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Thoughts on the "Why?" of Vintage Bikes

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Thoughts on the "Why?" of Vintage Bikes

Old 06-06-18, 06:21 PM
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Thoughts on the "Why?" of Vintage Bikes

In an email to a friend:

I enjoyed and agree with the article you shared “The Problem With Barn – Finds” [an article discussing "Barn Find" vintage vehicles and the choices of restore to perfection, leaving it as is, and restoring for use] while of a different nature it informs much of what I have done with my little hobby of vintage bicycles.

First, the issue of vintage, what is it? I think it is really all the bikes I own, including my two Stevensons. As you noted about your Davidson decades and literally thousands of miles have passed through the frame/wheels of your bike. While my Stevenson and your Davidson are modern in their combined shifter brakes, there frames material and construction is from the age of masterful hand craftsmanship. They are to each of us our “vintage” ride of our life time and I cherish that the Stevenson was returned to me, each time we jaunt to Rainier for a cup of coffee together. But the article’s premise rings true to me, a vintage car, like a vintage bike is an experience. It can be a thing of beauty if not art and of some value, but to me its greatest value is its use. It is that strange moment when I sit in the Miata, leaving our Honda CRV behind, and experience shifting, braking, the tactile connection of a sports car that requires your participation to be driven well. Your senses, your focus and your experience are its driving aids.

So it has been with the three vintage race bikes I have restored. The Campagnolo Nishiki Professional we found is now just as it was when sold new in 1981, every part, no longer will the short cage be asked to pull a 28T gear it was never meant for, but then more sparingly will I ride its 19T and that on flat trails/dry days. But again it has provided an experience I will always treasure. Coming back on an iffy day 12 miles into a 20 mile loop a drop of rain fell and I knew I would race to get home dry. Picking up the speed I was caught in the edges of the rain to come, but it was enough. Without fenders, whirling along at 14-17 mph the water bottle was coated and I now had a singular line of spray from the wet debris thrown up from the rear tire down the back of my helmet and bike jersey, as well as spattterings on my face and glasses from the similar discards from the front wheel. And then it happened, pushing as hard as I could, in the wet and the road muck, they came to me. The faces, the pictures, black and white of those hard hard men riding in the Alps, the Hell of the North, and for the next 8 miles as I sailed home and out of the rain, I crossed over, touched the surface of what those days/hours must have been like. A gift that would never have been known without the experience of this vintage bike.

It also happened with the “erba” on its first ride. Yes I had my tried and true cycle computer and heart rate monitor, but that would take time, and after so many months of research, decisions and then the creation from just a fork and a frame to a restored bike I wanted to ride, so off I went without either cycle computer or heart rate monitor, into an experience. Something was wrong, odd, different…there was nothing to look at, there was nothing telling me effort in heart rate, speed, distance…there was nothing but the bike and my body and the trail. A wrenching moment and then a gift of memory…this was how it was for those decades when I first rode a bike. The bike, my body and the road, simple. There was no measurement, no goal of achievement, no interruption of your body your senses, there was just the ride, the freedom. It took some time, but eventually this returned to me, and with gratitude I will never mount a cycle computer/heart rate monitor on this bike. A bike bell, but that’s for others, but for me it will remain as it is…the bike that I just ride.

Finally, my third vintage bike, an even older Nishiki Professional. Yes it came complete, but it’s gearing in back and narrow tires placed limitations on the body of an aging rider, what to do? Again, what is its purpose? To be ridden and so I updated the derailleurs, added a lovely period correct wide ratio in back, dropped the front chain rings to knee happy tooth counts and went to lovely wide supple tires. The frame and the fitment were good, these changes added…. another memory. The 10 speed I could not afford in my late teens/early 20s. But now I do not need that young man’s body to move this bike, to enjoy its ride and comfort to do the same 30+ miles as I do on the Stevenson. Are they the same? Hardly, but in the difference, as with the Miata is the journey.

Yes, the “erba” and the Campagnolo Nishiki Professional will be in my office on a rack, they make me smile to see them, they are art and master craftsmanship, and there will be special summer days, when it is hot and the winds blow I will take them down and remember. But they are like all my vintage bikes now, they are not for just the art/craftsmanship, or, the rarity/value they embody, they are all for the experience. For the road less traveled you missed, which is waiting for you again.

