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Riding Old, Tedious Bikes in City Settings

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Riding Old, Tedious Bikes in City Settings

Old 06-12-19, 11:14 AM
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Kilroy1988 
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Riding Old, Tedious Bikes in City Settings

Hello folks,

I live in the San Joaquin Valley in California. Lots and lots of long, flat country roads, with little towns nestled in every ten miles or fifteen miles. I am comfortable and enjoy riding single speed bicycles with dubious braking power (such as my 1951 New Hudson Silver Arrow) in such settings. However, within the coming months my wife and I are planning to move to San Diego. I lived in San Francisco during my university years and know how hectic things can be for a cyclist, but I really didn't ever ride vintage bikes there in any case - though I did have the ubiquitous fixie.

I am wondering about people's opinions of what riding vintage bikes that can essentially be marked as "handicapped" is like in an urban environment. I enjoy comfort and reliability over speed, though I am young and fit enough that a bit of the latter is frequently in the cards. Will I be pleased towing a couple of clunkers down to SoCal, or should I only consider keeping my more modern (1980s Suntour equipped bikes, for example) steeds for regular riding down there?

Thanks!

-Gregory
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Old 06-12-19, 11:36 AM
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At minimum I'd want a modern center-pull or dual-pivot side pull for my front brake.

Single-speed would be fine in most cities.

Another thing to consider is how heart-broken you might be if your vintage "clunkers" got stolen.



PS - I like to use this bike as my "Townie" yardstick...



Bella Ciao Ingegnere


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Old 06-12-19, 12:27 PM
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I've never had an old tedious bike. What is it like? I'm in SoCal and routinely keep up and lead group rides on my old steel Raleighs, Legnanos and Peugeot. Some might consider them old and tedious, as I wave on the way by. I'm not sure I understand your thread, or your point. Most people I know just ride, old, tedious or not. As for brakes, I have Universal, Weinmann and Mafac vintage centerpulls, and they stop fine in traffic, but better with modern pads like Koolstop or Shimano. The last single speed I has was in 5th grade, so I don't know about them.

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Old 06-12-19, 12:38 PM
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Quite a few years back, I commuted on a rod-brake lady's Raleigh 3-speed. The lack of braking power didn't mix well with Boston traffic/drivers. But, other than that example, I have no hesitation in riding any of my bikes, old and newish, in east coast city traffic conditions. Some are better suited to certain kinds of riding than others, particularly if it's a question of carrying stuff on the bike, riding in the rain, doing a fast 50-miler, etc. Not sure what would make a bike "tedious."
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Old 06-12-19, 12:55 PM
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Lotta racer boys in SD. Better not take anything old or tedious.

Lotta retirees in SD. Better to be thought of as old and tedious in SD than almost fast in Bakersfield.

just ride with a smile either way
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Old 06-12-19, 01:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Slightspeed View Post
I've never had an old tedious bike. What is it like? I'm in SoCal and routinely keep up and lead group rides on my old steel Raleighs, Legnanos and Peugeot. Some might consider them old and tedious, as I wave on the way by. I'm not sure I understand your thread, or your point. Most people I know just ride, old, tedious or not. As for brakes, I have Universal, Weinmann and Mafac vintage centerpulls, and they stop fine in traffic, but better with modern pads like Koolstop or Shimano. The last single speed I has was in 5th grade, so I don't know about them.
I wouldn't hesitate to ride anything like what you're describing, and most of my current and past stable would fall into that category of reliability and efficiency.

I'm talking about much older technology, like pre-war rod brakes, Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs or single speed/fixed cogs with minimal stopping power compared to 1970s style center-pulls. Also overall bike weights of 30+ pounds, despite being "race bikes" in their day and age. I enjoy riding such bikes and find their historical value particularly significant, but am not sure how they'll fare during regular use in an urban environment.

My point is simply to get a feel for what people think of as being the threshold of safety and dependability in an urban setting. I'm big on comfort and safety now that I am starting a family, and I would never ride the fixed gear without brakes that I used to have in SF, even in the safest environment. In any case, I really only commuted on the quiet side of town while I lived in San Francisco, and rarely got out for serious riding. But I don't want that to be the case down south!

