Is the Scrambler Motorcycle Market a Bubble That Needs to Burst?

Is the Scrambler Motorcycle Market a Bubble That Needs to Burst?  In my humble opinion, YES.  Read on to find out why.

There is no question that the scrambler motorcycle market is hot – red hot!  Everyone seems to love them – newbies, millennials, and old timers.

They are everywhere you look, which makes sense as your two primary sources of bikes are churning them out by the thousands………

-OEM Manufacturers:  Ducati has placed a huge emphasis on this particular segment of the market, focusing heavily on their factory scramblers of various varieties.  They just posted their first healthy profit in forever and this was in large part due to their success in the scrambler arena (I actually got to see some Ducati Scramblers being built during my visit to the Ducati factory last fall).  Other manufacturers are taking notice and coming out with their own scrambler offerings.

-Custom Builders:  Custom builders are always about what is hot at the time – obviously, they make what they can sell.  For example, fifteen years ago it was choppers and now it is cafe racers and scramblers.  Add to that the new flat tracker craze, which is in many ways only slightly different than the scrambler in design, and you have even more of this style motorcycle flooding the market.

Look, I even want to build one, and I have always been a die-hard cruiser guy.  Their inherent versatility has a lot of appeal.

That said, I am also an “investor” when it comes to vintage bikes.  I have been around the block more than a few times, so I buy projects that pencil on paper.

In particular, when considering a purchase, I try to factor in the amount of time I will need to spend and the number of parts I will need to buy.  I take the price the bike will ultimately fetch once restored and divide by the price I am paying.  I look for a factor of 5 to 10, and try never to go below a factor of 3.

As mentioned above, I would like to get a scrambler, so I have been stalking vintage factory scramblers on craigslist – in particular, I use the search term “scrambler,” which returns the early Honda CLs, a few Triumphs, etc.

What I have come to notice is that, unlike non-scrambler projects, the factor of 5 just isn’t there.  In fact, you are lucky if you find a factor of 2 on these vintage scramblers.  Let’s look at a few real life examples pulled from craigslist.

Bike (Condition)Asking PriceKBB Price - ExcellentNADA Price - ExcellentInvestment Factor (NADA/Ask)
1974 Honda CL450 (Poor)$1,900$2,970$2,2601.18
1971 Honda CL450 (Good/No Title!)$2,700$3,020$4,3701.62

*note that the NADA pricing guide tends to be generous on values

The bottom line is that none of these vintage scrambler projects seem to possess the potential return on investment, warranting the purchase as a project in the first place.  Basically, any bike (even a bucket of parts) with the term “scrambler” attached to it is including a premium in the asking price.

Let’s look at it from another angle – already-built “scramblers” customs out there for sale.  These things are being priced at nearly double their “non-scramblerized” counterparts, well above KBB or NADA pricing.  Like a highly customized car or home, many of these builders have yet to realize that the value in any custom bike is that it needs to be customized to the particular taste or vision of the buyer.  Turning a bike into a scrambler and then trying to sell it at a premium is like trying to sell someone a tailored suit – it wasn’t made for them, so why would they pay a premium for it?

BikeAsking PriceKBB Price - Excellent
(For an Original)
NADA Price - Excellent (For an Original)Premium or Markup Factor (Ask/NADA)
1979 HONDA CX500$8,500$1,375$2,1104.03
1982 BMW R100RT$5,350$3,490$5,2951.01 (Not Too Bad)

*note that the NADA pricing guide tends to be generous on values

This brings me to the last and final reason that the scrambler motorcycle market bubble simply needs to burst.  In my opinion, this is far and away the most important reason of them all.  Amazing, near-original classic bikes from the 1960’s and 1970’s are being purchased and converted into scramblers.  This is going to make me sound like a bike snob, but this bothers me deep in my gut.

Anyone who has really perused my site or followed me on Twitter knows that I love motorcycle history as much as I love motorcycles themselves.  To the extent that the scrambler craziness is destroying pieces of history through chopping, cutting, and irreparable changing bikes to meet a current scrambler fad makes me sad.

My sincere request of all builders out there is that, to the extent the base or template for your next scrambler project can be an already misused, abused, incomplete or otherwise already destroyed bike, please try and do that.

I am all for bringing nearly lost bikes back into service, but also want to preserve those pieces of history that we will regret losing five to ten years from now when the scrambler craze is over.  My plan is to find an already chopped Ironhead Sportster or Triumph Bonneville for a Scrambler project, giving an already lost soul a new home.

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Also, forgive any typos or grammatical errors a I wrote this blog post from my phone.

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2 Comments

  1. Andy September 1, 2017 Reply
    • Christopher Pumo September 9, 2017 Reply

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