Commuting on a Vintage Bicycle

French 1939 Sironval Recumbent. A 24 inch wheel at the rear and a 22 inch wheel in front.

One of the biggest obstacles to attracting new cyclists is the fear of maintenance.  Bicycles are time consuming, messy, and non-intuitive. That’s a (fun, IMHO!) fact.  It’s so much easier to drive your car, order Lyft or take public transportation, and avoid the challenges involved in becoming a commuter cyclist – right?

Meanwhile, certain members of the retail cycling industry seem to lack the will or interest in helping to educate new cyclists on the many, and rewarding maintenance tasks which routine cycling requires.  Instead, the marketing focus is on overcoming these obstacles with technology – such as belt drives, e-bikes, index shifting, bike share, and the like.  And for new and returning cyclists it can feel like the retail industry’s focus is on intimidating and humiliating newbies, catering only to elite competitive cyclists and wannabes.

While I believe new technologies are critical to the future success of the cycling industry, I don’t necessarily believe that they are critical to the success of the cyclists themselves.

Lightweight box style rims, components drilled to save weight, and custom racks and fenders are not necessarily something the regular cycling commuter wants to think about. For a commuting cyclist, safety, efficiency and reliability are the most important elements in determining whether to ride, and what bicycle to ride.

While new bicycles and e-bikes can address some of the needs of new cycling commuters, vintage bicycles, modified as needed, can actually provide much greater utility for a new or returning commuting cyclist.

Over the last 25 year I have cycled regularly from my current home to downtown Portland where I work.  That ride offers steep hills, sharp turns, and plenty of discouraging encounters with car drivers.  Often in the mornings when I ride over Mt. Tabor, I have spotted the same cyclist – someone about my age, riding a fairly upright bike.  We have nodded and waved to each other over the decades.  Recently, I noticed this cyclist was ascending the hill I was descending with quite a bit of speed.  When I passed her, I realized she was now riding an e-bike, and that made me smile.  Yes, keep riding, and find the right bike to do it with.

But what is that bike?  I think the first thing to look at is the drive train – which involves choosing among internal hub gears, single speed, or derailleur options.  Chain driven derailleur-geared bikes offer the greatest range of gears as well as the greatest efficiency.  Derailleur equipped bikes are also the most time consuming and messy when it comes to routine maintenance.  These are also the most commonly found vintage bicycles. They are generally very reliable, and are the easiest to learn to work on yourself.  Their components have not been designed for built in obsolescence.

A cyclist in a relatively flat environment can instead choose a single speed or internally geared option, and that will mean very little routine maintenance for the rider, but potentially expensive service costs should the internal hub fail.  Vintage Sturmey Archer hubs are extremely reliable, and with only routine lubrication can last many decades without the need for an overhaul.  So, a good choice for commuter cycling in a relatively flat environment would be a pre-1970 bicycle with a Sturmey Archer internally geared hub.

I would like to make the case for the derailleur geared bicycle as the most desirable choice for new commuting cyclists.

You can achieve, by far, the greatest gearing range and the most efficiency by using a front and rear derailleur with at least two rings up front and 6 or more cogs in the back.

But, I have often seen neglected triple crank bikes, with teeth wear only on the middle chain ring.  Their riders decided not to figure out how to shift or trim out the front derailleur, and instead used only the middle ring.  That is something to take note of.

The other reason vintage bicycles are so much more suited to new and returning cyclists is their steel frames, usually lugged, and often quite beautiful.  It is a matter of pride to venture out on one’s well-designed, comfortable, and eye-catching lugged steel frame and ride among the masses of heavy, stiff, uncomfortable aluminum frames, or those of questionable reliability such as carbon fiber.

1970’s Austro Daimler Inter 10

1970's Austro Daimler Inter 10

Here is a late 70’s Austro Daimler Inter 10.  It is built with Reynolds 531 butted tubing and has an unusually nice mix of quality components.  I have overhauled and restored it in my usual way, which involves removing all components for cleaning and mechanical overhaul, cleaning and waxing the frame, treating the frame internals for rust, then putting the bike back together with new: cables, housing (if needed), tubes and tires and of course a rebuild of hubs, bottom bracket, and headset.  With its high quality frame and excellent overall condition, this is a bike to keep as original as possible.

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Campagnolo Nuovo Record Long Cage Derailleur

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Campagnolo Front Derailleur

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Top end Red Label Normandy Lux Competition Hubs

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Stronglight crankset with 42/52 rings – showing no wear

Not all Austro Daimler Inter 10’s were made with Reynolds 531 tubing, but they were mostly set up with components for light touring and sport riding.  This Inter 10 also has higher end components normally found on the upper level models such as the Super Light and the Vent Noir.

The drive train is geared for touring, with a 14/34 freewheel mated to a 42/52 crankset.  With this wheel size, the yields a gear inch range of 33-100.  That’s a pretty good range conducive for all types of riding.

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Rare and beautiful GB Maes bars in fantastic shape.

