Vintage, yesteryear and retro biking
OK. Pretentious title, granted, but what I would like to ask the restorationists on the forum is whether they restore their bikes to ride, and if they do, is there a line between remaining faithful to the originality of the bike and making practical changes to the bike to make it a better ride ? And do you cross it ?
For example, I have a Hercules roadster with rod brakes. It's a strange ride because of the handlebar arrangement with my knees passing close inside my wrists as I pedal. It's novel at first, but essentially it is uncomfortable and I don't like it. I can't change the handlebars because they are not only integrated with the stem, they also accommodate the supports and guides for the brake rods and levers. I can't raise the bars any further as the length of the brake rods are a limitation and the stem is already up to the MIP. I could remove the bars, stem and brakes and replace them with more modern and more comfortable components .... although I couldn't use cantilevers on those old rims. I suppose I could change the wheels as well, but all those changes would virtually destroy the integrity of the old bike. And that's my problem. I can keep the bike as a museum piece (it's completely original) or I can make it a practical ride ... but not without destroying its value and beauty as an artefact.
I am also doing up a Malvern Star Superstar. They are heavy beasts, and slower than they need to be, mainly because of the old steel wheels. This is less of a dilemma for me for some reason, because I like the geometry of the MS frame and all its braze ons, and reckon it has potential as a practical tourer... but not with those old wheels. The rear wheel alone and its five cogs weighs 3.6kg. Another reason I want to change the wheels is that 27" rims are getting scarce, as are the tyres, and for touring I think I would be better off with 700c. But if I do, what will remounting the cluster be an issue, and wouldn't I better off updating the drive train while I am at it ? But again, when I contemplate this I begin to wonder whether I have crossed the line too far ... and if I am going to do all that, wouldn't I be better off to just buy a new bike ?
But I don't want a new bike. I want the old bike to ride like a new bike.
I think what I am driving at is essentially the difference between people who restore vintage cars and the hot rodders. The restorationist will remain faithful to the integrity of the machine, the hot rodder does something entirely different.
Which are you ? A restorationist or a hot rodder ?
If I ever get around to making progress on any of my project bikes, i'll let you know which I am. Although I would have to guess it would depend on the bike.
I think it should be possible to remain true to the spirit of the restoration, more or less, while making a slightly more rideable machine. I'm in the middle of my first bike build at the moment but I've previously restored a mini moke and, although we painted it a different colour and upgraded various bits and pieces here and there, I'd say we stayed true to it and it's most definitely a moke. It might be a little harder with bicycles just because there's fewer parts so a small change could be bigger in terms of the whole project.
Personally I would er on the side of making something rideable. If I'm rebuilding something it's going to be because I want to ride it, not sit and look at it and congratulate myself on how original it is.
It's probably a bit harder by the sound of things with your rodded brake bike as that would be a major feature of what makes that bike what it is.
There's a place for both attitudes, I think. But the more significant the machine the less likely the "hot rod" approach is going to be appropriate. Significance could be association (Dunc Gray's Spdeedwell), originality, rarity (either in Australia or worldwide), technical importance or a host of other things.
There are some bikes that belong in display cases, but the vast majority are just ordinary bikes. However if you have something nice (rare, original, good provenance etc) why ruin it with inappropriate mods, which will more than likely devalue it? And if you know why it is important, then you'll probably know what isn't appropriate. Better for your wallet to sell it to someone else who'll apppreciate it and use the proceeds for modifying something that isn't important. Not like there aren't plenty of bikes sitting by the kerb waiting for rubbish collection.
I think you are right John. I think I should sell the Hercules.
It's a grand old bike and it's in good nick for its age but the bottom line is that I ride it only as a novelty and get off it wondering what I can do to make it more rideable. The bike has been kept in it's original condition for more than 50 years, and had just one owner, who used it as practical transport. I bought it off the bloke who handled his estate. While it is an inch larger (22" along the seat tube) and has a longer wheelbase than any other bike I own and those handlebars are just wrong for me. I am beginning to understand why English roadsters were also made in 24" frames.
