Why Ride Vintage?

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1973 Jack Taylor Touring

There are many reasons why vintage bicycles are superior to the modern day mass- produced, low-priced bicycles that you can find at your local bike shop.  I won’t even bother to discuss bikes built for department stores – those are landfill bikes that are utterly worthless and designed to be thrown away.  Don’t buy them, ever.

But why ride vintage when you can buy a reasonably priced bike at your LBS that is brand new? Well, here is my list of the most important reasons:

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Build quality:  By this I mean the quality of the frame and the components.  Vintage steel bicycles were mostly hand-crafted by experienced artisans.  Many builders also crafted or modified their own components.  Lugs were carefully filed and brazed, and care was taken at every stage of production to ensure a long lasting frame.  Many of the vintage frames I see have no damage whatsoever, some over 8 decades old.  That’s far more life than you will see in today’s frames, where fork recall, aluminum fatigue, and carbon fiber failures are routine.  Today’s production bikes are simply not built to last a lifetime, at all. If you want a bike to treasure and pass on to future generations, don’t buy a production bike – either order custom or, for far less money, buy a vintage bicycle.

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Ease of repairs and component integration:  Before Shimano’s domination gutted and destroyed virtually all other component makers, built in obsolescence was unheard of in the cycling industry.  Deliberately designing components that could not be repaired, but only replaced, and designing them to ONLY work with that manufacturer’s other components spelled the death knell for low cost and easy bicycle maintenance.  Brifters are a good example of this.  They only work with the component maker’s indexing system, and if your bike tips over and the Brifters hit the ground, they will easily break (they are made from plastic), and a new set will cost you another $300 or so.  They cannot be repaired, so touring cyclists generally get rid of them in favor of reliable downtube and bar-end shifters, which can almost always be repaired on the roadside, and do not break when your bike experiences a mishap.  An added plus of getting rid of your Brifters is being able to use appropriately sized and comfortable brake lever hoods.

Pretty much all vintage components are repairable with simple parts that you can make yourself if you don’t have spares handy.  They are also easily understood, and learning basic bike maintenance is much easier for owners of vintage bicycles.

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Proper sizing for smaller riders:  In the 1930’s and 40’s, at the height of French cyclo-touring, frame builders took great care to insure that both their male and female riders had frames and wheel sizes appropriate to their height and body build.  You can find many examples of well designed smaller frames that have NO toe overlap, and can be easily stood over by using the appropriately sized smaller wheels and shorter cranksets.  Today, smaller riders will likely never find a bike from the LBS that fits properly and is comfortable to ride.  Virtually all bikes sold today come with 700c wheels and slack front geometry, meaning that the bike will also handle poorly at slow speeds.  A new rider will become discouraged, thinking they are not “tough enough” to endure their uncomfortable bicycle, and that they are incompetent riders because they feel unstable.  They don’t know that the problem lies with the bike and not the rider.

Smoke billows from chimneys at a chemical factory in Hefei

Environmental Reasons:  For me, environmental reasons for not buying a new bike trump almost all the other reasons.  Department store bikes end up in landfills because their components are made to be thrown away, and so are the frames.  Each new bike manufactured adds roughly 530 lbs of deadly greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.  In 2015, 17.4 million NEW bicycles were manufactured and sold.  So, doing the math, that translates into 9.2 BILLION POUNDS of greenhouse gases spewing out into the environment in one year alone, all due to the consumer demand for new bicycles.  Don’t buy a new bike!  Fix up the one you have or buy vintage.

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Art and science, together in one beautiful machine:  Who can resist a beautifully made bicycle?  Anyone who loves art can appreciate a bicycle’s form and balance.  It is a machine, yet its form is so evocative that just seeing an image of a bicycle can transport you (pun intended) wherever you want to go.

17 thoughts on “Why Ride Vintage?

  1. Hello,
    I recently acquired an Orbea Kronos frame and fork. Have you seen this model before? It is blue with white specks, Reynolds 500 tubing, French threads and has downtube shifters. I have pictures as well.

    Regards,
    Justin

    • Hi Justin,
      I suggest consulting cycling forums regarding your vintage Orbea. Also, since the company still exists today, you could try contacting them to determine the information you need about your bicycle.

  2. Great site, been a fan of vintage bikes for awhile. Just picked up a Georgena terry precision hand made in Rodchester NY in 1986 for next to nothing, am in process of tuning up to give to daughter. Much better bike than she could afford at LBS.

  3. I like your style, taking on freewheels and your understanding of bicycle needs for short riders shows you have a good understanding. Ive gone to very short cranks and never looked back for instance. You have some beautiful builds. Keep on. Z

  4. I appreciate you speaking up for the environment. This is certainly the most important reason to go C&V. Aluminum production is particularly damaging to the environment

  5. I fully agree with you, we live in such a rat-race and throw-away world. I love those sixties / seventies racers, no mass production in those days. How I long back to those old cycle shops that stocked every nut and bolt for your bicycle, no complicated shifters, etc. Components were beautifully crafted with easy maintenance and repair in mind. Downtube friction shifters give you the freedom of fine tuning your gears as you wish.
    There was a high degree of standardization in those days, it is mind-boggling trying to match today’s modern stuff, they go outdated within a couple of months, as you say, landfill material!

  6. I can buy a touring machine that is every bit as good as a Surly and has very good design for under $500. I had to learn mechanics but I never trusted others doing my work in general.
    The touring bicycles of 1980s from Japan are the pinnacle of bicycle design for me personally. Suntour made aftermarket parts in such quantity I still have many today. A suntour freewheel is good for 5 years and they can last a lot longer if the person cleans. The frames took the best of the French Italian and even US custom builders and integrated it into design. Frames don’t have a pile of rust inside due to such treatments as Parkerizing the metal or priming. They last like Toyotas and have the best of old and Shimano was great until around 1989 when they left the downturn for shifting. I recommend all to learn on these disappearing gems and to realize old is not “beater” and doesn’t mean convert it into a fixie. The people that made them cared about thier work, enjoy. Zac
    I collected them, Miyata Centurion, Panasonic, Fuji, 70,80s and they always exceeded the others. –

    • There are so many great vintage bicycles out there that can easily be restored or upgraded/reinterpreted for a very reasonable cost. Great geometry, excellent tubing, and reliable components characterize vintage touring, road and commuter bicycles. There’s really no comparison to modern mass produced bikes, even ignoring pricing issues.

    • I fully agree, 80’s Japanese components like Shimano and Suntour were beautifully made and they work extremely efficiently and reliably. Being a Campagnolo enthusiast when I was young, I was totally ignorant when it came to Japanese components, until recently when I aquired some vintage bikes fitted with components such as Suntour Superbe, Shimano Dura Ace, 105 and 600. They are true beauties and I feel that they surpass the performance of the famous Campagnolo Nuovo Record components. I recently purchased a Bridgestone Radac fitted with Shimano components, a beautiful bike and a pleasure to ride.

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