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  1. #1
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    Vintage bicycle buying for dummies

    I've been looking around for a vintage 10 speed bike to add to my very meager collection of bikes. I do not know a great deal about brands, frames and components and need to compile a mental reference checklist on what to look for when I see a bike for sale.

    What I think I know consists of this:
    If I see a Reynolds sticker on the frame it should be a no-brainer.
    If the bike is full of campy components it should be a no-brainer.
    Front release hubs on the front and back are usually a good sign.
    Suicide brake levers usually indicate a lesser bike.
    A better saddle, such as a brooks, is a good sign.

    Are the above items generally correct?
    What else is there to add to the list?

    Two weeks ago I came across a nice looking Peugot at a Goodwill for $14.95, but the frame was too small and I let it go. The only negative indicator on the bike were the suicide brake levers. Otherwise it had a beat up leather saddle, some sort of chrome molly frame, mafac brakes, a simplex derailuer and looked like it was in decent condition.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Grand Bois's Avatar
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    How do you know that Peugeot had a "chrome molly" frame? I don't think I've ever seen those words on a Peugeot frame. Assume nothing!

    Do you know what forged dropouts look like? They're another thing to look for.

  3. #3
    Broom Wagon Fodder reverborama's Avatar
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    http://minneapolis.craigslist.org/bik/206022359.html

    Here's a decent mid-level 10-speed right here in the Twin Cities

    I have held off calling the guy because I already have 2 Fujis. In his ad he says VALite and Chrome Moly but the bike is VALite which was Fuji's proprietary blend of Chrome Vanadium steel. My Fuji Supreme is made of the same stuff and it's a little heavier than Chrome Moly but still plenty light.

    This bike has suicide levers but you know what? I love those things. You can always take them off.

  4. #4
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    As general rules, you're on the right track. Some knowledge of hierarchy would be helpful. For instance, there's quite a difference between a Campagnolo C-Record bike and one with Valentino Extra bits.

    Tubulars are usually a good indicator of a high-end machine. Steel rims, generally speaking, appear on more utilitarian bikes -- unless you go back to the 1950s and earlier.
    One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach -- all the damn vampires.

  5. #5
    My bikes became Vintage OLDYELLR's Avatar
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    Ornate lugs is another good criterion, but not always.
    1981 Nishiki Ultimate
    1977 Nishiki Landau
    1967 Jeunet Captivante track bike
    1951 Claud Butler New Allrounder under construction
    "index shifters = frets on a fiddle"

  6. #6
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    Other obvious indications for a decent bike would be the presence of adjustment screws in the rear dropout, and the weight, of course.

  7. #7
    Packfodding 3 caloso's Avatar
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    I've started looking at the dropouts myself. This is a good example:

    Cyclists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lube but your chains!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Grand Bois's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bavarese
    Other obvious indications for a decent bike would be the presence of adjustment screws in the rear dropout, and the weight, of course.
    I thought I had some decent bikes, but none of them have adjustment screws or provision for them. I guess I'll set them out by the curb.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    I thought I had some decent bikes, but none of them have adjustment screws or provision for them. I guess I'll set them out by the curb.
    +1: And also all the ones that have the safety brake levers.

  10. #10
    Since 1938... JunkYardBike's Avatar
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    What are forged dropouts anyway (besides beautiful)? Does that mean they are hand forged, rather than machine pressed? Hammered to change the properties of the steel?

  11. #11
    Senior Member Grand Bois's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JunkYardBike
    What are forged dropouts anyway (besides beautiful)? Does that mean they are hand forged, rather than machine pressed? Hammered to change the properties of the steel?
    From the efunda website:

    "Forging is the process by which metal is heated and is shaped by plastic deformation by suitably applying compressive force. Usually the compressive force is in the form of hammer blows using a power hammer or a press.

    Forging refines the grain structure and improves physical properties of the metal. With proper design, the grain flow can be oriented in the direction of principal stresses encountered in actual use. Grain flow is the direction of the pattern that the crystals take during plastic deformation. Physical properties (such as strength, ductility and toughness) are much better in a forging than in the base metal, which has, crystals randomly oriented."

    My father, his brothers and their father owned Valley Forge in Irwindale, CA. They specialized in forging exotic metals, including titanium. Titanium was very exotic in the '60s.

  12. #12
    www.theheadbadge.com cudak888's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtdrop
    I thought I had some decent bikes, but none of them have adjustment screws or provision for them. I guess I'll set them out by the curb.
    My Schwinn Prelude has very nice forged dropouts that are very curiously minus threaded holes for adjusters. Columbus Tenax. Wouldn't throw it out.

