The Metal in the Pedal: Vintage Pedals vs. Modern

1946 Peugeot pedal, disassembled.

I usually regard vintage bicycle components as superior to their modern day mass-produced peers.  The quality materials, excellent machining, and innovative designs of vintage parts usually simply overwhelm their contemporary competitors.  The above pedal is a good example.  This 1946 Peugeot pedal has a beautifully machined tapered spindle, with the Peugeot marque incorporated into the pedal cage.  You definitely will not find this attention to detail in any modern pedal.

1950 Raleigh rubber block pedal

1950 Raleigh pedal with clever lockring which engages the cone.

There are really two aspects to a pedal’s design:  the shape and construction of the cage, and the design of the spindle, cones, and bearings.  Many modern pedals are not rebuild-able, so if they fail you have to throw them away.  Vintage pedals were never designed to be thrown out.  They are designed to last through the ages, with adjustable cups and cones and replaceable bearings.  The pedals on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist reflect a real commitment to pedal maintenance:  the lock ring has notches which engage with the cone, so that pedal adjustment is fast and easy.

1947 Aluvac Pedal

Weight of a pedal can also be a factor.  This 1947 Aluvac Pedal is lighter than any other pedal in my collection!  The weight of a component can be a consideration when choosing parts for a build, but in this case, the extremely lightweight pedal pictured above was part of a 1947 Peugeot Mixte.  A bike one would not think of as giving homage to the weight weenie gods.

Recently I have changed out some of the pedals on the bikes I regularly ride for these Shimano Saint Pedals, which I reviewed a while back.  These pedals are totally rebuildable, and offer a large and comfortable platform for one’s foot.  They feature adjustable pins which lock your shoe into position.  For me, someone who rides in rainy, urban conditions, these pins work really well.  They are a great alternative to clipless or toe clip pedals, since they really do lock your feet in place, even when weather conditions are bad.  The shape of the pedal platform, along with the adjustable pins, make these pedals far more useful than most platform pedals I have used.

1973 spindle on top, 1953 spindles below

Marcel Berthet pedals – 1953 vs. 1973.

A while back, I had a component failure on some 1953 Marcel Berthet pedals. When I disassembled the pedals, I found their spindles to be in good order, as compared to their 1970’s counterparts.  But, the threads on one of the spindles failed due to a bad spindle design, which was corrected later by the manufacturer.  Even so, these pedals are quite comfortable when used with toe clips (which is how they are designed).  The foot bed is large and flat, and the toe clip keeps one’s shoe in place.

1940’s Tank Pedals

There are a number of vintage platform pedals that are very comfortable, such as these 1940’s Tank pedals pictured above.  Modern day counterparts include MKS as well as other cage pedal designs.  However, I have found my Shimano Saint pedals to be far more comfortable than a typical cage pedal, and so have installed Shimano Saints on my regular commuting bicycles.  The large platform and adjustable pins really make for a comfortable and safe ride.

A 1970’s Raleigh Gran Sport and a 1980’s Viner

Simplex Super LJ and Campagnolo shifters

Simplex Super LJ and Campagnolo shifters

Sometimes I purchase bikes that I intend to disassemble.  Often these are perfectly decent bikes, and sometimes very nice ones, that have suffered from what I call unfortunate upgrades.

Recently, a colleague asked me to help him to try out commuting on vintage steel which will be a nice change from his aluminum hybrid. My plan was to take a nice frame and build it up to his specifications.  I purchased this 1970’s Raleigh Gran Sport that had gone through a few prior iterations, both good and bad.

1970's Raleigh Gran Sport

1970’s Raleigh Gran Sport

The frame is full double butted Reynolds 531, with a Reynolds 531 fork, chrome stays and fork legs, with single eyelets front and rear.  There is lots of room at the brake bridge and fork crown for fenders, even with the 27″ inch wheels it was designed for.  So, converting this to 700c and adding some wider tires and fenders should work well.

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The good upgrades included the Simplex SLJ front derailleur and Campy shifters shown at the top, which would have been upgrades from the ugly plastic Simplex models of this era.  The spacing at the rear drop outs is 127 mm so we will have lots of options to consider for the wheelset – either vintage or modern.  Actually, the bike was mostly intact from its original state except for some no name Aero levers (with shifter cables installed where the brake cables should be – yikes!), and some hideous bar tape.  Because the bike looked kind of bizarre and was a bit dirty, it didn’t sell for much.

At the same time I spotted this 1980’s Viner that was even weirder looking,  It sported some 1970’s suicide brake levers, ugly bar tape (again!) and a Shimano 105 headset shimmed into the head tube.

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After just a bit of cleaning, the frame looks great.  It’s an odd color – it looks black sometimes and brown/purple in low light.  It is built with Columbus Cromor Tubing and is in great condition.  These road frames from the 80’s can make nice conversions to 650c or 650b.  It’s my size – 49 x 51.  However, I am going to resist the urge to build it up for myself and will probably keep it in inventory until someone comes along who wants it built up.

There were a few nice surprises with both of these bikes.  The Raleigh’s components were in great shape, and in addition to the Simplex SLJ and the Campy shifters, the prior owner had added a Brooks Professional Saddle (it would have come standard with a B-17).  The original Stronglight crankset has many miles left on it and has the interesting feature of a built in chain guard.  I may use this crankset for my friend’s build since he’s going to be commuting in his work clothes.  The headset and bottom bracket are also original and very nice and will be re-used.

Brooks Professional Stronglight with chainguard Stronglight Bottom bracket

Sadly, the Viner had most of its original Campagnolo parts stripped off.  Fortunately, though, the crankset and rear derailleur were left undisturbed:

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The Viner also had a good wheelset – Maillard sealed hubs on Weinmann concave rims with stainless steel spokes – 36 front and rear.  That seems like a much more robust wheelset than I would have expected, and the wheels will come in very handy for other projects that may come along.  The bottom bracket fixed cup was in really tight.  It is shown above with my removal tool still attached.  Of course, it did help to finally figure out that the BB was Italian, so the fixed cup goes the OTHER way…