His shop, First Flight Bicycles, in Statesville, North Carolina, has become a veritable Disneyland for bike collectors thanks to the 450 ancient models that have taken roost there and which serve to catalog the evolution of the modern mountain bike.
I put the question to Mike Varley, the owner of Black Mountain Cycles, in Point Reyes Station, California.
Varley’s shop is a magnet for classic Marin County mountain bikes.
Say, for example, that you had one of the first Shimano Deore derailleurs. Cunningham’s hand-built Indian and Racer models were the first aluminum-framed mountain bikes in the world, the first mountain bikes with sloping top tubes, the first mountain bikes with tubular style fork crowns.
Well, those are cool, but how many of those things did Shimano make? And even back then, Cunningham’s bikes weren’t cheap.
“The thing is,” says Jeff Archer, one of the world’s foremost collectors of vintage bikes and components, “people aren’t just buying old bikes or parts-they’re buying a piece of history.
Or maybe a part of their own past.” Archer is intimate with this kind of compulsion.
In 1983, you could pay upwards of ,600 for one of Charlie’s creations-two to three times as much as custom steel bike of the day.
Today, a pristine Cunningham from that period can sell for more than ,000.
When he started this shop, he started filling the place up the machines from his past.