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Old 03-18-09, 08:47 AM   #1
dobson001
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What to look for in a vintage bike?

Can anyone provide a general rule of thumb of what to look for in a vintage bike at different price points?

For instance what should I expect from a sub $50 bike, $50-100, $100-150, $150-200?

As I have mentioned before, I am trying to get road bikes for my brother and his fiancee as a wedding gift. I would like to spend around $200-250 combined for the bikes, but am willing to go a little higher for a substantially better product.

The problem I am running across in my area is many CL sellers do not post pictures with the ad, and I do not have the time to run around trying to see all the bikes. For example, the following bikes were recently posted:

http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/bik/1079953930.html
http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/bik/1079960061.html
http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/bik/1079964057.html

I think the Raleigh would work for my brother, he's 6'3", and the Nishiki or the Fuji would work for his fiancee, she's 5'7", but without pictures how do I know if they are worth the time to find out more about?
Is there particular questions I should ask of the sellers?

Thanks for all the help.
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Old 03-18-09, 10:02 AM   #2
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Unless its a smokin deal, expect to have to do work and buy parts on a sub $50 bike if its a decent model. I personally would expect a lot in the $150 range. Really good shape. I wouldn't want to have to do much of anything for laying out that much on a 80's japanese mid range bike. But you sound like you have less time than money, which is the opposite for me..

Good thing for your bro you're not shopping for two brand new $150 bikes. That is the most important thing here!
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Old 03-18-09, 03:14 PM   #3
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It is hard to give you a short answer because under $200 or so used bikes are a very inefficient market. Once you get into the higher ranges, ebay kind of determines what is fair market for a given bike. If it is a complete bike worth $100, the shipping cost would make ebay rather pointless, so that's why it has little use in establishing what is fair below $200. So what you have then are very different local markets where Craigslist is the major player and what sells for $200 in LA or rural Iowa or Chicago or rural Appalachia are not the same. In a large urban area like greater LA, there will be lots of people just looking at CL many hours per day to jump on any underpriced bikes.

Also, when I say the market is inefficient, I mean that some sellers have no idea that vintage bikes have as much value as they do for the hipsters who convert them into fixies or for those of us who just appreciate the vintage bikes for what they were. For an underpriced bike in an urban market, you have to shoot from the hip, drop everything and act fast, show up right away with cash in hand. So unless you have a lot of time on your hands, lets assume that those underpriced bikes are off the table.

So that said, these are the prices I'd say are fair market value, and as such do not reflect what most people in this particular forum would be willing to pay for bikes (as we tend to look for underpriced bikes). Rather this would reflect that prices that we'd hope to get if selling a bike in an urban area (not that many would ever sell the bikes I'm describing for $25 or $50).

I would say that for $25 I'd expect a bike that was originally entry level and is really in bad shape with very little of value in the components.

For $50 I'd expect a bike that was originally upper entry or mid level and has a doubled-butted steel frame that is in decent shape with some nicks and scrapes, maybe a few light rust spots, but no major trama. In many cases the frame will be very dirty from having sat in a basement or garage or shed for 10-15 years. I'd expect that the saddle, the tires, the cables and cable housing and brake pads are not very good and would need to be replaced if I were to ride it. It would probably come with rusted rat trap pedals without toe clips or pedals with toe clips that show rust or haven't seen new grease in 2 decades. I'd expect the wheels to be rather mediocre quality and maybe usable if they are trued.

For $100 I'd expect a similar quality frame as the above bike but with some of the components to be usable with minor tweaking. For example, perhaps it would need new brake cables, but not new housing. I'd hope that it had decent tires or wheels.

For $200 I'd exepct a decent quality frame as above with good wheels and tires, good performing brakes and shifters--really a bike that is ready to ride as is. I'd not expect a Brooks or other high end saddle, but neither would I expect a saddle that is falling apart. I'd expect it to have decent pedals with toe straps, not rusted rat traps.

A high end frame such as Reynolds 531 or Columbus would add a premium of at least $50-$100 to any of the above.

Touring bikes are in high demand and would probably increase the prices by 50-100%.

