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  1. #1
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    New to Vintage Cycling

    Hi there Bike Forums members!

    I have recently fallen in love with cycling, and I'm hoping you can aid me in my quest to find a great vintage bike for a newbie.

    A bit of my back story... I've always enjoyed riding a bike, but I only recently started riding longer distances, and I want to go much, much farther (I would love to do a century by the end of the summer). I just moved to NYC in May, and cycling has been a great way for me to explore in and around the city. I'm currently riding a great 1988 Trek 520 that I am borrowing from one of my roommates. This is the first road bike I have ever ridden, and I've fallen in love with this bike and its smooth ride. However, this bike is slightly too big for me and after about 25 miles my shoulders, back, and hands can't take much more. A friend who works in a bike shop did a fitting with me and adjusted the quill stem and seat as much as he could, but he agreed that the frame of the bike is slightly too big for someone my size. I'm a female who's 5'3" with longer legs and a shorter torso, and he measured the bike to be about 53cm/21in. I believe I need closer to a 48cm/19in frame from all the research I've done.

    I've been looking on CL for a potential replacement bike for me (and I've been checking Bike Forums frequently to increase my knowledge about certain vintage bike brands and models), but I felt I should seek out your advice about what I should be looking for in a used bike.

    Currently, most of my rides are around 20-30mi, but like I said earlier I eventually want to be able to ride centuries. Also, I am interested in exploring touring, so I would ideally like a bike that can carry panniers. I've been looking at vintage road bikes on CL, but I am unsure if I should be considering ladies style frames (step-through and mixte styles). A friend who has some experience in cycling told me that those styles of frames would not be able to hold up to touring - is this true? Should I be considering ladies frames or focusing on small sized mens frames?

    My budget isn't very high. I could possibly splurge up to $400 for the perfect bike, but ideally I would spend closer $250. I don't mind investing some money into things like new tires, break pads, and a saddle over time rather than getting the ideal bike right now. One problem I am encountering is how expensive the NYC vintage bike market is compared to most other places. I'm in love with the Trek I'm riding - and would love to find one that is more compatible with my body size (I might go look at a 1981 Trek 610 with a Reynolds 531 frame on Monday that has an asking price of $260) - but do you recommend any other brands for someone just getting into long distance cycling/touring? I want something dependable and durable with good components that would be a great starter bike for a petite lady falling in love with cycling.

    Any of your advice would be much appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Christine

    P.S. Because I know the members here love photos, here's some pics of the Trek 520 and me.

    harlemriver2.jpg

    520trek.jpg

  2. #2
    Senior Member Gary Fountain's Avatar
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    Hi Christine,

    I think a century is a good and achievable aim so best wishes.

    As for your bike, the Trek you are currently riding does look a little on the big side for you but I can see where your friend fitted it to you as best he could. It also looks like you are willing to stick with it until the perfect bike materialises.

    In my opinion, forget the step-through frames and concentrate on a similar bike to the Trek. I think $250 to $400 will get you a light weight frame with light weight components. Perhaps Craigslist is a good place to start looking and your friend may help also. My daughter wanted to start riding longer distances a little while back and she is a similar size to you. It took me quite a while to find a frame suitable for her. It was Reynolds 531 and nicely lugged with a 48cm seat tube, centre to centre. I think small frames are difficult to find and I think small frames do suffer a bit in their geometry (getting everything to work together to make the frame comfortable). Perhaps a small frame with smaller diameter 650 wheels may come up but that may be a very long shot.

    If you want to fit racks, etc, you may want to look for eyelets on the dropouts. Older frames (1970's) may be the best source for frames with eyelets although you can find them on newer frames.

    Treks are great although Japanese built frames are also good quality.

    Not being very familiar with female body proportions, I understand a shorter top tube is ideal but often not possible to find. Your friend was right to fit a shorter stem.

