Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Refurbishing Vintage Bicycles: Different Perspectives

[Manfred Dittler collection, image via waffenrad.at]

It has been so nice to see more and more people revamping vintage bicycles over the past several years, riding them, and sharing pictures with others. Seeing vintage bikes actively ridden and lovingly cared for feels as if history is "interacting" with our contemporary lives - reestablishing a sense of continuity that has been ruptured in many ways over the past several decades. But as the use of vintage bicycles grows more popular, it is worth noting that not everybody holds the same views on refurbishing them. For me, discovering these differences has been educational, and I will try to describe some of the approaches I have come across:

[Panther Damenrad, image via waffenrad.at]

The Full Restoration Approach
To "restore" a bicycle typically implies bringing it back to its former glory inasmuch as possible. If the bicycle is not in great cosmetic shape, then this may include re-painting the frame in a colour painstakingly matched to the original, finding new-old-stock original decals or replicas, and taking the trouble to locate well-preserved versions of the components and accessories, if the original ones cannot be cleaned up sufficiently well. The end goal is for the bicycle to resemble as closely as possible what it looked like when it was sold as new - be it the 1970s or the 1910s.

[Manufrance Hirondelle, image via collectvelo]

The All-Original Approach
In direct opposition to those who restore bicycles, are those who prefer to keep them all-original - meaning in whatever condition the bicycle was found. The reasoning behind this approach, is that a vintage bicycle is a piece of history and should be preserved in its found state. Some who adhere to this method will clean up the components and frame as much as possible - as long as it does not involve repainting or replacing anything on the bike. Others will take things to the extreme and literally leave the bicycle as is - including any dirt or rust that has accumulated on it. Some will perform repairs, as long as the components remain original; while others believe that if the bicycle is not ridable without repairs, then that is how it should stay.

[somervillain's Shogun touring bike, image via lovely bicycle]

The Period-Appropriate Approach
This approach is somewhat similar to restoration, but is considerably more relaxed and is done with the intent for the bicycle to be ridden, not collected or exhibited.  Those who prefer this method, typically clean up and refurbish the bicycle in a way that keeps its appearance period-appropriate without going so far as to replicate the original components, accessories and colour scheme. For example, the bicycle above has been repainted a soft blue - a traditional colour choice for vintage touring bikes, but not the original frame colour. The components selected are also traditional for the time period the owner wanted to evoke, but they are not the components that originally came with this bike. The period-appropriate approach is popular among those who want the bicycle to suit their tastes and riding style, while still paying homage to the era from which it came.

[Motobecane Super Mirage, image via lovely bicycle]

The Updated Remix Approach
Some cyclists prefer to fit vintage frames with modern components - either in part or entirely. The reasoning behind this, is that while they may prefer the looks, ride quality, craftsmanship and other aspects of the older frames, newer components tend to be more comfortable and more convenient. This can include anything from using a modern style of handlebars, brake levers and cranks, to fitting the bicycle with clipless pedals and new high-tech lights. While the newer components are not even remotely original or period-correct, some owners will attempt to make the overall look of the bicycle harmonious. To others this does not matter so much, and they regard the vintage and modern mix as purely utilitarian. If I had to classify the current fixed gear modification trend (whereby  parts of the frame are filed off and the bike is fitted with super-modern wheels and colourful components), it would go in this category as well. The degree of consideration that is given to the original frame is up to the owner.

[Jeunet porteur, image via somervillain]

Over the past two years, I have spoken with vintage bicycle owners whose approaches run the full spectrum of these categories, and have at times been amazed by how strong views on this topic can be. Restorers are criticised for recklessly altering pieces of history. Those who keep vintage bikes original are criticised for not giving the bicycle a chance to "live again". Those who take the trouble to set up their bicycle in a period-appropriate manner are perceived as obsessive "retrogrouches." And those who put modern components on vintage frames are accused of butchering or "not caring enough" about vintage bikes. Personally, I can see the benefit in all methods, and I think that quite a lot depends on the bicycle itself - how rare and historically significant it is. The Co-Habitant and I have used the "updated remix" approach at least to some extent on most of our vintage bikes - but none so far have been historically valuable. What is your take on this, and what approaches have you used on your own bikes?

65 comments:

  1. Well, in IMHO, beauty is as beauty does. So, I have several bikes that are nearly 30 years old, that get ridden all the time, and that I try to keep "period appropriate."

    For example, when my wheels needed replacing, I had custom wheels built around Phil Wood hubs--much better than the originals.

    But when the original Sun Tour Superbe deraileur fell off after many thousands of miles, I replaced it with a modern Shimano Deore. So far, all the new and old parts seem to be getting along just fine.

    I love that my bikes have been slowly customized and adjusted over the years, so that it is now dialed in to my own tastes--and that there may be no other bike exactly like it on earth.

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  2. I've hinted at this issue in a few of my previous comments. I agree that a lot depends on the bike, in terms of condition, rarity and significance.

    The world needs very few perfectly restored or preserved Magnas and there are a shitload of them; and at any given time, on a variety of bikes, I have and likely will continue to use all of these approaches.

    I don't keep memorabilia though. I'm into bicycles. If I can't ride it it's just something I trip over and have to keep dusted, so any rarities I come across I pass on to those who are in to such things.

