Thursday, August 21, 2014

Knowing When to Let Go: Are Old Bikes Always Worth Rescuing?

Bikes of Westport
Sometimes I think I'm a bad influence. Like, when a friend phones last week, excited by her two-wheeled vintage find. "You'll appreciate this - I think it's a mixte!" She texts over a picture. 

"What do you think?"

"Hmmm…" I reply.

"???"

" Did you buy it already?"

"Yea… why?"

"Fork's bent."

" :((( "

Now, I've owned a bike with a bent fork before - a beautiful vintage Gazelle. It rode great for the 2 years I had it and continues to ride great for the current owner. But in this case, I could tell from the picture that the fork at the very least would need straightening by someone who knew what they were doing. That, plus a few other problems I could readily see, made me think my friend was not equipped to deal with the work required to bring this bike to ridable condition. Sadly, at this point she was already attached to the idea that this specific bicycle was meant for her. So she shlepped it to a bike shop and asked for an estimate. I suspect the 4-figure quote they gave her was only half-serious and mainly meant to discourage her (a topic for another time, this!). But in any case, that was the end of it. Having paid very little for the bike to begin with my friend counted her losses and donated it to a local co-op. 

But we do not always let go so easily. 

At the moment I myself have two old bikes in the garage that are, quite frankly, probably destined to return from whence they came (the skip!)… But I am not quite ready to admit that yet, instead tinkering with them pathetically and agonising over whether to spend money on replacement parts that will probably do no good. 

Rebecca of velovoice recently documented the saga of her Puch swoopy mixte, which, despite her best efforts could not be made fully road-worthy due to a kinked rear stay. The bike was beautiful and unusual, and everything she had been looking for in a vintage machine, which perhaps made her more optimistic about its viability than she otherwise would have been. But after months of trying, she finally admitted defeat, stripping it for parts and throwing away the frame. Hopefully the parts will find a new home some day.

A former blogger I knew back in Massachusetts bought a sweet-looking vintage 3-speed that seemed to be in perfect condition, only to discover hidden problems that made it unridable. She took it to bike mechanics, and when that did not produce satisfactory results she enrolled in workshops to try and fix it herself. By the time she finally gave up, she was frustrated, exhausted, devastated and disillusioned in vintage bikes as a whole - which was the part I found most disappointing. 

It really is possible to find vintage bikes with few to no problems. And even those that start out worse for wear can be a joy to bring back to life. But a vintage bike can also become a white whale. And so it's important to recognise when to let go - when a restoration project is too much to take on, be it in terms of skills, finances, or even emotional investment. My advice when it comes to buying a vintage bike of unknown provenance? Acknowledge the risk. And don't get attached until you have it assessed. It's no fun to get trapped in an obsessive quest to restore the unrestorable. After all, you could be out riding a functional bike instead! 

62 comments:

  1. Been there too many times (although my first was my best, a Peugeot CFX 10 that is now a single speed with a flip-flop hub that I got for $50). Luckily my garage is full so I am less inclined to pick up projects. Think I am batting about .600 - every third one I end up dumping.

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  2. So true. To see an emotional bike/bike-rider breakup, watch this award-winning video out of Spain. (It won its category in the 2014 Adventure Cycling Bicycle Travel Video Contest.) http://vimeo.com/groups/155805/videos/86075120

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    1. Great video! Thanks for sharing.
      -Anne K.

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  3. Was your friend's bike intended for transportation, as her main bike, or was it a second/extra bike? I do believe if one is on a budget and needs a bike for transportation there are many excellent used options -- but I guess a person like that is rarely emotionally invested in the thing…It's just a thing. Finding a 'project' bike because of some emotional connection or dream is a different matter. Then, as you say, it's a risky relationship. Beware!

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    1. Second/extra bike which she'd let replace the first bike had it worked out. First bike is practical but doesn't tug at the heart strings.

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    2. when all is said and done, i don't get the idea of any one object tugging at the heart strings. i'm passionate about bikes and the bike lifestyle, but still….! my kids continue to remind me i've got to keep moving. i like that, so my old bikes are dust, despite what they meant to me at the time.