Last edited by IceNine; 03-18-09 at 03:19 PM.
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Old 03-18-09, 04:04 PM   #4
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For $100 each, you are either going to get low end junk, or a step up in bikes, but ones that require extensive work (could have rust issues, etc).

If you shop all the time, you will uncover some sweet deals, but they will be spotty, and probably not in your desired size.

Your budget is not really high enough to get decent bikes, without a lot of luck. Decent bike = chromoly frame, three piece crankset, alloy rims, sub 26 pounds in weight.

If you are willing, able, and have the time to do the work, then hit the garage sale/thrift shop circuit, and you could find something decent in the $20 to $40 range. You really have to be willing to trade time for money. You can save money, but not without spending a fair amount of time.

And the smokin' deals on Craigs List will be gone in a nanosecond. And the best deals are poorly described, likely to either not have pictures, or to have lousy ones, and so on. I have picked up some nice deals this way as no one really understood what the guy was selling. You have to take a chance, drive some miles and expect to be disappointed a few times or more.

Just remember when you read about others reporting the great deals they have found, that many of them are looking for deals all the time, every day. I am one of those guys reporting on such deals, and I can tell you, I put many hours into it. And I have gone to many, many garage sales and thrift stores and found nothing. My "find rate" is less than 1% (I find deals less than 1% of the time). And I am not looking for specific sizes or types of bikes. If I was looking for just my size for example, my find rate would be well under 0.1% (1 in a thousand).

It is more realistic to buy off of Craigs List, and expect to pay full "market" price. Even at full market pricing, vintage bikes are a great deal compared to anything new.

Last edited by wrk101; 03-18-09 at 04:32 PM. Reason: clarification
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Old 03-18-09, 05:22 PM   #5
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I agree with wrk101.Learn all you can about bikes and components.When you see something on C.L. you have to be very quick to act usually.I see many people ask the forum if something is a good deal.Believe me ,if it is a good deal you should have grabbed it because the time you wasted asking if it was worth calling about the deal is gone.There are some great deals to be made in used bikes and its a talent you develope by playing the game.
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Old 03-18-09, 05:42 PM   #6
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I'll add a simple suggestion, Look for something that does not have a cult following to save the most money. Early 90's bikes and components seem to be a great value, for example, 15 year old shimano 105, 600 and deore.

To old for some, not old enough for others and a great deal for you!
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Old 03-18-09, 05:56 PM   #7
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to get a good decent looking bike (even if its old) in CA, expect to spend at LEAST $350 FOR ONE. And thats for low end, entry level stuff. I have found deals for $150 in AZ, but those bikes would go for $600 here.

your best bet might be estate auctions and then take the bikes for a tune up. even that will probably cost $300+ all together.
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Old 03-18-09, 07:10 PM   #8
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Here in D.C., the pickings have become very slim on craigslist. There is one guy who set up shop about a year ago rehabbing bikes, mostly lower end bikes - once in a while a decent cro-moly bike, but generally lower than that. Prices them to move w/in a couple days of listing - recently, almost anything he sells is > 150 and that includes old MTB's, hybrids, etc.

But as another poster noted, the vintage/used bike market is inefficient, and I'd go so far as to say it is a bit dysfunctional. There is a lot of price compression - people expect to pay around 200 dollars for a used bike, despite wide variances in quality. So somebody sells some old gas pipe, rusty bike for 175, a nice mid-upper range Japanese bike is worth at least double, certainly was when new. But you may have to wait for the right person to understand this and in the meantime put up with CL backbiters carping about how they used to buy that bike for 25 dollars at yard sales.

However, the market seems to be sorting this out slowly, not as much of an issue as several year ago. Good for sellers, bad for buyers.

The other posters are right about if you value your time and don't enjoy the hunt, you are a lot better off just throwing in the towel and buying of CL or Ebay and getting what you want without many, many hours of waiting for lightning to strike. Plus, the poster who suggests early/mid 90's - these still haven't attracted organized vintage interest like 80's bikes, so if those work for you, better deals.