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Atom 600 pedals

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Weinmann 605 Sidepulls with quirky Mathauser finned brake shoes

 

Maillard 14-34 5 speed freewheel

Maillard 14-34 5 speed freewheel

I encountered just about every marquis existing in the bike world in the 70’s on this bike:  Reynolds, Campagnolo, Weinmann, Normandy, Maillard, SR, Atom, Simplex (the seatpost bolt!), GB, Shimano (forged chrome drop-outs), Stronglight, and Huret.  To clean the component mix up, I replaced the Huret downtube shifters with Campagnolo shifters from the same era.  I also replaced the Weinmann levers, which were in bad shape, with these Campagnolo levers also from the same era:

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Campagnolo downtube shifters

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Campagnolo levers – this style first introduced in 1976

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Campagnolo shifter cable guides

I also had a nostalgia moment when I removed these “extras” from the bike – an odometer, tire savers, and flick-stand.  These were de rigueur back in the day.  The flick stand is actually a very useful device that I will probably use for one of my bikes.  The Huret odometer shows less than 1600 miles on the clock – that seems about right given the nice condition the bike was in.

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All of the Austro Daimler’s I have encountered have been surprisingly nice.  The company had a lengthy and complex relationship to bicycle manufacturing.  If you want to know things you never dreamed of wanting to know about the company, here is an amazing manifesto on the subject.

This frame is built with Reynolds tubing. The sticker is missing on the seat tube, but still present on the fork.  This bike’s top tube is 57 cm, even though the seat tube is 53 cm.  Apparently, Austro Daimler just used the same top tube length for most of its bikes, regardless of seat tube length.  Fortunately, when the bike was built up, a short reach and tall SR stem was chosen, so the ergonomics on this bike still fit like a typical 53 cm bike.  The bike has an unusual seat post – a “G.S.” San Marco, which is actually very attractive and has the diameter inscribed in a helpful location.

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The build quality of the frame is extraordinarily nice, with Shimano forged drop outs, lined lugs, a chrome fork crown, and top quality finish work on the seat lug.  There are no braze-ons of any kind, but the clamp-on Campagnolo and Weinmann guides are very attractive.

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This is another great example of a quality touring/sport-touring bike from the late 70’s.  Although a production build, the bike has survived quite well and has many miles left to go.

Update October, 2016:  Sold!  Congratulations to Bob in Pennsylvania.

1947 C. Daudon

1947 C. Daudon I have had this 1947 Camille Daudon for a few years now, and have done nothing to it since first acquiring it from the prior owner who had done some of his own restoration work, including re-chroming the Vitus frame.  In fact, the bike is so lovely in its current form, that I am reconsidering my plans to bring it back to its original state by adding period correct hammered fenders, front rack, lighting, and a chain guard, which is what it would have originally been equipped with.  This Daudon was custom made for Irene Faberge Gunst, granddaughter of the famous creator of Faberge eggs, a special birthday gift from her husband.  In 2006, this bike won the award for best French bike at the Cirque du Cyclisme show.  As pictured, it weighs a mere 20 lbs.

The wing nuts were drilled to save weight. Double eyelets in the front, single in the rear. Designed to carry a front load.

The head tube shows a slight loss of lug detail due to re-chroming of the frame. Lam side pull brakes with plenty of clearance for fenders.

650b aluminum box style rims with surface pattern to improve braking.

Pelissier hubs.

Daudon’s customized shifter – everything bespoke on this bicycle. Shifter cable not properly set up – a one piece system is required.

Beautiful Stronglight crankset in very good condition.

Cyclo rear derailleur with wrap around cable.

Gorgeous Ideale Saddle – a bit dry and in need of conditioning.

The color matched crank arms are only still visible on the left side. Threading for all left side components is reverse, including the crank bolt, lock ring and bottom bracket cup.

You can see the slight loss of lug detail mostly on the head tube.

Perfect fork rake – a lovely bend close to the drop outs makes for a nice ride.

Re-chromed stem which is bolted to the steerer tube. All bolts are 8 mm heads.

Unbranded pedals – possibly also crafted by Daudon.

Irene Gunst’s engraved steerer tube cover. Beneath this lies the hidden tool kit.

8 mm nut heads on the seat tube clamp, simple but pretty stays.

Tool kit hidden inside the head tube.

Prior to re-chroming the frame looked like this:

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As you can see, the chrome was seriously compromised.  The prior owner decided that it would be worth it to re-chrome the frame and risk the loss of lug detail, rather than sanding it down and re-painting it.  While disappointing in some ways, I think the overall impact of the new chrome outweighs the downsides.  It’s nice to have these photos which will help me re-create the head badge and logos. There are other examples of Camille Daudon bicycles which can also help.  Jan Heine’s The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles features two Daudons, and the latest Bicycle Quarterly features a Daudon that is somewhat similar to mine. As far as restoration goes, I still need to make the bike mechanically sound and rideable.  The Cyclo derailleur uses a one piece shifter cable, and although I could have soldered a cable to work with this derailleur, I have finally located one that will work for this bike:

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And, I am still in a quandary about whether to make this bike appear as it once did – as a touring bike with fenders, lighting and front rack.  While I contemplate that, here are some of the parts I have put together – aluminum fenders, front rack which bolts to the fenders, and Simplex chain guard.  I still need to source appropriate lights for the front and rear fenders, and a dynamo.

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I welcome your thoughts and ideas about this amazing piece of cycling history.