As if we haven’t endured enough in the past year, we’re currently living through what will heretofore be known as The Great Bicycle Shortage of 2021, which means complete bicycles, as well as parts, have been hard to come by. Tumbleweeds are a-blowin’ down the aisles of your local bike shop. Desperate mountain bikers have resorted to using pancake batter as tire sealant. Anguished roadies longing to ride outside are dragging Pelotons into the streets.
OK, not quite. We’re still getting bikes and components. It’s just that supply is lagging behind demand. So, depending on what you’re after, the current supply disruption means that new upgrade you’ve been waiting for could be backordered for quite a while.
But is that really such a bad thing? New bike stuff is only new for an instant, and while it may be thrilling to throw a leg over the latest in cutting-edge technology, it’s only a matter of time before the novelty and excitement wears off. Meanwhile, the bicycle itself has been around for like a century and a half, which means this lack of new stuff could be the perfect excuse to explore the fascinating, enlightening, and at times highly pretentious world of owning and riding vintage bikes.
Of course, to truly appreciate old bikes, you do have to adjust your expectations.
If you’re delving into old bikes for the first time, you may be surprised that much of what is “new” in cycling isn’t really new at all. Take the whole gravel thing, for instance. Believe it or not, people have been riding bicycles on irregular surfaces for a really long time, and in fact the macadam roads that allowed cycling to flourish in the late 19th century would set a gravel grinder’s heart aflutter today. More recently, the pre-suspension mountain bikes of the 1980s were in many ways the forebears of today’s gravel and bikepacking rigs: these versatile machines often had clearance for wide tires, braze-ons for racks, and sporty yet stable geometry. Bikes like the 1987 Bridgestone MB-1 and the 1989 Specialized RockCombo even came stock with the flared drops that are now de rigeur on modern gravel bikes.
What’s more, as with any cycling trend, lots of people bought those super-cool mountain bikes and then never rode them, which means that to this day there are well-preserved specimens in garages all across America, making their way onto Craigslist and eBay as I type this. These bikes have tremendous potential. Thanks to the popularity of gravel, putting drop bars on a vintage mountain bike is a well-trod path, but older mountain bikes are also great candidates for commuter bikes, winter bikes, basket bikes—or, you know, just using as mountain bikes. That’s what they were designed for, and while technology has changed, the laws of physics haven’t. Those 26-inch wheels are still round, after all.
If pavement is more your thing, the world of vintage road bikes holds even more potential. While mountain bikes came of age in the 1980s, road bikes have been a thing, like, forever, and besides having to futz with toe clips and reach down to shift, there’s little about even a 70-year-old road bike that would hold back or confuse today’s Lycra-clad cyclists. There are decades upon decades’ worth of old road bikes out there, from lugged steel artifacts to Day-Glo Armstrong-era aluminum models, and for a fraction of the price of that backordered Shimano Di2 group, you may be able to find yourself a real classic.
Of course, to truly appreciate old bikes, you do have to adjust your expectations. Will the cantile
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Long Live Old Bikes