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.

23 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.

  7. Great post! I presently have not less than twenty bicycles, most of them could be considered vintage, and few of them cost me more than a fifty to acquire. Among them are a 1960’s era Bugatti, which only needed new tires and saddle, a 1986 Puch 140 which only needed to have the gummy brake hoods removed and new tape on the bars, and a 10-speed BSA , from perhaps the 1950’s that is roadster style and still has the original Brooks saddle. All of them are a true joy to ride. When I park at a cafe for refreshment, and the racks are jammed with the latest carbon copies, I think to myself that the owners just didn’t realize how inexpensive it is to buy real class.

  8. Everything about vintage bicycles is true.I get more pleasure riding my steel framed 1980s Raleigh cycles one a 21″ superbe , the other a 21″ record sprint converted to fixed gear. Easy to maintain fun to ride.

  9. I remember getting into a heated argument with someone at a bike store when I was 15 and looking to buy my first “serious” bike, I was looking at mid-level bikes by the usual “reputable” names (Specialized, Trek, etc.) and I was stunned by the lack of user-serviceable components on these bikes, as well as that any decent and made-to-last components on the bike subject to regular wear (such as shifters, non-plastic brake levers, etc.) on the bike would have to be “custom ordered” (on top of bikes that were retailing with entry-level components for a floor of $800!) When I pointed this out to the store owner that I could easily buy an even better used bike for that price and spend the money it would cost me in “upgrades” (which to get long-lasting, quality parts were NOT optional to buy) on a professional tune-up. He started telling me that older bikes are risky purchases and that new bikes have SO much better frames, comfort, safety, etc.

    A week later, I found an Austrian-made 1968 Sears & Roebuck 3-speed for free after a neighbor gave it to me and I took it to the same bike shop for a tune-up. The owner, not knowing it was my bike (he didn’t see me come in with it) started talking about how great of a bike it was to one of his mechanics, and that’s when I cleared my throat and asked “So what about the issues with old bikes you were telling me about again?” 🙂 I still remember his face turning whiter than a sheet of office paper!

    Vintage is the only way to go at this point – not because quality new bikes aren’t being made – but because the cycling industry has decided that they are the new golf and they have made that quality new equipment so unaffordable to the average Joe (or in my case, a high schooler working two jobs)! I don’t recommend a newbie to cycling buy a new bike when a plethora of even better-made vintage bikes are just sitting around waiting to be fixed up. And I am still riding that Sears today – it turns 50 this year!