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  4. My latest white whale is an early 80s Mercian rescued off ebay that I thought I could fix up on the cheap as a fixed gear. Well, $500+ later, it's me that's in a fix plus it's really too small for me. Well, at least, I have some parts/wheels for the next whale.That might be the Raleigh Super Course Mark II mixte found in Colorado 4 years ago.Thanks! Jim Duncan

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    1. When I opened the lid on the dumpster where I use to work I saw a 1982 Raleigh Super Course. There were only two guys who worked there that were tall enough to fit the large frame and only one of them was dumb enough to just throw it away so I knew who owned it. I brought it home, k-balled the parts and gave the frameset to this used bike shop in my neighborhood. I told the owner that the fork was bent. While I hung out for a few minutes, he disassembled the frameset, put the fork steerer in a vise, yanked hard on the blades a few times, eyeballed the result and put everything back together. I think he kept it for himself, he was pretty tall. I later met a guy who had a fetish for Raleigh labeled parts so I gave him everything but the bar end shifters.

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    2. What was wrong with the Mercian?

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    3. It was probably supplied with the wrong fork and color...

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  5. I get too emotionally attached as well. Much more of a money pit with cars though. I have a 1984 500 SEC Benz with 290,000 miles on it. I have put way too much into it over the years. I still love it though, rusty underbody and all. One day it will break in half on my from rust (NY salty winters). I guess that will be the thing, or a transmission, but...

    That Peugeot Mixte was pretty. I think worth a little tack weld here and there to be useable.

    The Huffy I keep at the marina survived way past any sane person's tolerance (I am not sane!).
    My friend Christina has a 50s Schwinn Tiger/Panther/Corvette cantilever that looks way dead, but rides smooth as an overstuffed couch... and weighs as much too! Go figure.

    Most bikes will well outlast us.

    vsk

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    1. It's too late now for Swoopy but... tack weld for a bent frame? I'm intrigued!

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    2. According to my understanding of what a tack weld is, I'm curious too!

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    3. If it was a bent/kinked stay than it might have been possible to straiten it, steel is really tolerant of yanking and pulling if you have the knack.

      If that fails there is always the magic of the acetylene torch to heat it up and encourage it to get back in line. Sometimes one bent tube is being pulled so hard by the adjacent unbent tubes that when you get it nice and hot it just magically relaxes into it's former alignment as everyone claps and cheers(except the person who now has to repaint that section). And sometimes you heat it up only to have it crackle and burn up due to being almost rusted through from the inside, then everyone boo's and hisses.

      This is basic Donkey labor for someone who knows what they're doing and shouldn't cost more than whatever a decent pizza costs in the neighborhood of the bikeshop/blacksmithie/penal farm where you get it done. If they tell you it's going to cost $100 they are artistes and not qualified to effect the repair...

      Spindizzy

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    4. one year ago, I bought an old Diamant bike from 1960. It looks very good, but sadly the frame was bent. I didn't saw it before I bought it. I've found a guy in a little bikeshop in Berlin, who fixed it for just 30 euros. Now it rides very good. So I think yes, if you find the right person, a bent frame can be fixed. But it is always better to look for a bike with an unbent frame and fork. Here in germany bikes like mixte are cheap. Last week I bought a kildemoes (danish) from 1991 in very good condition for just 30 euros. There where some little things to fix, but it takes only about 2 hours.

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    5. Sorry Rebecca, I have not been on line much. By the original article you posted, I thought the dropout where the wheel goes was cracked or seriously bent making the axle nuts unable to clamp. If the bike was otherwise rideable perhaps the part could be bent back or a little welding done on the surface of the dropout to get it back to useable shape. If it were a bent stay, Mixtes have 3 on each side and may remain strong with some tube re-bending. Anyway, sorry to hear of the trouble.
      I love mixtes in general and the bent tube ones in particular. Gimme lots of wheel clearance to put in the mooshy Gran Bois Hetre 650B x 42 tires and hammered Lefol fen - uh - mudguards polished to a blinding shine! Stronglight model 49d pedaliers and racks with little metal tool boxes! Box lining and . . . you get the idear!

      I will build a big mixte or step through for myself to handle monstrous or badly balanced loads.

      vsk

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  6. I like old things and I like to find bargains. But over the years, I've learned that the lower price item is not always the better deal. I'd much rather pay more for a bike that doesn't need a ton of work than buy a bargain that I'm going to have to invest a lot of time and money into to have a rideable bike. I realize some people like fixing up old bikes and that is great. But for people that don't have the knowledge to evaluate a bike's condition, you're probably better off buying a vintage bike from a bike shop that specializes in such things.

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  7. WE MUST SAVE THEM ALL!!!!!! I DON"T KNOW WHY BUT WE MUST SAVE THEM ALL!!!!!

