Friday, June 10, 2016

Of Vintage Mixtes, Friends, and Playing the Bike Cupid



I don’t know whether it is quite as popular in the US these days, but here television is teeming with reruns of house-buying shows. You know, like potential buyers look for a new home and the host helps them decide? There is one, it seems, for every imaginable scenario. First time buyers seeking practical, yet cozy “starter homes.” Families looking to move and choosing between town and country. Retired couples relocating abroad. You name it.

The format is pretty much standard: The hosts of the show will interview prospective buyers with a psychotherapy-esque degree of depth, then find them a selection of (what they believe to be) suitable properties. The pros and cons of each are then rehashed endlessly, until finally the prospective buyer chooses one - or none at all.



Of course in a financial climate where nobody is buying real estate, the content of these shows is pure escapist fantasy. But they are oddly satisfying to follow nonetheless. And every time one plays in the background, I find myself re-imagining the premise around bikes.
Mary is a 42 year old accountant from Portnablagh, and she is looking for her Fist Bicycle! 
"Tell me, Mary, what sort of things are important to you in a bike?” 
[footage of Mary, smiling shyly in a leopard print blouse, as the wind wreaks havoc on her loose blond curls...] 
“Well Kirsty!” [voice muffled by the wind] "I am wanting to cycle 3 miles to work, perhaps to the pub after, without being blown off these here cliffs and falling to my death. Oh and I quite like periwinkle!" 
“Uh-oh! [as a candid aside to viewers] I can already tell we’ve got a picky one here! Now let’s see if we can find Mary a bike in her favourite colour…"
Personally I think it would be a great hit, and why the producers of Location, Location, Location have not yet returned my calls I have no idea. But in the meanwhile, I do what I can. That is to say, I meddle in my friends’ affairs by playing the bike cupid.



The first time I saw this Raleigh Candice I immediately thought of AJ. It was a fast, lightweight mixte with drop bars. She had been looking for just such an alternative to her more stately upright bike, and this one was in her size.

Another interesting thing about this bicycle - and one of the reasons it had been shown to me in the first place - is that, despite being of 1980s vintage, it was entirely New Old Stock.



It had suffered a few cosmetic nicks from being dragged around from one storage place to another. But it was clearly unridden, in all ways preserved just as it came from the factory - right down to the warning sticker wrapped around the left crank!


My favourite detail: the colour-matched lilac bungee cord still attached to the rear carrier, still impeccably clean, stretchy and vibrant.



The Candice - while not high in pedigree within the Raleigh hierarchy - was a decent enough model, combining mixte construction, racy fit and a 6-speed (x2) drivetrain with indexed shifting. Despite being fitted with mudguards, rear carrier, chain guard, pump, two sets of brake levers, and monster-reflectors, it is surprisingly lightweight. And, most importantly, it feels fast and responsive to ride.

With vintage bikes having grown in popularity in recent years, the elusive NOS condition is not a common thing to come by these days. And so, all things considered, I felt that AJ just had to try this bicycle.



...I only hoped she could see past the girly '80s fade paint job - which I knew in advance she'd dislike - and evaluate the bike on its overall merits. Cue dramatic music.



Well then?



Well?!...



Well, as soon as she got on the bike, it was just wow! So exciting to watch her. I mean, sometimes a person just looks righton a bicycle, you know? Like it's so obviously theirs before it is officially theirs.



The fit looked spot on. And the handling seemed to come so naturally to AJ. It was as if she were born astride this particular machine.

In fairness, I even think the overall aesthetic suits her quite nicely. And while it's true the girly/ colour-fade bits are not her style, I think this can be remedied without having to repaint the entire frame.



Specifically, what I would suggest here is to simply use tape to mask off the transitional areas: either white tape - to make the transition look sharper and get rid of the fade effect - or a different colour (or several colours?) entirely, to create the impression of contrasting bands. The latter would have the added effect of giving the bicycle a more sporty, less fluffy look.



As she test rode the bike again and again, AJ considered all this, weighing the excellent ride quality and fit of the Candice against its less than ideal aesthetics. In the end, she decided to get it (Yesss! Erm, I mean, Oh, ok, if that's what you want - sounds good).



