A major bike of the French glory years. Many were rather unexciting, but be on the lookout for high-end examples from the early 60's with French component exotica. In prime (less than 57) sizes in nice condition top-end models with the right stuff could be worth $ 1,500 or more. The pedestrian models perhaps a few hundred at best. French bikes from the 50's and 60's are tricky stuff to understand and price.
Mid to late 70's examples were quite gorgeous. They were not terribly common, but a few came into the U.S through Connecticut cycling legend George Orr and perhaps other smaller importers as well. Eventually William Lewis Imports became the distributor. Early models had wonderful pantographing and seemed very well constructed. Later models seemed to lack some of the earlier hand-worked spirit of their predecessors. Early examples with pantographed components should be worth perhaps $800 - $900, later examples with less spirit perhaps $650 - $750.
While many of these blue classics with the coin-like plugs in the forkcrown all look the same, beware. Some are exquisite, some are only fairly nice. What complicates the story is that at least with later examples there were issues as to what were legitimate examples. The tale going around is that a U.S importer started labeling frames procured from another Italian builder with the Gios label (they felt they had legal right to the name in the U.S). Some argue that some of the "fake" frames were actually superior to the real ones. No idea how to tell what is what. I think, though, that most of the early models with the coin fork plug were the legitimate ones. Then again, there supposedly were some Mexican built counterfeits of the early model that possibly can be distinguished by the lack of certain bottom bracket features. Despite the chaos, examples with awesome workmanship of the funky coin-in-the-crown era should be worth with N.R. parts around $1000- $1,100.
["Torino" is not a model name, but is Italian for the city of Turin, where Gios was based.]
Gitane had a few different glory periods. In the 50's and 60's, when .
Workmanship on these bi bikes ruled, there were some significant models. Later, during the Greg Lemond era, Gitane was again a prominent contender. Most common, however, are the early 70's Gitane Tour de France models. [similar to the Peugeot PX-10] Not terribly valuable, few people went to great lengths to maintain them in mint condition. Most have probably been Kryloned to death. With original paint and the fun mix of assorted French componentry, a value around $350 to $400 makes sense. Lemond era bikes with top end Campy might at some point gain collector pananche, although the time might not yet be ripe for these. A value of perhaps $650 to $750 is reasonable.
["Gitane" is French for "Gypsy" (also a brand of French cigarettes!)]
We are not huge fans of petroleum based frames, but the Graftek was interesting. The carbon fiber Graftek received lots of publicity from its prominent use by some of the finest American riders, most notably the Stetina brothers. Reality is that team riders get many bikes, so failures are not such a problem - unless it's catastrophic. The joints of the Graftek are very elegant, so while it is not a bike for the usual enthusiast, a nice N.R. example is quite a treat to behold. If nothing else, the Graftek is a piece of history. worth perhaps $800 - $900.
An Italian frame of the highest caliber. Not terribly well known. Branford Bike sold many of these in the U.S. during the early 80's. A classic Italian frame, very nice with S.R. components. Be wary, though, of examples on the small side - one frame owned by a friend was terribly designed - larger models aren't known to have similar maladies. S.R. equipped bike in guideline condition should be worth around $900.
Some examples are great, but be cautious of the few that look like high school metal shop projects gone horribly awry. Many Guerciotti bicycles have the added appeal of wonderful pantographed components. The tale goes that the Guerciotti brothers entered the world of frame building with the guidance of Cino Cinelli. This makes plenty of sense - the frames bearing their name ride superbly! In the early 80's Ten Speed Drive Imports brought unpainted Guerciotti frames into the U.S and painted them with Dupont Imron. The idea was to have Italian frames with more desirable U.S paint. values of Guerciotti bicycles depend on condition, quality of construction, and interesting pantographed components. A full Super Record bike of top craftsmanship in guideline condition with all the pantographed goodies might be worth $1,000 or so. Because some examples exemplify the Italian racing bicycle paradigm, really choice examples could justifiably fetch a good bit more. Nuovo Record examples without the neat pantographing are probably worth $750 to $ 800.
One of the legendary lightweights of all time. The curly (vibrant) stay models are the most sought after. Does the curly feature really help? I don't know, but I've logged some miles on one that rides wonderfully. Models up until perhaps the late 50's may be a bit more extraordinary it terms of workmanship. Some of the bikes during that period show wonderfully thinned lugs and crisp brazing. Some people argue that some of the really ornate lugwork examples might be a bit gaudy. They may be right. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, with the plethora of lugwork styles there is certain to be something in the Hetchins would to please almost anyone.
