As with any collectible, vintage bicycle values can fluctuate wildly from one year to the next and it can be a bit of a magic act to attach an accurate or realistic value to any vintage bicycle.
Condition is King
Condition is one of the main factors that determine the value of a vintage bike. An all original bike in good condition will obviously be worth much more than a basket case that's rusted out and is missing some of its parts. Many restored vintage bikes have had damaged original or missing parts replaced with modern aftermarket replicas. This might fool some people but sharp eyed collectors will spot the fakes and lower their offers accordingly. Sometimes, an unrestored bike with original paint is actually more valuable than a bike that's been restored, especially if the restoration wasn't done properly.
Hot Today, Cold Tomorrow
Naturally, some makers and models are more highly sought after than others. Any high-wheel bike made before the turn of the century is very valuable. Nostalgia is a powerful driver of vintage bicycle values. As baby boomers got older and had more disposal income, many sought out and bought the bicycles they once found under the Christmas tree or dreamed about in their youth, driving prices upward. Demographic changes can also drive vintage bike values downward. The prices of balloon tire bikes have fallen in recent years because many of the people who rode them in their youth aren't as active as they used to be so demand has dropped off. Muscle bikes made from 1965 to 1975 spiked in value a few years ago when they became a hot commodity among 40 year olds who wanted to relive their youth. Prices have since fallen off. On the other hand, demand for vintage English bikes has remained fairly constant. They are timeless classics that many people enjoyed riding while growing up and they are still very practical everyday commuter bikes.
One Man's Junk is Another Man's Treasure
Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder but some bicycles are universally regarded as particularly beautiful examples of cycle art. A Schwinn Black Phantom from the mid 50's is highly prized by collectors and can easily fetch $2500. The Sears Elgin Bluebird has been called the "Bike of the Century" and when they do come up for sale, prices can easily reach 10 or 15 thousand dollars. An equally rare and beautiful bicycle made by another company might be worth half that much. Vintage bicycle values are also greatly affected by the accessories that they came with - the more accessories the more valuable the bike.
Vintage bicycle values are also affected by the rarity of a model. Military bikes made by Columbia - Westfield and Huffman are exceedingly rare and it's very difficult to put a value on one. When one does come up for auction, it's difficult to guess where the price might end up. The sky is literally the limit.
Men's vs. Lady's Bikes
Men's bicycles are in much higher demand than lady's or girl's bikes and typically sell for prices that are one third to one half higher than prices for a comparable woman's bicycle. Most vintage bike collectors are men and they generally want to buy a men's model.
If You Like It, Buy It
Buy what you love, but it's also fun to try to guess what will be hot down the road. The bike that you buy at a garage sale for a few dollars today could be worth thousands in a few years.
Many factors affect vintage bicycle values. At the end of the day, the prices of the most expensive collector bikes are much lower than prices for collectible cars or motorcycles. If you just can't live without a certain bike, no price is too much.