In the first instance, she plans to change the handlebar tape. After that she will definitely do something to those colour-faded tips, but she doesn't know what yet. In the meanwhile, it is an interesting challenge to contemplate. And an exciting bike to ride - judging by the fact she's been happily riding it!



Well, it seems that my work here is done ...Although, frankly, is the work of a bike cupid ever done? As I am sure many of you have experienced, there are times you intuit that a friend wants a bicycle. Symptoms include: mentioning bikes, looking at pictures of bikes, browsing local for-sale ads for bikes. In a situation where the person already has a bicycle (or three) you might notice them saying, wistfully, that they love their bike(s) but also wish they could cycle faster/off road/ on something older/ on something newer/ on something with a different style frame, and so on. In short, there are times you just know: they are on the hunt! And if you can help that process along, well why not?

Are you too a bike cupid? Ever eager to "help" if a friend so much as breathes they are in need of a new bike? Unable to look at a bike without thinking that it would be perfect for So-and-So? I shall leave you to ponder this question, as I wish you a Happy Weekend!

42 comments:

  1. How can you hate on that paint job!? Pink is an exceedingly rare color in modern paint schemes. I would love to find, restore, and ride a pink vintage mixte or road/touring bike. Unfortunately, very few of them fit a 5'8" long-limbed man. That's a beautiful specimen - NOS to boot! What a great find!

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  2. I think the paint although feminine is fine, the decals? no so much. If they are indeed decals and over the paint, (not under the clear coat) then maybe carefully removing them would be sufficient?

    As with most things in life I find when it comes to bikes I am constantly searching for that one perfect bike, while I found some great ones & although I think I've come close! I have never really pegged it! So every new bike is an attempt to catch something, that elusive quality that is going to just click with me. Problem is as I age, it's a moving target. What was great for me 20 years and so many pounds ago, doesn't quite work as well, now! And as my weight comes off those bikes might come back to me if it weren't also for my advancing age, Trouble is, my solution to a lack of transcendent perfection is to constantly be looking at or buying bikes! it's so much of a problem that I've recently been forced to sell some, because there's no more room in the inn!
    Things are a little bit desperate because no sooner do I sell one then 2 show up in my Breezeway!!! Plus, my age & Buddhist leanings find me wanting to cut away the frills, get back to basics and live a more austere lifestyle. I think that's why a bike that can do a little bit of everything appeals to me so much! - Mas

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  3. Maybe you should ask Kevin McCloud to do a "Grand Designs" episode on your Lovely Bicycle Bicycle project?

    That show is also quite formulaic, so much so there is a "Grand Designs" drinking game.

    The host introduces the project, expresses some doubts and fears about aspects of the design, the project starts and things start to go wrong... will everything end in disaster? But no, everything ends up well and both host and the person commissioning the design are delighted with the outcome.

    (apologies if the reference is a bit obscure for people outside the UK & Ireland...)

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    1. Oh I can just picture it...

      "Tell me, Jack, what was your budget for this vintage Hetchins restoration?"

      "Two hundred pounds, Kevin."

      "And how much did you spend in the end?"

      "Two thousand pounds..." [mumbles]

      "And what does Christine think of that?"

      "She no longer lives with me, Kevin..."

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  4. LOL I assumed Portnablagh was a fictional name, but I looked it up and it's real! Thanks for the laughs Velouria. I for one would be an avid viewer of the bike buying show!

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    1. It's a real place and very pretty! Just beside Dunfanaghy.

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  5. Please share the cost of this bike. I'd like to know how that factored into the decision.

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    1. I'll leave it to the owner to share that info if she wishes. But it was less than you will find this bike advertised on eBay/gumtree, and in better condition.

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    2. Sure eBay can be frustrating. There is no standard condition for bikes sold there, some of them are in astonishing good condition, many are junk. The high asking prices are seldom attained. In any case no one is getting rich selling hundred dollar bikes. A lot of eBay sellers are in fact playing yenta, hoping the bike will be used.

