Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will your motorcycle investment pay off?

Gordon May's 1953 Royal Enfield Bullet.

As reliably as fireworks on the Fourth of July (maybe more) the economic downturn is accompanied by news articles about the upturn in prices for rare vintage motorcycles. Susan Carpenter of Tribune Newspapers tells us collectors "are paying six figures, prices that are rising even as the market for new motorcycles is tanking."

She's writing about very rare machines like the supercharged Vincent Black Shadow that sold for $383,400 last October, even as the stock market crumbled. If you read her article closely, Carpenter says that sale prices of high production vintage bikes from the 1950s, '60s and '70s have softened along with a decline of 30 per cent in sales of new motorcycles this year.

So it all depends—as usual.

Not many of us need worry about whether to invest a spare half million in a precious rarity. But if the rarest vintage motorcycles are becoming more valuable, surely the less rare will be tugged along, eventually. So a nicely kept motorcycle from the past decades could go up in value. Almost certainly it will, in the sense that the U.S. dollar is certain to go down in value as the government prints money to get the economy going.

All this had an acquaintance who owns two magnificent motorcycles from the past crowing last weekend that a run up in prices might move him to cash in one from his collection. With the money, he enthused, he could afford to buy a brand new motorcycle, one that could cruise the highways effortlessly without any worries about wear and tear on a museum piece.

So, as usual, it all depends. Will the motorcycle in YOUR garage be a potential gold mine "some day" or a motor vehicle that can prove its value every day? I'm not taking sides. I am tremendously grateful to collector/riders who keep and show great motorcycles from the past. My choice of a newish (1999) Royal Enfield tells you I am not in the same class. I wanted the vintage experience without the guilt of using up an endangered species, and for very few dollars. I got it from Royal Enfield.

I'm glad others feel differently. Let me give you an example: Gordon May's Overland to India journey on a real, vintage Royal Enfield motorcycle. Others have ridden from England to India on motorcycles, old ones, too. But one thing that seemed special to me was that May's 1953 Royal Enfield Bullet had been on static display in his office for years before he revived it and counted on it to carry him across continents.

Suddenly, I looked at pristine motorcycles in museums in a different light. No matter how much they gleam in the soft light, the fire never really goes out. In that sense, every motorcycle holds its value.

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