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weekend reading: things I’ve learned about vintage bikes

April 15, 2011

Vintage Raleigh Roadsters

In August of 2010, T. and I bought this matching pair of vintage Raleigh Roadsters and thus a love affair with vintage bikes ensued. A friend recently asked me some questions about owning a vintage bike (vs. just purchasing a new bike) and I tried to impart some of my love and excitement for these older yet beautiful bikes that have come to replace all of my new bikes. I know divide my commutes between using my 1969 Raleigh Sports upright bike and my sportier 1970s Peugeot Mixte. For a roadbike, I replaced my 2008 Schwinn Le Tour GS with a 1978 Raleigh Grand Prix.

As a disclaimer, I should note that I am a complete novice to bike maintance, vintage bikes in general, and anything much more involved that just hopping on a bike and going. But that’s maybe what intimidates some about owning a vintage bike – that it may require some keen know-how or involved understanding of how to fix old bikes. Vintage bikes run the spectrum of condition: some do need a lot of work and are major fixer uppers and some are just old but in really wonderful condition.

The Raleighs we bought were pretty much rideable upon purchase. They had only had two previous owners (two generations of the same family) and were in great condition. We simply bought some Brooks leather conditioner to condition the saddle, added oil to the hub, cleaned them up, installed new break pads, and added some accessories, like lights, a bell, and a bike basket. I did, after a while, make the decision to upgrade the steel wheels to aluminum ones and you can read more about what prompted that decision here. The Raleighs cost $250 for the pair, so $125 for the one. To that, I added about $50 in accessories and treatment supplies (as outlined above) and could have called it quits at $175 spent total on my bike. Eventually, the upgrade to new wheels and tires cost me another $225, making the total spent on my vintage commuter bike around $400. Considering how much a new commuter bike that would come with an all-steel frame, Brooks saddle, fenders, a rack, basket, lights, chainguard and bell would cost, I think this price tag is quite reasonable. Plus, these bikes come with a history and character that make them all the more special to me.

Brooks

Vintage Raleigh Ladies Sports Bike

Bikes and Heels
My other Raleigh, which came next, was more of a fixer-upper from the start. We found this bike on Craigslist (just like the other two above) for only $35. While the price tag was right and we fell in love with the beautiful paintjob, the gorgeous headlight, and the immaculate white handlebar tape, the rest of the bike left something to be desired. It was not rideable. The wheels and tires were completely broken, they were in such bad shape that we didn’t even test ride the bike nor did we photograph the ‘before’ condition because we went straight to one of the local bikes shops with it. While we only paid $35 for the bike itself, we knew that it would cost another $200 or so to make it rideable. In the end, the bike cost about $250 after installing new brakepads, wheels, and tires. The beauty of it though is that I now have a roadbike with a vintage frame but with brandnew wheels, tires, and brakes and it rides beautifully.

While I’ve loved taking this bike out for longer rides on paved trails, I’ve also enjoyed using it around town and wrote about making it do for my rides to work in heels and skirts.

(Also, on a side note, I rode 70 miles in one day on a vintage all-steel Takara last summer and I had no problem keeping the same pace as my husband and friends, who were on newer aluminum frame road bikes. That event is what convinced me that a vintage steel bike does not need to be discountet as a feasable bike for fast and/or long-distance riding).

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

Roadbikin' in heels

The last vintage bike to join my collection was my 1970s Peugeot Mixte. This bike is a perfect example of a bike that came in great shape with no need for upgrades or restorations. It was previously owned by one of the local bike guys at my favorite bike shop in town and was in great shape from having been already restored by a well informed bike owner. This bike came with less original components as my other two bikes (the frame is essentially the only original thing on it) but originality is not very important to me. I don’t mind adding newer accessories or components to my old bikes, something that some bike owners have strong feelings about. The only things I added to this bike were the front basket and a chain guard. The bike cost around $140 after those additions.

yellow

Peugeot

Yellow Mixte Remix

We still have some upgrades we want to do, like replacing the break cables on my Raleighs. And with the Raleigh Sports, I have to add oil to the internal gear hub about once a month (using a small plastic syringe). It helps tremendously that my husband is very handy with bikes and does much of the work on them. Perhaps I would have been less adventurous in buying older bikes without his know-how and guidance. But I’ve also found the employees at my local bike shop to be wonderful resources of information and advice. So if you don’t know a ton about vintage bikes yourself, and aren’t living with someone who does, having the access to a great bike shop that cares about vintage bikes and bikes for transportation (not just the sport of cycling) could be all you need to make older bikes work for you.

