Should I restore my old Columbia? Is it worth anything?

Many people come to this site because they have an old Westfield Made bike. Maybe it was handed down in the family or given to them by a family friend. Possibly I t was found in the house or barn or just purchased at a yard sale.

The first instinct of many is to want a shiny new looking bike. Why not? Back when we were kids a new bike really got us excited. But what is the best way to fix your old bike up? For that matter should it be fixed up at all? Words like restored, reconditioned, original, barn find, rustoration, and patina all come to mind if you have ever seen some of the many “antique” shows on TV.

 There are many factors to consider before taking on any level of “fixing up” an old bike. I will try to take some of the mystery out of the decision. Ultimately it is up to the individual as to how they treat their old bike. The steps below should help.

#1 Research

Do your homework. Find out as much about the bike as possible. Find out the year, model and how common or rare the bike is. I can help with this if it is a Columbia or other Westfield Made Bike.

#2 Desirability

Some bikes are more sought after than others. The options and extras on a bike can make it a common run of the mill model or a very desirable bike. The model could be a “one year only” or could have been made unchanged for a number of years.

#3 Men’s or Ladies

This makes a huge difference in the value of an old bike. In most cases a girl’s or ladies model is worth one half to one third of what the men’s comparable model is worth. The reasons are several. Girls/ladies tended to take better care of their bikes than the boys. This means more of the female bikes are still out there intact and in good condition. This of course brings the price down. There is also a lot less women collecting old bikes. This means less demand for the ladies models. The most deluxe models were often only made in boy’s/men’s models. 

 #4 Condition

 What kind of shape is your old bike in? Collectors like original…change that…LOVE ORIGINAL!  It’s only original once is the phrase heard over and over in the bicycle collecting community. Is your bike intact with all its correct parts? Is the factory paint job including decals, pin striping still there? If so it undoubtedly would be worth far more the way it is than repainted. Does the paint have a nice patina? Patina is the aging process paint goes though. Whites get a bit yellowed. Reds darken. The finish dulls and even checks and cracks. Many collectors love this type of finish. Even cleaning or waxing can be considered ruining the patina.

#5 Appraisals

 Find out what your bike is worth in its present condition. Then find out what it may be worth with a professional restoration. Although I do not give appraisals I will try to give some good general advice in the next section. One source for professional appraisals is the Copake Action House.

http://www.copakeauction.com/index.html

#6  The decisions

 First, a professional restoration will almost always cost more than the bike would sell for once done. If you have the ability to do most of the work yourself it is possible to break even or make a little money but not usually. Keep this fact in mind.

So..what to do?  What is your intended purpose for the bike? Are you keeping it for sentimental reasons? Are you intending to re-sell for a profit?

 If resale is your goal my advice is do nothing to the bike. Keep it just the way you found it. Whatever money you put into it will probably not be recovered in the sale. Worse yet, you may actually hurt the resale value.

If keeping the bike is your ultimate goal then more decisions’ are to be made. Is it to be ridden? Just on display?

 We now go back to condition. If the bike is fairly intact and has much of its original paint a restoration is not the best course of action. My usual advice is to do a “tune up”. This may include removing the chain, crank and sprocket assembly, front fork and wheels. Cleaning all of the old grease off and re-greasing the bearings and moving parts including the hubs and lubricate the chain. It may need new tubes in the tires or even new tires if it’s going to be ridden on the road. Safety is important. When the bike is all apart take the opportunity to clean the rest of the bike.  Be careful not to use any harsh chemicals or cleaners that could take paint or decals off. Put the bike back together and for a little effort and very little money you have a treasure to pass down for generations.

 If the bike is simply a wreck but mostly there you may decide to do a restoration. It just might be too rusty, maybe having been repainted or otherwise too rough in appearance for display or to ride. What can you do yourself? Giving the bike over to a professional restorer will cost a fortune. If you can just “part out” some operations you will save money. Can you do your own painting? If so you will save big. Plating is something most of us cannot do. Triple show chrome plating is very expensive. To give an idea of what you can expect to pay based on what I have paid in the past;

Handlebars………………………………………….…. $75

Handlebars with cross brace…………………. $150

Hub shells, each………………………..……………..$40

Crank…………………………………..……………………$75

Front Sprocket…………………………….…………..$65

Rims……………………………………..……….Don’t ask!

I think you get the picture. You could pay up to $300 or more to get a seat re-covered if you can’t do it yourself. 

 Labor is free if it is your own. If this bike is going to be a rider and originality is not too overly important to you then you may want to skip the chrome and paint those parts. It’s a lot cheaper and can get your old bike back on the road still looking good. Powder coat is not the best choice for a “correct restoration” but may be ideal for that rider and still keep you within budget.

I will repeat here. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Don’t do anything to the bike until you’re sure it will not ruin or take away from what it is in any way.