At 185cm I am not particularly tall, but probably taller than your average Englishman - and this bike was made for him. The riding position is very upright, and the handlebars are quite narrow and bend back to the rider which puts my knees between my wrists at the top of each stroke. This is almost tolerable on the flat, but when I need to stand on the pedals (to tackle the most modest hill) I feel inclined to topple over the bars - they are just two low and too narrow and too close to my knees.
I have a Pakistani workmate who got excited at the sight of the Hercules as it reminded him of the bike he had at home (and there is good reason for that) and wanted a ride. He's shorter than me. He slammed the seat post down, got aboard and looked perfectly at home. He would have looked even more at home dinking most of his relatives, which according to him, is what he used to do.
Still, I look at the beautiful brass headbadge, those wonderful rod brakes, the long curving forks, the 18 spring feather bed saddle, the forged HERCULES chainwheel, the big 'ding-dong' bell and I see all the things that attracted me to the bike in the first place. And it was a bargain. (The bloke who sold it listed it in the Dragster section on eBay in error and I was the only bidder). I am tempted to hold on to it just as an artefact, a museum piece as I said before ... but I agree with others - bikes are for riding. Or I could get stuck into it, ditch the brakes, put some North Road or Cafe handlebars, fit up some Fat Franks on cruiser wheels and rig up five cogs on the back and have some fun while retaining all of the period bling and none of the authenticity.
But every time I wave a spanner at the Hercules something holds me back. No one has butchered this specimen of the Birmingham cycleworks in more than half a century and more ... and I can't be the first...and sleep at night.
Hot rodder I guess. I like to ride my bikes not look at them so whilst I like the older style look I am happy to run modern 700c wheels maybe with 36 spokes and non aero rims and high flange hubs but modern all the same. Friction shifters are fine for me I never grew out of them and they just work. Toe clips and straps are nice but I have made the transition to clip in pedals and like it enough not to care they don't look right on an old bike. I grew up riding in the late 70's and a true average mans club racing bike in those days never had a complete groupset it was all bits of this and that and based on what you could afford or the hand me downs you got from the older club guys as they traded up. Saddles too have to be comfortable and an old wrights or brooks looks great but I have to say a sella concur or rolls while still retro is just nicer to ride.
Some good old honest well built steel frames with a new set of modern wheels and groupset makes a great ride. There are a lot od old 13KG beaters that have a decent second life as retro hot rods.
I have to confesss, I'm a restoration purist. If I'm restoring a bike, I don't like using any parts that don't date from exactly the same year as the frame. For me, I get as much joy from hunting down the parts, and putting it together as I do riding the final bike. I'm probably much more obsessive about this than most: I like to know that my 1989 Merckx has a 1989 C-Record bottom bracket, not a modern equivalent, or even a C-Record from a different year. No-one else can see the part, but I still grin from ear to ear because I know what's in there...
What is strange though, is this was not the way I got into bikes. I remember as a cash-poor uni student, I built up my bikes piece by piece over many years. I had parts on my bike which spanned a decade. I remember upgrading from 6 to 7 speed, then to SIS, and then to Ergopower. Consequently, my bike had both Shimano, and Campagnolo on it at the same time...
Repainting a bike is another matter where opinions are divided... I'm happy to repaint a bike, but I like the paint colour and scheme to be just like a scheme from the year of manufacture. I also like the decals to look original. I am aware of others who object to any sort of repainting full stop. Another school of thought is to reproduce the paint the way the original looked. This often means using thinner paints, and little (if any) clearcoat, to replicate the style of bygone eras. On another list I belong to, there was some discussion of a Bugatti (car) restoration where the restorers used teabags to replicate the aged patina of the paint. To me this is silly. Why restore to anything less than the best it can be? My Colnago Saronni which is getting restored right now, is getting the best paint and chrome I can give it. When it's finished, it will look much better than any Saronni that would have left the Colnago factory. Saronnis did not receive the same rigid quality control as other Colnagos, and they are notorious for paint that chips, and stickers that peel off. My restoration will be similar to the Mustang that is restored to "better than factory".