-Gregory

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Old 06-12-19, 01:23 PM
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Circa '90 rigid mtn bikes were my sweet spot as commuters. Low centre of gravity, great brakes, strong rims, narrow kevlar tires and bars cut narrow give you that extra 1 or 2 inches from contact with 'the others'. Racks and mudguards fit easily.

Once you know the city and the roads and feel comfortable, add your fixed, your 3 speed, your vintage roadies to 'active' status.
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Old 06-12-19, 01:24 PM
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If you think your brakes might be an issue, they probably are. Moreover, riding around thinking they might be doesn’t sound like a confidence booster. You want to be able to stop, period, when a motorist, pedestrian or other cyclist does something stupid in front of you. And sooner or later they will.
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Old 06-12-19, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by clubman View Post
Circa '90 rigid mtn bikes were my sweet spot as commuters. Low centre of gravity, great brakes, strong rims, narrow kevlar tires and bars cut narrow give you that extra 1 or 2 inches from contact with 'the others'. Racks and mudguards fit easily.

Once you know the city and the roads and feel comfortable, add your fixed, your 3 speed, your vintage roadies to 'active' status.
Thanks. Well, that's part of the issue here... I can only take a couple of bikes with me, as until my wife and I settle into careers, we'll probably be in a small apartment. So I'm trying to figure out if I have to let go of my current "clunkers" and also my ambitions for other antique rides, or whether they might be manageable after all.

As stated, I enjoy riding tough old bikes, whether I have to add some sweat and prayers into the mix when I squeeze the brake levers or avoid the hills due to a lack of gearing. But I have cycled for years in a setting where this is totally fine. Now I'm curious of anyone has insight into whether or not - based on experience with such bikes, ideally - this is sensible in a big city.

Like @due ruote just stated, though, since I'm hesitant it's probably already a forgone conclusion that I won't be comfortable with such bikes in San Diego... Which is a bit of a drag, because I do love 'em!

-Gregory

(p.s. I have 1950s style English club bicycles in mind here. Think Raleigh Lentons or other production bikes built up without high quality components.)

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Old 06-12-19, 01:33 PM
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Moving from Dinuba to San Diego? Outside of having to downsize due to the higher cost of living, you'll be living the dream. Not to mention you'll find a lot more cyclists in SD.
@Wildwood, I've been to Bakersfield, and I've been to Dinuba. I much prefer Dinuba.
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Old 06-12-19, 02:22 PM
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My city bike is a DL-1. Or clone of same from New Delhi. With rod brakes it would be a parade bike. On a 1951 don't think I'd have the heart to braze canti studs. The DL-1 also uses Compass/ReneHerse tires. Only ever feels slow when a big wind is leaning against all 48" of wheelbase. Weighs about 30# as a fixed.

Other bikes around here are all 1950-1960. Mafacs. Lucky to have very early Weinmann 999 on the Bates. Would not be riding that 1950 bike in city traffic with 1950 English sidepulls. 1959 Swiss stops fine.

Sturmey has a low gear limit. It's pretty low. As you know, the old ones are quite strong. BSA even stronger. Sturmey and BSA both had 2 speed fixed that was fairly reliable so that's hillclimbing and a brake.

Old French is probably most versatile and easiest to operate looking mostly correct. Mafac Racer as early as 1951, cantis much before that. Even if sticking with period 3 or 4 speed freewheels you can run a front double with ultra reliable rod shifting and the French used wide doubles. Old French available at giveaway.

