January’s Las Vegas motorcycle sales often set the tone of the motorcycle market in much the same way auctions in Kissimmee and Scottsdale are perceived to in the collector car market. Judging by how they went this year, motorcycles will be a hot commodity for the rest of 2021.
The sales, like so many events these days, happened a bit differently than in the past. The headliners, Bonhams and Mecum, typically auction off bikes the same week, but Bonhams held its sale later in January at a new location, the Rio Hotel and Casino, and Mecum chose to wait until the end of April (which is why we’re talking about it now). As we’ve seen at car auctions, there were fewer lots on offer: Mecum’s event slimmed down from 6 days last year to 4 days this year—and nearly 600 fewer lots. Despite and perhaps because of the limited supply, demand was strong. In fact, we saw some astronomical, record-setting sales. Let’s zoom in on six big sales from Mecum Vegas for a better perspective.
2004 Honda Rune
#1-condition (Concours) value: $25,500
The Rune is likely Honda’s boldest-ever design move, from a company known for playing it safe, and one of the brand’s most polarizing bikes. It was created in 2004 as a radically-styled concept based on the Goldwing, intended prove Honda could build an even better exotic cruiser better than Harley could. With an MSRP of $24,999, it cost more than most other bikes on the road.
Limited production and a high entry fee meant that the Rune was coveted from day 1, and it has held its value. Many nice examples exist, but we rarely see one transact for #1 (Concours) value of $25,500—about the bike’s original MSRP (although inflation means the amount doesn’t exactly equate to an even trade).
All to say, this $55,000 sale came out of nowhere. At more than double the #1-condition value, it leaves any comparable transaction in the dust—and leaves us scratching our heads. The Rune market isn’t an arena where we’d ordinarily expect to see much movement, and this single sale does not mean values for these bikes just doubled. More likely than not, this result will be as polarizing as the Rune itself. No doubt it’s a lot of scratch, but what’s for sure is that at least two people with deep pockets were willing to shell out for this special cruiser.
1986 Honda CR250
#1-condition value: $5200
Whereas we can dismiss the Rune sale as something of an outlier, for now, there’s no doubt ’70s and ’80s super bikes have been on the rise, and our price guide has frankly struggled to keep pace (although we did call them out, along with the Knucklehead, below, in our motorcycles to watch in 2021 story back in January). This CR250 sale demonstrates that in high relief.
Dirtbikes were long viewed as utilitarian, even disposable, with many of them wearing plastic components rather than chrome and metal. Their appeal had long been limited to established enthusiasts and collectors. Until recently, that is, when faired sportbikes started to become widely accepted, and ’80s dirtbikes began their own price creeping.
Dirtbikes generally lived punishing lives, meaning today’s supply isn’t high, and as demand ticks up, so do prices. A CR500, the most iconic and valuable of all dirtbikes, will sell for upwards of $20K if it’s in excellent shape. This $12K sale of a Honda CR250 further solidifies the burgeoning value of lower-cc bikes.
1946 Harley-Davidson FL Knucklehead and 1943 Harley-Davidson E Knucklehead
FL sold for $220,000, and E Model sold for $220,000
#1-condition (Concours) value: $87,000 (FL); $87,600 (E)
We have been watching as Harley Knuckleheads slowly climb the price ladder, going so far as to lay out just how badly millennials want your Harleys. That said, we didn’t expect to witness sales even close to the original-paint “Greenie” Knucklehead that sold last year for $220,000. Well, it happened again at Mecum Vegas 2021. Twice. These most recent results are nearly triple our #1-condition price guide value, and the ’46 sets a new record for a the model year.
The J.C. Burgin collection from which the bikes were sold was part of the late Johnnie Clifton Burgin’s estate. He was the owner and caretaker but also the restorer of the majority of the Knuckleheads for sale from the collection; one Knucklehead for each of the 12 years Harley made them.
As prices lift ever higher in the mid-range tier—CB750s at $50K, Z1s at $35K, and CR500s at $20K—the top of the collector market is showing some signs of following suit. Harley experts caution us that these two sales reflect frenzied bidding in the room rather than a tectonic shift in Knucklehead values, but there’s no doubt these venerable bikes are performing well.
1973 Kawasaki Z1
#1-condition (Concours) value: $22,600
The Z1—Kawasaki’s answer to the Honda CB750—is regarded as the first true superbike. These machines have proven time and time again that they are capable of commanding big dollars. The earliest 1972 production bikes sit on top of the value pile, commanding large premiums over later bikes and changing hands at or above $30K in the last year. At first, such prices seemed like outliers (this is sandcast CB750 money, after all) and then they just kept coming.
This example from Mecum Vegas tells us prices might go higher still. See, it’s not an early VIN. This price would have seem outlandish four months ago. At the pace things are changing, though, we could very well be saying it was bought well four months from now.
1963 Triumph Bonneville TT Special
#1-condition (Concours) value: $20,500
At a time when Japanese bikes both old and new are taking the spotlight, British bikes have sat idle or even declined from their peak values. At least, that is, until this TT Special pulled in $71,500. That’s almost #2-condition Vincent Black Shadow money.
This particular TT Special is, well, special in several ways. It is the first and least common year for production, and the bike is said to be in 100 percent original condition with only 500 miles on the odometer. Being all-original might command, say, a 25 percent premium over a restored bike in #1 condition, especially for such a rare machine, but in this case it brought a truly shocking 248 percent premium. It’s not Steve McQueen’s TT Special, so what gives?
Clearly British bikes are not wholly falling out of favor, and the timeless style of the Bonneville—not to mention its recognizable nature among car and motorcycle enthusiasts—will ensure they are held as icons for years to come. Will $70K+ for a Bonneville happen again any time soon? Time will tell, but for some the Bonneville’s mystique remains worth a pretty penny.
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