#7 Values

I am not a licensed appraiser therefore will not give out prices on specific bikes.  There have been “Blue Books” published but be warned…prices go up and down like crazy in the bicycle collecting world and what is HOT today  is not so much desired tomorrow. This means these books are often off by quite a bit.

 So what is hot today? Here is a list of some in no particular order.

 Pre-war (made before 1942) balloon tire bikes are quite collectable. Men’s are more desired than girls by far. The more “equipped” the more it is worth. Horn tanks, fender lights, cross braced handlebars are all a plus.  Westfield made bikes in the late 30’s – 41 had dashboard models with a speedometer and clock in the one module. These are very much desired. Combination horn/headlights on the fenders are also a clue it is a deluxe and desirable model.  

Wood wheel bikes from the late 1890's up to 1932. These are becoming very collectable. Again, Men’s are worth more than Lady’s models. The “Motobike” models are the most sought after. These give the appearance of an antique motorcycle and that was the intended look to draw in the teen age boys. Arch-Bar frames and racing models are also at the top of the list in this category.

Anything pre 1900. Early safeties are eagerly collected. Never attempt to restore these unless you are a professional and know a lot about these old bikes. The Wheelmen are the experts on these.

http://thewheelmen.org/

High Wheelers also known as “Penny Farthings”. As stated above, do nothing to a bike like this unless you know what you are doing. The best source of information on this era bike is also the “Wheelmen”.

http://thewheelmen.org/

Chainless or “Shaft Drive” bikes. These fit under the category of wood wheel but are in a collectors market all their own. They actually were fairly common from 1898 to 1922 but still are eagerly collected. A great source of information and identification for these is my friends at First Flight Bikes.

http://www.firstflightbikes.com/ShopNew/Bike_Histories/Columbia.htm

1960’s Muscle Bikes. Also known as “Banana Seat” bikes.  In 1965 Columbia introduced the “Playboy 88”. Being sued by the Men’s magazine of the same name the next year the name was changed to the “Playbike” and became the standard 20” banana seat bike for Columbia. This was their first of this type of bike. Over the next few years more and more crazy designs came out like the “Dilly” the “Long Boy” the “Mach 20/16” and the “Mach 24/20”.  A standard Playbike from 1966 and up is worth less than these other more radical styles but still can bring a couple of hundred dollars in excellent condition.  This type of bike was made right up through the 1980’s but the later bikes are not worth much. Some of these bikes also came in girls versions but the girls’ bikes are generally worth very little.

Military Bikes.  In 1942 the US military standardized bicycle production for military use, Columbia and Huffman (Huffy) being the companies awarded the contracts. Although fake ones are plentiful, the original military issue ones are very rare. The serial numbers are hand stamped and begin with a “MF”, “MG” or “MC”.  Military is one of the hottest areas of bicycle collecting right now. The best source of information on these is the Liberator web site.

 http://www.theliberator.be/militarybicycles.htm

Post-War Balloon tire bikes.  1950’s bikes were all the rage a few years ago. Although still collected and prized by many, the prices have come down drastically in the last few years. By no means should you turn up your nose if you find one but condition is more important than ever in this field of bikes. It will make the difference between a $50 parts bike and a $1500 find of a lifetime for the same model. Original excellent condition bikes with all their accessories bring the big money. Springer forks are a plus as is the original headlight and tail light. These lights are often reproductions that are very plentiful.

What’s not so hot?

This list is not to say any bikes in these categories’ are completely worthless. It’s just there is not much of a collector’s market at this time. There is always a market for good riding older American made bikes. Just don’t get your hopes up as to big $$$. In general expect $150 or less for anything in this category.

Almost any Columbia made after 1971. Some exceptions being the RX-5 reproduction of 1986 and the reproduction 1941 Superb made in the 1990’s.

Lightweights and Middle Weights from the 1960’s and up. Some people like them and I expect this class to grow in popularity in the years to come.

Un-Equipped Ladies and Girls bikes from almost any era. A rule of thumb is the newer it is, the less it is worth. Early safeties are still getting respectable money but not as much as their Male counterparts. I have seen a few 1930’s ladies models get decent money but they have to be in A1 condition.

That is a basic list of what is hot and what is not.

 I have not discussed children’s bikes and tricycles yet because they kind of fall some where in-between.  In the 1920’s Columbia started making a complete line of children’s riding toys and bikes. Finding them in good condition is difficult as they were often handed down from one child to another and got a lot of use.  I try not to pass up an opportunity to acquire one of these bikes or trikes in any condition. Restoring them is generally a bad idea. Collectors like the played with condition.

 I hope this gives a starting point when considering what to do with your old bike.  Ultimately the decision is up to you.

Kenneth A Kowal

Thank you for visiting MrColumbia