|"VINTAGE LIFE CYCLES"
CANADIAN & VINTAGE LIGHTWEIGHT BICYCLE
CHOOSING A BICYCLE TO RESTORE
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|WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A BICYCLE TO RESTORE|
|The Peugeot PS28 sports cast and machined dropouts, a full Shimano 105 Grouppo(if that's even a word) and, be still my heart, one of them fancy indexed shifting systems. And it all hangs on a frame made of Chrome-Moly Double Butted tubing. Learn how to identify these important bicycle features before making a choice.|
If, and when, you begin to consider finding an old ten speed to restore, you will probably be surprised to discover that there are, literally, hundreds of different brands and models to choose from. These range in quality levels from basic consumer targeted toys to top of the line, very high quality handmade racing or touring machines whose aesthetic preparation rivals even the finest art work. The problem, of course, for the novice collector is, �What is worth while and what is not?�
Of course, �worth while� is a subjective consideration. For some people, the ubiquitous Canadian made Peugeots will serve just fine, while, for others only a full blown Peugeot PX-10, the top of the line model made in France, will suffice. There might well be sentimental value attached to a particular bicycle or brand. Perhaps you simply want to restore that old Raleigh "Grand Prix" you purchased new and rode for zillions of miles when you were a teenager. Sentimental considerations aside, there are, cosmetic, structural and component clues that signal top of the line machines from those of lesser qualities.
Let�s start with the foundation of any bicycle � the frame. To begin with, look for a tubing description decal or sticker. Top, and near top, of the line models were generally made from some type of chrome moly single, double, or triple butted tubing. Frame decals will clearly define exactly what kind of tubing was used and where it was used on the bike. This is one of the reasons why a repainted frame looses value. Once painted, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to determine exactly what material the frame was made of. (This is one of the primary reasons why a bicycle looses value when painted.) A triple butted frame, made out of Reynolds 531 chrome moly tubing, is far more desirable to a collector that an identical frame made out of some lesser material.
Canadian Peugeots were made of Carbolite 103 Tubing while their French counterparts were made from Allege Special Tubing. Though both are high tensile steel alloys, neither of these tubing types are really special when compared to a full chrome moly, be it double or triple butted, frame. Keep in mind, however; lesser quality tubing need not, necessarily, be a deterrent. You will see many different types and styles of tubing decals or stickers. On some frames, only a certain tube or tubes are made of the wonder material and this information will be indicated on the decal or sticker. However, for the purpose of the restorer, the better the tubing is, the more likely it is that the bike is of high end quality. With this in mind, get into the habit of searching out tubing decals on each bicycle that you consider for restorative purposes.
While on the subject of exotic tubes, a word of caution. The lighter the bike - the thinner the tubes, generally speaking. It seems almost foolish for a two hundred and fifty pound guy to feel that he needs the lightest bicycle possible, assuming that the actual riding of the bike in his intention. The pursuit of light bicycles has reached almost foolish proportions. Smaller, more compact frames. Super light(thin walled) butted tubing. Tighter steering geometry. These things add up to going fast, but not necessarily for a long time or in any state of comfort. The point is, the average person has little need for a super high end bicycle. This Sekine "Medialle" and the Peugeot Sprint are light and fast, but a bit quick in the handling department. Both lack the stable feeling offered by bikes such as this, equally sophisticated, Peugeot UO9 Super Sport. Keep in mind that the top of the line racing bicycles are more demanding to ride and not necessarily more durable or comfortable.. It is a simple as that.
Other things to look for, when inspecting a bicycle frame, are the �dropouts�. The dropouts are the points of attachment for the wheel hubs. Dropouts, stamped out of steel, are common on lower end bicycles while fully forged and machined dropouts, sporting the manufacturers name, such as Shimano or Campagnalo, are clear indicators of quality, generally speaking. Additionally, if the rear drops include an integral rear derailleur hanger, complete with wheel alignment adjusting stop screws, then chances are the frame is of upper end quality. Chromed front fork tips and chromed seat and chain stays also signal higher quality, but do not necessarily mean "high end bicycle".
Next, look at the �lug work�. Lugs are the cast steel pieces used to help join the main tubes of the bicycle frame triangle. Some lugs are very plain while others are ornate beyond functional belief. And the lug style is not the only consideration. Take a close look at the lug areas for quality of workmanship. Are there any gaps between the lug and the frame tube, indicating less than adequate care during the brazing or silver soldering process? If there are gaps, one can be sure that not too much effort was put into quality construction. Are there lumps of brass or silver solder left for all to see? Once again, this suggests a lack of quality. Are there a lot of filing marks? Once tubes are brazed into the lugs, it is usually necessary to clean the joints up a bit with a file. Shoddy workmanship here is not a good sign.