Last edited by since6; 06-06-18 at 06:24 PM.
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Old 06-06-18, 06:56 PM
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Indeed, some of the best rides are the ones without electronic score keepers, or even a goal. Just the rider, the bike and the road. No time constraints and nowhere else to be. Bonus when a special new stretch of pavement or dirt is found.
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Old 06-06-18, 10:12 PM
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Yes, but often even the same old trial will grant a new view of lilly pond flowers opening, or a wild turkey hen walking down the trail. They were burning slash and smart bird that she was she flew to a place she could get a clear view down the trail, didn't even fly away as I passed far to her right. There's always something as you say when you just ride for no reason, it never fails.
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Old 06-07-18, 01:29 AM
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For me the why of vintage bicycles is pretty simple - they look good, are fun to find, fun to restore, fun to ride and even fun to find new homes for. If I seek top notch ride quality, I go new, not vintage but new does not blow my kilt up at all, so vintage it is for me. By vintage I mean early seventies or earlier.

Though I have ridden my cottage loop many many times, each loop has always been different. Different time lapsed. Different things viewed. Different thoughts. Different bicycle issues, good or bad. Different weather conditions. And different things to do as soon as my ride time is over for the day. Yup, followed the same route a hundred+ times but never did the same ride twice.

As for computers, I bought one just last summer, planning to fit it to my Cyclops to try out, then off to Jamaica with me for my winter rides. Mounted it on the Cyclops and it works great. Took it to Jamaica and it is still sitting in the box. Guess they are not important to me anymore as I don't care how far or how fast I go. But I honestly do like to be able to press a button to see what time it is...

"98% of the bikes I buy are projects".
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Old 06-07-18, 05:37 AM
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Originally Posted by randyjawa View Post
. But I honestly do like to be able to press a button to see what time it is...
As do I. I also use the trip meter when I'm training for a longer ride. I'm planning to ride that trail set south out of Westfield, Ma next week - 60 mile round trip and I want to be sure I'm ready. I'll use the trip meter to track how far I can comfortably ride without putting a foot down. Helps me understand and plan next week's trip. As to all the other computer data, I've lost interest. Simpler is better. FWs, friction shifters, exposed cables. And art. Nice steel, lugged frames, classic fork rakes, lug and box lining, "narrow drop bars", graceful housing curves.

I get get to service and build all sorts of modern bikes at the LBS and none of them interest me. Shoulda seen the high zoot 29er I worked on yesterday. The bill ran over $450 before I really even got started. No thanks.
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Old 06-07-18, 06:40 AM
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I like my bikes because they're cool and pretty to me. They ride nicely to me. They're purely for my enjoyment of riding and playing with.

I used to like the "map my ride" app just to see how far I'd ridden. I didn't like it after I had to start figuring out how to not share my data. I don't want an account- I don't want to "challenge" anyone- I just want to see how far I've ridden.

I don't care about heart rate monitors, I don't care about top speed, top average speed, average speed, percent of incline, gearing data... I want to ride my bike, see stuff, smell stuff and enjoy it. Any benefits beyond that are extra.
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Old 06-07-18, 07:03 AM
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Because steel is real. Old steel bikes have a character that's completely lacking in today's modern carbon fiber click bang technology. Steel use to represent the strength & technological superiority of a nation. (Would England have been able to rule the world without British steel or, could the Japanese rule Asia without the Samurai sword)? And, when you begin to understand just how many of the old steel rides are still out there it's hard not to grab a few and stash them away somewhere. I sincerely want to preserve & protect the old beauties for future generations. Especially the steel frames. (I don't give a hoot about old wheels). Now for the next question. Which steel is best: English, Italian, Japanese, USA?
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Old 06-07-18, 08:48 AM
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Once upon a time I had the whole Polar bike/HRM computer set up and my over riding (pun intended) desire was to go fast, and then one day I woke up and cycling was a chore and drudgery for me, wtf!? this is supposed to be fun! So I stripped off all the tech and forgot about going fast and lo and behold I started to smile on my rides and notice things and then I started riding steel and discovered I didn't have to be jack hammered over crumbling pavement as I had on my Carbon/Alum bike and that led me to vintage steel. As others have said its the beauty, useful art, hand built with care and craftsmanship and most important to me they put a smile on my face when I ride them.
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Old 06-07-18, 10:19 AM
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Originally Posted by ramzilla View Post
You summarized my thoughts with your very first word. If I have to explain it, it is quite likely that my efforts will be futile.
In search of what to search for.
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Old 06-07-18, 01:04 PM
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20 bucks and a few nickels and dimes gets me a bike that rides as sweetly as the 4,500 dollar bikes that I have tested and it looks way cooler. And don't discount the gift that our bikes give when they jog the memories of other cyclist's First bike or their Dad's bike or when they consider putting new tires on their old Bianchi that has hung in the garage for decades.
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Old 06-08-18, 09:43 AM
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I have thoughts on WHY-since6/ you teased us with no pictures! lol
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Old 06-08-18, 08:36 PM
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The "H. Hagiwara" - erba late 70s/early 80s dating from Shimano drop outs.

