With the availability of quality reproduction transfers and decals, like we produce, it is a relatively simple matter to create a replica of a classic bicycle.
Is this legitimate? In our view, yes, provided you are open about it and not trying to con anybody into thinking the bike is something that it isn’t. Sometimes the bicycle you yearn for is just not available and you are very happy to own and ride a replica – it looks like the original and gives you pleasure. Nothing wrong in that, provided you don’t try to pass it off as the real thing, in which case your replica becomes a ‘fake’ and you expose yourself to civil or criminal action.
Also bear in mind that it was common for racing cyclists to ride ‘replicas’ in the era of steel bicycles. Many racers, both stars and water carriers, had frames built by their favourite builders and finished in their sponsors’ colours.
When you are buying a bike that has been refinished, how do you protect yourself from buying a fake?
The first line of defense is knowledge. Don’t make an impulse buy of a make and model that you are not familiar with or you could end up getting burned. Research your proposed purchase first – go to classic bicycle sites such as Classic Lightweights UK, Classic Factory Lightweights, Classic Rendezvous where there are photos of authentic bikes. Join discussion forums and ask questions, search the ‘net, read books. Join clubs such as the Veteran-Cycle Club (UK-based but with worldwide membership).
A common fake recently has been dressing up a Colnago Super with Eddy Merckx Molteni paint and decals. We would want to see photos of the frame before repainting, or at the very least want to check every feature of the frame to make sure it was of the correct age. Some of the fakes marketed as genuine were very clearly of the wrong age by several years – but they sure looked good and may have sucked in unsuspecting buyers at prices way over their real value.
Resist paying more for a refinished bike than the cost of a rough frame and a repaint, especially if it comes without solid documentation. If a frame is a replica or fake, it is really only worth the price of the underlying frame as if it were in need of a repaint, unless you are prepared to pay a premium because you like it anyway.