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  3. It seems wherever I go around here, I get one of two positions:

    1. A hybrid of the "Full Restoration" approach and the "All-Original" approach, in which nothing can be replaced or swapped out unless it does not work at all
    or
    2. The "why the hell would you bother putting a dime into that old thing" approach
    (Ok, just wanted to point out that there are plenty of people who think we're all crazy just for giving a damn about an old bike)

    While I find this latter attitude fully counter productive to my restoration efforts, I'm not sure the other is much help either. For instance, my Raleigh Twenty came with all the original parts, including the original wheelset, but with a new wheelset with alloy rims and a rear 3-speed coasterbrake hub.

    I have no intention of switching back to the original wheels, and the original rear brake is thus rendered unnecessary. I had sort of the idea that I could just remove the rear brake, lever, and most importantly the cable, thinking it would clean up the look of the bike a little, but both my dad and my preferred bike shop for vintage stuff insisted that I leave it be.

    Am I crazy? Now I wonder if some people would have insisted that I leave the crumbled brake hoods and disintegrating foam on my vintage Trek, as I'm pretty sure they were original.

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  4. "I wonder if some people would have insisted that I leave the crumbled brake hoods and disintegrating foam on my vintage Trek"

    Yes. It has to do with a current fashion for "orginality" as a cultural aesthetic and very little to do with actual historicity.

    It is related to the "Anti-Materialist Hyper-Consumerism" I've written about before.

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  5. I love the topic of anti-materialist hyper-consumerism, bring it on!

    Re crumpled brake hoods: About a year ago I met a guy riding a vintage roadbike with unraveling black cloth tape on his handlebars. I asked why he doesn't replace the tape (not out of the blue; we were having a conversation). He gave me a look as if I were insane and informed me that the tape was original to the bike. It was black cloth tape...

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  6. "the tape was original to the bike. It was black cloth tape..."

    And when the tires or brake pads wear out he'll have to find a new bike to ride to maintain its "originality." He just might do just that.

    It's a subject I'm not yet quite sure how to address in short form. We'll have to do coffee some time.

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  7. I put old parts on new frames, new parts on old frames, whatever it takes to get it just right. I've never seen a production bike, new or old, that was set up the way I like.
    Keeping a bike original is only for those who lack imagination!

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  8. This is a fascinating dialog and I'm going to jump in as a serious amateur. I could see taking all three approaches, depending on the bike and its use. What I would do for my commuter v. a weekend joy ride bike are totally different. And I wouldn't ride my commuter in a tweed ride!

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  9. I've taken different approaches to different bikes based on their age.
    I'm not going to ever "rebuild" the 1938 Lady's Tourist, although I might replace the brake shoes. I might swap out the saddle to ride it, while keeping the original saddle in reserve. It's never going to be more than a "parade bike" but fortunately I go to enough bike special events that I hope it will get used every couple of months.
    I wasn't going to mess much with my '71 DL1, but since I now have a more significantly historic version of essentially the same bike, I felt comfortable replacing the front rod brake with a more practical hub brake solution. The Dawn Tourist is somewhere in between. I would like to make it a fair weather rider- with the best braking that rod brakes can provide, and a modern but period appropriate set of tires and saddle, but am reluctant to go much further, again based on it being nearly twice my age.
    And of course Gilbert is a completely bionic version of his original "Sport" self, with completely new paint, components etc to make him as functional as possible.

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  10. I recently gave some "new" 30 year old BMX brakes to a FOF, They were still unused because even 30 years ago they were pretty ineffective. He's putting them on a 1980 Schwinn Sting BMX bike he is building from an unused frameset. I mentioned a couple of the tricks we used to do to make those brakes a little better and he politely listened to me drone on and on till he said he was really only interested in making it "Day 1 perfect" and it was never going to be ridden. He wouldn't even be testing the brakes on the stand because the Araya 7X rims he found for it were still in the paper when He got them and he didn't want marks on them... We finished talking and he waved as he drove down my driveway and we both thought to ourselves, "dumbass".

    I wanted a Sting so bad when I was 14 that if I got my hands on one now I'd probably go break my collarbone on it just like I would have back in 1979. And he's never going to even ride his around his garage. Bikes make some people crazy...

    Spindizzy

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  11. I'm in the camp of doing what you can reasonably do to make the bike safe, comfortable, and fun to ride so that you'll take pleasure in riding it. I just finished restoring/building up a vintage mixte frame and safety, budget, aesthetics, and lifestyle were the considerations for me. For this bike, it means some of the components are original, some just look like they could be, and it has some modern parts because they were what suited my skill level and budget. (I did all of the work myself so I made it easy in some areas like a new Shimano shifter with cable already installed, instead of having exposed cable running through the stops on the frame as I wasn't comfortable with doing that at this time.) It doesn't look quite like its original condition, but more importantly to me, it looks better than when I acquired it and makes riding to work fun!

    And I have to thank Lovely Bicycle for the inspiration to do the restoration and all the tips on incorporating DIY niceties like cork grips.

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  12. I fall into the camp of modern (but not jarring) components on a vintage frame - but I also fall into the camp of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' - so my vintage frames tend to be a mix of original and modern components - especially in the brake/lever/headset department.