Consider the bicycle's paint work. The quality of finish is not that important to consider at this time. A twenty five year old paint job just might not look all that great after sitting in someone�s backyard, exposed to the elements, for a quarter of a century. However, wrinkled or peeling paint might well indicate a bent frame. You DO NOT want to start your project with a bent frame, bent forks or both! Yes, bent frames and forks can be straightened, in many cases, but this is a problem for high end bikes only since frame repairs of this type can, and probably will be, quite expensive. Additionally, once the frame has been repaired it must then, often times, be repainted, resulting in even more expense. To make matters even worse, the expense associated with repairing and repainting the frame actually decreases the value of the bike. Painted over frames or frames sans decals are not in high demand with bicycle collectors.
Continue to check the frame over very carefully! Look for any unusual bumps or flat spots on the tubes. Quite often, at some point in the bicycle�s life, some fool has clamped a side or center stand to the bicycle, resulting in partially crushed chain stay tubes. This does not mean that the frame is shot, just damaged but probably still useable. Does the frame appear to have any unusual holes in it? People have been known to drill holes in the bicycle frame to mount who knows what, but any non-original holes are a no-no. Pass if you see home-made holes unless the bicycle has some unusual value assigned to it. Take a look at the rear drops. Are they straight and parallel to each other. In short, look the frame over very carefully from all angles. If anything looks a bit weird, unusual or out of place, then there is probably a problem. Consider passing on the opportunity.
Look at how the wheels sit in the frame. If either wheel seems to be out of line (not sitting in the center of the forks or chain stays), it could just mean that the axle is not sitting properly in the drops. Check to ensure that such is not the case before getting all upset. Take your time when checking these things over. Ensure the wheels are properly seated in the drops. Step back and look from a distance. Sometimes looking from a distance can make it easier to see problems not recognizable from up close. Enlist the help of a friend or friends if possible. Someone else might just see what you cannot.
Look at the front forks. Do they at least look straight? If not, watch out! Bent forks might well mean a bent frame too and both can be difficult, if not impossible, to see at the novice level. Both can be very difficult and expensive to repair. If the bike is not really high end, the considerable expense of frame repair might mean one should pass on the project. Even though this top of the line Sekine SHT is a pretty nice bicycle, however; one, almost identical to it, went to the dump. The forks were bent and caused the owner to question the integrity of the frame. The project did not seem worth while.
If you can, and you are sure that it is safe to do so, take the bicycle for a short ride. Bent forks and frames make themselves almost immediately apparent during a ride. If you have the skill, try riding the bicycle �hands off� (this is dangerous and not recommended, but some people do use this test to satisfy themselves that all is reasonably well with the frame and forks). If you can ride the bike "hands off" successfully, then chances are that all is as it should be.
One trick that helps one to determine if the frame and/or forks are straight is to hang the bicycle upside down from something, like a rafter in a garage. Use two short pieces of rope to tie the wheel rims to what ever is available. Just loop the rope through each rim and then over the rafter. You want the same stresses to be applied to both the front and rear rims. Now look at the bicycle as it hangs freely from its purchase. It will be immediately obvious if anything is bent because the wheels will not be in line. Give it a try. It only takes a few minutes to perform this simple test which might not identify exactly where the problem lies, only that there is a problem.
If, after all your inspection efforts, the frame appears to be sound, turn your attention to frame cosmetics. Are the frame decals and stickers still present? If the decals are missing completely or if the frame has been painted, consider moving on unless you are very sure that the frame is what you want. Many collectors will not even consider purchasing a bicycle if the frame is not sporting the original paint and decal (sticker) work.
With frame structural and cosmetic concerns out of the way, move on to inspect the machine�s mechanical condition. Look at the front chain sprockets (crank rings) and rear sprockets (cogs). Hooked teeth or teeth with the ends worn or broken off are a very good sign that the bicycle has seen lots of use. Lots of use suggests that the machine might need a full blown mechanical rebuild before it will be considered �road worthy�. Other signs of wear, indicating high mileage, might be worn wheel rims, where the brake pads contact the rim surface. Replacing wheel rims is not necessarily a task for the budding novice and can become rather expensive. Interestingly enough, building wheels is not as difficult to do as one might expect. Sheldon Brown's article on wheel building is excellent and easy to follow.
