January in Vegas becoming a hot time for motorcycle collectors
Event: MidAmerica Auctions 2012 Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction
Days: Thursday through Saturday
Location: South Point
Hours: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
with indoor short track motorcycle racing at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Admission: Single-day pass $15, three-day pass $30
Event: Bonhams Las Vegas Motorcycle Sale
Time and day: 10 a.m. Thursday
Location: Imperial Palace
Auctions America by RM Las Vegas Premier Motorcycle Auction
Days: Thursday through Saturday
Location: Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino
Hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Admission: Single-day pass $20, full-event pass $50
Record price paid for an auctioned automobile: $16.4 million for a 1957 Ferrari.
Record for an auctioned motorcycle: $520,000 for a 1915 Cyclone racing bike.
Richard Backus, editor of Motorcycle Classics magazine, says those numbers help explain a sudden rise in motorcycle auctions being staged this month in Las Vegas. Sales by three auction companies will get under way Thursday, up from one January auction just two years ago.
Backus says stratospheric increases in classic car values have prompted buyers to pad their collections and investment portfolios with motorcycles, which are relatively cheap.
“It’s like a nice watch that finishes off your tailor-made suit,” he said.
Buyers in Las Vegas will have hundreds of bikes to choose from in this week's sales, being staged at the South Point, Rio and Imperial Palace. Machines on the blocks will include a motocross racer once owned by Steve McQueen and a 19th-century steam-powered cycle that auctioneers are hoping will break the record price for a bike sold at auction.
Although crowds at the three events aren’t likely to rival those for the annual International Consumer Electronics Show or the Adult Entertainment Expo, both heavy hitters on the January convention calendar in Las Vegas, bike enthusiasts say they expect the auctions to keep growing as an attraction. They’re also hoping sales will be up from last year’s total of more than $7 million from two sales.
“We see January in Vegas evolving into a magnet event — a global event,” said Auctions America by RM executive and principal partner Ed Cepuran, whose company is new to the Las Vegas market this year.
Bike collectors have been coming to the city in January since at least 1991, when Minnesota-based MidAmerica Auctions began staging its annual winter sale in the city.
MidAmerica remains in the game today, staging its event at the South Point and offering an inventory headlined by the McQueen motocross bike.
British auction company Bonhams became the second player in the market last year, choosing Las Vegas for its first-ever motorcycle sale. The company is back this year at the Imperial Palace, also the site of its 2011 sale.
Auctions America by RM's sale is scheduled at the Rio, where its inventory list features the steam-powered bike — an 1894 Roper.
Backus said results from last year’s sales suggested there was enough business for another player this year — and maybe more.
“Last year’s Vegas auction netted $2.5 million for Bonhams and $4.7 million for MidAmerica,” he said. “In 2010, MidAmerica had sales of $4.3 million, so it certainly didn’t hurt them having Bonhams there.”
Backus said the trend in Las Vegas had sparked hope in the bike community that Las Vegas could become the motorcycle equivalent of Scottsdale, Ariz., which attracts thousands of visitors every January for one of the world’s largest and most prestigious series of classic car auctions. The Scottsdale scene began in the 1970s with one auction and has since grown to feature sales by at least a half-dozen major companies.
“With rising interest in classic motorcycles, it looks like the Las Vegas motorcycle auction scene could grow in a similar way,” Backus said.
One difference this year in Las Vegas is that auctions will be occurring simultaneously. Last year, Bonhams held its one-day sale at a time that didn’t compete with MidAmerica’s auction.
This year, MidAmerica and Auctions America by RM will be going head-to-head, meaning they could potentially be dividing consumers’ dollars. Bonhams still isn’t going head-to-head.
But Cepuran said his company wasn’t trying to pick off MidAmerica’s buyers. Rather, he said, it was trying to
attract newcomers by marketing to classic car enthusiasts and investors as opposed to focusing mostly on motorcycle enthusiasts.
“We’re trying to expand the pie,” he said. “We’re trying to make it bigger so everybody can participate. It’ll be a celebration.”
Ron Christenson, director of operations for MidAmerica, declined to comment on the record when asked how he
felt about Auctions America by RM holding its sale simultaneously.
Whether the growth can support itself remains to be seen, but what nobody questions is that Las Vegas is a prime place to hold a motorcycle auction.
“You don’t go to Las Vegas without gambling or bringing something home,” Christenson said. “The people who come for these sales are going to buy something. They’re not going to take a week off work and go to Las Vegas and not come home with something.”