Did you hear the news? Extremely rare motorcycles from all over the world are disappearing and the trend is accelerating. Owners of these bikes are shocked to discover their once rare motorcycles are, … no longer rare! Just think, could this be the end of the speculative buying frenzy for those “once in a lifetime” motorcycles now showing up with amazing regularity?
We live in interesting times. The other day I suggested great motorcycle roads are not as rare as some might believe, it’s easier than ever to locate many out of the way routes with enough variety for almost anyone. The same easy communication and search enabling us to find those roads is taking a lot of the rarity out of the motorcycles themselves.
A couple of years ago, while watching the Barrett Jackson auction, I was amazed at the number of rare cars coming across the block, so many, in fact, the announcers were having a hard time describing why this particular Corvette or that particular Mustang was somehow different and therefore “rare.” The same idea applies to those hard to find roads, if you come up with enough special and specific characteristics you can eventually eliminate all of the possibilities and say those roads are rare. Motorcycles? The same rule applies, if you decide to look for a Brough Superior powered by a JAP engine owned by a particular movie star and manufactured on Thursday then your potential candidates are few. But even the venerable Brough Superior is not as hard to locate today as they once were and if someone has the cash and decides to buy one, chances are a seller can be located.
Rarity is often nothing more than perceived scarcity. In years past, if you looked for a less popular older motorcycle, tracking one down could be a challenge. If one didn’t appear in your home town, the call would go out to auction houses or you could check the classifieds in newspapers and magazines from other cities and towns in hopes of one turning up, an often futile pursuit. You called everyone you knew and nothing appeared. You want one, you can’t find one, therefore the bike is rare.
Today, what motorcycle is so rare it never turns up? Take a little time looking through the motorcycles for sale on ebay. On any given day you’ll find bikes from decades ago, lots of them, in conditions ranging from perfect unrestored survivors to fully restored jewels to daily riders and many project bikes and basket cases. Nothing like this has ever been possible before. Now you can be very picky. Well, yes that Indian is nice but I wanted the brown saddle and there’s a scratch on the rear fender. No thanks, I’ll keep looking. Did you grow up when Kawasaki’s two stroke triples were the hot bike? You may not find a nice one near you but there’s usually one or two for sale somewhere. A Norton Manx? Sure. Vincents, early Indians and lots of low production bikes you may never have heard of. All available, every day. Rare? What’s that?
If the quality you are searching for is history, the bike won a particular race or was owned by some famous person, you’re looking for a collectible artifact not a rare motorcycle. The value is in the documentation that proves celebrity not the mechanical function and design. That value can vaporize if the papers are found to be fraudulent or the celebrity falls out of favor, it’s like collecting autographs.
Even the rarest motorcycles, if they exist at all, exist somewhere and it’s often not too hard to find out where. You can see the bike if you’re really interested, usually on display in some museum or collection. If you’ve never seen one and only heard rumors that the bike exists, it takes on an aura of mystery, but if you can see it any time you want, the mystery disappears. Then it becomes a question of can you buy it or would you want to. Do you need to own it or is seeing it enough? If the bike really no longer exists, then it’s not rare, it’s nonexistent. At that point some craftsman may come along and build one from a photo or a group may remanufacture parts to build one again.
The Barrett Jackson bubble may soon burst, you can only ride that wave for a little while before everyone catches on. In fact, the whole auction process has become entertainment and the repeated appearance of the same rare vehicles year after year just changing hands becomes truly weird. The value is in the hype and if you look behind the hype you may wonder what you just bought.
This trend is going to keep accelerating and it has some interesting ramifications. I’ll get into that very soon.