Additionally, Sheldon Brown is a wealth of information. And this site on dating old Raleighs based on their serial number is what allowed me to pin down exactly when and where my Raleighs were built. Buying a vintage bike can seem like a gamble (opposed to just getting a new(er) bike, but the advantages to these bikes is that they are made of quality all-steel frames, often come with quality leather saddles, often come built to be commuter bikes with fenders and chainguard, and are beautiful and unique in a way that only a bike with so much history can be.

Do you own a vintage bike? What are some of the things you’ve learned or come to simply appreciate about riding a beautifully aged bicycle? ~S.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2011 12:50

    I own a 1970’s era Raleigh Record Ace Mixte and I’ve already replaced the handlebars so I could have an upright riding position…I LOVE my bike, but I think it’s time to either spend a boat load of money fixing it up (fenders, rack, light, saddle, internal hub) or just buy a new bike. I commute by bike so comfort and a quiet ride have become more important to me that having a vintage bike. Have you seen the Giant VIA 1 W?? http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-us/bikes/model/via.1.w/7385/44532/
    It’s SO CUTE and all that it needs is a rear rack and different saddle!

  2. April 15, 2011 13:00

    Your collection of vintage bikes is pretty perfect. I love your his and her Raleighs and that yellow mixte just makes me smile. This is a great post.

  3. Sarah permalink
    April 15, 2011 14:46

    I actually own that exact same Peugeot mixte! I bought it a few months ago and now can’t imagine biking to work on anything else. I also don’t feel badly about putting new components on it, so it has a new front basket and rear rack. It did come though, with most (if not all) of the original components including the darling white grips. Thanks for writing this article. I have about the same amount of vintage bike knowledge, but I do really enjoy learning more. Happy riding!

  4. April 15, 2011 15:29

    I just bought a late 60s-early 70s bike last weekend (http://mscleaver.com/2011/04/13/my-sweet-new-ride/) – so perfect timing on this post. I’m working on gathering my accessories and maintenance tools this weekend – a will hopefully get a ride or two in!!

  5. April 15, 2011 17:26

    I personally own three bikes, none newer than the mid eighties.
    I love older bikes, when they are properly maintained or restored.
    “Vintage” bikes seem to have more personality, probably from being rode so many years.
    My Raleigh DL-1 “Victor” is a graceful old gentleman almost effortlessly plugging along with all his grey hair(rust & natural patina) This bike requires almost no work to done to it, just the basics.
    My FreeSpirit Greenbriar “Phantom” is more like a phoenix, from the ashes of an old ten-speed arose a worry-free commuter for under $500
    And my last bike, a mid-eighties Schwinn World Sport which acquired all the parts from previous fixed-gears.
    I love working on old bikes, they are so smooth when they are done right.
    My wife just got a 1968 Hercules(Raleigh Sport) for $20 to replace her vintage Schwinn three-speed.
    I would love to sit here in all my retrogrouchery smuggness and say vintage bikes are the best, but truth is I don’t have the desire to spend the kind of money to purchase a comparable bike(s). I really couldn’t picture myself on anything else.

  6. Katherine permalink
    April 15, 2011 18:39

    My grandparents had that same set of his ‘n her Raleighs! We still have them, but they need a little TLC. I love riding them :)

  7. April 15, 2011 20:40

    I own a 1972 Raleigh Lady Sports bicycle, which I love to ride and appreciate. She came with all the original components less the rack, grips, and tires, which I added or replaced. I use Phil Wood Tenacious oil for the hub. I was told not to be overly concerned with the hub that a few drops every couple of months was sufficient, otherwise too much oil could be problematic. I was curious if you feel more would be better? Also, I agree with you about the steel rims and braking though I haven’t taken her out in the rain yet. I really do appreciate how well she still rides and shifts after 40 plus years. I’m also quite taken by her overall beauty (lugs, brooks saddle, & the color green) compared to my more modern bikes.

