Monday, 17 August 2015

Golden Oldies.

Apparently I've been given two old bicycles, one is a BSA Twenty and one is a Puch (I think) five speed, the BSA is a known quantity, as my dear old mum rode one (for about 2 days) when I was a nipper. I don't know much about Puch bikes although they made BMX's in the 80's, they also made the rather excellent 4x4 system for the old Fiat Panda and many a 4x4 gearbox for military vehicles. Alas I'm digressing, so I googled Puch and can across a thread where somebody had been gifted a bike and opinions varied from taking it to the tip, to a full restore. One contributor even suggested it would be a better bike to take on a 1000 mile trip to Europe than a modern carbon framed steed, the guy suggesting the tip option, countered that not every old bike is a classic, and that in 30 years people would be dragging old BSO's out into the light and proclaiming them as classic too.

In fact they are both right, rarity increases the value of anything, so much so that a Ford Sierra for instance, and I sold a cleanish one for £200 back in 2000, would be worth upwards of £2000 today, likewise I see silly prices online for old bicycles, I wouldn't pay them myself, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at riding an old bike, and if I was looking a bike for a tour, I'd take the old bike option myself rather than something new off the peg.

Old bikes are simple, very simple, no hydraulic discs, no brifters or pod gear shifters, cup and cone bearings, simple old fashioned engineering designed to be maintained and looked after, given some TLC, treated right. No bike of decent construction is intrinsically "bad" however I fear that in 30 years time most BSO's made since 2000 will have long since corroded into dust, due to their build quality.

I have ridden an bike that is 107 years old, that's not a typo, it was built in 1908. Furthermore this bike is a daily rider, not a museum piece and I can say in all honesty, it's a terrific thing to ride, it is much a much better ride than some modern "retro" imitations which just feel tinny and choppy, so your "Pendleton" is trumped by a bike built when Edward VII was on the throne, on quality alone! Obviously pre WW1 bikes are not the norm, but a walk round Belfast reveals that there are dozens of 1970s-1990s bikes in daily use.

So why choose an old bike? There are many reasons, the first one is cost, ridiculous priced specimens aside, old bikes are very cheap, some might even turn up for free, parts prices are low too. Pair of shifters off ebay? Less than a tenner. Brake blocks? Two quid, any cable will do. About the only modern part I'd put on one is a cartridge bottom bracket, but if you want to keep it oldskool, new bearings are a couple of quid for the old one. Ebay is your friend in this respect. Secondly, they aren't attractive to thieves, they don't look fancy, you're not going to get much if you break one for bits and no tea leaf is going to waste his time defeating a half decent lock for bugger all reward. Thirdly, they were built when people put mudguards on a bike, so they have a lot of clearance and mounting eyes. Fourth and the best reason, is that they are an involving ride, Most are steel, and a bit springy and flexy, not great for climbing, but bloody comfortable, on most bikes before the mid 80's and quite a few after that, you had non indexed shifters, developing the muscle memory to make a clean shift is deeply satisfying plus the added bonus of being able to use any number of sprockets on your freewheel. (I run friction shifters on my 27 speed Surly!) Braking isn't awesome but you learn to think ahead, you ride the bike, you don't just get on and pedal.

In short, every bike collection needs something old and simple, would I take one over my modern bikes, probably not, as they're all modified for my needs, but would I take a 1980's 10 speed over say a Halfords BSO if I could only have one bike. I'll go old, every time.

EDIT: The day after I first wrote this entry, I cam home to find someone had dumped a couple of old bikes at my back door in a state of disrepair, an Apollo MTB thing and an old 1990's 10 speed faux MTB, a Raleigh Raven to be precise, the Apollo will probably end up as spares, but the Raleigh piqued my interest, both wheels were wobbly, both had perished tubes and the cup and cone bottom bracket was all over the place. Two tubes from the spares box, a bit of time with the spanners and I'm riding it to work tomorrow. Such a shame that so many usable bikes are dumped.

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