Many straight-stay Hetchins bikes are gorgeous. Because most collectors seek the curly examples, straight stay Hetchins frames of superb quality are often significantly undervalued when their workmanship and rarity is considered relative to lesser marques. Be careful of Hetchins bargains, especially from frames advertised in the UK. It seems that it is common in Britain to crudely refurbish frames that are either badly dented or rusted. Sometimes wonderful deals can be found in Britain, but buyer beware. A whole batch of generally poor Hetchins frames came into the US last spring many are sure to be still floating around. The reality is that a complete curly Hetchins bike in guideline condition from the 60's or 70's in guideline condition should be worth at least $ 1,500. Models with ornate lugs and fancy paint a bit more, those with plain lugs and paint perhaps a bit less. It is generally hard to sell a complete straight stay bike with reasonably interesting lugs for much over $1,000. Recent Hetchins frames built by Bob Jackson should fetch a fair amount less. Because there are so many varieties of Hetchins, deviations from these general price guidelines should be commonplace. Hetchins collecting is a hobby itself!
To illustrate the concept of top-end French bicycles, consider the following quote made by a friend about top-end French automobiles:
"Imagine that an advanced civilization was discovered living beneath the soil of Mars - and that they had developed automobiles - these automobiles are to Earth autos as French cars are to all other Earth cars."
Indeed, French exotic bicycles are quite other-worldly as well. They are more advanced than the bikes the rest of the world produced - and have parts that are quite other-worldly. Herse bikes are the most sought after of all vintage lightweights in Japan. Sure, there may be some French builders that on occasion topped the masterpieces produced by Herse, When, however, the diversity of his product line and level of artistry his works displayed is considered, the fame his bikes attained is completely understandable. Herse touring bicycles feature incredible integrated racks and lighting systems.
Herse produced wonderful proprietary cranksets, brakesets, and stems. His bikes often used sealed bearing bottom brackets - even in the 40's. Oh, he did make some race bikes too - for his daughter who was several time national female cycling champion of France. Some Herse race bikes even had oversize downtubes! He was a touring bike builder who was way ahead of his time. Herse bikes are very rare and very valuable. The smaller the size the better, and the more touring goodies the better. Race bikes, however, are fairly rare and do have value. For a prime sized bike (less than 58cm c-t) with lots of touring goodies, a price in the $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 range is reasonable. Because the original proprietary bits are nearly impossible to find, missing parts can severely impact value. Theoretically, really mint examples in small sizes with all the right bits may have values much greater than $ 4000. There are few if any buyers in the entire U.S, however, that will pay top dollar for these bikes. In fact, there are actually few buyers in Japan willing to pay a whole lot either. If a bike strikes the fancy of one of the few serious buyers in the world, it will sell for a high price. If it isn't of interest to a hard-core collector, than they bike may only be worth a fraction of what the really desirable ones fetch. Any Herse is desirable, but be careful to know the gems from the dogs when the really big dollars are at stake.
The Holdsworthy company was a huge retail and mail order concern going back at least to the 30's. Eventually Holdsworthy bought out many other framebuilders such as Claud Butler and Freddie Grubb. Holdsworth frames until the 50's were really extraordinary, and from then until the mid 70's were simply quite nice. The orange and blue professionals were great riders, and their touring counterparts with the same interesting wrap-around seat cluster were very cool indeed.
By the late 70's or early 80's, things started getting very mass produced. Holdsworth frames became the lowest priced frame going, rally just a step above many nice production bikes. Reality, though, is that even the later more mediocre examples really ride wonderfully. They are cheap thrills in the vintage lightweight world. For early 70's models in guideline condition (especially the orange ones) a price around $850 seems reasonable. Because Holdsworth frames were usually ridden hard, it may be very hard to find truly great examples. I know that I'm still looking! For later models with N.R. parts, a value around $550 seems reasonable.
One of the masters of British framebuilding. He is known for his intricately hand-cut lug sets - some of the fanciest of which bear his initials. A fair number of these did enter the U.S. Some of the most famous U.S framebuilders have high praise for Hurlow's mastery of the builder's art. I've also seen fillet brazed Hurlow time trial frames that are exquisite (I am biased on this one). His crisp handiwork is more typical of master American artisans. An ornate lug example in guideline condition with Campy N.R. parts should be worth around $ 2,000. Less ornate models come up so rarely that a precise value is difficult, but a $1,000 seems reasonable.