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  13. It is very nice and refreshing to read that people are restoring their bikes the way they want to and there has been no mention of resale value! I am very impressed and filled with admiration!

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  14. Great post!

    I'm in the Updated Remix Approach and I have to say that after updating the wheel and cassette on my 80s fuji, I'm in heaven. I struggled a bit at the thought of giving up the freewheel, but everyone seemed to say get a new wheel. Luckily the old ones are still serving a great purpose on another bike! But there is part of me that looks at somervillian's beautiful bikes and want to build up something like his Shogun. The thrill of the ebay hunt is exciting!

    i have neither enough money or space for bikes that I will not ride, so there are certain limitations to what I take on.

    funny thing is that with winter coming, I'm actually beating DOWN a bike to the point where I don't really care about it.

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  15. JP Twins - My most beat up bike right now is my Raleigh DL-1, which ironically I cannot bear to ride in the winter!

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  16. JimP - While it doesn't always work out that way in practice, when I buy a bike I don't intend for it to be sold until after I'm dead. I'm not much concerned about resale value at that point; and while I'm alive I like to ride them, so I make them suitable for me to ride; not somebody else.

    I had a small argument with a friend once over the philosophy of zoning. One of his arguments in favor was how the value of his house might be affected (which was not exactly on point, as I was not taking a position against in the first place).

    I pointed out that the value of his house is that it houses him. "Value" and "price" are not synonyms and it is an interesting cultural observation that they are more and more treated as if they are.

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  17. great topic! i've taken various approaches to restoration / rehabilitation of old bikes. i can't say that i have much of a "guiding philosophy" directing how i will approach each bicycle that i acquire; it depends on how each bike "speaks to me" and what my ultimate vision is. of course, none of my bikes have any significant rarity or historical significance, so it's not like i'm doing history a disservice. if i were to find a bike that was historically "important", i would think very carefully about my restoration plan. most probably, it would involve nothing more than preservation techniques as opposed to any real rehabbing. but for regular old production bikes, i have no moral stance on how to modify them. much of it is whim.

    i would add a loose 5th category, which is a variation of the re-mix strategy, which is the modification of a bike without regard to period-correctness or style, but retaining a nationality (let's call it "remix with heritage retention"). for example, for my jeunet pictured above, i turned a road bike into a 'porteur' city bike. however, i wanted to retain as much "french" character as possible, and used parts of french origin, despite discrepencies in period-correctness; it's got a mix of 60s, 70s, 80s, and new parts on it (and of course, there are a few bits and pieces from taiwan and japan on the bike, but it was mostly unavoidable!). is there any justifiable or rational argument for wanting to keep a bike of specific "origin" despite remixing components and vintages? probably not, given the globalization of manufacture these days, but it was just something i wanted to do, and so i did it.

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  18. kfg-- good point about value (monetary versus personal).

    it's always confused me why houses on flat lots with no trees are worth more than houses on hilly lots with mature growth. to me, flat, barren lots without shade trees feel depressing and exposed, yet they increase the monetary value of a home. i guess the value is in the potential for an owner to do anything they want with the lot, but still to me a house with hilly land with majestic shade trees and hidden paths through mature growth is a lot more "valuable" to me.

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  19. I guess I forgot that I do have 1 bicycle that is historically significant - the 1936 Raleigh Tourist I was given last year. I don't count it among one of my bicycles, because it is not ridable and might never be - precisely because I am not sure how to go about refurbishing (or not refurbishing) it. Everything on the bicycle is original and 100% intact, except for the crumbling grips. A part of me would really like to do this to it, get it in working order, and ride it - while a part of me wants to leave it exactly as is and perhaps donate it to a museum some day.

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  20. somervillain / kfg - The thing is, that emotionally I almost always feel that I will keep the bicycle forever at time of acquisition, but statistically that has not been the case; some bicycles I have kept and others ended up leaving me cold after an initial period of romance. So I am beginning to take that into considerations as well when making changes. Of course the trouble is that I cannot really determine how much I like a bike until I set it up the way I like it...

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  21. My late mother's 1975 Raleigh 3-speed was in great condition and had lots of sentimental value, but I couldn't ride it: for starters, the seat and handlebars were too low. I liked the step-through frame, but the seat was uncomfortable. A Brooks saddle, handlebar and seat extensions, cork grips and new tires made all the difference. However, although I will never sell it, I kept all the parts I removed from the all-original Raleigh.
    http://affordableluxuryblog.com

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  22. I love that so many people have the lovely DL-1! Mine is a '73 in pretty good condition and came with all original parts but is still not appropriate enough to be a true commuter because of the rod brakes. Yet, ironically, I think it has an overall better ride quality because of the giant wheels than a lot of other modern commuter bikes. It also handles rough terrain nicely because of the fat tyres. So, necessarily, this causes a lot of internal conflict as in I "want" to use the bike for more practical purposes but it doesn't really work out.

