Vintage Cycling via the Written Word


While recovering from my broken leg, I have had more time to devote to reading.  Which hardly makes up for the time I miss riding, but so be it.  Over the years, I have been building a library of vintage cycling books which reflect my own interests.  Here is a synopsis of some of the favorites in my collection, for your reading pleasure:

Eye Candy:

Racing Bicycles 100 Years of Steel by David Rapley.  A lusciously photographed collection of Australian racing machines dating from the late 1800’s through 2012.  There are some wonderful early path racers, and a great selection of Speedwells and Malvern Stars – for those not familiar with these Australian beauties – as well as other track bikes, club racers, and Tour de France winners.


Bicycling Through Time – The Farren Collection, by Paul & Charlie Farren.  This husband and wife team have spent their lifetimes collecting very old and very rare bicycles.  Paul has taken painstaking effort to restore most of the bicycles featured to rideable condition, machining parts as needed in his amazing workshop.  There are some robust examples of early safety bicycles and other fascinating contraptions.

Bicycles – Le Biciclette by Fermo Galbiati & Nino Ciravegna.  You won’t find these lovely vintage bicycles featured in other coffee table books.  There are some wonderful examples in this pocket-sized picture book, which is great to have on hand while riding the bus or taking a train.  The photos are top notch, and the collection includes Draisines dating from 1820 and Italian, French and British bikes built from the late 1800’s through modern times, all of which are original and in working order.

The American Bicycle by Jay Pridmore and Jim Hurd.  This collection provides a good counter argument to anyone who believes that 20th century American made bicycles consisted only of heavy, single speed balloon-tired clunkers.  In this collection are wood-framed steel lugged masterpieces of the “Gay ’90’s”, early racing and safety bicycles, and all kinds of machines representing the unique American contribution to cycling, all the way through the decades to Joe Breeze’s modified Schwinn Excelsior.  Includes lots of well-written historical insights.

Shop Manuals:

Glenn’s New Complete Bicycle Manual by Clarence W. Coles & Harold T. Glenn.  I affectionately refer to the author as “Dr. Glenn”, as he is pictured throughout this excellent repair manual wearing a pristine white lab coat.  This 1987 version includes complete instructions on overhauling most internally geared hubs, as well as step by step guides, with excellent pictures and illustrations, for overhauling every imaginable rear derailleur of the time.  It has all the other usual stuff you will find in a good shop manual.


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Eugene A. Sloane’s Bicycle Maintenance Manual by Eugene A. Sloane.  I include this manual here due to its chapters on frame repairs, frame painting, and a chapter on overhauling tandems.  These topics are often left out of modern and vintage shop manuals.




Cycling History:

Wheels of Change by Sue Macy.  This historical overview is aimed at the young adult crowd.  It’s a great look at the history of cycling through the eyes of women riders, with lots of rarely seen photos, including those of African American cyclists.  I learned a lot from this book.  The author took the time to unearth interesting historical tidbits as well as many photos I have never seen elsewhere.  This would be a great book to add to any teenager’s collection.


Framing Production – Technology, Culture and Change in the British Bicycle Industry by Paul Rosen.  In what began as a PhD thesis, the author thoroughly details the history and ultimate demise of the British cycling industry, focusing primarily on Raleigh.  The reading can be a tough go at times, but there are interesting perspectives here on the cataclysmic forces that lead to the end of bicycle production in England, and indeed throughout much of the Western world as economic and cultural changes shifted during the mid twentieth century and beyond.


Cycling Manifestos:

Dream Ramode Sunfighter Birthright” – Richard’s New Bicycle Book by Richard Ballantine. This treatise at the back of Richard Ballantine’s early editions of his repair manuals cannot be described – it must be read.  You might become radicalized, so be forewarned!  Even if you don’t make it to the end of this cycling guide for the masses, along the way you’ll find fun pencil and ink drawings of cycling’s days of yore.


Just Ride by Grant Petersen.  With  chapters such as “Carbs make you fat” and “Most bikes don’t fit” this good old fashioned practical cycling guide debunks much of what you may have learned about the “right” way to ride your bike.  Taking direct aim at the elitist, racing-focused “bike culture” he offers solid, if quirky, guidance on everything from bells, saddles, and macho competitiveness to a clip-less take-down.





