July 8 2013 by Jason Fogelson
When I go on motorcycle trips, I almost always wind up renting a bike from Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals. My bike Manny is a 1993 Sportster, which is great for quick solo blasts around town, but not really conducive to two-up riding. I've been looking for a bike that would entice my wife to ride along with me, and maybe even a bike that would be fun for my dogs.
What I'm really looking for is a sidecar hack. And not just any sidecar hack -- I want to find a classic Harley-Davidson rig -- something simple and cool that would be a fun runabout.
That's what has led me into the world of classic motorcycle auctions.
The 800-pound gorilla, and the great equalizer in the auction world has been eBay. Gone are the days when you had to travel to the auction location in order to participate in a live auction. eBay Motors has a great motorcycle section, and many classic bikes show up there. Even if you're not comfortable buying a motorcycle via eBay, the site can be a tremendous resource. You can sort data to discover how abundant the bike you want to buy is at the moment, and you can research recent selling prices and trends.
Classic motorcycle auctions are often included as part of classic or collector car auction events, even if they're not heavily advertised. The big players in the car auction field, like Barrett-Jackson, Mecum and Auctions America, have all included motorcycles in their most recent auction events.
Most of the time, when there's a motorcycle show or concours event, there will be an associated auction. In the case of big events, like the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, there will likely be more than one auction.
It's a good idea to understand the rules and best practices of an auction before you attempt to participate. Usually, you have to register as a buyer before you are eligible to bid. Registering as a buyer will include providing positive identification, and some evidence that you are prepared to complete the transaction should you be the winning bidder. Each auction house handles this differently. Some will secure your bid with a credit card; some require a bank draft; some require a cashier's check in advance. It will all depend on the dollar range of bike that you're bidding on. Check with the specific auction house for details.
Most of the time, you will not get a chance to test ride the bike that you're bidding on. The auction house will prepare a description of the bike based on information provided by the seller, and the better auction houses will require a pre-auction inspection to assure that the bike is as described when it comes time for the auction. For high-end auctions, it's usually possible to engage a third-party expert or inspector to check out the bike and make sure that it is authentic. Most of the time, you're on your own, though, and the auction is completed under an "As-Is" stipulation. Buyer beware.
Many auctions today are advertised heavily online, and there's even the opportunity to participate in live bidding via phone or computer. That's good news for sellers, and okay news for buyers. The reason it's not great news for buyers is that it opens up the competition at every auction, reducing the odds that you're going to win a great deal.
The great dream of an auction is that you'll be in the right place at the right time, and you'll find yourself face-to-face with the bike you've been looking for, and you'll be the only motivated bidder on the floor, leading to a bargain. It can happen. I hope it happens to me, and I find the sidecar rig of my dreams. I think it's a late 1950s FLH, or maybe something a little newer. I'm still researching. I'll let you know, and I'll see you at the auctions.