Having said all that, I restore my bikes to my taste, and for my own purposes. I like to see bikes getting ridden, and if that means putting modern parts on an old frame, then who am I to object? I have done exactly the same thing on my Raleigh Twenty in honour of the late Sheldon... I've also been toying with the idea of "pimping" my purple Colnago, by adding a zebraskin saddle, and bartape. Of course, I am trying to find parts from the correct year, so it's taking some time... The only thing I really don't like to see is the modern trend of grinding off bits of a hand-made bike to make it look like something it isn't. If you ask me, that's vandalism. Otherwise anything goes.
I enjoy learning about the bikes as I restore them, and giving a new lease of life to delapidated frames. That said, I have not kept any of the bikes I have had resprayed, apart from my Falcon that i have owned from new. They somehow dont seem original any more, and while they are beautiful and immaculate, not as desirable in my eyes.
So now I prefer to have only original bikes. It is also a lot cheaper to buy original frames in good order than it is to get poorer condition frames and respray them. Original will always be original, resprayed never will be. That said, if a special old frame has been resprayed before, then a faithful respray is the best possible thing for that frame.
I am not so fussy about relatively unseen items like bottom brackets, but otherwise I like bikes to have the correct era parts, including bars/stem/seatpost etc. One thing I really like is to get the early thin spokes. The modern thick spokes just dont look right on an old lightweight bike.
My favourite bikes are those that are totally original, down to the cables and bar tape. Very hard to find though!
Then there is always room for that de-brazed slick hotrodded singlespeed too! Just dont do it to a "special" or good original frame.
And bikes always need to be able to be ridden!
spanner in your works, dear chap.
my first serious road bike was bought in 1978. In 1979 I upgraded the bars and stem, saddle and the cranks. In 1980, the gears, derailleurs. In 1981 the wheels were replaced (you get the picture)...
If I still had the bike (it was stolen in 1993) and I was to do a total refurbishment and refit, which year would be appropriate, pray tell. Like me (age 47), the bike would be a work in progress.
I'll take the new me over the old me anytime at all. Toodle pip.
I think you've got your answer. You appreciate the Hercules for what it is, but what it is doesn't really suit you. You could change it, but that would erode the character of the bike.
I would find the pleasure of making a profit on the deal (and seeing the bike to a good home to boot) would probably exceed the guilty pleasure of changing it to suit me. But, to each his own.
Leave the Hercules alone! You have to remember that it has that old-fashioned riding style, and you need to get used to it if you want to ride that machine. Use it as a weekend recreational ride on the bike paths. They were not built for going fast - they were built to get from point A to B reasonably comfortably.
As to the Malvern Star you are riding, firstly 27" rims are not THAT scarce. However, a change to 700C alloy rims and tyres would not be considered "bad", considering that you want to use it as an ever-day ride, and steel rims have similar braking properties to cheese in the wet. Sportier bicycles were more likely to go through upgrades and modifications in their lifetime than old roadsters.
Just like my example, and probably many others' as well... However, if I thought the bike deserving of a resto, I would prefer to "restore" to all 1978 specs, unless I was restoring a bike to "original owner" specs, in which case I would discuss with the owner until we both agreed on what is appropriate. If the original owner was not contactable, I might use a picture, or some other historical record as my template.
Eddy Merckx built most of his 10th Anniversary bikes in 1989, although 1990 was the 10th anniversary of his bike building business. As a result, most were sold with 1989 groupsets, and the catalogues show 1989 parts on them. Not surprisingly, I have built mine with 1989 parts, not 1990 parts.
Just to throw yet another consideration in:
Most of the vintage bicycles I have acquired were in truly abysmal condition. My Skidstar was partly re-painted by the previous owner, decals all but gone, and the rear wheel was mangled, as well as all the gear-shifting parts missing from the sturmey-archer hub:
and my Raleigh Twenty was in this condition when I received it (though it had been disassembled for postage)
Happily, I also acquired an AG hub also of 1975 vintage as well as 36-hole alloy 20" rims at about the same time... just have to get around to building some wheels!
Every bike is different and there are so many variables. "It depends" is the best answer I can give.
