Tuesday, May 22, 2012

N.O.S.

Sturmey Archer Quadrant Shifter
Oh, that sweet acronym that makes collectors tremble with anticipation! NOS stands for "new old stock." Parts that survived generations unused and untarnished. Parts that look and function now as they did on the day they were new. 

It is not often one sees the status NOS preceded by a date in the 1930s. But the things I have seen appear in the hands of collector Chris Sharp over the past week... new old stock chased rubber grips, rod brake handlebars, carbide lamps, original roadster bells, sculptural quadrant shifters... Stunned out of my wits I could only wonder where on earth such things come from 80 years past their hey day.

Up until a few years ago there were bicycle shops in Ireland and the UK that still had spare parts left from way, way back in the day. Usually these shops were run by generations of the same family, never changing owners or locations, which is what made such stockpiling possible. Bikes that went unsold and parts that went unused had been piling up in the cellars and back rooms of these shops for decades, undisturbed. Then one by one, these places closed. And when they did, they would liquidate. Local collectors would then buy out a shop's entire inventories of parts from specific periods or manufacturers. Some bike shops owners were themselves classic bicycle enthusiasts, in which case unsold inventories from decades past turned into personal collections. 

It was sad to learn about the last of the old bicycle shops closing in Northern Ireland. But also good to know that there are locals who are dedicated to preserving the things salvaged from them.  

I used to think that the purpose of the NOS market was to feed a collector's high, and did not really appreciate NOS bikes and parts myself. After all, I ride all my bicycles, so anything NOS would be wasted on me - its status immediately obliterated through use. But now I understand that new old stock has value: It affords a rare opportunity to appreciate vintage bicycles not just from our current perspective - as old, well-used things covered in mud and rust - but in their original splendor, as the highly coveted machines they once were. 

29 comments:

  1. That is sad to hear of the last NI old-time shop closing. It's something very common in our country, as those types of business almost never seem to last more than three generations of the same family.

    I think I too would be gasping as one jewel after another were revealed to me.
    I would love to see pictures of the grips, if you have any...

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  2. No time to read the post yet, but that is a gorgeous photo!

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    1. did you desaturate this one,.. the colors make it look almost like a vintage photograph?

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    2. Thanks. It's a low light capture.
      ISO 800, f 2.8, 1/60
      I did not manipulate the colours.

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  3. I've owned, used and sold many NOS parts over the last two decades and some are my favorite "to use" parts even today: TA 5 Pro Vis cranks for singles, wonderful Shimano 600 and SunTour Superbe Pro single pivots, wide profile Shimano cantis; Campy Record headsets. Others are pretty but don't work as well: SunTour VGT rds, Mafac cantis, tandem or single models. My attitude is to choose what works best for my purposes in a given application and, within this set, to choose what looks prettiest -- I have a tender feeling toward silver metal, nicely polished.

    OTOH, I am quite willing that other NOS parts be put away in collectors' cases, such as the Benelux rd I build my first derailleur bike from and the NOS Cyclo rd that local shop owner, collector and misanthrope Dick Hallet showed me: 2 lb of pure blacksmithery! Not to mention my first bicycle headlamp, a genuine, then-still-in-production oil burner that put out 5 whopping lumens, plus smoke, that I bought in Bangalore age 11 or 12. It fit, like the carbides, on the "L" bracket at the headset of my rod brake roadster on a spring-mounted clip.

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    1. "my first bicycle headlamp, a genuine, then-still-in-production oil burner that put out 5 whopping lumens, plus smoke, that I bought in Bangalore age 11 or 12"

      Wow. Have you got pictures?

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    2. Sorry, that was long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Wish I'd kept it, but I was 11/12 and that was (I am embarrassed to say) 1966 or 1967.

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  4. I am like you and ride all of my bikes, even the collectable ones. Still I like to get NOS parts when I can, because that way I know they have not been crashed or damaged. This is especially true of things like brakes, cranksets and handlebars.

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    1. About that: Are NOS parts not still structurally weaker than new parts? I remember being told that some components grow brittle with age even if unused.

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    2. was that someone trying to sell you some new parts?

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    3. Some NOS parts are notorious for the lack of durability, but others are opposite. For example, there are a lot of plastic Simplex front derailleurs that are made from compounds that cannot withstand the aging process. However, when I find a Huret Duopar Titanium, or Campagnolo Rally rear derailleur in NOS condition, I will grab it as they are my favorite derailleurs for their durability and performance (however, NOS Huret Duopars have recently been priced out of my budget).