      This bike was NOS, was it NIB (new in box) recently, or has it been sitting somewhere fully assembled? Who assembled it? With few exceptions factory bikes are not assembled, disassembled, and boxed. They are shipped as semi-finished goods. The bike is not a complete and saleable bike until a mechanic makes it a bike. 'Assembly' might take twenty minutes and it might take three hours. In the case of a bike that has been sitting in a box thirty years there are a lot of potential problems, a three hour assembly might become a serious project. When the bike was new and the LBS was building a lot of them, then the problems were manageable, the solutions were known, collegiality enabled the process. If a particular model was very bad Raleigh was there to make adjustments. Plenty of new boxed bikes require full frame alignment. Not alignment to 0.1mm, alignment so that the gears shift and the bike tracks. Much easier to do in series than in a unique case. Occasionally a bike like this makes fifty bucks for the seller. Much more often it is only possible as a labor of love.

      Many eBay sellers are local bike shops. Many are collectors who love every bike, just can't keep them all. In terms of market value everyone knows that mixtes and ladies frames generally go very cheap. A good market for mixtes means you can sell them at all. Even more generally small frames and small bikes are in permanent glut. They are originally purchased by boyfriends and husbands, the recipient never uses them. Condition is purely a function of how they have been stored. Small used bikes may not qualify as NOS, they are always available barely used.

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  6. That IS a cool bike. And I know for a fact this is not your first foray into bike/friend matchmaking.

    A side business idea: Velo-Yenta, Ltd.

    As for the color, if she does decide to adjust it, your suggestion of a little bit of white vinyl tape to put an edge on the color transition, and a single narrow stripe of a darker or tertiary color ought to transform it nicely. Even better would be to mix up a bit of color to match that stripe color and line the front lugs and fork.
    It will tie the room together better than Lebowski's rug ever did.

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    1. Oh my, that is perfect!

      {hurries to register veloyenta.ie}

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  7. I'm not a big fan of splash tape. However, I'm a regular reader of the Midlife Cycling blog. Justine has been known to wrap her bars Loud and Proud, and I must admit that multi-hued splash tape looks good on her bikes. A silver pump fitted to the pegs would be a nice addition to this mixte.

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    1. Funny, I think of Justine when I see that bar tape as well : )

      For those unfamiliar: here you go!

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    2. Ray Dobbins, an expert restorer of vintage bikes, has an amazing website. He also really dislikes splotchy bar tape. http://raydobbins.com/splash/splash.htm

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    3. Wow, what a wonderful page!

      Okay, you know what? Some exemplars of the splash tape I actually like quite a bit. I think the main problem is not so much the tape itself, but the bike + tape combo.

      Personally, I think a nice splash tape could look lovely in one of three situations:
      1. on an all-back bike
      2. on an all-white bike
      3. on an unpainted titanium, or stainless steel bike
      And goes without saying the bike would be diamond frame, as simple and unembellished in construction as possible (i.e. no elaborate lugwork - in fact lugless is best).

      Would love to put something like this together for fun some day. In fact, my Seven Axiom is getting a bit of an overhaul, and perhaps "lovely" splash tape is in its future : )

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  8. This has happened to me as well, but in a more involved sense: I keep wanting to BUILD bikes for my friends. I live in Minnesota where the winters are long and cold. I've built a shop in my garage, and walled it off so I can heat the smaller space. Now I while-away the dreaded dark months by happily fettling all the bikes I can fit in there. Having a limited budget, I am happy to work on bikes for friends and family, as long as they finance the builds, mods, or repairs that I'm doing. My specialty has become turning old, dime-a-dozen 10-speeds into internally-geared Roadsters, adding swept back handlebars, mudguards, chainguards, and swapping out that dangly derailleur for a nice, simple Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hub, for example. I've built up my old Gitane Gypsy Sport into a lovely "Velo de Ville", with an 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub, and it is my favorite ride now. But I go through that same process when I build a bike for someone: Talk about what they want, look at the bike I will start with and discuss what to replace and what it will cost, and then set about buying the parts and building their dream bike. Then suddenly it is Spring, and time to ride again.