    Anyway, I take a conservative approach to restoration that is based mostly on a) what I can afford at the time and b) what I consider to be a priority based on the bicycle's intended use. For the '79 Cameo, that involved things to get it into rideable condition, new brakes, grips, tyres, rear rack, wire mesh basket and re-greasing the headset and hub and general tune up. For this bike I opted for practicality over asthetic but kept a lot of the original parts in place. The beauty of the older bikes is that they really weren't designed to be upgraded constantly so if your bike has been preserved in decent condition, you can really work with the original parts to get a well functioning daily rider.

    With the DL-1, I chose to go with asthetics and practicality (which usually indicates a bit more expense) in the form of Schwalbe Delta cream tyres, cork grips, mechanical brass bell, new B66 saddle, new brake pads....I'll even admit to shellacing a front wicker basket to match said grips. ;) The hope was to invest in quality parts that also added a lot to the overall appearance and vintage "feel". My eventual hope with the bike is to do something about the rod brake impracticalities as well as installing a rear rack in keeping with the original asthetic.

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  23. Somervillain - I think the mixed origins of almost all modern bikes is one of the reasons to have some concern about maintaining origins of a vintage bike from countries that have lost their native bike building culture. Since it isn't something that can be purchased it is something to give some thought to maintaining where it already exists.

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  24. I have a frankenstein bike, with all sorts of parts salvaged from craigslist and junkyards which consist of a mens 1960s gazelle sports frame, hercules handlebars, full chain guard from yellow jersey, cream tires, gold chain, rudge chain wheel, custom fabricated front rack, phillips lamp bracket and a new 67 brooks. I get the weirdest looks from collectors. It gets loved and ridden often, all 45+lbs of it. I also have a 78 Tourist original from head to toe, but the frankenbike is a much funner, better ride for some reason.

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  25. I've done a mix of all of the above, but right now my greatest pleasure is coming from a classic Italian racing frame that I recently rebuilt w/all-new Campy components and new wheels. Beautiful bike, rides like a dream, and the parts can always be re-used on a new frame if I want. While pricey, this rebuild was partly funded by patiently selling off the original Campy parts, piece by piece, on eBay.

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  26. I like to preserve Period and Origin on my bikes if it's not too much trouble. But even if I obtained a rare Cinelli frame, I'd change out the tubulars for clenchers. And I don't hesitate to use Sun polished rims instead of buying NOS Mavics. On my French bike, preserving Origin is often dictated rather than optional, especially headset, stem and bottom bracket (threading and fork size constraints.) But I went ahead and put a Stronglight crank on it instead of a Campy, even though either would be correct. But I put a Campy rder instead of the original Simplex because it works better and polishes up nicer. (and the dropout was already threaded anyway.) Tires, tubes, tape, brake pads and even hoods: disposable items. Bite me if they aren't original.

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  27. MFarrington - I have a 1973 DL-1 as well, which I use for transportation in the town where our photo studio is. We installed a coaster brake in addition to the rod brakes, which has solved the braking issues.

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  28. when it comes to "origin" preservation, my shogun randonneur comes closest to purity: just about everything on the bike is japanese, except for the powder coating, tubes, bar tape, saddle, chain, and cables. however, being a japanese bike from the immediate post-bike boom era, original japanese parts are more abundant and easier to source than, say, french or italian parts.

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  29. Velouria, if you don't mind my asking, what is the difficulty/expense involved in installing a coaster brake hub? I'm thinking that would involve an entire rear wheel rebuild, correct?

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  30. Here's one that has been kept in original Untouched condition.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Montgomery-Hawthorne-Bicycle-/300477884579?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item45f5e0a8a3

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  31. If I ever doubted the value of restoring a bike to as close as like new as possible I would have instantly changed my mind upon seeing Somervillians restored 1978 Raleigh Competition G.S. in his flicker album. My first real roadbike (and only complete new bike I've ever bought) was a 1979 just like it only in the (too large for me)25" frame size. I was 15 and it was a magic carpet for a restless kid in rural south Texas. If going back in time is as simple as spending a couple of hundred hours and a small pile of dollars than I think it should be encouraged.

    What a neat bike.

    Spindizzy

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  32. I lean towards period appropriate and update remix. I do have a 60's or 70's? raleigh that I plan to leave as is as it was kept somewhere in remarkable condition but it might need new tires. One thing I did do was change the freewheel so I could actually ride it where I need to and where I live. I have a gitane that I was going to overhaul but realized many of the original parts were in excellent condition so I will instead gone for period appropriate parts as much as possible with new alloy wheels, new crank set, bottom bracket and rear cogset if necessary. I was lucky to find many french bits at the bike coop.
    I have another bike a steel trek 420 that will be a mix of age appropriate and new. I was lucky to find some lovely golden arrow shimano components and some lovely vintage dia compe brakes and brake levers at the bike coop. I might by a new crankset if I can't find a decent one at the coop.
    I definitely see the need and appreciate the devotion to full restoration as it helps bring old bikes back to life. All original is okay for certain bikes of rarity and value, but it's also a shame to let a bike go to pot just because UNLESS it is ridable if only in good weather. Period appropriate projects are great because if on a budget you can scour parts at the bike coops, ebay etc, while in some cases more modern parts are better. I'm all for giving a solid steel frame a new lease on life if it means putting classy or super modern parts or whatever. One could build up an ugly bike as a cheap beater bad weather bike, and also have a lovely bicycle. I spend a huge amount of money on a new bike and would have been happier rebuilding a lovely frame with modern parts.
    Heather

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  33. This is a fascinating topic. Yikes. What was I thinking when I replaced my vintage tattered bar tape? A thumbs up to Sommervillain on his beautiful bikes. Another issue: If you're restoring a French bike, which I am now, those odd-sized parts can be a challenge to find.

