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English French or Italian, who made the best road bikes in the 70's/80's?

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English French or Italian, who made the best road bikes in the 70's/80's?

Old 06-13-14, 06:24 AM
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English French or Italian, who made the best road bikes in the 70's/80's?

I am developing a new interest / addiction to classic road bikes and I would love to know what you all think about bikes of the 70's and 80's eras, technical and personal comments are welcome!
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Old 06-13-14, 06:32 AM
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Japanese bikes were obviously the best . . . .

But seriously, if I lived in the UK, I'd be looking for a high end British bike of the 70/80s. I have no idea whether they are the best or not but they're cool and they're readily available where you live, right?
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Old 06-13-14, 06:36 AM
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Certainly a lot of Raleighs and BSA's kicking about, would you say Japanese components were better / more advanced than anybody else's at the time, what about performance at competition level?
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Old 06-13-14, 06:37 AM
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What were/are the Japanese brands to look out for from this period?
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Old 06-13-14, 06:42 AM
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In terms of the road bikes in the pro peleton, I would think Italian. For overall quality, I'd vote for Japan.
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Old 06-13-14, 06:44 AM
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In order of mid and high level production quality road bikes:

1)Italian

2)English

1)French

Entry level were not good quality bikes, just massed produce to meet market demands in the USA. Most of your response will be ultra subjective.
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Old 06-13-14, 06:49 AM
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And if you are just starting to get your head around what makes a quality road bike from that period, I would look to features more than country of origin. There are a lot of threads here on the topic, but here's my quick list of marks of better bikes:
- Butted tubing (look for a sticker): Reynolds 531, 753, 501, Columbus, Tange, etc. Getting to know your way around tubing is a lot of fun.
- Forged dropouts with integral derailleur hanger, esp marked Campagnolo.
- Alloy rims with eyelets. And tubular rims (with glue on tires) are used on higher end bikes only.
- Components: Most Campagnolo, Shimano 600/Ultegra/Dura Ace, Suntour Superbe/Cyclone/Sprint.
There are exceptions to every rule, but these are the basics for me.
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Old 06-13-14, 06:49 AM
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I suppose one can make generalizations, but they won't necessarily apply from one decade to the next.
E.g., Japanese quality in the 70's was not comparable to what it was in the 80's.

Still generalizations about bikes are generalizations, and so never entirely accurate.
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Old 06-13-14, 06:50 AM
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Originally Posted by SH27 View Post
What were/are the Japanese brands to look out for from this period?
All of them. They all made great models, decent models, and entry level stuff. Its about condition, build quality and components, and NOT brand.

+1 Japan in the 1980s was much better than Japan in the 1970s.

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Old 06-13-14, 07:03 AM
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Originally Posted by SH27 View Post
I am developing a new interest / addiction to classic road bikes and I would love to know what you all think about bikes of the 70's and 80's eras, technical and personal comments are welcome!
As you leave no price range in your question, The best 70's bikes would go to an Italian building in California. Buy a Confente.
If you cannot open a wallet large enough to buy one of those then you need to be more precise in what your price tolerance and use are.
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Old 06-13-14, 07:14 AM
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Originally Posted by repechage View Post
As you leave no price range in your question, The best 70's bikes would go to an Italian building in California. Buy a Confente.
If you cannot open a wallet large enough to buy one of those then you need to be more precise in what your price tolerance and use are.
+1, yeah, that pretty much nails it. But that's not the only way to look at it.

The best bike for you is the one that fits you the best. Figure out exactly what size frame you fit, then find a custom made frame made for someone else in that size. Preferably from an English maker; there were still plenty of them making custom frames in the 70's, and some of them still continue today.

If you want to get fancy (highly recommended) decide what type of riding you want to do, and what components you will want; in particular, do you want to run 28mm tires, or 32mm? Do you want mudguards? Then make sure whatever frame you chose, it is compatible with those choices.

You'll be much better off with a Holdsworth that fits you than a Confente that doesn't.
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Old 06-13-14, 07:34 AM
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If we are looking at production bicycles it would have been the Japanese that really took things to the next level in the 1980's... even the entry level bicycles from Japanese bicycles were of some rather excellent quality and sometimes the only difference between entry and mid level was the componentry. I see more of the these bicycles on the road than any others as besides the quality of construction, the paint finishes tended to be very good and the components were well chosen.

Miyata never built a bad bike and I would say the same for Kuwahara and Nishiki... overall their quality standards were very high.

Japanese made Schwinns and Japanese Bianchis are also very nice bicycles.

Raleigh was still King in the 70's although their production could be a little hit and miss, there is some sloppy brazing that does not affect function but aesthetically they sometimes were a little messy. British bicycles have their own charm and style.

Italian bicycles tend to come with a small premium and think that in many cases this is the Kool Aid talking although this should not detract from the high quality of many of them... DeRosa probably tops the list for me.

The French dominated the entry level market with Raleigh and their top of the line offerings are much sought after... look for anything with a "P" in it's model designation.