    Oh my word, the piles of SHIITE I have drug home and made bicycles out of again just to give them to someone who sells them or leaves them out in the snow to be run over by the guy delivering firewood. While I am waiting for my new 7 Mudhoney to be built(paid for by E-Baying a bunch of old BMX stuff that I thought might be worth 300 bucks and turned out to be worth$2,900 and counting WOO HOO!) I am also trying to find homes for a couple of old Raleighs and a Schwinn Cantilever with a bent fork and a staph infection that I never had any intention of keeping or riding myself but couldn't stomach leaving at the dump. Hell, the stupid Schwinn I actually paid money for, apparently because it's my ministry to fix every freaking bike I see.

    I, while sober and in more or less full control of my senses, brazed a new seatstay onto a crappy Columbia step-through with a 1 piece crank and PAID for a basket to put on it for a friend of my Mother because she asked if it could be repaired.(!!!!) And I know SHE WILL NEVER RIDE IT!

    We have to pull together here people and form some sort of non-profit to carry on this insane endeavor SO THAT NO BIKE SHALL EVER PERISH AGAIN!!!
    Who's with me?

    Spindizzy

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  8. BTW, Rebecca's Peugeot was really a Puch(and I could have TOTALLY fixed it).

    Spindizzy

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    1. Oops that was a typo. I should know better too, having lived in the thicket of vintage Puchen that is Vienna.

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  9. Hey V. please edit my spelling of Shiite to something less likely to be interpreted to be an Islamic Religious group. I wish I had thought about that before I typed that....

    Sorry to have to ask you to do that...

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    1. Can't edit comments in blogger, only approve/reject. Hopefully your follow up will serve as clarification for the confused.

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    2. I think Spin should be commended for so enthusiastically embracing the Irish vernacular, even if he can't spell it. I'd love to hear him trying to pronounce it. :)

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    3. I've mispronounced that word in so many languages I've lost count, if I did get it right it would be purely accidental...

      Spinditzy

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  10. Oh it is so hard to let vintage bicycles go, especially if you've become emotionally attached and imagine great things for them. I have sent a few to the recycling depot. At least now I only go for higher end frames, but mine all need to be repainted! After trying to manifest higher end decent vintage bicycles in all good mechanical condition my size for ages and ages, I suddenly got 3 this spring and 2 need still major overhauls. I still have a couple of frames that I wanted to build up. One is a beautiful george longstaff that I paid a fortune for, was told it was in mint condition, but arrived from the UK in horrible shape, the rear stay where the derailleur goes is slightly bent. But it is soooo beautiful and had it set up last year for some testing and it rode like a dream. I also have a vintage trek frame that was given to me, but it has a slightly bent fork, not enough to cause problems. I am trying to sell it, might have to give it away. I'd donate it to the bike coop in the city if I could get it there.
    Then there's the vintage raleigh sports SA drum brakes and internal geared hub experiment.....oh gosh, it rides like a dream, but weighs a tonne. My vintage raleigh ladies clubman is fine, but cannot easily get tires to fit the odd wheel size and would like to replace with modern rims, but that takes more money, and then, and then.....

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  11. A bent fork is a cinch - simply pick out one from the pile that got left behind from previously discarded frames. Forks tend to suffer less than frames from rust and other frame diseases.

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    1. Sure - if you don't care about rake, tire clearance or colour matching : )

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    2. We used to do that all the time! Made our bikes unique…full of character and history. They rode fine as well.

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    3. I did suggest she get a nice carbon fiber fork as replacement..

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    4. Rake ain't no big thing, as you should know by now on a vintage, tire clearance or colour matching bah. Do you want the bike or not? Criminy.

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  12. Romanticists go through their own learning curve, despite what more sensible people say.

    Andd so it will go in perpetuum.

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  13. I've got a couple of frames that are special to me (by no means "vintage",or destined to be classics) that I keep as wall art. Both are old enough to vote in the States and were retired out of fear of breaking the frame. One was my first major purchase as a bike shop wrench and i rode it all over creation, even tweaking the frame to adapt it to more modern mtn bike suspension systems (what's known in certain circles as an Cannondale "Uber V"). The other marked my return to a simpler technology (no suspension, fully rigid) in the woods and the refocusing of my efforts on technical riding.

    While they could be restored to operation status fairly easy, wall art they shall stay. Sometimes it's better to remember the fun than risking a cracked frame and being all bent out of shape because of it.