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  34. Ok, folks, I need your bicycle-guru advice here, and this post is particularly approrpiate for my query. Out of habit, I skim the bike ads on Craigslist, hoping to come across some treasure that I can use as a transportation/utility bike. Well, that treasure might have come in the form of a 1978 Raleigh Lady's Tourist 3-speed (http://houston.craigslist.org/bik/2091810729.html), with a lugged steel loop frame, fenders, partial chainguard, swept-back handlebars, Brooks sprung leather saddle, coaster back brake, and rod brakes (!) in the front. The price: $75. The catch: it's in a rather pathetic state of repair - the rod brakes don't work at all, the saddle is disintegrating, the chain and some of the hardware is rusty, the gears won't shift, and the original tires would probably need replacing. With repair, a good cleaning, and the addition of lights and a rack, it would be pretty much perfect for my needs right now. However, I don't really *need* a bicycle per se right now, as I live within walking distance of work/shopping/school, and as far as I know all of the local bike shops deal only with repairs to sporty newer bikes. So, is it worth it? I wouldn't be able to purchase it for about a week anyway, but would it be a good investment or too ambitious of a restoration project for a beginner? Save me from my impulsive buying habits with your wisdom!

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  35. As an investment it's a poor one. You'll never get back the money you put into it, never mind something extra for your time and work. It will likely cost you more than a new bike. It is neither very old or at all rare. In fact it's an undesirable year. It's just a used bike. A broken used bike.

    If you don't need a bike now, keep looking. Sooner or later you'll find something similar in ridable condition for the same price. You want something from the 50s or 60s. The quality was notably higher.

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  36. I like the updated / remix approach too; it seems to me to be (for me) an optimal combination of respect and practicality. I'm slowly taking this approach with my vintage Bianchi mixte (well, taking a light touch; if the components are still working well, I am not replacing them just because there's something more efficient on the market, but the shifters, handlebars, pedals, etc are all getting "refreshed."

    I must say, however, that I always startle myself when thinking of this bicycle as vintage -- when I bought it as a university student years ago. I do not wish to think of myself as vintage!

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  37. Thanks, kfg! Yes, it does seem like it's not a match made in heaven. I'll keep an eye out for older, better models.

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  38. To me personally, the "restore" and "period-appropriate" approaches are the most interesting, but the remix approach is the most practical. I am simply unable to use the old non-aero brake levers, for instance, which pretty much eliminates riding period-correct roadbikes. Also, searching for the "right" components takes a lot of time. But if I could, I would - and I admire those who do fantastic restoration jobs.

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  39. Jeanette - "I do not wish to think of myself as vintage!"

    Could be worse, I suddenly find myself being listed as "antique" on CL. Even my momma ain't antique quite yet.

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  40. I don't do vintage for vinatage's (Is that a word?) sake. However, I do prefer lugged steel frames, downtube shifters, clipped pedals, leather saddles, canvas bags and a few other "retro" or retro-inspired bike items.

    On the other hand, modern shifters, brakes and lights almost always work better than their older counterparts. And today one can find nice lightweight clincher rims and tires that give a responsive and pleasant ride that approaches, if not replicates, that of tubular (sew-up) tires and rims.

    Also, I like to see improvements in the "retro" designs I've liked. I just bought a fine example: the White Industries pedal, which takes the best features of the Lyotard Berthet pedal and is made of better materials. And I'd like to think that Brooks is noticing Gyes and other companies that are marketing all-leather saddles. While my steed consists of three Brooks B-17 saddles (two narrow, one standard) and the design has worked for many cyclists over a century, it's not perfect, any more than anything else is. And it's, like other retro stuff, is not right for everybody.

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  41. Love this topic! I have a number of projects on the go, and like @somervillain, my approach to each has been dictated by what the bicycle itself wants. I enjoy the chase of finding period-appropriate same-maker-or-same-country-of-origin NOS accessories and parts, when it seems like the bike needs it, but in the end I'm primarily interested in making a bicycle more rideable, useful, and beautiful. I have one bike frame (a rusty postwar Rollfast) where I think cleaning it and then clearcoating to preserve the patina in its current state is the right thing to do, and NOS part rarity means that modern fenders that fit will have to do. However, I've never gotten my mitts on a bike rare enough to be worthy of either a museum-quality full restoration or a don't-touch-anything conservation approach.

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  42. Velouria,

    This topic is timely because I just finished up a bike project for my wife. I bought a 1980's Lotus Challenger Mixte that was in excellent shape to begin with - so we decided to just add things like fenders/saddle/bag/bar tape/bell that looked classic and kept it neat/decent looking. But for practicality's sake I added reflective tape onto the spokes and bought a blinky rear light and front light - for safer NYC riding.
    Thanks for the article on mixtes! It was so helpful in buying this bike!
    Check it out here: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?699364-My-wife-s-Lotus-Challenger-SX-Mixte-(Thanks-Bike-Forums!!)

