cycling utah September 1999

Classic Corner

Classic bikes justify original cost by holding value

By Greg Overton

Rummaging through some old cycling magazines the other day, we came across a 1973 price list for a top of the line racing bike, and we were blown away by the contrast with today's pricing.

Even taking into consideration the inflationary effects on the value of a dollar, it was surprising how little the cost seemed, and how the value of certain products always seems to endure, and often appreciate over time. So we wondered why anyone would throw away so much money in '73 for such a wildly expensive bike.

The final product was a reflection of a professional racing bike of that time, lacking only the drilled crank, brakes, handlebar, rims, stem, seatpost . . . and weighed about 20 lbs. Precisely the sort of bike that causes the ol' Classic Corner eyes to glaze over.

We'll compare the following list with current, new-in-the-box prices of the same equipment, and it would be interesting to consider the cost of a modern equivalent, but that's a rant for another day.

The frame chosen for the '73 bike was a Colnago "Super" constructed with Columbus SL tubing. The importer would furnish the frame with Campagnolo Nuovo Record headset and bottom bracket for $220.00.

This bike was built in the era that is considered the modern heyday of framebuilding art and quality, and this Colnago frame, IF you could find it today, would be valued at about one thousand dollars more than when it was new. And you would have the best riding frame on your block. Nuovo Record bottom brackets with Italian cups are currently costing about $120.00, while headsets are around $70.00 new.

The groupset of choice for the Colnago was of course Campagnolo, with a couple of substitutions.

Here is the breakdown with prices in 1973 and current prices in parenthesis:

Nuovo Record crankset, $72.95 (about a third of its current cost); Super Leggeri pedals with titanium axles, $36.95 (around $100); Front derailleur, $13.95 ($78,00); rear derailleur, $22.95 ($175.00, if you can find one); brakeset, $90.00 (a little less than half of current cost).

The wheelset for this Colnago consisted of Mavic Montlhery rims, Campy hubs and Union double butted spokes all for $59.95 for the pair. And labor was included for a custom build. Whoa! Labor alone these days should equal that. Then rims, spokes and hubs would add another $220.00 to the tab. Or you could spring for that new $700.00 wheelset that adds a pound.

The substitutions and add-ons looked like this: Suntour bar end shifters, $12.00 (that's about right for today too); Regina Oro chain and freewheel, $26.90 (about one third today's cost); Cinelli buffalo hide saddle, $21.95 (who knows, when was the last time you saw a Cinelli saddle?); Cinelli 1A stem,$10.95 ($36.95 today for the same stem); Cinelli 64 bar, $10.95 (ditto); Tires were Super Sprint tubulars from Hutchinson at a whopping $6.95 each, (as with Cinelli saddles, when was the last time you saw a six dollar tire, either tubular, clincher or kid's sidewalk cruiser?).

How would you like to sell us your 1973 Colnago Super for this original grand total of $613.40? We'll take a size 54 please. Anybody?

Like anything brought about by craftsmanship and passion, values have risen tremendously with bicycles of this quality. It's always interesting to look back and see what a relative bargain something from back then seems now. But it has to be an item of craft and passion.

Just a couple years later than this Colnago, we remember almost buying a red Kabuki "10-speed racer" because it was SEVERAL hundred dollars less than the Celeste Bianchi with all the EYEtalian parts dripping off it that we saw in another store and in our dreams.

We couldn't believe that a pedal bike could cost that much. Heck, you could pretty much buy a used Jaguar E-Type for that . . . ouch, uh, let's not go there.

That Bianchi would be worth about the same as the Colnago is now, and just slightly less desirable. And the Kabuki? That's over at the thrift store begging for some kid to pay $8.00 and give it a second life. Don't ask about the Jaguar. That will just make us all feel sick.

So we began to consider which late 90's products will be cherished in another few years. Will it be composite wheels, eight-speed integrated shifters, slapped-together "light" aluminum frames, carbon forks or titanium stems? Or will history repeat itself and cycle (no pun intended) back around to aesthetically beautiful, passionately crafted and well thought out products?

Each year at the annual Velo Swaps, we sort of get our answer. Several-year-old Waterfords, Davidsons, Masis and the like usually bring top prices, while the commodity type bikes do not.

Even De Rosa, one of our very favorite bikes, isn't immune. Last year we saw a few slightly-used aluminum De Rosas for fractions of their original cost (along with Bianchi, Cannondale, Trek, Pinarello, etc.). We can quantify the weight differences between these bikes and their brazed steel ancestors, but until we can quantify the ride, (this rides seven and that rides nine), we have no marketing material to justify the price.

But the prices go in different directions as time passes, and it is reflected in the Colnago-Bianchi/Kabuki comparison. The Colnago surely seemed very expensive in 1973, because you could buy a Japanese bike for a fraction of the cost. But where indeed was the true value?

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