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Investing in Vintage Bicycles

Investing in vintage bicycles

Toby Walne, Financial Mail 11 May 2009

As part of Financial Mail's regular look at alternative investments, Toby Walne asks whether it's worth backing vintage bicyles.

They are a far cry from today's high-tech, multi-geared, sleek machines, but the 19th Century 'boneshaker' and penny-farthing bicycles have come out of the shed, shaken off the rust and are now fetching thousands of pounds.

'It's only recently that their historic value has been reflected in soaring prices,' says Tony Pickering of the National Association of Veteran Cycle Clubs.

'These iconic bikes were built with a level of skill that has long been lost. They are also lots of fun to ride.'

Tony, 69, who lives in Leicester, has a collection of late 19th Century bicycles that he enjoys both as investments and vehicles that are regularly taken out for a ride.

The first 'bike', a wooden two-wheeler in 1817 nicknamed the hobby-horse, was invented by Karl von Drais, a German baron. Unfortunately, it had no pedals.

This was followed in Britain by the boneshaker, a derivation of the pedal- driven 'velocipede' invented by Frenchman Pierre Michaux in 1863. The boneshaker earned its name thanks to its sturdy wooden wheels with iron tyres. Tony owns an original Michaux worth £8,000.

'It was only when the penny-farthing arrived in 1870 that cycling as a sport began - though back then it was more a daredevil activity for the wealthy rather than a leisurely pursuit,' he says.

The penny-farthing was developed by British engineer James Starley and was so-called because of the wheels' resemblance to the big old penny and the far smaller farthing (a quarter of a penny).

The curious design is because the larger the diameter of the front wheel, the easier it is to propel. This led to front-wheel diameters of five feet on penny- farthings able to travel at 30mph. 'The penny-farthing is a majestic ride, but it can be dangerous,' says Tony. 


It was made by many manufacturers until its demise with the invention of the chain-driven bike.

Collecting as an investmemt: James Bond, records, comics and much more

What investment returns to expect

Tony paid £1,000 for an 1886 'Rudge' Farthing 20 years ago, which he now says is worth at least £3,000. But his pride and joy is a 56-inch 'Humber Racer' made in 1889, worth £8,000.

Other manufacturers with a strong pedigree for penny-farthings include Hillman, Herbert & Cooper and Singer, which turned its skills at creating pedal-driven sewing machines into bikes.

In 1879 the first commercially successful, chain-driven Lawson Bicyclette - 'The Crocodile' - was sold. These were known as 'safety bicycles' as they offered a less hair-raising cycling experience.

The Rover Safety bicycle of 1884 took the cycling revolution further. The Rovers are of great historic value and one sold for £6,440 at auction a couple of years ago. However, Tony warns that an expert eye is often necessary to spot vintage bike fakes.

It wasn't until the birth of the air-filled tyre in 1888, developed by John Boyd Dunlop, that interest exploded and the UK became a nation of bike lovers.

The 20th Century saw the advent of 'classic lightweights' from manufacturers such as Hetchins, Bates, Baines, Moorson and Paris Galibier. Tony says: 'A lightweight that may have struggled to fetch £100 a decade ago can now go for £700 or more if it has been well looked-after. Key to their booming appeal is they are not just great investments, but are practical for modern roads.'

Case study: The £1,000 Chopper Raleigh

Wheelie good: Colin Macdonald and his 1973 Chopper

The Raleigh Chopper remains a collectible Seventies icon. Famed for its 'glam rock' appeal, it has Harley- Davidson-style handlebars, a central gear stick and a long padded seat ideal for dangerous 'backies' - carrying a friend behind you.

Original Choppers sell for £300, but examples renovated 'as new' may command up to £1,000. Some special editions fetch double this amount. Prices of the original have risen steadily in recent years and received a boost with the launch in 2004 of the less valuable Chopper Mark III.

The Mark I was made between 1970 and 1971 and replaced by Mark II after a design fault in the seat was discovered. This later nearidentical model was made until 1980.

Colin Macdonald, who owns Macdonald Cycles in Edinburgh, says: 'The bikes have survived the years well and are now recognised as design classics. But even well looked-after examples lose chrome - with mudguards particularly susceptible to rust. However, professionally renovated Choppers hold their value.'

Colin says that rare special editions - such as a 1977 Silver Jubilee Chopper that originally sold for £72 - can sell for £2,000. A 1973 traditional red Chopper in tip-top condition can sell for £900. 



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