Five years back I messed up a knee doing repeats on 22% with period correct 42x24. It's getting better. Recent repeat of same hill on period correct 36x26. Even in UK there were a few using tourist parts. Possible to gear quite low with Cyclo. That would be Cyclo double chainwheels as well as the wonderful old derailleur.
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Old 06-12-19, 03:00 PM
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Man I dream about living someplace I could ride a 3 speed let alone a single speed I live in Hilly Seattle in the even hillier West Seattle Neighborhood so its vintage touring bikes with grannies for me. Ride and Enjoy OP. Many moons ago I rode with a buddy while visiting in SD I recall flat bike trails along the beach but then again in my 20s my attention might have been admiring other things at the beach.
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Old 06-12-19, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by gugie View Post
Moving from Dinuba to San Diego? Outside of having to downsize due to the higher cost of living, you'll be living the dream.
@Wildwood, I've been to Bakersfield, and I've been to Dinuba. I much prefer Dinuba.

With apologies, Instead of Bakersfield - should have stated Fresno which is 30mi closer to Dinuba. But as a former CA resident, you know EVERYBODY picks on Bakersfield.

Being considered 'almost fast' in a place as small as Dinuba seemed an insult; therefore, a bigger closer town. Actually, I liked Fresno, but haven't been there in 20years.
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Old 06-12-19, 03:08 PM
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I commuted for 3 years in San Francisco and 1 year in Berkeley on a Schwinn Hollywood with an absurdly long seatpost and coaster brakes.
You may be overthinking this. Take the bikes with you and make your own decision.
Brent
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Old 06-12-19, 03:09 PM
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I spent the first almost-half of my life in west Los Angeles, except for my four high school years in Huntington Beach. I have lived in north coastal San Diego County since 1981.

I won't ride anything that lacks an effective front brake. I also love my gears (at least 2x6), not just for hills (which are milder than what I encountered in Los Angeles), but also for accelerating in traffic and for settling in at a comfortable cadence under various grade and headwind conditions. For me, the sweet spot is either a ca. 1990 mountain bike or a ca. 1960 - 1980 road bike with a sport touring or geometry.
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Old 06-12-19, 03:12 PM
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As another hilly Seattle resident, living out in the country or close to country road access (with low traffic and at least somewhat of a shoulder) would be quite nice. I would suffer yesteryear's technology much more easily as I simply wouldn't worry about it. As it stands, generous gearing and vice-like braking ability is standard issue in run-and-gun city traffic.

If you were to bring you 'tedious' bikes, I would say that adjustment of expectations (primarily speed and gap-to-vehicle) is paramount. Give yourself and the bike more margin of error since you're now among traffic rather than occasionally being passed by it. SD isn't as hilly as Seattle in SD proper (IIRC), so gearing shouldn't be too big of an issue. If you had to change anything on the bike, as a matter of answer, I would say get good brakes on them. The rest should be fine.
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Old 06-12-19, 03:14 PM
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I resolutely remain wedded to the classic Sturmey-Archer hub and classic English three (or four, or five) speed English frame for a commuter. Since retirement, I've worked on a philosophy of, "If it's within five miles one way, and you don't have massive items to carry, you bicycle. Period."

This includes three nearby shopping malls respectively: 1.25 miles away (the mall that's part of the ritzy HOA subdivision next door to mine), 4.85 miles away (essentially a level ride with one traffic overpass, but a fair bit of traffic), and 4.65 miles away (the real big mall district, but a couple hundred feet in elevation down from my home). At present, that means my '69 Sprite is my main ride, especially since I finally got the over and under drive gears working, with the '72 DL-1 as my backup. I like the DL-1 better, but the Sprite is more practical and has much better brakes (a huge consideration, especially to mall #2 ).

And the one craft brewing company that I like's tasting room is 2.25 miles from the house. As is my motorcycle mechanic. In the same industrial neighborhood.

Over the last two decades I've probably run the gamut: Fixies/singlespeeds (horribly overrated - I need transportation, not a fashion statement), 2x7 hybrids (really like them - my Schwinn Criss/Cross is a very fond memory - but still prefer a IGH over a derailleur, especially in stop and go traffic), converted mountain bikes (not a good as hybrids), folders (a good solution, but if you don't need the small carry it's an overly-compromised solution) . . . . . . and there's still nothing better than a Raleigh Sports or Tourist (or other branded equivalent, of course).
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Old 06-12-19, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Wildwood View Post
With apologies, Instead of Bakersfield - should have stated Fresno which is 30mi closer to Dinuba. But as a former CA resident, you know EVERYBODY picks on Bakersfield.