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  14. Yes, vintage bikes can be an adventure. To wit:
    I'm refurbishing an early 1970s Raleigh Competition for a good friend, who is the original owner. Glancing at the cranks, I figured they were TA, which was normal equipment back then, according to the stuff I've read. I called my friend Bill who has a TA crank puller, for help. We got the bike out in the sunlight, and he observed that it's actually a Zeus crank. Its crank bolts are 16mm, but none of our tools worked. Now desperate, I sent an email off to Yellow Jersey bike shop in Wisconsin knowing they have a lot of experience with vintage bikes. Within minutes Andrew Muzi returned my email. Turns out he has Zeus cranks on one of his bikes. The crank takes a standard Campy size puller, and he suggested that I grind down a 16mm socket to get it to fit. It took me about 15 minutes of grinding. I just let the socket spin on a piece of threaded rod. But the altered tool worked slick as a whistle. I hope to return the favor by ordering parts from Yellow Jersey. www.yellowjersey.org

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  15. It is a difficult decision if major repairs are needed. I am lucky that my vintage bike is my childhood bike and I know it's history and that it was stored out of the weather for many decades, so it has had very few problems. Getting replacement wheels and a nice brooks saddle cost a bit , as much as a new bike would cost, but it rides so well that I wouldn't think of getting rid of it for a new one . Mind you, I sometimes hanker after the old wheels, but if I still had them it wouldn't get ridden nearly as much, and the point is to be out riding. I do like that others can see that an old bike can be an everyday ride too.

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  16. If someone tells me something can't be fixed, I view it as a challenge :)

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  17. Whatever you do, bottom line is, don’t give up on these bicycles, as long as you have space to store them, they’ll not deteriorate any more. I guess you’re talking about the Triumph and ‘Postman Pat’, and I think both are eminently restorable – they were wise choices, and well worth rescuing. A bicycle is just a bunch of bits, a frame just a bunch of tubes. It’ll come to you over time, or somebody will help, wait and see. I think you said you needed tyres for the Triumph? SJS Cycles in England stock just about every size of tyre ever made, and they cater especially for older bicycles:

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/tyres-dept206/

    They may well stock almost anything else you need. I think you also said the brakes don’t work, but remember you’re in Ireland – you just need to learn to shout “Comin’ troo!” in an Irish accent, and/or fit segs to the soles of your shoes – the sparks will alert others of your approach... :)

    http://www.blakeys-segs.co.uk/

    If I ever get my shit (or should that be shite?) together, I could come over and help you – I’m only 90 miles north-east of you, across the water. That might never happen (actually, I might never happen – my life is passing me by), but I’d love to help. I’m still learning, but I like fixing stuff.

    Incidentally, re. Rebecca’s cat, my cat Misty died yesterday. There was nothing the vet could do; Misty knew he was dying and stopped eating and drinking last week – clever wee fellow – even knew how to die. Best friend I ever had. It’s not always easy to fix bicycles, but it’s easier than fixing cats. (:

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    1. "It’s not always easy to fix bicycles, but it’s easier than fixing cats."

      Thanks for that. So true. I don't know if Sara knew - she certainly did keep telling me "Mum, I'm so tired" for months, but I didn't look beyond that. She started sitting on laps instead of playing in the evenings - for the first time EVER - and we were so pleased with that, again, we didn't question. Poor broken-hearted kitty.

      A bike, on the other hand, is, as you say, "just a bunch of bits, a frame just a bunch of tubes". Funny how we can get so attached to them, as well.

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    2. Hit "publish" too soon! Very sorry to hear about Misty. :( Hope he had a good few innings.

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  18. This is a great post, and it hits home for me. Earlier in the year I bought a 70s/80s era Concord 10-speed at a local "swap meet" for $20 (U.S.). The frame measured out as a perfect fit, and I was excited about the idea of transforming it with modern components. There were a number of challenges with the project, and I was happy to tackle each of them. But at a certain point I realized the old, rusty, 6+ lb. frame was not worthy of the time and money. I got it in working order, rode it a bit, but then stripped it down and returned the new, lighter components to the aluminum frame I'd been using prior. The Concord frame will soon be sacrificed to the local steel-scrap recyclers.

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    1. This seems a common story.

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  19. If your fork is bent grab it and pull. Yeah it takes a level of common sense and mechanical aptitude. It is not a big deal. If you ride old bikes, much less try to restore them, you must have some sense of what is a big deal and what is not.

    The linked example of Rebecca's mixte is reported in a sufficiently confusing manner that all we have is a guessing game. My first guess is the underlying problem was a cracked dropout. ZOMG please do not ride a bike with a cracked dropout. A slightly kinky stay is a nothing. Who cares? A cracked dropout is an accident waiting to happen. The wheel will not sit still in the frame? Don't ride it. If you have so little mechanical aptitude this is not clear stick to new bikes and replace them frequently.

    Replacing a cracked drop is not a big deal. It is a normal repair. Simple enough they used to do it trackside at the races. Repaint is tougher than replacing the drop. If you must have perfect paint. If you only have access to mechanics who want to tell you replacing dropouts is an Ultimate Test for Ascended Masters then you junk the frame.