Inspect for the bicycle component damage. Bent front sprocket rings and/or brake levers suggest the kind of rough or careless treatment often associated with a crash or a lot of crashes. Not a good sign but not, necessarily, a reason to pass on the bike. Are all of the components there? If the rear derailleur is missing on your recently acquired early Torpado you can expect a pretty good search to find the correct Gian Robert rear derailleur and it will probably cost a buck or two when, and if, you actually do find one.
While on the topic of component damage, take the time to try and "feel out" the bearings in each of the wheels, the headset and the bicycle�s bottom bracket. Roughness in any of these areas can, and often does, indicate one of two possibilities - bearing contamination and/or unacceptable wear. This need not be a big deal, usually requiring ball bearing replacement only, preceded by a good cleaning and coupled with adequate lubrication. It could, however, mean that the bearing assembly is shot. Once again, not a real big problem but an added concern and expense, none the less. And be forewarned � some bottom bracket bearing cups, like those on this Made in France Peugeot UO8, are becoming very difficult to find.
If you see wet grease around wheel and bottom bracket axles, you can all but heave sigh of relief. This, generally, means that all is OK with the bicycle�s internals. The same holds true for the drive chain. If the chain appears to be well lubricated, chances are that all is reusable. If, on the other hand, the chain is a hunk of stiff rust, you might want to be a bit more concerned about how the bike has been maintained. However, once again, a badly rusted chain does not mean that bike is shot or that the chain needs to be discarded. As often as not, a chain can be refurbished.
Do the brake controls have Safety Levers attached? If so, this often suggests a lower end machine. While checking out the brake control levers, ensure that they are, at least, made of alloy. Steel levels usually mean one thing � cheap.
Focusing on the topic of alloy versus steel components, a couple of things should be considered. If the bike is equipped with stamped out steel, rather than alloy components (brake calipers, handlebars, wheel rims and hubs, brake levers, derailleur bodies), then chances are the bike is low end. Better bicycles have predominantly alloy components. However, if the bicycle is really old (pre-seventies) none of the above need apply. This then becomes a judgement decision based on research. You will have to do the research. While on this subject, and speaking in a general sense, the older the bicycle is the better, from a collector�s point of view at least.
Not only a bicycle's vintage need be considered. Who owned the bike before you? If it belonged to Lance Armstrong, the bike will have value. It might be a bit tough to pedal and twitchy to ride, but it will be worth a lot of something today and, probably, more tomorrow.
Getting back to components, quick release hubs usually indicate a higher end bicycle. However, it is not at all unusual to find that only the front hub has a quick release mechanism included. And, for what it is worth, earlier models had wing-nuts as opposed to quick release mechanisms.
When examining components, look for important names and models. For example, if you find a bicycle at the landfill site that has Campagnolo components, grab the bike. It is more than likely pretty high end. Even if the bicycle is department store junk, the �Campy� components alone make the find worth while.
Again, when considering components, look to see if all the components match. If the brake levers, brake calipers, derailleurs and controls, and cranks are all of the same model group, such as Shimano 105, then chances are good that the bike is a quality machine. If all of the above match and the hubs, bottom bracket and seat post are from the same model group, then you can rest even more assured that the bike is worth having.
Of course, one can simply base decisions on the make and model of the bicycle. A Peugeot PX-10 or a Raleigh Professional, in almost any condition, are desirable bicycles to restore. Spend some time searching the net for vintage lightweight bicycles and you will soon develop an understanding of what is and what is not �high end�. But do not use this criteria alone for selecting a bicycle to restore and ride. Keep in mind that bikes like the PX-10 are racing bicycles. Racing bicycles will be harder to pedal, as a rule, and they will seem almost �twitchy� to ride. Yes, the race bike is great for the collector but might not, necessarily, meet the needs of the average guy who just wants to go for a comfortable ride.
One more thing to think about when deciding to drop big bucks for that really fancy race bicycle that Lance owned. It might get stolen! Do you really want to ride your valuable racing bike to the corner store, only to find your ride gone when you come out? Probably not! The point is, don�t get carried away with the belief that you have to have the best. It might not be fun to ride and you might not have it long enough to find out that it might not be fun to ride. This is an unfortunate reality that one needs to consider.
Of course, while looking the bicycle over you might want to ensure that it actually fits you. Fit is a complicated topic, the intricacies of which are beyond the scope of this article. A simple test is to straddle the top tube of the bicycle. If there is little or no clearance between your �special stuff� and the top tube then the bike is probably too big for you. If, on the other hand, there is a great deal of clearance, the bike is too small. Even if all appears well after this simple test, it does not mean that the bike will be a perfect fit. However, it is quite likely that all will be well when it comes time for those all important, pre-restoration, shakedown runs that need to be completed before putting lots of time and effort into a refurbishment and/or full restoration.
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