ItalVega was the first brand used by Ben Olken's Lawee distribution company, when they started bringing bikes in from Italy in the early 1970s. They were very high quality bikes. After a couple of years, Lawee started bringing in their bikes from Japan, so the ItalVega name was no longer appropriate. They stopped calling them ItalVegas, and went with "Univega."
All Italvegas were made in the Torpado factory, but not all were high end bikes. Torpado made a broad variety of bikes for different uses (including worker, comfort, BMT, ATB, and even motorized) and plenty of the designs overlapped to where Torpados and Italvegas look the same when naked. I have 4 Italvega framesets here in my basement, all different model designations, and all with different features. Thus far, I have documented at least 8 different feature sets on these bikes.
The low-mid level framesets have the inverted triangle Columbus foil decal, while the better models have the rectangle Columbus foil decal. The lowest models have no Columbus decal at all, from what I have seen ... and they don't feel like Columbus either. All the bikes were finished and built up in Italy, and shipped whole. Therefore, the paint and decal quality is likely Italian (evidence is there, just look at one!).
Italvegas seem to have been produced from the very early 1970s, to about 1977 or so, but don't quote me on that. I own a Super Speciale model, from about 1972, that is loaded (or, unloaded, as it were) with superlight/drilled/milled components of the 70s. It built up into a 20lb. bike, at 52cm. This Super Speciale is what I believe to be the "first generation" of their best bike. In about 1973, they came out with the new and improved Superlight model, and it's clone the Super Speciale. The only differences between these two "new" bikes are the decals, and the gruppos used. The framesets were identical, and incorporated drilled Campy dropouts with diamond shaped windows cut into many of the lug tangs, and a super relieved bottom bracket undershell to boot.
Ted of Kennedy Films points out that during the early 70-s, Ben Lawe was
importing the frames from Italy and the gears from Japan. He was
shipping them in a box to stores for assembly.
Jackson frames have always had a bit of a mixed reputation in the United States. Reality, I believe, is somewhere in the middle. Some Jackson frames are absolutely gorgeous and show nice workmanship. In some cases, though, sloppy mitering and less-than-perfect attention to detail give the detractors some valid ammunition for criticism. Even examples that display a few shortcomings are usually quite nice overall - so if you find yourself drawn to the seductive looks of a Bob Jackson frame you probably might as well go for it. Bob Jackson also constructs frames under the Merlin label, not to be confused with the completely unrelated titanium frame manufacturer.
For a great article on Bob Jackson see the book "The Custom Bicycle" from the late 70's. A friend of mine has a Jackson that he has owned for years. It truly is one of the most attractive bicycles I've ever seen. It features great stove enamel, fun contrasting red panels, and rides great. Lots of Bob Jackson frames entered the country through the big mail order houses, so while not totally commonplace these days there are plenty to be found. They were never terribly expensive - and aren't terribly valuable now. For a really nice N.R. bike in guideline condition a value of $800 to $900 is probably fair.
Ron Kitching frames, I believe, are not built in house but are rather labeled with his name. Kitching is a large British mail order company that has been around for many years. The frames bearing his name are not extraordinary but are quite competent. Some, as I recall, have nice detailing, and are reputed to ride very well. An N.R. example in guideline condition is worth perhaps $600 to $ 650.
[Milremo was a Ron Kitching house brand for parts.]
There were a few chinks in the armor. One pesky problem of these frames was that the tubes liked to crack. The first frame repair I ever attacked (and pretty much the last) was to replace the downtube on one of these. It might be that an isolated bad batch hit the U.S at once - I've heard of nice intact examples residing in Canada. Despite the problem of failures, the frames were otherwise quite pleasing. Rare surviving examples with N.R. components in guideline condition are probably worth about $ 600.
A British "aerospace" bike. No great value, but some models had fairly nice, light fillet-brazed frames. Don't ride one if it has the notorious aluminum "death fork." See the Lambert article on this site.
A major name in Italian racing bicycles. At least as early as the 30's there were bicycles painted in the famous Legnano light metallic green. The bikes have a rich racing history, and a fun headbadge featuring a warrior/soldier type guy. Probably not the headbadge of choice at the local Bikes not Bombs chapter.