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    1. I know a few guys who do this, or have done it in the past. I get the sense though, that when one puts so much sweat and heart into something, it can be frustrating if the new owner does not fully appreciate the end result, which can make for some tension as far as expectations/feedback. So it takes a pretty mellow, hands-off, "if you love it, let it go" type of individual to do this sort of thing repeatedly and continue to enjoy it. Kudos : )

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  9. Fixing up old bikes is an interesting proposition for sure. In order to sell and get anymore than you bought it for, you will likely have to do some upgrades, but then if you sink too much money into an old bike it might cost you more than you can sell it for. So then you have to do something special, different or unique to either save money or add value. I am grappling with this on an old ('93?)Cannondale mountain bike I am currently rebuilding as sort of a moustache bared gravel bike, at this point I'll be lucky to break even. I am just doing it for giggles, but even so I don't want to lose money! - Mas

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    1. Exactly the same case here - I started out rescuing old-but-still-good bikes from the dump or craigslist and overhauling them, flipping them to other college kids for a miniscule profit. I mostly did it for fun and to keep the machines on the road. Now, I've mostly moved on to that and do more high-end builds, still just for fun, and still just barely breaking even. I recently built a Pake track bike with a SRAM automatix hub, just for the sake of trying out the hub, and am now trying to sell it ... I'll be lucky to get my money back with that one!

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  10. I like the colour. Send me one just like it for a five foot twelve inch tall girl, or I could collect. Do not understand how these. frames have gone out of fashion...

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  11. I'm a newbie bike enthusiast and your blog has me falling head over heels for vintage bikes. I'll be looking for a velo yenta in Ohio. I've learned a lot here -- thank you.

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  12. This bike and your friend look perfectly matched - as for the aesthetics, well that is always a personal consideration - I don't mind the fade-out, but the decals are a bit much and I quite like the handlebar tape but feel it would look nicer on a mono-colour frame, as it is the over-all effect is just a bit 'busy'. However, the owner has a great looking bike and a brand new 'old' bike - what a treat :)

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  13. I think matchmakers ought to get out of the way between a person and their bike. I seem to remember plenty making suggestions to you, early on, and you were determined to find your own way.

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    1. What, me?!

      Ha. You are right of course on both accounts. Although "internet suggestions" is particularly tricky terrain to navigate, as there are so many of them and some directly contradict others. I took plenty of suggestions (and still do) from folks whose opinion has context.

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  14. A.J. can SO do better.

    If she only lived around here I'd TOTALLY fix her up with this great 5 year old Redline Metro 9 I know(with SUCH a great personality and like new!). Course I understand your desire to get this poor old bike a date after it's 30 year dry-spell but really, any bike that's been single that long... must be a reason you know.

    And so what if she took it out for a "sympathy Spin" and didn't have the worst time ever? What are you going to do in a month or so when she's grown tired of the Boy George paint-job and "Come on Eileen" running through her head on every ride and leaves it in the consignment rack at the LBS? Hmmm? Engineer "accidental" meetings outside the Pub? Make faintly damning compliments about every new bike she takes out for a test-ride for the next 5 years while occasionally remarking about how you ran into that nice old Raleigh the other day and it was looking SO great...?

    Nah, the Velo-Yenta thing is a dead-end. You don't want to be that Lady.

    Spindizzy

    But seriously, A.J. if you're reading this, let me give you that Redline's contact info, you two would be PERFECT!

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  15. You're a good salesperson. To call an all steel bike 'surprisingly light' … brilliant!

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    1. Not an ounce over 35lb, I assure you!

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  16. Come to think of it, this Velo-Yenta thing is kind of quaint. Haven't you heard of Velo-Tinder?

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  17. 26 comments and none have yet remarked the beauty of the model. Perhaps it is so evident as to go without saying. I would not wish that the young lady should feel it has been overlooked.

    Good bike fit. Visible comfort, visible efficiency. As good as it gets. Or as good as it gets on first approximation. The owner gets final say, but this is darn close.

