Winter weather makes January a bleak time for motorcycle riders in much of the United States, but an event in Las Vegas offers a warm spot on the calendar.
The annual Mecum Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction has grown into a gathering place for bike enthusiasts around the world, said Ron Christenson, president of Mecum’s MidAmerica Motorcycle Division. Although the sale is the main event, Christenson said motorcycle groups like the Antique Motorcycle Club of America have begun holding meetings coinciding with it.
“In our 27 years in Las Vegas, we’ve seen it become the mecca for vintage motorcycle people,” he said. “It’s really become a social event there.”
This year’s auction begins today at South Point with four days of sales and related events.
More than 1,200 motorcycles are scheduled to go on the block, ranging from expensive rarities to non-running project bikes for home mechanics.
Last year, the auction set a record of more than $13 million in sales, with a 92 percent sell-through rate.
This time around, a surging economy and a strong group of bikes for auction have organizers feeling optimistic.
“I think the economy has made people think maybe I will put my money into something I can touch,” Christenson said. “We saw this back in the big boom, too, in the early 2000s, where of course people were putting some money into the stock exchanges, but there was also the incentive to put it into something hard and cold.”
If you’re interested in buying or simply coming as a spectator, here are a few things to know:
• This year’s stock includes motorcycles from several remarkable collections. They include more than 160 off-road bikes from Tom Reese’s Moto Armory, which Christenson said houses “some of the best motocross bikes in the world.” Collector Bob Weaver also is offering bikes from his collection of low-mileage 1970s and 1980s superbikes, many of which are street-legal versions of racing motorcycles.
• There are still plenty of restored and unrestored bikes for purists, but “cafe racer” type bikes are hot. The term originated in England, where bikers would speed from cafe to cafe on production motorcycles they had customized with racing-style handlebars, solo seats, shortened fenders, high-performance engine parts and other modifications aimed at reducing weight and improving horsepower. Now, the style is back.
“You’ll see a ‘60s or ‘70s stock motorcycle — a Triumph, a BSA, a Harley-Davidson — and they have a retail value of $8,000 to $10,000 at the auction,” Christenson said. “But if somebody has souped up the motor and put disc brakes on it, better exhausts, punched out the motor to 80 to 90 horsepower compared to the original 40 or 50, put the bigger tires on it with brand-new suspension and forks on it that makes it handle like a brand-new motorcycle but looks old, it’ll bring $15,000 to $20,000.”
• Early American models also are attractive to buyers.
“I’m talking back to 1911 to 1920,” Christenson said. “And not just the Harley-Davidsons and Indians. I don’t think a lot of people realize that in 1912 and 1913, there were like 200 manufacturers of motorcycles just in the U.S. alone. World War I took most of them out, and what took the rest of them was that they just couldn’t keep up with the technology of Harley and Indian.”
• Bidder registration is available for $200 at the auction, which includes admission for two people to each day of the event. General admission tickets are available at the door for $30, with children 12 and younger admitted for free. Doors open at 8 a.m. daily, with bidding starting at 1 p.m. today and 9 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
• The Las Vegas auction has benefited from a tech disruption. Christenson said one reason the Las Vegas sale has grown is because of the internet’s effects on swap meets, which once were magnets for collectors and vintage bike enthusiasts.
“You used to be able to get all the parts you needed for your 1915 Harley at a swap meet, but now you can buy it on the internet and there’s not much reason to go to one,” he said. “So Las Vegas has kind of replaced a lot of that, simply because the swap meets are not like they used to be.”
For more information, see the Mecum Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction page.