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  43. An important part of this discussion is "Intended Use".

    Are we talking about a day-to-day rider or a sunny-day-ride-along-the-Charles machine?

    If the latter, I say keep it as original as possible while maintaining a safe ride.

    At a bike show, I’m always drawn to original cycles with faded decals and a natural patina.
    It’s only original once.

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  44. Great posts. I love all types of bikes. I ride an 1899 Bellingham Bike with wood rims. Had to make my own tires out of old dutch tires (back then the tires and tubes were one) just so I could ride it in the parades and tweed rides. I also just got back my old 1899 pope rear steer tandem. Back then the lady went first but the gentleman had to have the control.I just put newer tires on it so I could ride it in the next tweed ride. I still ride my 1955 Libertas that I have had since I was 12 now 55. I have updated the tires and rims at least 10 times over the years now has woobler rims with vintage phil wood hubs and campy skewers, just rode it in the Tour du whatcom. I think the important thing is to enjoy them whether you just like to look at them or ride them and remember what it feels to be 12 again. Dean Bellingham, Wa. Our motto Welcome to Bellingham Now get on your BIKE.

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  45. I work as a mechanic at what Ai like to think of as Minnesota's biggest vintage Raleigh 3-speed dealer (Sunrise Cyclery). Your observations AFAICT are spot-on. I would like to tell readers of your blog that the details you espouse (and we have it on good authority that both God and the Devil are in the details, which is theologically unsound but personally interesting) are well-advised and widely available.

    So you want to buy a bike, you see one on the local CL, and you want to get it tuned up. How do you find a good LBS? Call them up and ask if they have anyone on staff who can rebuild a Sturmey AW. It will take 30 seconds out of your day; and if they dither, you have your answer. It is an everyday acid test that will convey volumes of information.

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  46. I have many bikes, all of which fall into different the categories, depending on how I wished to use it. So long as a bike is being used and enjoyed, does anyone really give a shit about the paint scheme or the components used?

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  47. If you're really lucky when you buy an untouched original-state bike, you might even get the original handbook. In that book it'll say to keep the pain & chrome clean, oil & grease various doodads, and REPLACE WORN PARTS AS NECESSARY. So you could argue that when parts become worn/broken/unsafe, the most true-to-original approach to an old bike is to take it to pieces, give it all a damned good clean,and put it back together, using new or at least more modern parts where the originals are too far gone. That way at least you can use the thing. After all, if a bike sits unridden in a shed, it it really still a bike, or a pile of worn bike parts?

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  48. I enjoyed reading this article and the different "methodologies" for bicycle restoration. Indeed, I'm not sure which one I would be - probably a bit of updated remix meets period-appropriate (depending on my budget and availability of needed items).

    I have only just begun revisiting my childhood love of cycling. By no means am I an avid cyclist - I am more a "fairweather" local bicycling person. I was very lucky to find a deal on a 1984 Raleigh 3-speed in very good condition. As fate may have it, a few weeks later it was our town's "Spring Cleanup" and while driving around I spotted the big brother of my bike - same colour, similar decals and age! Sadly, he had apparently lived near the waterfront and must have been stored outside for many, many years. He had heavy rust in so many places, and the tires were literally crumbling. I had doubts the 3-speed hub was in any better shape than the rest of the chrome. This put the project beyond the reach of my amateur ambitions! Even the metal parts on the seat were covered in rust, although later I realized I may have been able to salvage that to some extent. After cannibalizing the bike for a Pletscher rack and a couple of other spare pieces to use on mine, with a heavy heart I put it back out on the sidewalk (from where someone promptly collected it!). I figured it was far too big of a project for this amateur to take on, and sadly in its All-Original state I doubt the bike was ride-able. To me, a bike needs to be ridden (perhaps with the exception of those rusty oldies that people occasionally use for odd garden decorations).

    I really regret not being able to take on the project. At the time I had only just started to read a few articles on bikes and even now I still don't know where to go for tips and hints on restoration.

    Did I do the right thing? I am hoping that bike was taken by someone who had the intent to restore it - and would have loved to have seen what it looked like when finished! The thought that it may have gone to the scrappers just makes me feel so guilty!

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  49. If I were putting a really old bicycle back on the road, I'd prefer to retain its external patina (unless it qualified as a total rustbucket) while making sure that all the bearings were spot on. As the latter would hopefully have been kept greased or oiled, I'd even prefer to retain the original ball bearings, if they were serviceable, as they'd probably be of better quality than new equivalents. New tyres would be chosen to be inconspicuously new, as would any new cables, etc. I don't cycle in the rain nowadays, so I don't share some people's horror of steel rims. If I get caught in a shower, I just adjust my speed to the conditions until I get home. Aluminium rims would be prejudicial to the appearance of a vintage bike, unless it had them originally. I once bought some new steel wheels which, in an attempt to improve their braking efficiency, had little diamond-shaped grooves punched in the rims all around the braking surfaces. These did stop better. However, when you applied the brakes in dry weather, they emitted a howling sound so loud that everybody within a quarter-mile radius looked around. They went through brake blocks rapidly as well, and created lots of red dust.

