From The Age Newspaper
AS MEN get older, the toys just get more expensive, but few would have thought the contents of a Pascoe Vale garage would spark a global frenzy.
Last year, Raf Merhi, 29, an Australian soldier on active duty, proposed to his girlfriend, Kafa, and decided to sell his collection of classic BMX bicycles to help raise the deposit for a house. Then the couple discovered Raf's collection is worth more than $300,000.
Potential buyers are descending on Melbourne this week after the first 50 bikes appeared for sale on eBay. One man has already boarded a plane in London, prepared to offer more than $6000 to secure a rare Kuwahara, the two-wheel star of the film E.T., while others are driving from interstate.
Indeed, an act of brotherly love turned into a week-long nightmare for Ralph Merhi, 28, who thought he was doing the right thing by putting Raf's collection of more than 150 BMX classics up for auction. He has barely slept for five days, after being inundated with calls from around the world after the first lot of 50 bikes went online.
''Dubai, London, New York, Japan, all over the US, Canada, you name it, I've had more than 3000 phone calls on my mobile this week,'' Mr Merhi said. ''The phone's been going off at 2am, 4am … I never knew there was this much interest in these bikes.''
As Raf is posted overseas, he asked his brother, who runs a hardware store called Renovators Delight Bargain Warehouse and sells a few excess items on eBay, to sell the bikes.
''Raf has basically been a BMX kid from the day he was born. He's been collecting them and fixing them since he was a little boy,'' Ralph says. ''Some of these bikes have 340, 350 people around the world watching the auctions. I haven't had a proper night's sleep since we put the first 50 online. The biggest mistake of my life was putting my mobile phone number in the eBay listings. Once someone has made a bid, you can't take it off. It's affecting my business. The phone just goes all day.''
BMX - Bicycle Motocross - dates from California in the early 1970s, when teenagers, inspired by Bruce Brown's documentary On Any Sunday, began modifying Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycles to look like motorbikes. By 1977 there were official BMX races in California and limited numbers of specialised bikes from manufacturers such as SE Racing, Mongoose and Redline.
By the 1980s the sport was a global phenomenon and BMX bikes with links to films and popular culture of the era command the highest prices.
Prices of these early bikes are being driven up by collectors, now in their 30s with disposable income, and chasing the dream bike of their childhood.
The 1982 Steven Spielberg film E.T. made Japanese-built Kuwahara bikes a cult classic, thanks to its famous scene of the young boy Elliott flying past the moon on a Kuwahara. An original E.T. model Kuwahara in mint condition can fetch thousands of US dollars. Raf owns five Kuwahara BMX bikes, including two mint E.T. models. Ralph has received offers of $6000 for each of those bikes already.
The 1983 film BMX Bandits and 1984's The Karate Kid popularised Mongoose bikes. Early 1980s Team Mongoose and Supergoose models, made in California before manufacturing transferred to Taiwan, are in high demand.
The auctions can be viewed at the eBay user name rwrightway2009.
Mark Hawthorne is a business columnist for The Age, and proud owner of a 1980 Team Mongoose.