    Best of luck with your search but it may take a little while to find the right bike.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bicycle Addict's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forum Christine, the above advise is good, your LBS or friend may be able to help you figure out what frame size you need, look for a local coop too, you will find all the help you need and more on here too.
    Enjoy the journey too, as it is all part of the fun.
    Last edited by Bicycle Addict; 07-20-14 at 03:22 PM.
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  4. #4
    Member VeryNot's Avatar
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    I could have written your post! I too am new to vintage bikes, have a really short torso, and want to ride centuries.

    While I'm taller than you, the fit charts always put me on bikes that ended up too big for me. Now that I'm finally on a bike that's a size smaller than what everyone told me I should be riding, I'm finally comfortable, and I'm sure it all has to do with the short torso! Perhaps it's more of an issue for women since we tend to be shorter anyway and so require smaller frames, and we're also more likely to have shorter torsos. But stick with "mens" frames. Mixtes are awesome -- I have one myself -- but aren't the best choice for touring.

    And I second the recommendation of Japanese bikes. Miyata, Panasonic, Bridgestone, and Fuji all made great touring bikes. And often the prices are quite reasonable for these bikes.

    I just got a Japanese bike myself: an '81 Schwinn Voyageur 11.8, and it's a fantastic ride (it's a Schwinn but it was made by Panasonic). It's considered a "sport tourer" which means it's more relaxed in the geometry than a racing bike, but lighter than a full-on tourer. I'm not interested in loaded touring, just being comfortable on long rides. This bike fits the bill.

    I might be a bit biased, but this is a great price for a great bike (might be a little too big, but the 21" was the smallest 11.8 made in chrome I believe) Schwinn Voyageur 11.8

    Best of luck!
    Last edited by VeryNot; 07-20-14 at 02:29 AM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member rgver's Avatar
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    For $400 you should be able to get a very nice bike that has been fully serviced with patience and time looking on your local Craigslist. Rather than looking at specific brands, look for quality, spend a little time around the boards, learn about tubing and quality components. With this knowledge it is much easier to get a good bike without getting burned. It also makes it easier to snag a steal at a local flea market or yard sale too.

    try the "are you looking for one of these thread" people post some great bikes in there
    Last edited by rgver; 07-20-14 at 05:43 AM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member daf1009's Avatar
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    Hi there...and welcome! You have received some fantastic advice already...so I will not echo it, except to say it is good. One thing that you might do is to search CL in "cheaper" areas than New York. Yes, you might have to add some shipping, but it might let you get a better bike...for the same money. You could look at some relatively close areas and hope shipping might not be too bad (i.e. Boston and Philadelphia both seem to have a lot of stuff...and there are Bike Forum members there that might facilitate)...

    Good luck in your search...and let us know what help we can be!
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  7. #7
    billy chuck eschlwc's Avatar
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    - motobecane
    - miyata
    - univega
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  8. #8
    Fat Guy on a Little Bike KonAaron Snake's Avatar
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    It's just a challenge to find bikes in the size you're talking about...48 sounds a bit small for you by the way, but preference plays a role. This is going to be a pain in the ass, but the limited supply sometimes forces extraordinary measures...I might look for a frame on eBay, buy a donor bike, and have a shop move the parts over for you. It's a more costly, cumbersome approach, but there just aren't many fish to catch in hunks sea and you have to be flexible.

    I further others advising the avoidance of step throughs - I don't think you'll be happy with the ride or weight. Mixtes might be appropriate, but finding a high quality one is not easy.

    Brands - I wouldn't necessarily exclude anything, especially in your size. I also think the Japanese bikes are often the best value...I especially like Miyata and lotus.

    Best of luck to you with your goals and welcome to the forum.

  9. #9
    Senior Member auchencrow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KonAaron Snake View Post
    ...the size you're talking about...48 sounds a bit small for you by the way, but preference plays a role. ....
    +1

    Your actual preference trumps any internet sizing chart, so try it before you buy it and then decide.

    BTW - The older '531 Trek 610's are pretty sweet rides, and assuming the one you are going to see is in good condition (and it fits) it may be a good choice for those long rides, @littlecourage.
    - Auchen

  10. #10
    Senior Member 1987's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forum!

    Yes, you will probably benefit from a smaller frame, judging from how low your seatpost is.