    I've said it here before: Start with the best example you can find of what it is you're restoring. They are only new once. The time and money spent to find a good example of an old bike is trivial next to the time and expense that a needy old bike will suck out of you.

    On the other side I just let go of a 1954 Norman. It wasn't for me but someone should have had it. Covered in oil since 1954. Sparkling fresh and new. Pristine. Someone had already replaced the tires. The original brake pads were inexplicably functional. Could not give it away. There are lots of bikes like this. And they are hard to give away.

    Mixtes in particular are hard to give away. The one and only thing that gives a mixte cash value is a Peugeot paint job. And then it's not worth much. NIB early 1970s Peugeot mixtes exist and they sell for a lot less than you think.

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    1. Yes, it is a guessing game when you don't know me or my bikes. Your first guess is wrong.

      This bike was not rare or unusual and I had no interest in restoring - easy enough to ditch.

      I don't know where you are, but mixtes are highly desirable here in London and amongst the most stolen. I guess that qualifies as "hard to give away". Raleighs are the most sought after, Peugeots not so much. Prices for all mixtes have shot up x4 on ebay over the past 4 years.

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  20. Took a look at the Puch photos. There's a modern cassette on the rear wheel. Looks to be a 10-cog cassette. That wheel will be 130 or 135mm wide. The frame would originally have been 120. That alone will stress a dropout pretty bad. Had the frame been properly coldset to the width of the new rear wheel any existing problem with the drop would have been identified.

    The chainline on that bike is ridiculous.

    The rider is posting with leg absolutely straight at BDC. Hips visibly rocking.

    This person should not be attempting vintage. Unsafe.

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    1. Thank you. Have we met?

      The axle had been cut down to fit 120 dropouts - no stress at all. Chainline you see in the photos was not final set up. Nor were the state of my legs - is there a video I'm not aware of??

      Grateful for your verdict on my suitability as a vintage bike owner, on the basis of a few isolated photos over the Internet. I really don't know how I've managed to ride a number of other vintage bikes for thousands of miles without mishap up to now - maybe I should quit now before disaster strikes!

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    2. Rebecca,

      I don't want to come across like the other poster (jerk) but I think that bike could absolutely be saved. It takes some real close looking and measurement, but it just sounds like a wonky dropout. These old bikes typically have dropouts stamped from fairly thin steel, which easily get bent and distorted; the good news is that they are easily bent back into shape, and because they are generally low carbon steel there's little danger of breaking or cracking them in the process.

      If you still have this frame, you need to get with a proper mechanical engineer friend who has decent measuring tools and knows something about bicycles. The two faces of the two dropouts need to be parallel to each other and to the centerline of the frame. A couple of long straightedges, a ball of string, a tape measure, and a selection of big adjustable wrenches are all you need to measure and sort out this problem. (The big adjustable wrench is closed on the faces of the dropout and then the dropout is either bent using the handle of the wrench, or you grab the wrench with another wrench to twist it.) If straightening the dropout causes a tube somewhere up the chain to go out of straightness it usually isn't an issue, as long as the wheel mounting points are OK. Lay a straightedge along the tubes of an old Cannondale frame sometime; none of the tubes are straight, but all the mounting points are where they should be.

      Not rocket science. If you don't have a contact that can do this kind of thing, if you are short on time and just need to be riding something fast, then it's not the path to follow. But there is very little in the world of mechanical devices, especially bicycles made of steel, that is truly unrepairable. To toss a frame on those grounds bothers my frugal Southern soul.

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    3. Hi

      Yes, you're absolutely right. I had a local engineer sort out a slight tweak to the integral drop-out on my Surly Pacer last summer following a slow-speed fall onto the driveside.

      You hit the nail on the head though in your last paragraph: short on time, just need to be riding something CHEAP asap.

      Maybe the impression was given that the frame had sentimental or historical value. It didn't. I picked it up for a fiver on ebay on impulse, it sat in the garage for 3 years, then when I needed a beater bike FAST, I remembered it and my boyfriend knocked up a reasonable build with what we had lying around. The chainstay/dropout twist was a surprise. We tried one further re-build with no joy, so that was that.

      Frame went to the rag-and-bone man the very next day, so the tale is over.

      I am generally in the recycle/reuse/don't waste camp but we've got enough of a hoarding problem as it is and the line has to be drawn somewhere. I have no regrets.

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    4. Your problem isn't hoarding, it's not having a barn.

      Spindizzy

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    5. Some of us can't find the barn for all of the boxes...

      Good on you, Rebecca.