Legnano enthusiasts can get a good fix by checking out the web page for Vintage Velo. Alex Clark at that company actually has a neat portfolio of early Italian iron that often includes early Legnano bikes. Mid 60's top end Legnano Bikes were quite nice. Fun features include Campy Record components, neat Brooks saddles that were embossed "Campagnolo", and the ever clever Legnano seatpost binder arrangement that is on the front inside of the seatlug. These top models, one of which was the Roma model, in reasonable sizes and guideline condition should be worth about $1400. Later N.R. bikes with the fun seatcluster arrangement are worth perhaps $1,200. Eventually Legnano and Frejus were somehow merged and the bikes became very similar. There are some Legnano models from the early 70's that actually have Frejus type seatclusters! Such bikes in guideline condition are probably worth around $900 or so. Later top-end models looked more generic - seatclusters became rather plain. Such bikes are probably worth $750 or so in guideline condition. Note that there were always many quality levels of Legnano bicycles. There are many examples with the neat paint, fun seatpost binder, and great headbadge, that are made of drainpipe. These examples use basic cheaper parts and are nothing really special. They do look neat, but are not worth more than maybe one or two hundred dollars in mint condition.
A classic case of where our previous price guide missed the point - in the last guide LeJeune received rather ho-hum treatment. In reality, there is a significant level of interest in these French bikes. LeJeune was a significant name in the racing world. A LeJeune was ridden by Lucien Van Impe in the 1972 Tour de France. There were also gorgeous LeJeune track bikes in the same gorgeous but simple red paint scheme.
Workmanship on these bikes is certainly not stellar, but these bikes have a very nice aura about them. The famous red LeJeune roadbikes with N.R. components, in guideline condition, are worth about $900. For the matching track bike perhaps $ 800 would be fair. There were also interesting top-end bikes other than the neat red ones. We've seen other gorgeous hand-worked team issue bikes with super lightweight tubing that were quite extraordinary. There fun bikes with really nice detailing for relatively affordable prices.
There were a lot of these with 531 maintubes. Parts were often a bizarre mix of names rarely heard in the U.S. Such bikes are probably worth $200 or so. Bikes with better components and full 531 frames would have values approaching $500. [Belgium]
A large Italian maker of production quality bikes. What is interesting about these is that many used very nice components. The frames were nothing special, although we know a few people who found them very pleasing to ride. The value of these is probably mostly in the components. Figure a full N.R. bike in guideline condltion is worth $500 or so.
One of the big names. In the 60's and early 70's many of the worlds top racers rode Masi frames - or frames that were built by Masi and labeled something else. Merckx is among the famous who rode Masi bikes. From the 50's up to the late 60's, Masi bikes were called specials. Lugwork was often rather plain - long point lugs without cutouts. During the 60's, some examples are known to have used Nervex professional lugs. By the late 50's or early 60's, Faliero Masi probably ceased building frames personally.
Bikes that can identified as having been built by Masi himself should probably fetch prices well into the $3000 to $4000 range. It is known that in the early 50's, some Masi frames actually have a card signed by Faliero himself placed in the bottom bracket. It is unknown that if this means that Masi himself built the frame. Masi bikes from the early 50's are certainly worth around $3000 in guideline condition.
Bikes from the mid-to-late 50's through the mid 60's in guideline condition should be worth $2000 to $3000. Late 60's Masi Specials start looking a lot like Gran Criterium models - such bikes are certainly worth $2000 plus. Late 60's through early 70's Italian Gran Criterium models are worth around $1500 to $2000.
In late 1972 Faliero Masi along with some of his best builders (Mario Confente) moved to California and started building frames in Carlsbad. Most of these bikes were wonderful, a few were a bit sloppy but still extraordinary. The 1973 California Masi bikes often had a gorgeous twin plate fork crown. From 1973 until 1976 the Carlsbad facility continued to produce wonderful frames. Faliero Masi visited once in awhile, but the facility was in the competent hands of Mario Confente. Bikes from this period are worth around $1250 in guideline condition.
From late 1976 through the late 70's, California Masi frames were constructed by various builders. Think of it - some frames were constructed by the likes of Albert Eisentraut! During these years of relative turmoil, quality ranged from real nice to downright spectacular. Because of the variability, N.R. bikes of this era should be worth around $900 to a $1000. By the late 70's, Ted Kurkbride took over the helm of Masi Califronia and did a wonderful job. Up until the mid 80's, his shop produced frames in the spirit of the Italian master but with the crispness of an American custom. These bikes N.R. equipped are probably worth around $900 in guideline condition.
Note that during the years of California Masi, Faliero's son Alberto continued to build in Italy. In fact, despite the well publicized rift between them, Faliero is known to have hung out at what became Albertos' shop at the Vigorelli [velodrome.] The Gran Criterium frames built under Alberto in Italy don't seem to have the crispness that the California bikes have. Such bikes are probably worth several hundred dollars less than their California counterparts. In the late 70's with the advent of cast lugs, Alberto launched a new bike frame, the Prestige. These frames never came into the U.S legally since California Masi owned the distribution rights to the Masi name. Masi Prestige frames with S.R. parts are probably worth around $1000 in guideline condition. Their value here is a bit higher as a result of their scarcity.
