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« Ebikes, problem or no? | Main | Life is all about Ass »

1983 John Howard in Mint Condition

There is a 1983 John Howard on eBay this week. It is a frame I built in 1983 built up with a Campagnolo 50th.Anniversary Group, with lofty $7,250 “Buy it Now” price on it. Maybe overpriced, but maybe not.

People do ask that amount and more for Campagnolo 50th. Anniversary groups alone. Whether they get that amount is another story. What people ask for, and what the get are two different entities when it comes to eBay selling.

I do not know the seller of this bike or have any interest in the sale. Except that the bike’s exceptional condition caught my eye. It is as pristine as the day it rolled out of my shop 33 years ago. The owner stated:

“I only rode the bike a few times as I was always worried about damaging it. I ended up buying another bike as a daily rider with the intention of only using the Howard occasionally. 

In the end, I didn't even ride it occasionally.  It has spent virtually all of the last 30 years hanging in my basement.”

That is tantamount to buying a beautiful musical instrument and never hearing it played, or buying a classic car and never driving it. What a bullshit business the top end bike business is. I can’t think of any other where an artist or craftsman makes something so fine that it is considered un-useable for its intended purpose.

You see I was dammed if I did do good work, and dammed if I didn’t. When I left Masi and opened my own shop in 1983, I was competing head on with Masi. My new John Howard frame had to be as finely finished as a Masi, or even exceed it. 

At the same time it sold for less than a Masi, because it didn’t have the Masi name. I even remember back then people telling me the bikes were too fine to ride, but what could I do? I wanted to command the highest price possible without pricing myself completely out of the market. 

It is why I took it down a notch with the Fuso and later the Recherche. These were frames that were built straight, rode and handled exactly the same as the finely finished custom frames and the John Howard. But these were a reasonably priced bike that one could ride and enjoy. And believe it or not even race on. Imagine that, a racing bike you could actually race on. 

I cannot envisage someone buying a beautiful handcrafted boat, but then never putting in the water because they were afraid to get it wet.


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Reader Comments (14)

Too many bikes get treated like fine jewelry or artworks to be hung in a gallery. They wind up in the "collector's market" on eBay or other sites, having been bought on speculation that their "value" will increase. Yes, there is a difference between asking price and actual selling price. These people are the proverbial dogs in a a manger.

Buy a bike to ride, and then ride the hell out of it!

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

Just ride the bloody bike

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn crump

<<I can’t think of any other where an artist or craftsman makes something so fine that it is considered un-useable for its intended purpose.>>
I recognize and agree with your point here, Dave. But I did think think of another object category that falls into that odd practice; that of custom/handmade knives. There are makers whose work no collector would dream of actually using. The workmanship, exotic features and difficulty to make puts them in that display-only status. Silly, but highly human behavior... :)

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDale Brown

"I cannot envisage someone buying a beautiful handcrafted boat, but then never putting in the water because they were afraid to get it wet."

Or marrying an attractive woman...

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJBHoren

I agree with you 100%, Dave. I bought a pair of GB handlebars from a guy last year, and after the sale he took me upstairs to see his "good bikes". These were in an air conditioned room with a humidifier. One of them was a Richard Sachs owned and painted by the late Brian Baylis. It was magnificent.

Another had a gold plated Campagnolo Super Record group. I admired the bikes, but I couldn't help thinking what would happen if I crashed one of them, or heaven forbid, got it wet.

I like pristine bikes as much as the next cyclist, but bikes were made to be RIDDEN.

Even worse is displaying frames on the wall, without components, but I digress...

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJacob Russell

The guy on Antiques Road Show said a lovely patina increases value.
That Howard looks restored, who knows what evils lurk underneath
the paint. (tongue firmly in cheek)

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScott G.

Well, i might hang a retired frameset on the wall -only if i'd had a good history with it.

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

Dave, While agree objects with user value should be used, some of the ones of exceptionally fine detail, artistry and craftsmanship are often destined to become wall-hanging collectibles rather than used as intended. There are warehouses full of great cars that are only occasionally trotted out for car shows. Wrong or right, undoubtedly there are many other categories where this also occurs.
My preference for wall-hanging bikes would, if I could afford such items, be well-used racing bikes with historic competitors' provenance. One of Bartali's rides perhaps, regardless of its condition. Would I ride it? If it required changing out parts to make it road-worthy, probably not. Its value (to me) is seeing it as it was. Restoring it to as-new condition would be utterly destructive.
Pristine bike collecting isn't of any interest. I suppose some investors see a "futures" market in such items. I don't.

November 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFord Kanzler

I work with less rarified material, I once bought a Raleigh Record Ace in lovely condition and wanted to change parts on it in order to ride it. Because of attitudes I have absorbed I chose to sell it as it was, at a loss. Today I would have no such qualms. If a bike is for riding, as the comments suggest, why then am I not allowed to change it to suit me? It will affect the resale value you say? Did I buy it to ride or to sell? There is snobbery wherever you turn.

November 30, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

If it was your money that paid for it, then do as you please its yours. Myself, I ride everything I have, one of my pet peeves is bikes that are wall hangers. But then I also paid for all my bikes so my choice.

December 1, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn Crump

I think this situation is pretty common. I heard a program on the radio about a guitar maker whose instruments are prized for their honey sound, however they are not emitting much of that sound being snagged up by collectors. Same about Leica cameras, where even taking one out of its special box reduces the value, and actually tripping the shutter is considered downright reckless!

Arguably, the practice of collecting in general is somewhat perverse. There's a novel by John Fowles called The Collector I can recommend..

December 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbartsy

Most of the very finest quality custom rifles never fire a shot after the Smith tests it and blues it. Some of them can cost as much as a Posh Sports Car.

Hard to make sense of it sometimes.

December 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJon Gehman


My JH is also in pristine condition. I have the Durace group. I agree with all of you, "made to be ridden". I gave my son my beloved 1963 Rolex, still perfect but lives it's life in a box!

I also have 3 of Gary Klein's bicycles, all perfect, yes I ride all but the JH is pretty special and spends it's life in my Retro Room

Best regards,

Mack Foss
Ogden Ut

February 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMack Foss

My John Howard, #164, is in magnificent condition and ridden only short distances. I was 29 when I bought it and was able to fully appreciate this beautiful creation. At 62 now, I admire it proudly, and would not even think of selling it.

May 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Fleming

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