    -Kurt

  13. #13
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    Safety levers were ubiquitous. I've got some very good bikes that had safety levers. And this really depends on what you're looking for. If you want a really great, high-end bike, then you're looking for all these indicators. But there were a lot of vintage road bikes made that were mid-range that are still very good quality now. If you're only looking for high-end, then by all means, yes, go with a "Columbus" or "Ishiwata" sticker, reject anything that says "CrMo" or some variation, and turn your nose up at anything without full Campy. But if you're looking for a nice, reliable old roadie, then you might want to start delving into the nuances and hierarchies, as stated previously.

  14. #14
    Chrome Freak Rabid Koala's Avatar
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    I have seen some Schwinn Paramounts with safety levers, aka turkey wings, not to mention stem mounted shifters. It was a disturbing sight, to be sure, but they DO exist.
    1971 Paramount P-13 Chrome
    1973 Paramount P-15 Opaque Blue
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    Holland Titanium

  15. #15
    Senior Member spunkyruss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peripatetic
    ..... if you're looking for a nice, reliable old roadie, then you might want to start delving into the nuances and hierarchies, as stated previously.
    diving into dumpsters never hurts, either

  16. #16
    Senior Member Grand Bois's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cudak888
    My Schwinn Prelude has very nice forged dropouts that are very curiously minus threaded holes for adjusters. Columbus Tenax. Wouldn't throw it out.

    -Kurt
    Maybe I should start using smilies.

  17. #17
    Senior Member jet sanchEz's Avatar
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    I picked up a lower-end Colnago that the owner had installed suicide levers on. I just popped them off and it was back to being gorgeous.

  18. #18
    (((Fully Awake))) Serendipper's Avatar
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    Here's a tip: You will find bikes in the dumpster behind the lbs, and at the U-Haul.

    Helped a friend move, and when we returned the truck , I found a nice bike for his kid and a great set of antique croquet mallets, balls , etc., all in the original wood case! U-haul dumpsters in nice areas are like the poor-man's Antique Roadshow!
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  19. #19
    Geek Extraordinaire sivat's Avatar
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    I didn't see it mentioned, so I will add that stem mounted shifters didn't usually come on the high end bikes. This isn't to say that every bike with stem mounted shifters, suicide levers and a lack of tubing sticker is worthless, but if you're looking for a general guideline, its a pretty good place to start.
    I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

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  20. #20
    Rider of Bikes
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    Of course, pant protectors and pie-plate spoke protectors are usually indications of lower-end models also....though they can be found on some very decent bikes too.

  21. #21
    Senior Member peripatetic's Avatar
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    I'm pretty sure that those protectors have been put on just about every rear wheel of mass-sold/distributed bikes since the 80s or earlier. Liability. Only thing you'd really know from those would be if they were absent: either a previous owner was knowledgeable and loving of his bike (and thus eliminated the pie plate), or the wheel was built by hand. So an absence of one will tell you a bunch, but the presence of one not necessarily (I have a set of nice Campy wheels with a big, shiny pie plate on it.)

  22. #22
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    Thanks for all the tips, these are all quite useful. The Craigslist bike is too large for me. My Trek 412 is a 24 inch frame and I would not want to go any larger than that.

    How does one tell forged dropouts from non-forged dropouts? Is there a difference visually that is obvious to one as clueless as myself?

    A year ago I passed on a NICE Trek and a NICE Schwinn I came across in a thrift store and am bound not to make that mistake again.

  23. #23
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    If you see a bike that looks decent, and it is for cheap, buy it and sort out whether it is a keeper later on. Otherwise, you will regret passing it up.

  24. #24
    Senior Member sykerocker's Avatar
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    One point that been (surprisingly) passed on so far: The brand of the bike.

    To a complete newbie, if the downtube says something like Raleigh, Trek, Schwinn, Peugeot, Gitane, Fuji or some other major weel-known brand, it's probably safe to consider. The majors didn't get that way by putting out lines of junk bikes. Of course, I'm limiting that comment to bicycle shop bikes, not stuff made to sell in a big bbox store.

    If they've put on a sticker claiming a certain brand or type of frame tubing, it means you're looking at anything from absolutely excellent to a quality cheapie.

    Once you come up against a name brand you don't recognize with no identifying stickers, then there's no substitute for research. Just the same, if it's in nice shape, fits you and is under $25.00, buy it. You can always turn it around, either whole or in parts, if it turns out you bought less than what you were looking for.

    Syke
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  25. #25
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    "If you see a bike that looks decent, and it is for cheap, buy it and sort out whether it is a keeper later on. Otherwise, you will regret passing it up."

    You got that right! The Trek that I let get away haunts me, if nothing else I could have sold it on Craigslist and made a few $'s, maybe even a lot of $'s.

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