The Campagnolo Nuovo Record Nishiki Professional (early 80s)

The Katakura-Silk/Nishiki Professional early 70s.

juls, here they are, though the 70s professional has new presta rims and Selle Italia saddle as is on the erba, along with a dual Minora handlebar water bottle rack with Nitto cages and a vintage Primus pump currently being painted to match the silver of the bike. Derailleurs were also upgraded to NOS Sun Tour Cyclone along with a 34t wide range rear Sun Tour freewheel and a change from a 52-42t chain ring to a 46-42t chain ring for happy knees.

You can find posts on each of these bikes on the Vintage Forum if you like.
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Old 06-08-18, 08:46 PM
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If one purchases a good quality bicycle that fits very well, serves it's intended purpose and is given regular maintenance over it's service life it can one day be considered "vintage" by folk who care about such things.
Prior to it's achieving vintage-ness it is a good bicycle to ride, after: Same, same.

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Old 06-09-18, 08:01 AM
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I have no desire to "restore" my bikes in the period sense, though I admire it when forum members do it. I also have no conscious interest in eroica-type reenactment, though obviously it means something that my bikes all come from the decade in which my teenage fascination with biking began.

Wrenching is as fun as riding for me, and I suspect that in terms of maintenance, vintage bikes are actually superior to modern bikes. They were designed to be adjusted and repaired, never to wear out or obsolesce.

For me, though, the "why" really comes down to two factors:

1. Bike manufacturing is an art, "ride quality" is a weird gestalt nobody can quantify, and even if I had money to buy several new bikes a year, I wouldn't want to consume like that.

Only vintage lets me see how different geometries, tubesets and wheelsets ride, and then select the bikes and builds that fit me best.

To explain the hobby with a surfing metaphor: it's seeking the "perfect wave." The waves appear on Craigslist, you "catch" them the garage (many a bike arrives there on which you can't or don't "stick"), and then you ride.

All three parts of the activity are integral to it, even though I don't like to admit that my pastime involves such enthusiasm for "shopping."

2. Getting top-end gear for cheap is really cool.
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Old 06-09-18, 08:32 AM
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Why not turn this around, why Need modern?
Afraid to learn to shift? Scared the loose bearings will fall apart? Too many spokes? So overweight that the extra weight of the bike will cause one to walk up hills?
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Old 06-09-18, 09:22 AM
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Good thread since6, + many good thoughts above. To me, Classic & Vintage bikes, cars & machinery are all about stirring past memories of our privileged journey through life and the pleasures of restoring these old relics.

Your 2nd & 3rd paragraphs did that, as it was also my privilege to enter the "Bike Stand" one day to meet, then be drawn back into cycling by Bill Stevenson.

His cheery "How's it going" soon meant my mechanical problems would be solved or an ancient part could be found. He and Cory Thompson truly enriched my time in Olympia, WA.

Your Nishiki ride recalls leaving work one day on a Torelli. (my only fenderless bike at the time). Dark clouds turned to heavy rain, so I soon had that same singular line coating my front & rear. Soon, I waited out a downpour of Biblical proportions on Martin Way beneath I-5. After 10 or so minutes, I emerged into bright sunlight for the ride home. Don

P.S. my Torelli is now "vintageized", and note the fenders! Looks right at home with my Stella
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Old 06-09-18, 10:47 AM
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Lovely bikes and enjoy each of your thoughts and approaches to cycling. It's true about the "ride" part, which is where my common thread of experience comes in.

Each of us finds a "ride" that we like which can be from many things, the art and craftsmanship of the bike, the actual ride of the frame/rims/tires on the road, the sensations of finding gears, friends of common interest and common rides. It is kind of a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that beauty is both a tool and an attitude. In the sand cast fins of a motor cycle's engine can be found the beauty of art. It's why the after ride of vintages bikes can be such a rich time as people share their ride and you learn a new thing, a new way to see, through their experience of their bicycle.