After that you get into hand built and small production and this is where you get Confente (the holy grail for some) and these are much sought after because of their low production numbers, Confente died tragically at the age of 34 and he only built 135 frames with a skill that was usually reserved for more experienced builders.

Confente came to the U.S to build for Masi and under his guidance a few thousand frames were built on a production level and there are other frames he built prior to "Confente Cycles" being born.

Over in Britain Ron Cooper was building a bicycle a day and his production output continued until just a few years ago and spanned more than 40 years under his own name and he started building in 1947 under Gillot which he left in the late 60's... he is considered to be a true master with few equals.

Richard Sachs is another one of those masters who has been building for 4 decades.

There are really too many frame builders to list without a second cup of coffee... I am sure others can add their favourites.

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Old 06-13-14, 07:36 AM
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Honestly, it's impossible to generalize by country. Some of the nicest quality and some of the worst have come out of Italy - sometimes from the same manufacturer. The Italian bike industry was cutting-edge in terms of marketing and hype to sell product. Pride didn't always match ability though.
Hand-built is almost always better than mass-produced, no matter where it's from. And those who pay attention to details in finish and alignment are what separate them from the rest. I'd rather own a North American built Eisentraut, Mariposa, or Strawberry than some vaunted Cinelli or Colnago.
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Old 06-13-14, 07:37 AM
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If I were where you are, I'd look hard for a Jack Taylor, Condor, Claude Butler or other hand made British bike built in the 70's.
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Old 06-13-14, 07:41 AM
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Originally Posted by jeirvine View Post
And if you are just starting to get your head around what makes a quality road bike from that period, I would look to features more than country of origin. There are a lot of threads here on the topic, but here's my quick list of marks of better bikes:
- Butted tubing (look for a sticker): Reynolds 531, 753, 501, Columbus, Tange, etc. Getting to know your way around tubing is a lot of fun.
- Forged dropouts with integral derailleur hanger, esp marked Campagnolo.
- Alloy rims with eyelets. And tubular rims (with glue on tires) are used on higher end bikes only.
- Components: Most Campagnolo, Shimano 600/Ultegra/Dura Ace, Suntour Superbe/Cyclone/Sprint.
There are exceptions to every rule, but these are the basics for me.
A very useful checklist, thanks!
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Old 06-13-14, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
If I were where you are, I'd look hard for a Jack Taylor, Condor, Claude Butler or other hand made British bike built in the 70's.
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Thanks for the advice, I am not familiar with Jack Taylor but will make sure I change that.
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Old 06-13-14, 07:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Torchy McFlux View Post
Honestly, it's impossible to generalize by country. Some of the nicest quality and some of the worst have come out of Italy - sometimes from the same manufacturer. The Italian bike industry was cutting-edge in terms of marketing and hype to sell product. Pride didn't always match ability though.
Hand-built is almost always better than mass-produced, no matter where it's from. And those who pay attention to details in finish and alignment are what separate them from the rest. I'd rather own a North American built Eisentraut, Mariposa, or Strawberry than some vaunted Cinelli or Colnago.
That's a theme I'm beginning to understand, I should also have asked WHICH nation as opposed to stipulating only a select handful, my fault for being an inadvertently inward looking brit!
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Old 06-13-14, 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
If we are looking at production bicycles it would have been the Japanese that really took things to the next level in the 1980's... even the entry level bicycles from Japanese bicycles were of some rather excellent quality and sometimes the only difference between entry and mid level was the componentry. I see more of the these bicycles on the road than any others as besides the quality of construction, the paint finishes tended to be very good and the components were well chosen.

Miyata never built a bad bike and I would say the same for Kuwahara and Nishiki... overall their quality standards were very high.

Japanese made Schwinns and Japanese Bianchis are also very nice bicycles.

Raleigh was still King in the 70's although their production could be a little hit and miss, there is some sloppy brazing that does not affect function but aesthetically they sometimes were a little messy. British bicycles have their own charm and style.

Italian bicycles tend to come with a small premium and think that in many cases this is the Kool Aid talking although this should not detract from the high quality of many of them... DeRosa probably tops the list for me.

The French dominated the entry level market with Raleigh and their top of the line offerings are much sought after... look for anything with a "P" in it's model designation.

After that you get into hand built and small production and this is where you get Confente (the holy grail for some) and these are much sought after because of their low production numbers, Confente died tragically at the age of 34 and he only built 135 frames with a skill that was usually reserved for more experienced builders.

Confente came to the U.S to build for Masi and under his guidance a few thousand frames were built on a production level and there are other frames he built prior to "Confente Cycles" being born.

Over in Britain Ron Cooper was building a bicycle a day and his production output continued until just a few years ago and spanned more than 40 years under his own name and he started building in 1947 under Gillot which he left in the late 60's... he is considered to be a true master with few equals.

Richard Sachs is another one of those masters who has been building for 4 decades.

There are really too many frame builders to list without a second cup of coffee... I am sure others can add their favourites.
A literal education, I can only thank you for such a comprehensive reply. Please make yourself that second coffee.
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Old 06-13-14, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
+1, yeah, that pretty much nails it. But that's not the only way to look at it.

