Once a social outcast, the motorcycle has become a trend item in the 1990s, its image polished by such enthusiasts as talk show host Jay Leno and the late publisher Malcolm Forbes.
Accompanying that trendiness has been a high-speed increase in the value of vintage bikes. Some recent examples:
A 1960 Harley-Davidson with sidecar, bought fully restored seven years ago for $3,000, is valued at $18,000. Owner Howard Yana Shapiro of Santa Fe, N.M., has a collection of 24 rare motorcycles.
An unrestored 1913 Indian Twin from the erstwhile Indian Motorcycle Co., valued at $8,000 five years ago, is now commanding $12,000 at Dale's Harley-Davidson in Mount Vernon, Ill. A similar restored model is $18,000.
An unrestored 1966 BSA Lightning, worth $2,000 five years ago, was recently sold for $3,500 by Vonreeche Auction House in Dallas. A rare, fully restored 1934 Indian Chief sold for $21,000.
While many collectors are avid riders, a number of new purchases are being made on investment potential.
Rarity, quality and condition play a big role in price appreciation, and
not all bikes become collector items. Factory racing bikes are usually most valuable. It's possible to get in on the ground floor with a low-priced purchase and have fun in the process.
The flashiest evidence of trendiness is the annual "his and hers" selection in the 1992 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. It features vintage motorcycles with sidecars and the following text:
"For Neiman Marcus customers, motorcycle maestro Dale Walksler will scout for, secure and style to your specifications a 1939-1942 Harley-Davidson. You'll experience the pleasurable rush down a new road with a companion tucked into the sidecar, sharing the delightful deja vu of a fully restored, vintage Harley-Davidson."
Like the typical wish gift, prices are hefty, ranging from $28,000 to $35,000, depending on specifications.
"We did a lot of research and found the motorcycle sidecar is popular now in Europe, making a comeback to what it was in the old days when policemen and postmen used them," says Carolyn Cobb, a promotions executive with Neiman Marcus.
Motorcycle memorabilia, such as sales brochures, oil cans, factory uniforms, racing programs and even parts boxes are a fast-growing part of collecting, says Walksler, owner of Dale's Harley-Davidson and the "maestro" mentioned in the catalog.
"For a starting collector, it's possible to buy a very old bike from 1916 to 1928 for around $4,000 and have a lot of fun with it, or you could choose a 1970 to 1976 bike for $6,000 and make an everyday bike of it," says Walksler, who also runs a motorcycle and car museum in Mount Vernon, Ill.
"It's better to buy a nicely restored bike than a 'basket case'
which you mistakenly think you'll restore without spending a lot of time and money."
Quality of restoration makes a difference in bike value. Also keep in mind that older bikes in original mint condition are truly rare.
"The peak year in motorcycle registration was 1973 and a lot of people are reverting back to those days, perhaps remembering high school years," observes Don Emde, publisher of the bimonthly Motorcycle Collector Magazine, 30011 Ivy Glenn Drive, Suite 114, Laguna Niguel, Calif. 92677, which costs $20 annually.
"The British bikes like the Triumph, Norton and BSA are $l interesting to collect, along with the earlier American bikes and the Japanese Hondas and Yamahas that came along in the 1960s."
Besides using publications such as Motorcycle Collector Magazine, hobbyists find out about vintage bikes through newspapers and motorcycle clubs. Auctions are regularly advertised.
"At auction, you find everything from non-running originals to the fully restored, with the middle ground a good original bike that's running," explains Glenn Hickman, owner of the Vonreeche Auction House.
The 45-year-old Shapiro has collected motorcycles since he was 15 years old. He suggests studying up on bikes all the way back to the turn of the century and then deciding which era interests you most. Realize that, despite upward movement the past five years, collectible markets can fluctuate.