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    4. The OP is my rationale for buying NOS as well and one I find shared by ex-bike shop employees. The age of durable, interoperable by design or in a pinch parts - plastic Simplex bits not withstanding - seemed to me to end in the early 90's.

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    5. They grow brittle with age if unused? Hmmmm. I must be dead by now.

      Nothing on this subject can be stated with total certainty. Bicycle parts use a large array of alloys and the quality control was/is usually sketchy. All I know is I break new parts a lot easier than old parts. There are a fair number of airplanes still in service built in the thirties and forties of the last century. For ordinary commercial use a twenty year old plane is no big deal.

      Most of the NOS old parts anyone is likely to use have track records. If you put hen's teeth on a daily ride sure something could happen. I use Weinmann and Mafac brakes currently. I see forty and fifty year old bikes all the time that use these brakes. Lots of them. Schwinns. Peugeots. Except as crash damage I've never seen or even heard of a Weinmann or Mafac brake arm casting coming apart. If in doubt, be cautious. General panic is not called for.

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    6. Don - No, no one was trying to sell me anything. This is an opinion I've heard from a number of people who are weary of old parts.

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    7. Depends on the part. Some of the old stuff was mass manufactured to sell at low cost. Not good then, not good now.

      Other components - the MaxiCar hubs on my Coast, Campy Super Record derailers and brake levers on my Spectrum are as well made and durable as anything on the market today.

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    8. Rubber and plastic parts grow brittle with age: brake pads, tires, hand grips, and old Simplex derailleurs (not the LJ's).

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  5. Some time back I bought this early century kerosene headlamp:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/47566811@N03/5990785434/
    Unused, no oil in it wick like new. After a time sitting on my desk I decided I was not the keeper of unused things for future generations. The thing is a joy to use, there's fire, heat, smoke! It's fabulous! It's interesting to experience how people would use these things.

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    1. Beautiful lamp, thanks for the picture link!

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  6. Not all NOS parts are outrageously expensive. I picked up a pair of Simplex downtube shifters on ebay for $18. They had never been used and even came with shift cables. But I decided to put on new cables because the older ones had corroded and looked like they would have bound up inside the housing.
    Thanks, Velouria, for so many excellent posts from your travels.
    MT Cyclist

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    1. Hope you used euro cables with the smaller end because if you did not, they could get jammed in.

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  7. Yes, I used the smaller end on the set of universal cables.

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  8. There is something beautiful about old parts, NOS or used. To find an old part means vintage bikes can remain on the road. In Salt Lake City years ago a bike shop owner dug in his basement to come up with a chain ring for my husband's 70s Peugeot, allowing us to continue our cross-country journey. And recently I bought a clamp from eBay to fit a Mafac brake that I inadvertently broke.

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  9. V. i think your right old does not always mean good. I don't like how some people who get their hands on N.O.S. are more interested in making money. Market demand i guess but some classic items make silly money. It's good when proper enthusiasts get their hands on it.

    KS.

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    1. I agree. It's sad to see parts of a collection sold off on ebay to the highest bidder.

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  10. None of my NOS parts are sold the only way I part with them is to help a friend get a machine back on the road. Sadly not everybody is in the same mode and some so called collectors deal in parts asking unreasonable money for bits.

    Chris531

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  11. It was a different time. Things were built with the intention they last and could even be passed to the next generation. Folks repaired their machines instead of throwing them in the trash. Sounds kind of "green" doesn't it?

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  12. I NOS for my bikes all the time and love the feel of truly finding something that not only looks age appropriate for my vintage bikes, but IS age appropriate. As to the comment about old NOS being fragile, depends on the part and what it was made out of. Plastics don't age well, most metals do.

    Aaron

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  13. You know, if you construct a bike (or car or motorcycle or aeroplane)completely out of NOS parts, wear only vintage clothing and ride it on a road that hasn't been improved since the date of manufacture of the newest item in your outfit, than YOU WILL TRAVEL BACK IN TIME!!!! It TOTALLY works. I've done it.

    You can also time travel by chewing the gum you find under the back seats of old abandoned cars, although in that case I think it might just be hallucination . I met Jimmy Hendrix, Squeaky Fromme and Thomas Jefferson that way once. We got tacos and then just cruised around, it was nice. Thomas couldn't keep his hands off Squeaky and it sorta got weird after a while but it's a day I'll always remember...

    But, yeah, the NOS deal, that's legit...

    Spindizzy

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  14. "You can also time travel by chewing the gum you find under the back seats of old abandoned cars"

    Ewwww : )

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