  8. April 16, 2011 01:41

    Just like you, I got myself an old Raleigh (Wayfarer, probably early ’70’s). It was a cheap find ($30) but I ended up putting quite a bit of work into it. I also ended up getting a new front wheel built with an aluminum rim. Overall, I’ve sunk about $400 into it. That figure can seem quite scary to someone who knows nothing about bikes, and can be scary if you don’t even know if you’ll like the bike. But I do love the bike, and as you said, to get a comparable modern bike would cost more and may not even be as good! Raleigh wasn’t perfect, but they knew how to build dependable bikes.

    Now I’ve got another project bike in the wings, a 50’s Rudge Sports. It will need quite a bit of work, but what the hey?

  9. April 16, 2011 09:09

    I don’t own a vintage bike. I’ve owned my electra cruiser for 7 -8 years, which has a vintage feel of a bike from the early 60s maybe – with fenders, and coaster breaks, no gears. I love it.
    When I was a kid a had a neon green bike with high handlebars and a “banana” seat covered with bright flowers, and a “sissy bar”. I fixed all my own flats, and installed the bar myself, around age 10 or 11. I wish I still had that bike, just for the memories. I hope I will find photos of it one day.

  10. April 16, 2011 11:26

    We have a couple of matching 68 Sprites – Great riding around town bikes.
    You should look into the Lake Pepin 3 Speed Tour. Great fun with a crowd of other English 3 speed nuts. Takes place in May in Red Wing Minn.

  11. April 16, 2011 16:43

    I have a 1970 Raleigh Ladies Sports, and love it. I ended up paying about the same as S. did for her bike, but since I bought it off of Ebay, the shipping cost almost as much as the bike itself (alas, there are very few bike on our CL). Unfortunately, I was in love with the bike and bought it anyway.
    Since then, the bike has been a constant project. There always seems to be something more that needs to be adjusted or replaced. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — I quite enjoy figuring out exactly how & what needs to be fixed (though it can be an expensive habit — I’ve been playing around with the idea of a drum/dyno front hub when I build up some aluminum wheels).
    My boyfriend doesn’t quite understand my love for this bike, as he pedals on a 2010 aluminum Specialized bike. But I say: vintage Raleigh represent! :)

  12. April 17, 2011 11:58

    I live in China… bikes everywhere. Enjoying your site. Kind of inspiring me to purchase a bike. Maybe not here in china but when I get back to the states in the summer. You bike even though your pregnant? Be careful :)

  13. June 29, 2012 13:19

    I have a Raleigh Limited that was made in England. Were do I find the Serial number?

  14. Bill permalink
    August 26, 2012 23:07

    The most important things to do with a old bike you want to make rideable. Regrease everything!!! If your not comfortable doing it or learning how it will cost 50-100 dollars depending where you go. The bottom bracket ,headset,wheel hubs chain ect. Everything that was greased new should be redone before riding a newly acquired vintage ride. Also lose the old brake pads and get some continental salmon koolstops. Your bike will stop at least 30 percent better with just this one mod. Make sure you know what your doing with the brakes or get someone who does. You can learn a lot from reading online and just doing it. Any old bike should be carefully road tested before doing any serious riding. Tires are another thing that make a huge difference. A good pair of tires can make the bike much more comfortable and also make it perform better. Look for old bikes that have not been ridden much. So many bikes that were purchased maybe were used once or twice. They got a flat tire and the owner put them away. I’ve purchased many vintage bikes that needed extremely minor repairs. Sometimes a part was loose due to poor original assemblage. Old English Raleigh’s were made so a person with average mechanical skill could repair them. They were designed to be used for transportation and when kept lubed and in tune seldolmly break down. One of the most common mistakes I see people making is with the old cottered cranks. Those pins holding the cranks on . People often think the bolts on them are meant for tightening the pin. In actuality they need to be pressed in. There’s several places online where you can see how to properly press a pin in. Even without a purpose designed tool. Alot of Raleigh’s sold via dept stores in the 70s have this problem. The people assembling those bikes weren’t bike mechanics and often the bike was ridden the crank loosened and the bike went into the basement or shed . Sometimes repressing the pin properly can solve this without having to buy a new pin. It’s worked for me several times now.

  15. August 9, 2015 14:35

    I have a vintage bike im trying to sell dont know lot bot them

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