  10. Today, I only ride Schwinn Collegiate 5 speeds from the early Seventies and Schwinn Suburban 5 speeds from the early seventies.
    Why? Shimano rear derailleurs (for 1970 to very early 1974, the Shimano built GT-100 Schwinn Approved ) The GT-100 was SCHWINN’s first SHIMANO built, which Schwinn commissioned Shimano to build a derailleur that resembled partly a Huret Alvit but with Shimano Lark improvements. GOOGLE: GT-100 Schwinn Approved You will see a link that contains a pdf of the March 1970 Bicycling Magazine article on SHIMANO and Schwinn with the world’s most durable derailleur up to that point in time. Shimano had also patented the new seal design that first appeared on the Model J five speed freewheel that appeared on the 1970 Collegiate FIVE SPEED and the 1970 SUBURBAN Five Speed. This was the beginning of SHIMANO’s rise, with SCHWINN using them as the sole supplier for the gearing of the FIVE SPEED 1970 Collegiates and 1970 five speed SUBURBANS. 1969 and earlier Collegiates (1964-1969) have French made gearing with a Huret Alvit Approved Schwinn derailleur.
    Nobody made a better, more reliable and durable than SHIMANO did at that point in time.
    Schwinn engineers looked at durability instead of weight savings, so they insisted on Bash Guards on the derailleurs and had Shimano build them with additional weight of large bash guard. Shimano, being wise, realized that they could take the Schwinn engineer’s suggestions of bash guard protection and cable saver function and essentially add that to their Lark. None of the major English or European bicycle makers were using Shimano or any Japanese source. Schwinn was the first major maker and only maker outside of Japan to do so. The serious bicycle crowd and all English and European makers believed Campagnolo or certain French derailleur gears were the cream of the crop at that time, since they had no experience with Shimano.
    Shimano, supplying only a very small segment of Schwinn derailleur bicycles realized that they could supply the various “no name” low price builders of dept store bikes with their Shimano Larks with the bashguard and cable saver improvements that Schwinn engineers liked. I guess that Shimano did this to widen their market and not become beholden to Schwinn. Though the serious biking crowd viewed Shimano as low end and Campagnolo as top quality, history has shown that those early seventies Shimano parts are superior to Campagnolo parts in every respect except weight. Durability and design quality were once Shimano hallmarks. Because so many “no name” K-mart and Sears 10 speeds came with Shimano Lark, Shimano Skylark, and Shimano Eagle derailleurs had many serious European bike riders with the wrong perception of Shimano at that time. This would change as most serious bicylists realized Japan was producing some fine affordable 10 speeds by 1972, most all with Shimano gearing. Just like Toyota quality in the auto world, by 1976/1977 most folks realized that the Japanese (Shimano) derailleurs were in fact better than the Campy and other European make derailleurs in terms of overall quality and durability.
    The Shimano stuff of that time was great despite being standard equipment on so called low end bikes. Just like the Toyota and Datsun destroyed the British, French, Italian imports and the Domestic competition here in the USA, Shimano did that to it’s competitors because its quality and reliability was significantly better at that time.
    An old Schwinn with the Huret Alvit (French made) gearing isn’t the same quality as what was standard on the 1970 Collegiate and Suburban Five Speeds.
    Those ’70 -’76 Collegiate FIVE SPEED Schwinns are my favorite bicycles.
    Great ride from the 37-597 (Kenda makes this tire today!) tire. The frame is essentially the Varsity frame with 26″ wheels and just a single 46 teeth front chain crank and SHIMANO gearing, not Huret gearing, and only one gearstick because just FIVE SPEEDS ( thus no front derailleur). The gearing on these 1970 thru 1976 models are almost as wide as that of the typical ten speed of that era. You have the SPORT model (Collegiate SPORT) that looks just like a Varsity with racing bars, seat, rat traps, etc, EXCEPT you get a FULL LENGTH CHAINGUARD and single 46 tooth front crank and wider 26 wheels (37-597mm) and 5 speeds not 10 like on a Varsity. I collect only the Collegiate model through 1976 because after 1976 the Schwinn graphics/logo scheme changed. The 1967-1976 look nearly alike. 1964-1966 have similar logos, etc but the shifter location is different than 1967 onward. I would consider owning a 1967-1969 with the modification of installing a Shimano Eagle or GT-100 or GT-120 schwinn approved derailleur in place of the original.
    I would consider a 1964-1966 with that same modification along with the modification of moving the shifter location to the 1967 onward location.
    They are outstanding bicycles in my opinion!
    The Women’s SPORT model (Collegiate Sport) didn’t appear until about 1975 but you can easily swap the Northroad (upright-tourist handlebars) with something from any old Varsity if you need to make your own SPORT model.
    Ditto for the VARSITY, you can make yours a VARSITY TOURIST by replacing the racing bars with the Northroad handlebars of a Collegiate or Suburban. You can make the Varsity into an almost Suburban by swapping the two crankwheels for one single 46 teeth Clover design Schwinn ring from the Collegiate, Suburban, or other Schwinns. Then simply delete the front derailleur. I suggest that you install a used Shimano Eagle or any new knockoff Lark/Skylark type copy.
    Better than that, keep the Varsity as a ten speed but change the rear derailleur to a new Lark/Skylark knockoff or Suntour, or good used Shimano eagle or a good used GT-120 schwinn approved.
    Nothing is too wrong with Huret stuff if it is in excellent shape, but Shimano stuff is superior and much more dependable.
    The old Chicago made electro-forged Schwinn LIGHTWEIGHTS though weighty, get a undeserved stigma of being undesirable “junkpile” “gaspipe” bicycles that no one with any self-respect should be seen on. Only bums and winos that get such Salvation Army bikes, should be seen on them. That is what you will read if you browse the many bicycle forums when it comes to the “serious bicyclists’ ” views on these classic Chicago bikes. This is a sad commentary on the majority of aay-hoe-uLs that consider themselves “CYCLISTS” on the many bike forums.
    Forty pounds of Chicago electroforged gas-pipe steel is a beautiful wonderful thing if you appreciate it for what it is———————-a comfortable ride that is stable and predictable, largely because the frame geometry of those frames and their weight.
    I do think that the Collegiate, Suburban five speeds and their cousins the 10 speed Continental and Varsity have frame geometry that is very much alike with only minor differences. The Suburban is like the Varsity except that the Suburban has the front fork of the Continental except that the Suburban’s brakes are side pulls like the Varsity.
    The Continental has the round front fork unlike the blade front fork of the Varsity and Collegiate. The Continental has centerpull brakes. The Collegiate, like the 5 speed Suburban, and the 10 speed Varsity has side pull type brakes.

    Weight ain’t everything. If you’re just riding because you enjoy a nice ride and you don’t mind the weight penalty climbing steep hills, a vintage Chicago made “gaspipe” “two-ton” LIGHTWEIGHT could be an excellent choice.
    I RIDE A VINTAGE EARLY SEVENTIES COLLEGIATE BECAUSE I LIKE IT.
    I ride it about twenty miles per week. I know that isn’t much to folks that ride 100 miles per week. Last year (during 2017) I rode 1087 miles on my Schwinn Collegiate.
    I’m an old baby boomer. I like riding an old bike. It makes me remember that time when I was young and Schwinn was the real thing. Wrinkles and snow on the roof now but I am in great shape and like the old Rare Earth song goes, I just want to celebrate another day of living. Be good. Ride them if you have them.

    • Thanks for this Schwinn history, and for your Shimano commentary. It’s always good to hear from those who actually experienced these components as they were being introduced into the marketplace. Schwinn is/was indeed a misunderstood company with some very fine examples, even at the lower end of the price scale.

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