The best bike for you is the one that fits you the best. Figure out exactly what size frame you fit, then find a custom made frame made for someone else in that size. Preferably from an English maker; there were still plenty of them making custom frames in the 70's, and some of them still continue today.

If you want to get fancy (highly recommended) decide what type of riding you want to do, and what components you will want; in particular, do you want to run 28mm tires, or 32mm? Do you want mudguards? Then make sure whatever frame you chose, it is compatible with those choices.

You'll be much better off with a Holdsworth that fits you than a Confente that doesn't.
Good advice taken on board.
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Old 06-13-14, 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by SH27 View Post
Thanks for the advice, I am not familiar with Jack Taylor but will make sure I change that.
Wouldn't one of these be nice? So many options, from the period and, to my mind, British hand mades from the 60's and 70's have some of the most beautiful graphics of any vintage bikes.
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Old 06-13-14, 08:47 AM
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Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
Wouldn't one of these be nice? So many options, from the period and, to my mind, British hand mades from the 60's and 70's have some of the most beautiful graphics of any vintage bikes.
Jack Taylor main
I think it's got to be the David Martinez, I would be very proud to take that to L'eroica Britannia!
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Old 06-13-14, 08:49 AM
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What does "best" mean? And how do we find it? It is very much an individual thing.

I like my few vintage racing frames. None of them would qualify as pro-peloton machines, but for one or two of them — if they had been prepared for individual team members. For example: my Vitus 979 if it had been sized for a specific rider and "pinned" at the BB shell. Nice machines ... but the best? Hardly, according to the 'velo-canon'.

On a closer look: racing frames may not be as stable in traffic as a novice might require. And they are not easily made into rainy-day commuters. Only one of my five frames has eyelets on which to screw fenders.

So, one has to choose: what is a "road" bike in terms of your needs? Excellent frames were built according to a number of categories. For example: entry road racing, touring, pro' road racing, criterium, triathlon, clubman, so-called "path-racers", cross, track bikes in several variations (often converted to road use) ... and so on.

So ... what is the best? Well it is like fine watches and cameras. There are the icons that are featured over and over again in magazines and books. They are usually very expensive and way beyond my means — and perhaps yours. Still, some of our members get lucky from time to time. Many BF members have managed to acquire the "best" of the best. The icons.

Often the frame maker is known by name, or at least the workshop that produced it is known for its craftsmen. For many of us on BF, these are exotic and too expensive.

Randyjawa, has some excellent information about what are the hallmarks of a nice frame. See is site "My Ten Speeds". There are some very nice, very affordable frames that have been machine-welded in mass production style using accurate jigs, nice tubing ... and in many cases finished off by hand.

This may seem a "puffy" answer, but all I am trying to get across is that "best" does not mean much until function, materials, and production standards are put into perspective.

One example: I have one 1985 Trek 560. It is an entry-level racing frame. It is made from rolled and welded-seam Reynolds 501 CrMo tubing. Many people might sneer at it thinking it inferior to a bicycle frame replete with stays and forks being made entirely from extruded, double butted '531'. And, of course there is a difference.

OK — the 560 does not belong in the pantheon of road bikes. Moreover, vintage steel Treks are generally not considered icons of velo virtue, despite all the good things that some of us will say about them.

Consider this: for my taste, my 560 is one of the nicest frames I have ever ridden. I just love the thing, only it is a size or two too small for me — (and so reluctantly dismantled at the moment). For two years, I've been trying to find an even trade for the same frame in a larger size!

I hope this helps you choose what you want or need. And by the way, I am not a vintage bike-racer. I just like the way the way racing frames feel. It goes back to my youth - some bikes I owned. I use them for exercise, and I just get the urge to get on them. In the end, I do not care if they are the "best" or most famous. I know something about the materials (tubing), and I can usually spot sloppy assembly. And you never really know what you have until you ride the machine.

One last thing. Even the most marvellous frame will only be its best when it is aligned to be straight as an arrow. It is possible for a novice to at least assess a frame for straightness (see My Ten Speeds). Aligning it may be something best left to a frame builder or an old-school mechanic.

Good luck!
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Old 06-13-14, 09:17 AM
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The English, especially when the came via Japan
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Old 06-13-14, 09:30 AM
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It's the builder, not the nationality. In terms of the number of great builders, I think it's the Italians. Currently - probably the US.

There's a joke about this:

If you want a beautifully made bike that's painted like crap, with bad chrome, get an Italian.

If you want a beautifully painted bike, with beautiful chrome, built like crap, get a Brit.

If you want a poorly made bike painted like crap, get French.

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Old 06-13-14, 09:31 AM
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Its not about country , its the man cutting and welding . Hand made ! The artistry of tubes and lugs is something to marvel at , Curly Hetchins , Hummingbird Zunows , Fillet Ritceys , Paul Brody's work {vintage bikes and motorcycles ] Go to Retrogrouch, Dave Moulton's blog for more , its all about the art !
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