During the early 80's the Volumetrica frame [oversized tubing, internal lugs] was developed and produced in Italy, and actually sold by Masi California. These bikes are very attractive and very stiff. A nice S.R. example is worth $1000 to $1100 or so in guideline condition.
The reason Masi bikes are such a big deal is twofold.
First, almost all are quite beautiful. A Masi Gran Criterium is a paradigm of Italian framebuilding (even if done in the U.S).
Secondly, Masi frames almost without exception are great riding bikes. With so many varieties and twists in their production history, collectors have their work cut out for them!
Ok, who isn't impressed with a bike bearing on of the great names of Italian automobile exotica? Most of the bicycles bearing this label were built by Fiorelli. There were many quality levels. Perhaps the best quality examples with N.R. parts might be worth around $1,200. Other lesser models have values based mostly on their parts value.
During the glory years of [Eddy] Merckx's racing career, he rode frames bearing his name. They were actually built by a variety of framebuilders. Masi, Colnago, De Rosa are among those whose bikes were ridden by the greatest racer of all time.
In the 70's, Falcon of England actually produced a Molteni colored bike bearing the Merckx markings. These bikes had basic frames, low-end parts, and were not terribly exciting. They are worth perhaps $300 in guideline condition.
After his racing career ended, Merckx went into frame manufacturing. He apparently sought the assistance of Ugo DeRosa. It is claimed that some of the early Merckx frames were actually produced by DeRosa. Examination bears this out. Drop outs, for instance, are finished almost identically to the DeRosa style on early Merckx frames. Early Merckx frames with N.R. parts in guideline condition are probably worth around $1000. Later Merckx frames became a bit less refined. There are even some that are downright sloppy. Less exciting examples should have values closer to $800 with N.R. parts. Merckx frames will always have value because, in addition to the legendary name, they tend to provide a wonderful ride. Merckx makes certain that the bikes bearing his name are designed brilliantly, and that makes quite a difference.
A very nice British bike. There are all sorts of models, and a great many of these came into the U.S through the big mail order companies. Some models were very ornate. The ornate examples, with N.R. parts in guideline condition are probably worth around $900. Relatively plain examples with N.R. parts are probably worth several hundred less. There are few people who consider these to be super desirable, so they remain a very good value. There was a very plain model called the classic that was remarkably well-constructed that we tried forever to sell. It was such a nice frame with so little of a following. Maybe people will be inspired to take another look at these.
These were very fun Swiss bikes.- The most common model, the special, had the always popular Nervex professional lugs. Many examples even had very elaborate fade paint jobs. While very striking, they are not terribly valuable. For a nice N.R. example in guideline condition a value around $750 to $800 seems likely.
There are many varieties of these. The model to have is the orange Team Champion model, similar to the one ridden to victory by Luis Ocana, in the Tour de France. There are not a whole lot of people looking for these, but one in guideline condition with correct N.R. components might be worth close to $1000 to the right buyer. The next model was the Le champion, that was all N.R. except for Universal brakes. These bikes should be worth around $700 or so. The Grand Record model with 531 tubing and N.R. deraillieurs, might be worth close to $400 to the right buyer. Lesser 531 or Vitus models are probably worth in the $200 to $300 range. Note that in later years Motobecane used the same models to denote lesser quality bikes - so beware. The above prices are for bikes produced in the mid 70's. In the late 70's Motobecane produced a frame called the Champion team out of 753 tubing. These were quite gorgeous and very rare. Complete bikes in guideline condition with N.R. parts are probably worth $900 to $1,100.
[Motobécane built both motorcycles and bicycles. "Motobécane" is a compound word made up of two colloquialisms stuck together. "moto" is a slang word for motorcycle; "bécane" is slang for "bike" (pedal type.)
Note that, unlike most French makers of the era, Moto used Swiss thread bottom brackets for most models.
Motobécane was the first French maker to start using Japanese parts, in the late '70s. This was a very good move on their part, because at that time Japanese derailers and crank sets were very much better than the older French designs common on mid-priced 10-speeds. This was largely due to the influence of their U.S. importer, Ben Lawee.
A successor company is still in business in France, under the name MBK (pronounced "emm bay kah."
A company called Motobécane USA has revived the name for a line of bikes made in Taiwan, but that company has no connection with the French company.]