This tool that we share, this bicycle, can be a road of many journeys, many friendships, many moments of life experienced.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-09-18, 11:17 AM
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In reality..... Cheap for the most part and easy to repair. The treasure hunt and finding some gems at or well below value, vs buying and depreciating instantly. The memories and connection to a time that is passed.. The fact they are not so outdated you can keep up with most groups if willing to be inconvenienced a bit, gear proper and ride a bit harder. And, they can be a bit artsy.
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Old 06-09-18, 01:56 PM
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Just a small anecdote (okay, actually two, I suppose).

I had my '69 Peugeot mixte project out in the driveway the other day, and one of the gaggle of neighborhood kids at our house playing with our kids said, "woah, cool bike, is that yours?" Except for my '97 Trek 750, this Pug stands out as the only bike in sight with chrome and bright shiny bits and actual "art" to its design. Even a 6 year old can see that. All their bikes, including my own kids' bikes, are modern steel or aluminum with black or dark trim and components.

And today, I "finished" my Pug project, at least for now. I've gotten most everything set and it's street-rideable now with 700c alloy wheels (replacing the old steel 27" ones). I also have a vintage high-rise stem on it and a Postino handlebar. It really looks nice and rides beautifully. Pics in another thread later, but my 12 year old daughter came out and wanted to ride it. I set the seat to her level and I haven't seen her since. I think she likes the friction shifting on it. She can ride no-handed very easy. The bike just has a beautiful balance to it. It's legitimately fun to ride, and not in a "drunken laughter flying down a single track hill" kind of way, but in a "modern bikes just don't feel like this" kind of way. It tickles me that I bought this Peugeot project because I wanted to try an old mixte, and now my 12 year old has apparently taken it as her own.

Even kids know class when they see it.
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Old 06-09-18, 03:12 PM
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The "Why" for me is that vintage bikes are not made in China.
Even a lower end, everyday rider from back in the 70's or older was made in either Europe, Japan, or the USA.
Frames were steel, wheels had 36 spokes and were built with well known, brand name components.
Older bicycles also had some brand identity, they didn't all look the same.
Take away the decals today and you can't tell a Wally world Schwinn from a bike at your LBS.
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Old 06-09-18, 04:19 PM
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Yes modern bikes?

While at our local REI I perused the bikes for sale...$1200.00 gets you disc brakes and a carbon fiber frame with modern shifters. I knocked on the frame with a knuckle and heard a hollow dull "thud" sound, everything is grey or black, no color choices at all. If you crack it, chip it, it's throw away time.

Look at the badge work on vintage bikes, the lug sets, the colors, the chrome.

Like you say hokiefyd park a vintage bike next to a "thud" bike in a school playground, watch and wait...yeah, the shiny, the cool....it still works, just like playing with crayons, blocks and play dough, but you don't see any of those things in only grey or black...
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Old 06-09-18, 04:51 PM
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USAZorro is right. Hard to explain properly.

I've not "progressed" to the point where I am a rider and the bike is merely a tool to move down the road.

Likely never will.


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Old 06-09-18, 06:30 PM
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Originally Posted by repechage View Post
why Need modern?
For the hard fast ride in the hills this AM I rode the CF Merckx rather than any of my old race bikes.
No surprise that with more decades of development and modern materials it simply does everything better than the vintage machines it has replaced.
I can happily impose a self-inflicted handicap when riding the old fixed gear, not so much in a paceline with guys a generation or so younger than myself.
No need to pretend it's 1968 all of the time.

As always, suit yourself.


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Old 06-09-18, 06:42 PM
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Just getting into the vintage bike hobby, but starting by trying to figure out if there is any value to the existing bikes that I have bought through the years and have held on to. I admit, I am a "hoarder" and have never sold any bike that I have owned. This leaves me with the following collection from new;
1981 Apollo 10 speed (can't tell the model, only indication is a "made in Taiwan" sticker)
1982 Nishiki mixte Olympic 12
1993 Specialized Hardrock Ultra (pink to purple fade paint)

Each of these I am the original owner. Any suggestions on how I can get more information on each?
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Old 06-09-18, 06:44 PM
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Vintage is great. Inexpensive. Bombproof (enough components are anyway) and the ideal introduction to cycling!

I love them also because I'm cheap and I can afford yesteryears high end without killing my wallet. Also the ability to retrofit or keep original is amazing. I have built modern, restoration, fixed gear conversions, IGH, and gravel grinders with vintage steel framesets. And even if the girlfriend doesn't agree, it's a great hobby. Overhauling a set of loose ball hubs is a form of meditation to me.

Anyway love the forum and insight. Great topic.
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