Dozens of companies have manufactured bicycles over the years, including Murray, Huffy, Schwinn and even some department stores such as Sears. Department stores sometimes made bikes that looked like the more expensive models, which makes it even more difficult for beginning collectors to identify the maker and style of their bike. As some bikes are worth well over five figures, it's important you correctly identify the bike. With a little practice, you'll know how to do this without using any other resources.
Look for any identifying marks on the bike, including the manufacturer's name and a model number. Model numbers or serial numbers are found on the rear stays, crank or headset. If you find the manufacturer, it's easy to use the model number in determining the type of bike that you have. The Old Roads website has a large database that lets you search for bike names and models based on model numbers or other factors.
Contact one of the bicycling museums, including the Metz Bicycle Museum, Pedaling History Bicycle Museum or the Bicycling Museum of America. The museums often have photographs of bikes on display on their websites and can help you correctly identify your bike type. For example, the BMX Museum has a large number of Huffy bikes on its website, with photographs and details on when the bikes were made.
Join one of the online bicycling collector forums, such as The Classic and Antique Bicycle Exchange. Forums are divided into different categories, including vintage bikes, motorized bikes and custom bikes. Members often post pictures of their recent finds, giving you the chance to compare your bike to theirs. The Old Mini Bikes Forum is one example because it focuses specifically on mini bikes and has a section for those wanting details on a bike.
Use the archives and database at Dave's Vintage Bicycles. The website has hundreds of pictures of antique and vintage bikes on display, with information listed for each one. It's easy to search through the database and archives to find bikes similar to yours and get the style or manufacturer's name. Dave's has separate sections for different bike manufacturers, including Schwinn, Roadmaster and Hawthorne.
Read more books on the subject, including "The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles" by Jane Heine and Jean-Pierre Praderes, "Classic Schwinn Bicycles" by Bill Love and "Evolution of the Bicycle, Vol. 1 with Price Guide" by Neil S. Wood. These books include pictures of bikes manufactured over the years, with details on when the bike was made, the manufacturer and the value of the bike.