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  50. I recently picked up my first set of Vintage bikes. 1) 66 Mercier Mixte 2) 85 Schwinn Passage. Passage for my boyfriend and Mercier for myself. I am letting him "update" his bike however he likes but here is my approach...

    1) I cleaned up my bike as as well possible then assessed what I needed for it.

    2) I tried to find the original replacement/upgrade parts for the bike.

    3) If I could not find the original I tried to find time period appropriate parts for the bike, that would look nice.

    4) If all else failed I purchased new parts or accessories that I liked, possibly not even looking vintage at all. (Really only the bell and basket... because I could only find unattractive vintage ones)

    Personally I would not consider re-painting my bike. Yes, it's does have some scratches/wear. But I like that, I only tried to do necessary repairs/upgrades. However I do agree with people who re-paint there bikes. Especially when they are covered in scratches, dings and rust... mine just seems to be in "perfect" used shape for me, it adds personality.

    I am not going to lie though, it does make me a little sad seeing an amazing vintage frame, repainted some unfitting color, gutted, turned into a fixie and replaced with all new components.... I think "wow that would look gorgeous in all it's 10 speed glory" however I still have respect for the people who do that, and they do look nice. It just seems like a downgrade to me...

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  51. While I have yet to start on any,I have a few vintage projects. None of them are particularly rare or significant though,so I will most likely go the period correct where I can.

    I enjoyed this post (as I do most vintage refurbish/restore/leave it alone bike posts across the web),and enjoyed reading all the comments as well :)

    Steve

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  52. I only skimmed the other posts so forgive me if I am repeating something here. I think it is great that you can buy a 50 year old steel framed something or other and upgrade it with modern parts. Undoubtedly modern components are better if for no other reason than that they are newer and should have tighter tolerance than their vintage counterparts. I personally take pride in the fact that I resurrected a 25 year old Miyata 112 and have ridden it to and from work for the last few years putting over 12K miles on it. It was just a frame when I bought it but with fresh wheels and components that look period correct it is basically a brand new bike ready to serve me for many years to come.

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    1. If I owned a bike that had won a stage of the Tour de France, I'd keep the ratty old handlebar tape that soaked up a champion's sweat. But I don't own such a bike and that kind of exaggerated reverence for the ones I do own would be silly.

      I've hung onto and enjoy riding a popular, now somewhat collectable French racing bike I bought new in the 70s. I plan to keep it original, meaning neither strictly OEM nor merely generic, neither free of anachronism nor tastelessly re-mixed, neither obsessively over-restored nor compulsively untouched.

      When I first bought the bike, I upgraded as many components as I could, as fast as I could. Too late to change that now, and the bike would be decidedly unoriginal--to me, at least--if I did. It wouldn't be the same old bike at all. I despised the Mafac centerpulls that were noisy, crude, fiddly, and anything but self-centering, so I replaced them with Italian sidepulls within a year of purchase, and eventually swapped in KoolStop pads because stopping shorter seemed like a Good Idea. I loathed the plastic Simplex Criterium derailleurs and quickly replaced them with alloy Simplex Super LJs. I always felt bad when I chipped or scraped the paint.

      What would it mean to undo 39 years of deliberate improvements? It would mean spoiling an original to fake an original. On the other hand, what would it mean to undo 39 years of chips and scrapes? It would mean re-experiencing the original joy the bike gave me just to look at. I haven't decided to go "period appropriate" but to respect choices appropriately and originally made in the period, not at all the same thing. I have no fetish to leave the material object untouched, however; the last time I believed it was bad luck to step on a crack in the sidewalk was, oh, dunno, about the time I learned to ride without training wheels.

      What I won't touch or change is the way I originally went about using and caring for my first quality bicycle. I'm going to have it painted but I'm also going to keep it original in the sense that the way I always maintained it is the way I will continue maintaining it, first and last.

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  53. hello
    i just came across your blog just today and i must say i like it. i have a personal request if i may: can you please point me to some internet sites where i can find original or replica decals? i have an '87 peugeot PHE20 that i want to restore :) thank you

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    1. Greg Softly, Austrialia
      gts753 eBay name.

      or

      Lloyd's in England
      http://hlloydcycles.com/

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  54. Well, I usually take a preservation/restoration approach. If the bike is in poor condition, I would restore it, but if its in serviceable condition, I would clean up the original components and service the bike. (New grease will still protect original bearings) I departed with that philosophy on a my dream bike, which I've been planning since I was a kid. It is a 1923 Mead Ranger Motorbike, that I would describe as an "Adaptive Rehabilitation," borrowing a Historic Preservation term used on buildings that have been partially preserved, and partially modified to suit a new use. The Mead Ranger was one of the top of the line bicycles in its day, being electrically equipped, with high end saddles, half inch pitch chain, tank, carrier, pump, etc. I removed the wood wheels (but kept them, of course), and the probably non original handlebars, and added a set of 28x1 1/2 Roadster Wheels with cream tires, mated with Dynamo Drum Brake in the front, and a Nexus 8 Speed coaster brake in the rear. I added a set of reproduction wide handlebars to give a more original appearance, as the ones that came with the bike were too puny. I also saved the original saddle (A Troxel Aristocrat, which is exceedingly comfortable, but not in fine shape) but added a quite springy Dutch saddle for upright comfort. If you're interested, check it out. It's awesome flying down the road on an 89 year old bike.