      We've been lucky that our acquisitions haven't ben too far out of reasonable shape. Even the rusty ones have had rideable rims wheels and loose stems and seatposts. Most have had near immaculate bottom brackets.
      I did have to part out an old Monark with a bad fork and chewed up rims. I think the only thing I actually binned was the bent and rusty kickstand and flaking non-original handlebars.

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  21. For 2+ years I exclusively rode a vintage bike that I didn't realize had problems at the time, but in retrospect it totally did. I couldn't fix my own flats because the wheels were bolt-on. I couldn't get a rack fitted for it, at least without spending a lot of money. I loved the bike, but as an everyday transportation bike it was limited. I was blinded by how beautiful the vintage bike was and the eccentricity of riding an everyday bike that was older than me.

    This spring I bought an end-of-season new steel commuter bike on discount. It's not as pretty as the vintage bike. But it's so practical and FAST. Any love I may have had for the vintage bike dissipated when I saw how much more easily I was able to get around on the new bike, how much more comfortable it was (I found I prefer to lean forward vs. sitting bolt upright), and that I could actually carry stuff on the bike. It is a cool color, but other than that, it's a totally boring and nondescript bicycle. And I love it!

    Yeah, I probably could have invested the time and care to spiff up the vintage bike and have something that could be both beautiful and practical. But I realized that reforming vintage bikes isn't really something I'm passionate about, and I'd rather spend my money/time on other things than bicycles. My new bike is the equivalent of a Kia and I'm totally okay with that. Because I'm so much more comfortable on and with the bike, I'm riding more. Because I can climb hills easily, I'm more confident riding it longer distances and in places where I'm unfamiliar with the landscape. When I'm choosing which bike to take out, the new sleek commuter wins every single time. I still have the vintage bike but I'm probably going to sell it soon.

    Vintage bikes work for a lot of people and I think that's great but I'm so happy with my modern bike. And hey, hopefully one day this WILL be my vintage bike (it's steel, it's not from a department store, I see no reason it can't last for decades).

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  22. So this post has made me think a little over the last day or so about why I've felt so compelled to rescue so many old bikes and why I sometimes get so worked up about that sort of thing.

    I don't really believe old bikes are inherently better or that they have souls or that we have to honor the efforts of those who lived and are gone(as appealing as those ideas are to me), I think it's really about guilt and the limited ways I can salve those guilty pangs.


    I CAN fix a bike, even a pretty far gone old scrap of a thing, I CAN'T do anything myself that makes a permanent, measureable, positive difference to the climate, poverty, hunger, overpopulation and on and on. But I tell myself that that rescued bike makes a difference. A few more kilo's of material that might be available to someone somewhere else to solve some problem, a bit of energy that can go to something else instead of producing another bike, a bit of emissions that won't be part of this quarters industrial flatulence, maybe even someone (not me) who can MAYBE get by without a car.

    It would be better if I could achieve a little reduction of my own consumption but this is easier. Go down in the basement and true up a salvaged wheel to get another old Raleigh or Fuji back into circulation rather than unplug the dehumidifier I have to keep my redundant tools and toys from rusting in storage or even eating all the food I buy instead of throwing 1/4 of it away because I'm too lazy to cook something before it goes bad. I absolve myself from responsibility for the useless killing of the chicken that spoiled in my fridge by pulling another wheel out of the dumpster and finding it a home. It makes my lingering suspicion that I'm part of the problem(a problem that in the future will seem criminal to everyone who survives it's effects), a bit easier to bear. Maybe it helps. By keeping me sensitive, preventing me from completely ignoring it all in self defense, allowing me the odd victory because I happen to recognize an opportunity at a point where it's easy enough for me to do the right thing... Maybe it really is just another old bike and time I stop with all the hoarding and compulsive tinkering. I wonder what I can find to do that will ACTUALLY move the ball a yard or two down the field so the next generation doesn't have to carry it so damn far.

    I think I'm ready, maybe...got any ideas?

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  23. I find the most trouble with bringing old bikes up to modern standard has to do with odd tube dimensions. Replacing seatpost and handlebar stem on an older french bike is a problem. You have to do it, because the only thing worth saving is the frame. Is the seatpost stuck in the frame; let go. Is the frame rusty inside; let go. Is the fork heavily bent; let go. Don´t replace the fork with any other fork. As Velouria says, the length and rake of the fork is important.

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    1. I'm not saying anyone should feel compelled to do these things but...

      French seatposts are easily dealt with by using the next size smaller post and using a shim, seized seatposts almost invariably can be removed by using penetrating oil and time or by heating the exposed section of post with a propane torch and letting it cool several times, you don't need to make it red hot, not even hot enough to damage the paint on the frame(we're just heating the top of the post so the whole thing gets hot and expands enough to break the rust bond). I bet I'm batting over .975 removing seatposts and I've done MANY dozens over the last 36 years.

