades.
The most important parts of a vintage bike are the frame and fork, so make sure they are in good condition. Groupsets, wheelsets and other specific parts can be found much easier.
Good sellers post a lot of good quality photos of the bike that show any paint chips or scratches to the frame or fork.
Related article: How to find an affordable second-hand bike?
You decide what is valuable to you
Do you wish to buy an expensive collector’s item as an economical investment and hang it on your wall, or do you want a cool bike to impress your friends and passersby on the streets? Maybe you want to convert a vintage frame to a single-speed or fixie bike? My advice is this: buy only the bikes that truly catches your eye. It makes more sense than buying a Cinelli or a Colnago just because you know other people think it is cool.
And remember: have fun searching for your new bike. There is nothing sweeter in this world than ‘New Bike Day’!