The Complete Guide to Buying a Vintage Bike Frame on eBay

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The Complete Guide to Buying a Vintage Bike Frame on eBay

What is a Vintage Bike Frame?

The term vintage, applied to bicycle frames, can apply to bike frames that are genuine antiques from the early days of the bicycle, right up to some of the road racing bikes from the 1950’s to 1980’s. In other words, from a penny farthing to a vintage BSA bicycle. The enthusiast looking for a vintage bike frame need look no further than eBay to find a huge choice of antiques to classic early modern racing bikes.

Early Bike Frames

This covers genuine antiques from the original boneshaker bicycle to the ordinary bicycle or penny farthing. These were the first machines to be called bicycles and they remain in production even to today. It is possible to buy a modern penny farthing on eBay with proper tyres and even brakes – unlike the originals.
The penny farthing, so called because of the contrast between the large front wheel and small rear wheel was eventually succeeded by the development of the safety bicycle in the 1880’s. The safety bicycle was so named because it was considerably safer than it’s predecessor and it can be described as the forerunner of the modern bike. The rider's feet were within reach of the ground, making it easier to mount and dismount and to start or stop. For the first time the pedals powered the rear wheel, keeping the rider's feet away from the front wheel.
Original bike frames from this era trade for significant sums so authenticity is something to look out for when shopping for an antique bike frame on eBay. Make sure to check the provenance with the seller and if you are unsure based on examining photographs, arrange a visit to inspect the bike.

The Town Bike

The term town bike or roadster bike refers to the classic style of bike that evolved from the safety bike. It is little changed in style from the early 20th century to today. Over the years the basic concept has been added to with both hub and derailleur gears, integrated lights etc but the basic pre War style remains the same.

Whereas many bikes are designed to strip out weight and accessories in the quest for speed, the town bike’s design tends toward comfort and utility. The roadster bike, made in huge quantities in the UK by Raleigh, is still made to this day by Pashley Bikes in Stratford on Avon. Travellers to Europe will see this style of bike almost everywhere - but in the greatest numbers in Amsterdam. Features to look for are:

Returned Handlebars
Unlike the straight handlebars of a mountain bike or drop handles of racing bikes the handlebars of a town bike curve back toward the rider

Frame Geometry
The frame geometry of a town bike puts the distribution of the cyclist’s weight firmly on the seat. This leads to a very upright cycling style, which is very good for awareness in traffic as it allows the cyclist to see and be seen.

This traditional style of bike will usually have a bell mounted on the handlebars

Many of these bikes will have a built in hub dynamo and fixed, integral front and rear lighting.   This saves the cyclist having to take away removable lights to prevent theft or having to set up the style of dynamo powered by the rear wheel tyrewall

Enclosed Chain Guard
The enclosed chain guard allows the rider to climb aboard and ride away without the need for trouser clips and without fear of having a dress or trouser leg entangled with the chain.

Mudguard flaps and Fenders
Mostly fabricated in aluminium or plastic to prevent surface mud and water spraying up on the cyclist or the cyclist behind.   Rear fender/ mudguard will often include a light reflector

Rear Rack & Front Basket
Load carrying is usually undertaken by a basket mounted to the front Head Post and a rear rack. The rear rack usually has securing points for elasticated strapping to secure a briefcase or some shopping to the rack. They have frequently been pressed into service for carrying a passenger and some have additional fittings to support a baby seat

Suspension and brakes
Many new town bikes will offer suspension on the front forks unlike the traditional roadster and some will offer enclosed drum brakes rather than rim block brakes

Pre War town bikes had no gearing but post war bikes offered derrailleur gears.  New town bikes even offer Shimano twist grip gearing, but traditionally town bikes come with hub gearing and therefore usually only offer from 3 to 11 gears. However, the upside is that with hub gearing you get the enclosed chain guard.


If not already factory fitted, town bikes offer a range of accessories to make the experience even more enjoyable. These include extra comfortable wide fitting saddles, bike stands and rubber or plastic block pedals that feel right with ordinary shoes.

What are the downsides of buying a Town Bike?