I like original. I like period correct and period corrupt. I like nouveau retro. I like untouched as much as upgraded. I like modern bikes with old parts/themes. The melange is what makes it so interesting.
The only thing I don't like is permanent modification on historically significant bikes but I will add that there are very few bikes of historical significance. Most people worry too much about fairly run of the mill, production bikes that aren't rare except for the owners myopic judgment. If it's to be ridden some compromise has to be entertained.
It's a hard subject, and it's something that could go on and on without any consensus. In saying that most people have no sense of taste and/or style ... at least not by my standards
Yep, definitely depends.
Cheaper and widely available bikes, it's open slather: Repaint, file this, braze that, whatever.
But with "nice" bikes (I guess we all draw our own lines regarding what constitutes a nice bike), I'll try to keep it as original as possible. It's probably stopped me from buying a couple of bikes knowing that I'll be too scared to ride them for fear of chipping the paint. I guess I like to buy bikes that I can ride and aren't really interested if it means I've got to store it in a museum or something.
I wasn't expecting consensus. I can't even make up my own mind on where I stand on the question but I do have a reluctance to mess with a very original bike. I prefer to fiddle with neglected bikes - not totally trashed bikes, just bikes that haven't had enough attention to have been maintained in original condition. That way I feel I have license to do as I please in the name of improving the condition of the bike. If it's very original though, I feel compelled to keep it that way.
One of my favourite bikes is 'The Taxi'. It's a steel framed hybrid, branded Revel, that is covered in green and gold taxi checkers - remnant of my days in the taxi industry. I used to ride back and forth on the night shift and the taxi checkers served a practical purpose - they are excellent reflectors. It's made up of bits and pieces of other bikes and is the bike that has the most 'me' in it as I have pulled it apart and put it back together again, and it's never been back to the shop. It's unique, there isn't another one like it, and its mine.
I think most of us would agree 'bikes are for riding'. And perhaps many would agree to an amendment ... 'bikes are for riding...and tinkering with'. It's half the fun.
I have resolved the ethical problem with the Hercules.
The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone....
Currently I am hindered from riding the bike because roadster handlebars are the problem. If I remove them I will need to remove the rod brake assemblies which have integral mounts on the handlebars. And if I remove them I need to work out how to stop the bike because the 28" rims don't have sides and cantilever brakes wont have anywhere to work. One solution would be to change rims to 700c and fit long reach brakes ... but they would still have to be mounted and the frame would need to be drilled, and I don't want to do that.
Then it dawned on me. If I lace a 3 speed hub with a coaster brake into a 700c wheel I do away with the need for frame mounted brakes altogether, and I get the advantage of a range of gears. Better still I can remove the 28" wheels, the brake assemblies and the handlebars and put them in a box, and replace them with lighter modern wheels and the handlebars of my choice. As everything simply bolts on and off I can restore the bike to its original configuration at anytime. (And retain it's value) Should I do so, I can certainly use 700c wheels and a 3 speed hub else where. Using 700c means I have a much wider range of tyre choice and additional clearance under the guards.
So nothing needs to be sacrificed and no material changes are required to the frame to make it more ride able. For the sake of a couple of hours in the shed I can have a completely original Hercules or a modified ride able Hercules, as I choose.
Well I have to say I am amused by this topic, why? because I am a Hot Rodder who loves bikes, and you might be surprised to learn there are a lot of us out there.
When I was a kid and got my first bike I just wanted to go faster so I got into bike racing and it evolved from there into cars, to me the 2 go together.
I have put up a pic of my Hot Rod in a previous post about utes but was really reluctant to do so because I feared a negative reaction from hardcore bikers.
I agree that a really nice original bike should be kept as is and " restored " to a certain point, but I also say they are meant to be ridden, just as my car is driven, what's the good of having something sitting there looking at you, we say " Hot Rods should be driven, not hidden ", and this applies to bikes as well.
I recently sold a rusty old frame on e-bay and the bloke who bought it said he was keeping it that way in the style of a " Rat Bike " yikes! that started with Rat Rods, the shittier version of Hot Rods, so there's another link, go figger.......
