18th February 2021

The Future of Classic Bikes

Whenever classic bike fans get together, online or face to face, the conversation invariably drifts round to what the future holds. The pessimists predict the collapse of the classic movement, while the optimists insist ways will still be found to keep our hobby alive, even thriving. So who is right? What will the future bring?

The biggest factor will be legislation. The government’s future plan to restrict new cars and vans to electric drive makes no mention of motorcycles, but the message is clear. Eventually, liquid fuel may become difficult and expensive to obtain. In the medium term, riding classic bikes on the road will remain popular as a specialist hobby, like horse riding, rather than a means of transport. In the much longer term (perhaps 2050 and beyond), we may become confined to track days like the VMCC Festival of 1000 Bikes. You’ll just have to transport your classic to the track in your electric van or camper and fuel up at the circuit.

The next issue is demographics. It’s often said that today’s young riders will have no interest in classics, but nobody under 90 currently riding vintage bikes (pre-1931) was around when those machines were produced, yet they love them dearly. More significant might be the cultural shift, with virtual experiences supplanting so many real world activities, and a generational trend away from motor vehicle ownership of any sort.

Related to this is the potential loss of the skills needed to maintain or restore classic bikes. Owners clubs already help with advice and parts supply and may ramp up their activities to fill the void. Local night school courses could provide basic mechanical skills if demand exists. Some steam railways even run apprenticeships in the engineering skills needed to support their activities – a lesson perhaps for the classic bike world?

And what of prices? As always, it comes down to supply and demand. While all the above trends may reduce overall demand, at the top of the market there will never be enough machines to go around. The premium models like Brough and Vincent twins and racing machines with pedigree, such as ex-factory bikes, will always have historic value. Lesser machines may well suffer from oversupply depressing prices but, on the bright side, this will bring them within the reach of many more potential buyers, pulling a new cohort of less wealthy owners into the classic movement.

For investors, a general drop in prices may drive them to find somewhere else to put their money, leaving the classic world to the true enthusiasts. Genuine fans, disappointed by the falling prices of their cherished machines, should take some comfort from the thought that, had they bought a new bike instead, they would have willingly accepted massive depreciation as part of the cost of ownership, and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed riding their machine half as much.

What do you think the future holds for the classic bike industry?