    This formula for frame size works perfectly for me. It's often, attributed Greg Lemond and his former coach Cyrille Guimard:
    Inseam in cm x 0.67 = frame size C-T
    http://cdn.activecommerce.net/conten...zing-guide.pdf
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    Try search engines that searches all of eBay and CL, for instance:
    fuji for sale in New York
    I am looking for an early 70s Fiamme Red label wheelset on Camp Record LF.
    Fiamme research institute: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/781480

  11. #11
    billy chuck eschlwc's Avatar
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    ^ that conversion (using 0.67) is way too small for me, especially with c&v, where no more than 4.25" of seatpost is showing. my number is more like 0.70 (plus).

    if i used 0.67, i would end up with a 54cm c-c bike, more than a half inch too short for my 32" inseam and 5'11" frame.

    a half inch short in seat tube length is a huge difference in comfort, especially on long rides.

  12. #12
    Senior Member 1987's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eschlwc View Post
    ^ that conversion (using 0.67) is way too small for me, especially with c&v, where no more than 4.25" of seatpost is showing. my number is more like 0.70 (plus).

    if i used 0.67, i would end up with a 54cm c-c bike, more than a half inch too short for my 32" inseam and 5'11" frame.

    a half inch short in seat tube length is a huge difference in comfort, especially on long rides.
    Remember that you have to "simulate" that you are sitting in the saddle, in other words you have to push up the object you are using as reference (preferably a spirit level or alternatively a book) between your legs pretty hard. Yes it sounds weird. But you don't have to post a selfie doing it.
    Last edited by 1987; 07-20-14 at 07:45 PM.
    I am looking for an early 70s Fiamme Red label wheelset on Camp Record LF.
    Fiamme research institute: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/781480

  13. #13
    SE Wis dedhed's Avatar
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    Also keep an eye open for the Trek 400's (Elance) of the late 80's - early '90's as they had frame geometry close to the 520 touring models many have triple cranks, and have all the braze ons for racks and fenders.

    Trek 400 Road Bike in Near Mint Condtion
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by KonAaron Snake View Post
    It's just a challenge to find bikes in the size you're talking about...48 sounds a bit small for you by the way, but preference plays a role. This is going to be a pain in the ass, but the limited supply sometimes forces extraordinary measures...I might look for a frame on eBay, buy a donor bike, and have a shop move the parts over for you. It's a more costly, cumbersome approach, but there just aren't many fish to catch in hunks sea and you have to be flexible.

    I further others advising the avoidance of step throughs - I don't think you'll be happy with the ride or weight. Mixtes might be appropriate, but finding a high quality one is not easy.

    Brands - I wouldn't necessarily exclude anything, especially in your size. I also think the Japanese bikes are often the best value...I especially like Miyata and lotus.

    Best of luck to you with your goals and welcome to the forum.
    A bike at 50 cm will have probably the same top tube length with 700c wheels as a 48 cm frame. Maybe even a 52 cm when measured center to top. Measurement standards vary, so a bike even 2 cm "off" from what you want is worth at least inquiring about. I would shy away from 27" wheels (many CL sellers do not know the difference between 27" and 700c, 700c is readily available for rims, wheels and tires, 27" is slightly larger ( which you don't need) and choices are very limited.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Velocivixen's Avatar
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    Hi Christine & welcome! I agree with what everyone else said. My 2 cents would be to look in areas away from NYC proper - you might be surprised at how the prices vary just 30 miles away (at least in the Portland, OR market, which is hot). I'm new to vintage bikes this past year so I recommend mid to late '80's or very early '90's bikes, especially Japanese due to easily obtained, standardized parts fitting. The ones mentioned above are readily obtainable. Extreme sizes, either small or large, tend to garner higher prices because they're harder to come by, just FYI. Also, I bring a tape measure and a small magnet (kitchen type) when I go see a bike. As others will agree, sellers rarely get their bike sizing correct in their ads. Also, for example, a "52" in one brand/model will likely have a different top tube measurement than a "52" in a different brand/model, so always measure.
    Other buying tips I've learned here is to not bombard the seller with too many questions, otherwise they either won't respond, or they'll just sell to someone who's not so curious. I've found that it's important to try to look beyond dirt/grime to see the bike itself. Don't discount a bike just because it's dirty.
    Do you have a knowledgeable bike person to come with you when you look? If not I suggest getting familiar with, for example, how to check for loose headset, bottom bracket and the like. Really simple and good to know. Could also use it as a negotiating point if something is loose and needs adjustment/replacement.
    Mostly have fun, and don't feel pressure to get the "perfect" bike the first time. Go armed with information, then be confident in your choice. You may find, over time that your riding preferences change.