Green for Danger by Christianna Brand.  This is a mystery novel set in a war-torn hospital in England during WWII, where a brutal series of crimes unfold.  The brief appearance of a bicycle is one of many clues to finding the killer before they can strike again.  The writing is a bit uneven, but the insight into British dedication in the face of unbelievable destruction is worth the read.




The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.  This metaphysical masterpiece about the nature of time, death, and bicycles couched within a mystery novel features some of the most evocative descriptions of bicycles and cycling I have ever read.  Here is an excerpt:  “This bicycle itself seemed to have some peculiar quality of shape or personality which gave it distinction and importance far beyond that usually possessed by such machines…I passed my hand with unintended tenderness – sensuously indeed – across the saddle.”



Injured Cyclist


No, I didn’t break my leg while cycling. Instead, my accident occurred in the most dangerous place on earth:  my own home. Statistics indicate that slip and fall injuries such as mine will most likely occur in your humble abode.  In fact, statistically speaking, you are actually much safer out on the road – whether on a bicycle, on foot, in a car, or on a motorcycle.

To recover from a broken bone in the lower leg, generally there are two phases:  non weight bearing while in a cast or air boot, and weight bearing while in a walking boot. The former is the most challenging phase of recovery, as the bone can only heal properly if it is not subjected to movement. That means one’s mobility becomes seriously impaired. In times past, crutches were the only mobility aid out there. Anyone who has used crutches knows just how difficult and exhausting they can be, and can subject you to further injury if you are unable to master them in zen-like upper body strength fashion. Fortunately, bicycle technology blended with medical know-how has come to the rescue.


Here is a “knee scooter” – an ingenious little 4 wheeled contraption which incorporates many cycling related components. There are cable brakes, an aluminum frame, a 90 degree head tube, flat bars, brake levers with lock out, bottle and basket holders, and a folding steerer.  This particular model was made by NOVA – a long time manufacturer of various medical mobility devices.  There are lots of other competitors out there, but this is what was available for rent from my nearest medical equipment retailer.  The only significant complaint I have about the device is that the steerer doesn’t handle bumps very well, so will turn in full radius when it encounters even a small surface anomaly.


Of course, this has nothing to do with the quality of the machine itself, but with the geometry of its design.  A 90 degree head tube was probably deemed necessary to provide maximum stability when standing at rest over the scooter.  If the wheels were given a caster angle, that would cause the wheels to have “trail”.  As designed, its wheels have no trail.  Trail provides for a kind of “self steering” which you don’t really even notice as you ride your bike – you find that your bike tends to right itself even if you give it the wrong inputs. Trail is a critical feature in motorcycle, automobile and bicycle design – without it our machines would be unstable as they attempt to navigate curves and surface anomalies.  Low trail bicycles are great for front end loads, since they also have less wheel flop, but all bicycles must have trail in order to be rideable.


While recovering, I took time to bone up (I can’t help the puns…) on front end geometry.  While Bicycling Science, by David Gordon Wilson, is an excellent resource, I admit that I haven’t spent much time absorbing the physics and mechanics presented in his well written tome.  But now, I took the time to review his chapter on bicycle handling.  As it turns out, there’s a reason why no one can agree on what makes a bicycle handle well: since a bicycle can only balance on two wheels with a rider aboard, studying its dynamics are nearly impossible.  Consequently, theories of bicycle motion and self-stability have not been validated experimentally.  However, stable machines such as trikes and 4-wheelers can easily be studied, and one thing everyone knows is that a caster angle on the wheels is necessary for the vehicle to naturally right itself under movement.

So why isn’t this nifty little device designed with a bit of caster angle?  That would produce some trail, which would help to keep the little scooter stable as it goes over bumps.

After researching the current knee scooter models available, I have found that there are some higher end models which incorporate a caster angle on the wheels, but such models are not typically available for rent, but can be purchased for a hefty price.  If your injury is quite serious and requires a long recovery, I think it might be well worth it to purchase a higher end model which incorporates a caster angle.  This would allow greater safety and mobility, especially in outdoor situations.