      And why not put a new replacement chrome fork on it while you're at it? Decent quality basic(cheap) chrome forks with a nice low bend and good thick stamped steel dropouts wholesale for $40 or so. Most have generous clearances and can even be raked a bit if you want a bit more or less. The people who designed the bikes we're talking about here certainly didn't all carefully create a specific fork for every new model, any fork with geometry within 20% of whatever ideal value you're looking for will still be within the safety factor and handle very similar.

      French stems can be more challenging but good steel stems(think old Schwinn) with thick quills can be filed and sanded down to fit with out worrying about whether they're going to be safe to use(assuming you come up short at the bikeshop or E-bay or don't feel like messing around with that), it doesn't even have to look good since the scruffy part will be hiding in the fork.

      If a bike has half a dozen problems like this just walk away, but if you find one you fall ass over teakettle for and it only has one or two issues like this AND you like a bit of a project AND you aren't spending the rent money on it, maybe it would be fun to try. Just don't walk into the local Foofy Roadie Shop (I love Foofy Roadie Shops BTW) looking for help with this endeavor and decide before(!) you start how much you want to spend.

      The conventional wisdom about these old bikes seems to be more and more that they're hopeless old wrecks waiting to beggar you before slinging you into the path of a bus. That train of thought would eventually have too many of us on icky bland bikes with the cheapest hydraulic disc brakes, plastic fenders and cheezy aluminum frames that look more like patio furniture(not that I don't enjoy the occasional kilo of bad cheez while lounging about on my own Chinese patio set).

      OK, I'll stop now. But DAMMIT, I could go on...

      Spindizzy

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    2. The key word for my reasoning is allocation.

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    3. Spindizzy said:

      “French seatposts are easily dealt with by using the next size smaller post and using a shim, …”

      Well, as you probably know, seatpost diameters of 25.4mm or less are among those most commonly found on French vintage bikes. Using shims doesn’t seem like a viable option in these cases. That aside, Kalloy is making very affordable polished seatposts in a wide range of diameters, so a missing or broken seatpost should be one of the easier parts to replace. Finding a used or NOS SR or other vintage low-budget seatpost on eBay is another option.

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  24. Funny you brought up this topic – I am currently trying to revive a vintage Mercier Mixte my girlfriend fell in love with and bought a few weeks back. The seller was local, so we went there together. Looking at the bike, I expressed serious concerns about the quality of the frame and the seller’s expertise and wrenching abilities. The seller had shoddily assembled the bike from a frame set, using mostly mismatching parts stripped off other French vintage bikes. In order to make these parts fit the Mercier, he had come up with numerous makeshift solutions such as crude brackets used to attach the fenders. Alas, my girlfriend had already decided to buy the bike despite of these shortcomings, and that’s what she ended up doing.

    At a glance it was obvious that some of the parts would need to be replaced — the front and rear tires were worn and of different make, the brakes did not work well with the steel rims, original pads and Weinmann road bike levers, and the Simplex Retrofriction downtube shifter operating the front derailleur constantly slipped because of a worn thread, making it impossible to shift to the large chainring. As my girlfriend is planning to ride this bike year round and at any time of day, the lighting system was due for an upgrade as well. At this point, I expected it would be possible to keep the fenders, rear rack, handlebar and stem, crank set and most of the drivetrain as well as the wheelset, with an option to upgrade these parts as required at a later point in time. My idea was that even if we had to trash some of the parts, it would still be a fair deal because of the NOS set of Mafac Competition brakes, nice Brooks B17 Special saddle and new Wald basket the seller had installed.

    On the ride home I noticed that the bottom bracket spindle was way too long, and that the bottom bracket hadn’t been fastened properly. I thought these problems would be easy to mend. Well…

    At home, I put the bike in the workstand and had a closer look. The frame and fork are characteristic for late-70’s to mid-80’s French mass-production bikes: the lugs and dropouts are very plain stamped ones, as are all the braze-ons. Brazing is inferior throughout and was obviously done in a hurry — there are large blobs of brass brazing solder visible around the lugs, too large to hide under paint. At least both the frame and fork are tracking straight, and the paint, while not particularly nice, is in good shape.

    Read more in Pt. II…

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  25. Pt. II:

    When I tried to remove the crank arms in order to replace the worn-out and mismatching bottom bracket with a French threaded VO cartridge unit, I quickly noticed that the pedal extractor thread of the left crank arm was stripped. This effectively rendered the crank set unusable. Well, trashing the cranks was a viable way of dealing with French pedal threads, but still adding to the cost. Fortunately, the frame’s threads are okay. Phew!