  16. #16
    自転車整備士 oldskoolwrench's Avatar
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    Welcome to the Forum, Christine!

    I would concur with what the others have said; you should be able to find a good 48 to 50cm size bike for your needs. Typically, step through frames (ladies or mixte) will tend to be a bit heavier, but definitely a plus with regards to straddle clearance.

    You have a Trek 520, which is most definitely one of the 'stalwarts' when it comes to Touring bikes. I'm thinking it's an '85 model, with the cantilever brakes. Just so you'll know, prior to your Model Year, there were 'Touring' bikes in Trek's line that were equipped with more conventional caliper brakes, like the 520 and 620. There are those who have said that these were not true "touring" bikes because of the brake choice. To be honest, I owned a 520 two years earlier than yours, and ten days after I bought it, I took it down the West Coast from Astoria, OR to San Diego, CA loaded to the gills front and rear. It worked just fine.

    Vintage 48 and 50 cm Trek bikes are definitely out there on Craigslist; here in my neck of the woods, there are about 10 or 12 examples in various conditions.

    Feel free to ask away, and I do hope you find an awesome bike that fits!

  17. #17
    billy chuck eschlwc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1987 View Post
    Remember that you have to "simulate" that you are sitting in the saddle, in other words you have to puch up the object you are using as referns between your legs pretty hard. Yes it sounds weird. But you don't have to post a selfie doing it.
    "puch up"? i didn't follow any of that, except the no pics request.

    no need to explain though.

  18. #18
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    Welcome, Christine! Great photos, thanks for sharing.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Dfrost's Avatar
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    Another brand to watch for on CL would be Centurion. Last year my daughter-in-law to-be (wedding next weekend!) asked for my help in finding a decent road bike. She's short, and I was impressed that the 49cm Centurion LeMans RS we found had none of the short frame compromises like a steeply angled seat tube or toe overlap with the front wheel. The only changes I made to improve it were brake levers designed for smaller hands, and dual pivot calipers with Kool Stop salmon pads for the the best braking. It had already been upgraded to a triple crank, handy for the many steep hills up here in the Pacific NW.

    Here's a photo of an identical frame to hers (so this one doesn't have the triple cranks and brake levers):

    Last edited by Dfrost; 07-20-14 at 12:29 PM.

  20. #20
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    Hi Christine!

    I'm new to the forums as well and have similar issues and goals as you. I'm short, 5'2" with a shorter torso and longer legs and I also need a smaller bike. The advice everyone has given so far is wonderful and is advice I've tried to take as well. I still haven't found quite what I want but I think it's because I've been looking for a frame that takes a 700c wheel. As the top tube size shrinks, the seat angle gets steeper to accommodate that larger wheel and you end up with a less relaxed ride. I've changed my focus to 650c frames (although they are few and far between) and am hoping to find one that is just right. Guess I should change my username to Goldilocks.

    I am really interested in seeing what you find as I think it will help my own search. Good luck!

  21. #21
    Senior Member 1987's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by redbaybound View Post
    Hi Christine!

    I'm new to the forums as well and have similar issues and goals as you. I'm short, 5'2" with a shorter torso and longer legs and I also need a smaller bike. The advice everyone has given so far is wonderful and is advice I've tried to take as well. I still haven't found quite what I want but I think it's because I've been looking for a frame that takes a 700c wheel. As the top tube size shrinks, the seat angle gets steeper to accommodate that larger wheel and you end up with a less relaxed ride. I've changed my focus to 650c frames (although they are few and far between) and am hoping to find one that is just right. Guess I should change my username to Goldilocks.