Meanwhile, I’m working on keeping my little scooter maintained.  The brake cables were poorly adjusted, and the bottle holder clamp needs a washer.  I’m sure I’ll find a few other mechanical shortcomings during my recovery.  Even so, these knee scooters provide a clear advantage over crutches in terms of safety and comfort.

Old School Touring

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

Of all the fads and trends in the cycling industry, the touring era that accompanied the 1976 BikeCentennial in the U.S. was probably the most positive.  While not everyone wants or needs a touring bike – a touring bike is a bike that can work well for all kinds of riding.  And, due to economic conditions during this era – favorable exchange rates for the Japanese yen and the oil crisis of the early 70’s – the U.S. market was flooded with low cost, high quality touring bikes in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s.  These bikes often survive intact, as they were quite well made to begin with, and were usually equipped with top of the line components.

Japanese brands like Centurion, Nishiki, Bridgestone, Fuji, Miyata, Panasonic, and Univega were among the most well known manufacturers to build high quality touring bicycles.  Raleigh, Peugeot, Trek, Specialized, Austro-Daimler, Gitane, Motobecane, Mercier, and others also joined in to build some of the nicest touring bikes ever mass produced.

These touring bikes of the late 70’s and early 80’s hold a special place in my heart.  Their excellent build quality and beautiful design represent freedom, exploration, and adventure.

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This lovely 1985 Nashbar Toure MT is a great example of the quality that could be had for a reasonable price.  The frame was built for Nashbar by Maruishi – a Japanese builder not as well known as others, but still producing a beautifully brazed machine of double butted cro-mo steel.  The gorgeous blue sparkle paint and well brazed seat cluster show off its quality.

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All the finish work is top notch.  This is a bike I would keep for myself if it were my size.


Brazed on rack mounts


Sealed Tange headset


SunTour downtube shifters.


SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.


Sealed cartridge bearing hubs. No maintenance required.


Classic Blackburn bottle cage.


2nd bottle cage mount underneath the downtube.


Seat tube has no bottle cage braze-ons – left clean for mounting a frame pump.

There are so many nice features on this amazing bike that it’s hard to list them all.  One reason that the bike is so pristine, however, is because long ago the SunTour Mountech rear derailleur had failed, and the bike was put away, thankfully in a dry, clean space.


So, I replaced the rear derailleur with a Shimano 600 long cage mechanism from the same era.  It works perfectly with the original 100% SunTour drivetrain.


Triple crank with half step gearing.

This bike was built in the days of gear shifting pattern obsession.  Half step gearing was a way to have a routine shifting pattern that would maintain cadence as the terrain changed.  In practice, at least for me, I prefer not having to constantly double shift, so I am not enamored with half step gearing and have, when confronted with it, replaced the large middle chain ring with something smaller, such as a 40 or 42.  But, some riders love half-step gearing and more power to them (pun intended).


Araya 27 Inch rims.


Nashbar logo on the downtube.


Sealed cartridge bearing hubs, Suntour freewheel.


SunTour Mountech front derailleur


SunTour chromed forged dropouts with single eyelets on the rear.


Powerful Dia Compe cantilevers.


Lowrider fork mounts.


SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.


Beautifully machined BB shell.

It would be tough to find a similarly engineered touring bike with these quality components, for a price that even remotely comes close to what you can buy this bike for now.  One problem is that most cyclists associate Nashbar with low end liquidation components, rather than any kind of quality.  But, back in the 1980’s, the arrival of the Nashbar mail order catalog was an exciting event.  I ordered many wonderful and interesting components for my old 1976 Centurion from Nashbar back then.  Today, however, the company is known for its discounted and discontinued parts, rather than for quality bicycles, for better or for worse.

This wonderful old touring machine is going to a friend’s stable in Southern Oregon, where I know it will be ridden and appreciated.  I hope to join him and his spouse on some wonderful rides through Southern Oregon wine country, and I will be a bit jealous his bike.2016-09-13-001