    http://s1183.photobucket.com/albums/x479/elginkid/1923%20Mead%20Ranger/

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  55. Great discussion. I just happened across it as I was trying to decide whether to put the carrier (rack) back on my old 1930's British 3 speed. I bought it complete with sturmey quadrant shifter, working dynamo lights , with front and rear drum brakes. However everything was rusty or dirty and had been hand painted before. The period approach to make a daily ride to work bike (as I believe it was) has resulted in a bike that should last another fifty years. It's not that special because thousands were made, but it should now remain intact rather than broken and sold in pieces. I have several other projects and think that all of the above options have merits, anything that preserves a machine that can be appreciated , even on the wall of the workshop. IMHO

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  56. I think your final sentence summed it up well - all approaches are valid. My 1973 Alex Singer is a bike I ride, so it features a SON hub and Edelux headlight, as well as clipless pedals. I tried to keep all components silver to match the originals. I also converted it from a triple to a double (but with a classic TA crank) to suit my riding style.

    On the other hand, when we feature a bike in one of our books, I want them to be all-original, as much as possible.

    The 1965 Cinelli on the cover of our 2013 calendar

    http://www.bikequarterly.com/images/books_calendar_2013_front.jpg

    does have its original handlebar tape, but I reglued the ends before it went to the photo shoot. I also helped the owner find a correct rear derailleur instead of the one that it wore when I first saw it (a plastic Simplex that is period-correct but not original).

    The Singer is great for riding, but never would make it onto a calendar. The Cinelli also is great for riding, but deserves to be preserved in as it was when new. It's a bike you can look at and know "that is how they were back then." If anybody ever wants to restore one, they can use it as a template. I am glad it is being preserved like that.

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  57. I enjoy restoring classic, Italian, steel racing frame-sets. The ones I can generally find and afford are not (yet) highly collectable. The restoration candidates are WAY beyond the patina stage and often have been poorly repainted. I refinish them in original colors I see on the same models. Often I re-plate the fork partially or entirely. Reproduction decals are accurate and far more durable than original, as is the paint. I used to do complete rebuilds with later-model Campy components but that has become uneconomic. There is also a high liability associated with selling bikes.
    The satisfaction of bringing a fine Italian frame-set back to its original beauty is fun. I just picked up an Olmo Pista from the painter this past Saturday and got a kick out of the assembly, applying the decal and filling the lug openings with a complimentary color.
    Finding customers who appreciate the artisan uniqueness and riding qualities of these frames is also heartening. How they eventually build them or don't is not my concern. Everyone who has built them to ride has been very happy.

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  58. My favorite "exercise bike" is a 1975 Peugeot UO8 that rolls about 30-50 miles a week. I've had it since I was 15, and . . . we'll, I've pedaled a lot of miles since then. This bike is a joy to ride, with its comfy geometry. Long gone is the cottered steel crank, replaced with Sugino. The cup-and-cone bottom bracket has been renewed. The Ava "stem of death" is Nitto Technomic now. The original rear derailleur is now a Shimano Deore, and the wheels are modern alloy. Really, the only things that are original are the Mafac Racer centerpulls, frame and forks, headset, and pedals. I think that those who designed the UO8 meant to make it affordable for big sales in America, and there's evidence in the Peugeot line of that time that you could turn low-end 10-speeds into pretty nice bikes with a few good component choices. We can make those choices today and make some older bikes what their designers knew they could be. I can't see this being a sin, though I might think twice before "upgrading" a mint PX-10.

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  59. Great post! I recently, last spring renovated my PX - 10 LE, "the Steed for Speed". With new components from Velo Orange, headset, hubs, sealed bottom bracket, she is faster and smoother than ever! I love riding her, the frame soaks up the bumps and the new bottom bracket makes hill climbing smooooth! No flex in the bottom end like with the old cup and cone BB. I enjoyed reading everyone else's thoughts. Thanks!

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  60. I'd say take a look at the hotrod hobby. Car guys do everything from leaving a historically significant race or production car completely original, to taking a car to places it was never intended for - i.e., lowriders, drag racers, etc. Seems like the bicycle guys are doing the same thing. I'm with you, everyone's different, just realize that and go with it.

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  61. Enjoyed your post and the comments. Restoring a 1949 Schwinn B6 straight bar ballooner with locking springer fork for my 15 year old. Enjoying the project and rescuing this bike from further destruction. Amazingly it is all original. Some parts have to be replaced as they are worn out. Other parts are being rechromed and the frame will be painted painted like new using stencils found on ebay.

    Yes there are various schools of thought. But this bike was just to beautiful to leave as a worn beater bike. It deserves as second life.

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  62. Even us humans renew our cells every few years (I've heard) but somehow we retain our identity.
    I think a bike as a museum piece is kind of sad, like a taxidermed animal.

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  63. hi I have a 1950s tricycle I want to restore I have little info on it were can I post a picture,, any help appreciated

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