    I am really interested in seeing what you find as I think it will help my own search. Good luck!
    Instead of 650B you could look for road bikes built for 26" wheels, 559 mm. There was some experimenting with this in the 90s. They look more "proportional" in small sizes.
    road 26 | eBay
    Last edited by 1987; 07-20-14 at 03:25 PM.
    I am looking for an early 70s Fiamme Red label wheelset on Camp Record LF.
    Fiamme research institute: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/781480

  22. #22
    Senior Member Bicycle Addict's Avatar
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    Trek Multitrack, Giant Innova/Fargo, Univega, and Schwinn Criss cross, and Diamondback Overdrive etc are early 90's bikes with Cantilever brakes with road geometry, the Multitrack are a similar geometry to the bike you already have, they can accommodate some pretty wide tyres too. They make beautiful tourer's
    b 173.jpgkkll 003.jpg

    Rear tyre clearance will be your first consideration when touring, wider tyres just carry weight better. Excuse the incompleteness of my bikes the are WIP's.
    I started a Early 90's hybrid thread over in the hybrid section, you should check it out, the early 90's bikes are very nice to ride and should be cheaper than something 80's, people may disagree and that is fine.
    Just my 2cents though.
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    Wow, you all are amazing! I came home from work tonight and was overwhelmed by the knowledge and generosity of all of you. I will start checking out some potential options in my area this week. It looks like there are a few good options at the moment (including a couple Treks), and one good thing about being in New York is that hundreds of new bikes are posted on CL every day. I'm sure I will find a good deal soon! I do have a friend who has volunteered to look at bikes with me if we can get our schedules to coordinate.

    Thanks for all the advice about sizing. I will try to measure myself and see what according to the equation you guys gave. At least I know for now that I need something smaller than what I have.

    I'm really excited to start on this adventure. I will be sure to let you know what I end up with. I'm already having so much fun learning about this new world.

  24. #24
    Senior Member 1987's Avatar
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    You are most welcome.

    This might be a useful article for you:
    Buying a bike that fits a woman
    I am looking for an early 70s Fiamme Red label wheelset on Camp Record LF.
    Fiamme research institute: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/781480

  25. #25
    Senior Member pcb's Avatar
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    Welcome aboard, Christine! A few random thoughts for you:

    Your points of contact on the bike are seat, pedals and handlebars. When those relationships are ballpark correct for you, "frame size" doesn't matter so much---we can ride too-big/too-small frames kinda OK if the fit is reasonable. Looking at your 520, the very low saddle position does suggest the frame is too large. You might want to have your bike shop friend check the reach for you again. Shoulder/back/hand pain is likely a reach issue, and your reach on the 520 could be shorter. The seatpost has some setback, so a zero-setback post would move the saddle forward. The stem could also be shorter. Note this isn't intended to take the place of finding a more suitably-sized frame, just to make you more comfy on the 520 while the search is on.

    No reason not to watch ebay in addition to CL. Lotsa NYC metro bikes will pop up, and most sellers would be happy to not have to ship their bikes. Piermont Bicycle Connection does a huge ebay business, listing hundreds of consignment items weekly, mostly parts but you'll find frames and complete bikes as well. [I have no connection other than being a satisfied customer.] Since seemingly every NYC cyclist rides through Piermont every weekend, maybe somebody could put in a word for you that you're looking for a smaller frame. Might help to chat up some local NYC shops as well.

    There was a large all-female group of riders in Piermont today, BTW, more than 20? I didn't spot any club jerseys, but it sure seemed like an organized ride; suburban me would guess they were from NYC. Lotsa smaller frames whizzed by. If any of your NYC cycling buds know anything about that ride, if they did ride from NYC, you might want to try to network your way in. Riding/fitting advice, as well as the possibility of buying someone's unneeded/upgraded bike.

    Even in the NYC metro market, if you can be a little patient you shouldn't have trouble finding something that fits better than the 520 for under $400. Keep your eyes peeled, refresh your browser window often, and be ready to move fast!
    Fuggedaboutit!

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