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  18. It happened like this....cue fade from John Oliver...
    They had been together about 30 years, and went to visit some old friends who lived south of Seattle (Google it, it's real). After lunch, for unknown reasons they were down in the garage pre-departure, whereupon the host asked whether they would like a bicycle. Why not, thought the husband, who had been riding since 1955 and, at that time, owned 10 bicycles including a Seven and an Ahearne. Yes, a beautiful blue Nishiki mixte, perfect because she did not have a bike at all. Tange 900 double butted tubes, it said, and, more importantly, "handcrafted by Kuwahara." With 27" tires, it must have been about vintage 1982. Perfect fit. No cost at all, a gift. Since they had enough bike racks for 4 on the wagon, it was no problem. This was just the start.
    Soon it was time for the modifications. He suggested albatross bars from Riv, and coupled them with the black Tektro reverse brake levers, Riv silver shifters, put on a new chainring for lower gears and replaced the tires and seat. She was happy, but not eager to ride much, since the surrounding country was very hilly.
    ....fast forward to a happy couple riding together on a sunny day in the country, speeding along at 8mph or so. He, "Would you like to try riding fast?" She, "I am riding fast!"
    Fade to advertisement for.......

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  19. First thing I'd do, is get rid of the suicide levers.

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    1. That would be my suggestion as well. The new owner doesn't need anything up there anyway, as she took to the drops immediately and seems just fine with her hands on the proper brake levers.

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  20. The bike is OK but only really because of its NOS novelty. Apologies but I think I would have advised your friend of something a little more matching her beauty of image and form. Perhaps budget was a limiting factor?

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    1. No need to apologise, but I do disagree there. The bicycle is fast, handles well, fits like a glove, and has comfortable geometry and pleasing proportions. Sometimes bicycle models that are not that special on paper, can yield staggeringly nice ride experiences, and I feel this here is one of those examples. Whether the owner agrees only time will tell, but it's looking good so far (=she is constantly riding it). And if she really hates the colour scheme, well she can always get it repainted (she knows people!) - as she did with her other, upright Raleigh (this one).

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    2. You're right the bike is a fine fit and the resprayed and updated upright looks great.

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  21. "Are you too a bike cupid? Ever eager to "help" if a friend so much as breathes they are in need of a new bike? Unable to look at a bike without thinking that it would be perfect for So-and-So?"

    Yes, yes and yes! I'll pull together some stories to share at some point...

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  22. AJ looks ‘as one’ with the Candice – proper style and grace – it might have a couple of fashion faux pas but it’s definitely her suit of clothes. :)

    About eighteen months ago I restored a 1982 Raleigh Wisp mixte for a neighbour’s daughter. It was seriously high geared, with a 52/42 chainset and a 5-speed 14-28 freewheel so the lowest gear was 42:28. I ended up replacing the freewheel with a 6-speed Shimano ‘Megarange’ 14-34 freewheel and a Tourney bracket-fit derailleur (didn’t even need to respace the dropouts or redish the wheel). It’s still too high geared for a female rider (not being sexist, it just is) – I don’t think she’s even used the big ring – but at least now there’s a bail-out gear. Before I did that, when I was test-riding it I had to get out of the saddle and haul it up the steepest hills, but that was how it left the factory. You don’t say what chainring is on AJ’s Candice but she has that option if she needs it – only cost around £25 for the parts (I also had to fit a new cable and rear outer).

    The suicide levers work perfectly, btw, provided the brakes are set up properly. They weren’t on the Wisp when I got it, and the previous owner had left two lever-shaped dents on the underside of the bars...

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    1. You know, I didn't bother checking the gearing, because it seemed "right." That said, AJ can push a pretty high gear judging by her other bikes. Having grown up in a hilly area is probably responsible for that.

      In general though, I do think the combination of the "uncomfortable" drop bars, "difficult to squeeze" levers, and too-high gears, are among the reasons we tend to find so many of these bikes practically unridden.

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  23. I need a bicycle cupid to hook me up with a mixte! Seriously, it should be a service like Uber or Favor or something- bicycle matchmaker. I'm a newbie and I do not want to spend $750 on a bike at a shop, but combing through the craigslist ads, I'm worried I'll make a bad choice.

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  24. Yay a Candice... Bought one on eBay last August... We have just finished our rebuild and having originally planned to restore it we ended up with a respray and a replacement of a lot of the parts ( the chrome wheels had flat spots and i got scared over being able to break safely)... Bianca as she is now called looks fab, still got the drops and some of the original parts ( love the engraving on the handles and brake levers) my original handle bar tape still on but is a kind of red and white bacon effect


    But the bike is a joy to use and is the Racer I didn't have...

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