Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Get 'em before they're hot!

Back when I was misspending my youth, I knew a geezer who had recently bought an AJS 7R, out of a barn, for $400.
At the time, 1978, this was a great score, and my guess is that it appreciated in price tenfold in the next five years. This coincided with a worldwide groundswell of interest in classic motorcycle racing and collecting, which rapidly put the sport out of the financial reach of most of the gentleman losers and proto-bogans who had been fooling with old motorbikes during the 70s.

Overseas, there are parallels with the current state of vintage lightweight bicycle collecting. Events like le Cirque du Cyclisme, Velo Rendezvous and L'Eroica nowadays draw entrants from round the world.
The internet has internationalised the market for vintage parts and high-end vintage bikes, and punters are willing to pay serious coin for the right item.
But the local market is lagging, maybe years behind, and I suspect that Trademe is partly to blame.
Trademe is a great medium for buying and selling commonplace items, but the New Zealand market is not big enough or rich enough to get top dollar for your old bike junque. In contrast, an Australian vendor on ebay.com.au is effectively selling into the international market.

The cost of international shipping is also a factor.
A bike like this Masi Special, which sold via Trademe to a Japanese collector for NZ$2560 last year, has the mojo to justify the cost of international freight and extensive restoration. However, in three years of Trademe membership, this may be the only bike I have seen that was worthy of export.

Most Trademe vendors don't deserve to get a good price for their old bikes- photographs are typically of the wrong side of the bike, out of focus and devoid of detail. Descriptions are hyperbolic, and just as equally devoid of detail.
Obviously, some vendors simply want to be rid of an old bike they no longer use, like my Condor, and their investment of effort reflects their expectation of the transaction.
Others seem to think that merely using the words 'rare' and/or 'collectible' will invest their bike with the sort of mojo that makes bidders go wild, and compensate for their inability to photograph or honestly and accurately describe a bicycle. In reality, such auctions rarely reach reserve, and are relisted week after week.

Whatever the reason, I reckon that very few vendors who have high price expectations based on perceived collectibility are getting the prices they want.
Right now, this is small, poor, buyers market, which, in my opinion is no bad thing for enthusiasts.
Chances are, if you've got a old bike to sell it doesn't owe you much, and if you're buying, gems like this Roberts (right), which sold recently on Trademe for $356, will never be cheaper.
Though the bike is probably twice as old as claimed, and the auction text is typically over the top , at least this vendor provided detailed photos and was not delusional about the bike's value.

If overseas trends are a guide, it is only a matter of time before vintage lightweight bicycles start to attract the undiscerning rich.
My advice? Snap them up while they are cheap, and ride the ass off them.

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