I couldn't get the brakes on my bike to work so I got a really loud horn, crisis over!
[quote="scratchman"]Well I have to say I am amused by this topic, why? because I am a Hot Rodder who loves bikes, and you might be surprised to learn there are a lot of us out there.
ASRF member here restore good quality bikes or bikes that are special to you or have some sort of history, I would never understand restoring a '70's bottom of the line anything (Repco, Apollo, Cyclops etc), its not economically viable anyway (ie WAFTAM) Nothing wrong with a shed full of bikes though, you cant be a collector if you dont collect, I have some I ride but Im not spending money on having 50 bikes ready to go (imagine the cost in tyres and tubes!!!) If you have a nice and original bike of any kind, and you feel the urge to start ripping or cutting why no sell it to someone who wants a bike like that, there are thousands of frames about that have no value, problem being most have little idea of whast good and whats not
p.s "RESTORE" means to return to original, not repaint and re fit how you like, that may be "REBUILD"
I dont understand how a hot rodder can make the high end/low end distinction. I mean isn't the hot rod ethic precisely to take (typically) an old Ford (i.e. a low end mass production model) and make it hot ? Isn't that contradiction the whole appeal of the hot rod ?
The restorer will meticulously collect or recreate the original equipment, warts and all, for the sake of authenticity and originality, but hot rodder only wants the shell around which he basically reinvents the machine from the ground up.
[quote="Cranky Jim"]I dont understand how a hot rodder can make the high end/low end distinction. I mean isn't the hot rod ethic precisely to take (typically) an old Ford (i.e. a low end mass production model) and make it hot ? Isn't that contradiction the whole appeal of the hot rod ? quote]
you dont see many hacking into a Ferrari or Porsche or original SLR 5000 Torana do you? or to be correct and pre '48 there arnt any hot rodded Cords or Dusenbergs, Bugatti's etc, Hot Rodders arnt dumb they know good stuff when they see it, some own restored cars as well
It's an old thread that I thought needed revisiting for an update.
I actually came here today with the intention of offering the Hercules free to a good home. I never touched it. I bought various bits and pieces to 'smarten it up' - but I never used them. Like I said, every time I raised a spanner to the bike, something always stopped me.
I put it in the back of the shed out of harm's (i.e. my) way. I haven't ridden it for three years. Now the time has come to clear the shed. I really don't need six bicycles. I need the space. So today was going to be the day of the cull. I planned to keep 3 bikes, send one to the beach house, scrap one and give the Hercules away.
I emptied the shed and lined the condemned bikes up. I thought I'd better take a photo of the Hercules. I brushed the dust and cobwebs away, lubed it up, pumped up the tyres, put the old seat back on. .... I supposed I had better take it for a ride before I sent it away ...
My face broke into the same idiot grin it wore when I first picked the Hercules up and rode it to the train station. It is a great boat of a bike but it still travels well. The riding position just seems ridiculously upright. The old bird lady was out feeding her magpies so I gave her a peel of the ding-dong bell and we waved enthusiastically. I became aware that I was laughing. I was enjoying this.
When I got back home I had made up my mind. Hercules is mine - and I am not going to mess with it. It is what it is and what it has always been for 60 or 70 years and it rides as it was intended to ride. I don't need the space as much as I need a giggle.
Reading back over the thread it is full of good advice - and I think I took it.
As for 'restoration ethics' - well, I did the job on the old Malvern Star. I ditched the suicide levers and the steel wheels, I fitted it up with a deep V alloy 700c wheelset, RX running gear and brifters, a leather saddle and bar tape and a paint job. It came up a treat, rides well and I ride it often. It lives in my den. I have had this bike since I was 16 and somehow I felt at liberty to make those changes because it is my bike.
But Hercules ... I just have custody of him. He was rolling the streets of Footscray before I was born. His original rider has passed on and he never changed a thing. Neither can I.
OK. Hercules is not a terribly practical ride. It is truly a push bike. Like a vintage car it is not for the hurly burly of my commute or a tour of the country side, but on a pleasant Sunday I can take him out, polish him up, wear a funny hat and ring my bell.
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