My recommendation is springing the extra dollars for good condition. Again, unless you have a garage full of tools, a mind full of knowledge, and shelves full of handy spare bits, it really isn't very cost effective to fix up one bike - by the time you figure everything out, buy what you need or pay the bike shop to do it, you are in for way more than just buying something in really good condition, even something virtually unused. I've done that a couple of times and have never regretted the extra expense for the hassles it has saved me if I just wanted to ride the bike. Even if you pop say, 4 or 5 hundred for a super nice 80's mid/upper mid, as in barely ridden, compare that to what you would get at LBS.

Really, it all comes down to you get what you pay for, whether with money or time, whether that time is expended now in the search or has been in the past gaining experience that you can monetize now on some bike work.

One thing that is also true is that I don't really expect the vintage bike prices, especially the non-trophy bikes in the 200-500 dollar range to fall off dramatically and over long term will probably at least keep up w/inflation - if anything, they've been picking up despite the recession, a little to my surprise, I was sort of hoping for some softening. Nobody is making any more of them, I guess.

So if you don't like what you bought, CL makes it easy to get rid of and get something else.
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Old 03-18-09, 07:20 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dobson001 View Post
Can anyone provide a general rule of thumb of what to look for in a vintage bike at different price points?

For instance what should I expect from a:
(Road bikes)
sub $50 bike, Rust, weight, $100 in repairs/replacements.
$50-100, Less rust, then see above.
$100-150, Little Rust, less weight, $50-$75 as above.
$150-$200, No rust, chro-moly, decent components. A little maintenance, should be rideable. Nothing facy.

(Mountain bikes)
sub $50 bike, Rust, weight, $100 in repairs/replacements, frustration at the brakes.
$50-100, No rust, surprising quality in a solid fork and rear. $25-$50 in repairs. Lots of good bikes in this range.
$100-150, Good price range for some good quality bikes, many needing nothing, most with indexed shifting.
$150-$200, You should find front shocks, excellent wheel sets, indexed shifting, good saddles, good condition.

As I have mentioned before, I am trying to get road bikes for my brother and his fiancee as a wedding gift. I would like to spend around $200-250 combined for the bikes, but am willing to go a little higher for a substantially better product.

The problem I am running across in my area is many CL sellers do not post pictures with the ad, and I do not have the time to run around trying to see all the bikes. For example, the following bikes were recently posted: E-mail the listers and insist on pics. No pic, it doesn't exist.

http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/bik/1079953930.html
http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/bik/1079960061.html
http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/bik/1079964057.html

I think the Raleigh would work for my brother, he's 6'3", and the Nishiki or the Fuji would work for his fiancee, she's 5'7", but without pictures how do I know if they are worth the time to find out more about?
Is there particular questions I should ask of the sellers?

Thanks for all the help.
A very thoughtful gift. You can spend about $15 on supplies to clean, lube and make bikes look and ride a lot better. I didn't check your CL examples, but I'd say for your price range, a pair of Trek 800 series bikes can be had in great shape for that kind of money, can be ridden about anywhere, and you'd have enough for some extras, like a pump, etc. Good used mountain bikes are simply cheaper. Used aluminum road bikes are getting cheaper all the time, but not like mountain bikes. More people simply bought mountain bikes and don't ride them anymore.

There's often no rhyme or reason with the road bikes. robatsu is right on for his area, some steals, some rip-offs, but they all seem to sell.
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Old 03-18-09, 07:42 PM   #10
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Understanding that a lot of CL sellers are just people clearing out their "junk", and others think their 1919 Lincoln penny is worth $100 as an analogy, if you ask questions many CL sellers won't bother to answer since they didn't hassle with posting a pic they probably won't hassle with answering questions. But one question you can ask is what condition the paint is in, is it chipped, scratched up, dented, rusty, so forth. Also ask if the seat is torn and if the handlebar wrap is ripped or in good condition.

One angle you might try is to hit your local bike shops and ask about any used bikes they have laying around. Tell them you're on a budget and are looking for wedding gifts. A smart shop keeper might haul something out of the basement or attic for you and slap one of their shop stickers on the seat tube and a gift card taped to the handlebars hoping the newlyweds will be back for accessories, or for new bikes.
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