There are a few - but not many, and not all insurmountable- potential problems with a town bike. They are as follows:


A typical town bike with rack, basket, lights etc can weigh as much as 40-50lbs or 18-23kilo. As a contrast a racing bike would be 12-20lbs (5-8kilo) and 20-30lbs (8-12kilo). It’s perhaps enough to make you think again if you have a top floor flat and need to carry the bike up several flights of stairs for security reasons.
On the other hand, a town bike is usually very well constructed and may be perfectly able to stand the weather if chained up outside


The weight of the bike and the upright riding position make a town bike less than ideal for cycling up and down hills


Many commuters cycle to the train station, put the bike on a train and then on arrival cycle the remaining distance to work. Town bikes are a bit inflexible for this, so lots of commuters use a folding bike to get around this problem.   Many folding bike manufacturers incorporate town bike features into their designs to suit this type of cyclist

Modern Classic Bike Frames

This term refers to the subset of vintage road bicycles or classic lightweight racing bicycles drawn from the era after the war when leisure cycle touring and bike racing took off. Interest in the Tour de France and similar events in Europe spilled over into the UK and led to an unprecedented growth in the numbers and membership levels of cycling clubs.
These classic lightweight bicycles from the second half of the last century have steel tube frames and lugs. Bikes with history – ex racers that have maybe been used by a notable rider of the past like Belgian 5 time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx - are collectors’ items with potential values ranging into many thousands of pounds. Search under Racing Bikes or check under the Sports Memorabilia portal.
Cyclists and collectors look back to this period and enjoy the relative simplicity of a golden age in racing and touring bikes. Some see this as a reaction to the rapid rate of change in materials used in bikes with the various aluminium and titanium alloys and now carbon fibre. However, the rate of change means that bikes from the 90’s are already becoming collectors’ items.

What steps to take when buying a Vintage Bike Frame

There are some simple and important steps to buying any bike and they are as follows:

  • Purpose

    The starting point is to decide what the bike will be used for. Will it be an exhibit, are you looking for a restoration project, will it be a fair weather bike or are you going to use it day to day?

  •  Budget

    Set a budget that you can afford and then start searching on eBay. You will be surprised at how many bargains there are.

  • Size

    If you intend riding the vintage bike It is essential for comfort, safety and peak performance that you buy the right size bike.
    A good guide is to measure your inseam, from your crotch to the floor, and then multiply it by 0.65 for a road bike, or 0.59 for a mountain bike, and you will have a good estimate of the size bicycle frame that fits you. This is purely meant as a guide.  People come in all shapes and sizes; some people have quite short legs and a long torso and others long legs and a short torso and they could be the same height.

    Manufacturers make frames in different sizes because we all have different size legs. The key element is the inside leg and the cyclist ought to be able to stand astride the bicycle with at least 2-5 cm clearance over the top tube. This should be achievable with the cyclist’s feet flat on the floor, not on tip toe. If you are planning to buy a mountain bike, there should be a 5-10 centimetre clearance above the top tube. This is to allow for the nature of mountain biking – the extra space is for the occasional need to dismount suddenly from the bike.

  • Vintage Reproduction.                                                                                                                                         There are many manufacturers making reproductions of early and classic bikes, so if authenticity is important to you then make sure you satisfy yourself that you are buying the genuine article. You are protected from misrepresentation on eBay but always check photographs, ask questions of the seller, or visit and inspect the bike before committing to a bid.

Buying a Vintage Bike Frame on eBay

When you are comfortable with the product information for the bike you have selected, you can consider how to pay for your selection and proceed to purchase. In an Auction the buyer has to place a bid in order to buy the bike at auction by the date in the listing – it may take more than one bid to ensure you are the highest bidder. Use ‘Buy It Now’ if it is offered as an option and you would like to buy the bike immediately at the price the seller has offered – if you feel that price is a little higher than you would like to pay you can always put down your ‘Best Offer’. The seller then has the option of accepting your offer, suggesting a compromise price or simply rejecting your offer.

Buying on eBay through PayPal will ensure the transaction proceeds directly between the seller and buyer. eBay users are protected by the Buyer Protection Programme.

The eBay Shopping Experience

Delivery and shipping of the bike to you is often provided by the seller, but in some cases the bike may be offered on a collection only basis.

It is recommended that you only purchase from sellers which are authorised through eBay.

It is always worth having a look at a seller’s other products for the chance to pick up another bargain and also save on postage costs.

Conclusion on Buying a Vintage Bike on eBay

When choosing to buy a vintage bike on eBay the buyer must consider a wide range of buying needs; for example, the era and style of bike, is it to be used or is it just an exhibit, are you prepared to restore a bike, budget, is it an investment, size of the bike, other features of the bike and are you satisfied as to authenticity?

Having determined to buy a vintage bike the relatively expensive nature of the product means that eBay is the perfect mechanism to find the right bike at the right price. Searching on eBay will deliver an unrivalled range of choices for you to select from in the comfort of your own home with the protection of PayPal and eBay.

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