Being considered 'almost fast' in a place as small as Dinuba seemed an insult; therefore, a bigger closer town. Actually, I liked Fresno, but haven't been there in 20years.
I grew up in Madera. We used to go to Fresno for a good time.

That was a standard joke of mine until I met someone from Chowchilla. He said they used to go to Madera for a good time.

I'm reminded of the term "Hee Haw town"
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Old 06-12-19, 03:21 PM
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Originally Posted by obrentharris View Post
I commuted for 3 years in San Francisco and 1 year in Berkeley on a Schwinn Hollywood with an absurdly long seatpost and coaster brakes.
You may be overthinking this. Take the bikes with you and make your own decision.
Brent
Sounds familiar. My first two years of serious cycle commuting (1969-70) were at college in Erie, PA. Using the Schwinn Mark IV Jaguar dad got me for my 8th birthday, with all the gew-gaws stripped off except for the front and rear carrier, and the seat jacked up to some ridiculous height. That bike taught me two things: 1. How to bicycle commute (and if you think traffic is rough now, back then drivers felt you had no right to be there at all). 2. The Sturmey-Archer AW was designed and built by God.
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Old 06-12-19, 04:06 PM
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What?

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Old 06-12-19, 04:33 PM
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While riding one Sunday morning I came across this guy on the way to church. Despite the patriotic decoration, he was not part of a parade, just riding along on his 1890s Columbia (I think). I was on my '73 Raleigh and we rode along for a couple of blocks. As we approached a 4 way stop, I asked him how he handles stops, he said "People always stop for me". Is this old and tedious cycling? I ride this bit of road all the time, but haven't seen him agzin.

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Old 06-12-19, 04:41 PM
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[QUOTE=non-fixie;20975702]What?

So cool.
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Old 06-12-19, 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Wildwood View Post
With apologies, Instead of Bakersfield - should have stated Fresno which is 30mi closer to Dinuba. But as a former CA resident, you know EVERYBODY picks on Bakersfield.

Being considered 'almost fast' in a place as small as Dinuba seemed an insult; therefore, a bigger closer town. Actually, I liked Fresno, but haven't been there in 20years.
Hey guys, I was born in Fresno, moved to Bakersfield, grew up, and actually raced with the Bakersfield Wheelmen, back in the day. I guess we were the fastest riders in Bakersfield. Here's a team picture, 1965ish. Me on the right, and I still have have, love and ride my old and tedious '64 Legnano Roma.
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Old 06-12-19, 05:09 PM
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Bakersfield today = no chance you would see those telephone poles in the background.
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Old 06-12-19, 05:19 PM
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Bikes: ~1950 Raleigh Popular, 1951 New Hudson Silver Arrow, ~1970 Frejus Tour de France, 1970 Raleigh Super Course, 1980 Raleigh Super Course 12, 1986 Club Fuji

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Thanks for all of the replies, folks! I should have made it clear that I'm not talking about commuting bikes. I'm thinking of going out for long, hard rides using bikes that pre-date the ten speed era. So far I've gathered that brakes are the most important aspect to consider, and that gearing is secondary considering San Diego's situation. I'm aware of the hills there, and I'm sure some would be daunting or impossible on a single speed, but I can always just avoid those unless if I end up living on one!

@Slightspeed Very cool! I actually have a 1960s Frejus with Balilla brakes and Campy Gran Sport that I'm sure I would be confident on in most situations. Again, I'm discussing earlier technology as "old and tedious."

@gugie Yup! Since Gala moved to California from Moscow just before our wedding, we've traveled rather extensively throughout California. San Diego is the spot we've been able to agree upon as the most appealing place. I'd prefer something slightly quieter, like San Luis Obispo, but she's a big city girl and I have to give her what she wants!

Cheers!

-Gregory

Last edited by Kilroy1988; 06-12-19 at 05:32 PM.
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