    Next were the brakes, which didn’t work well not only because of the 30 years old Mafac pads, but, more importantly, because their medium (“long” in modern terms) reach was too short to allow proper brake pad adjustment. Fortunately the box fresh set of Mafac Racer brakes I had sitting on the shelf was a perfect match, so on to the brake levers. I removed the handlebar tape just to see lots of scratches and some deep notches in the handlebar’s surface near to where the brake levers were mounted. So, bye bye, Philippe handlebars…

    When checking out the wheels I noticed that the wheelset could not be trued because the steel rims were dented and bent. Furthermore, the 5-speed freewheel was emitting strange noises, and was hard to turn because of all the grime that had built up in and around it. I decided not to waste any time on resolving these issues. Rather than that I would build new wheels, which would also help me to get rid of the low-cost Huret derailleurs and heavy wheels. Because the frame does not have a derailleur hanger (and, fortunately, no downtube shifter mounts), I decided a Sturmey Archer 5-speed IGH and Shutter Precision generator hub, along with nice silver alloy rims and double-butted spokes, would appropriately replace the steel Normandy low-flange rear and Maillard front hub laced to Rigida steel rims. Hmm, but wait, there’s more…

    The fenders were installed using the aforementioned makeshift brackets, and for a reason: they were ripped at the mounting holes, and removing the brackets literally made them fall to pieces. The rack that was attached to the rear fender was also broken, which was visible only after the fender it was bolted to had come apart. Some more scrap metal to dispose of…

    So, what’s left of the bike? The frame and fork, seatpost and saddle, the Wald basket, and the stem. The headset will remain for now, but apparently it is missing parts and might also need a replacement soon (looking forward to that — it’s French threaded as well, of course). That’s it. The brakes that came with the bike will be put on the shelf for future use, everything else went to the trash.

    So, was it worth it? That’s hard to tell. Looking at the cost and calculating the amount of money spent on top of the initial purchase would probably be quite painful, even more so if, unlike myself, you don’t have tons of odd stuff piling up. A lot of time and effort has already gone into the project, and there’s more to come. On the other hand side, the bike rides very nicely even with a loaded front basket and fits its rider perfectly. Despite its rather tiny frame size there is no toe overlap even with 700c wheels, big tires and fenders. And it looks great from a 10ft distance.

    Bottom line is, if it’s a poorly assembled, late 70’s to mid-80’s bike made by one of the lesser French makers such as Motob├ęcane, Mercier, or Peugeot, ride it while it lasts, then trash it. Maybe salvage the few parts that you or (hopefully) somebody else may need to keep a similar bike on the road a little longer.

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    1. I just wanted to add to your conclousion, that if the bike got Normandy hubs with quick-release, don´t ride it. The alloy wheel axle can actually snap off, not only bending the frame but also your life span.

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  26. Is there a difference between this and a relationship? Pragmatic considerations seem to ultimately rule the day…If it doesn't work, move on.

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  27. I don't get it... buy a new (or used) fork.

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  28. The saddest thing that I recently heard was at a local bike shop: I needed to buy new bearings for a project bike and asked the worker about his experience with them. He said that he didn't know how to install or work on loose bearing setups and suggested that I should get a new front wheel with a sealed cartridge bearing system. It was as if the old technology bikes weren't worth repairing!

    Now that I've been tinkering with old bikes for a while, attempting to repair even those that truly should have been left in a dump, I've come to define what's worth rescuing as what can and cannot be fixed within a reasonable budget. If it's a low-end rustbucket with seized plastic+metal parts, a bent frame, or something that requires too many things to replace, I donate everything usable to our local bike co-op and dump the rest. If it's repairable with moderate effort but minimal cost, I fix it up and give it to friends in need of cheap transportation.

    I've been following this blog for a while and am very much influenced by Lovely Bicycle's aesthetic on mixte bicycles. The search has been on for 4 years; we're living on a music grad student's stipend, so buying new hasn't been an option. I finally found a bike that has the ride quality I've been wanting within a reasonable budget, and with the experience of working on everything from quick tune-up to should-have-been-junked, I'm rather excited about its condition and mechanical soundness.

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  29. "……..
    I suspect the 4-figure quote they gave her was only half-serious and mainly meant to discourage her (a topic for another time, this!).
    ……."

    Something that's happening in our local B&M bike shops more and more. I would love to read your thoughts on this.

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  30. Preach it Sister! been there recycled that

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