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Bike Junk Or Treasure

Which is it?

This article first appeared in the Fall 1997 edition of the Bicycle Habitat newsletter.


Dreaming of Dollars:
How much is that old junker
in the attic really worth?

by Hal Ruzal

Once a week, without fail, somebody comes into the shop with an older bicycle and asks if it's worth anything. Many factors determine if the older bicycle has any value. The first is rarity. Was the bike mass produced or was it hand built by an artisan? A Raleigh three-speed from 1965 (even though it's 32 years old) has little, if any, antique value. There were too many of them produced to give it any value other than as a functional, utilitarian bicycle.

The second factor is quality. Was the bicycle good when it was new? A Huffy one-speed from 1960 will never be worth as much as a one-speed Schwinn from the same era. The Schwinn was manufactured with some degree of care, whereas the Huffy was merely made in a hurry (or was it made in a huffy?).

A third determining factor is condition. A customer recently came in with a 1951 BSA three-speed in extremely tired shape. He wanted to know if it was worth anything. Well, it was $50 the way it was (standard value of a beat-up yet functional bicycle). Or, he could put $1,000 into the bicycle in parts and labor and have the bicycle be worth $400.

When it comes to condition, it is very difficult to find an older boy's bicycle in good shape. It's much easier to find a girl's 1957 Columbia intact than it is to find the equivalent boy's bicycle. Teenaged boys treated their bicycles much more roughly than teenaged girls.

Fourth is features. The Schwinn Black Phantom is worth a lot of money because of its springer fork, shiny chrome fenders, tank with built-in horn, etc. A Schwinn DX of the same period is worth perhaps 1/20th of that price because it has no features other than the usual wheels, handlebars, saddle, and other average components. A Huffy RadioBike is a pure piece of crap except for the built-in tube AM radio. This radio turns a nondescript machine into a thing of value.

Well, there you have it. Happy hunting for the antique bicycle of your dreams.