HOW OLD IS MY BICYCLE - INTRODUCTION
The two most common questions people ask, about a vintage bicycle, once past is the bike OK? concern, is how much is the bike worth, and how old is it. Perhaps, will the bicycle fit me?, belongs in this most asked question list, as well.
Both bicycle value and bicycle vintage are murky areas, to say the least. No one, except the buyer, can determine how much a bicycle is worth. But anyone, with a little bit of knowledge, can ball park a bike's vintage.
More often than not, it will prove impossible to pinpoint a bicycle's vintage. The new owner might have to settle for a ten year - plus/minus error window, particularly for lower end bicycles. That is just a wee warning, not a promise. Properly prepared, figuring out an old bike's age is not that difficult.
Pre 1970 road bicycles, in North America, will prove to be few and far between. The 1940s Automoto, the fifties Carlton Flyer, the sixties Legnano are rare finds, in the New World, (that old term describing Canada, the US and Mexico).
Anything, pre 1970, in the road bicycle category, will be scarce, since those bikes precede the Bike Boom of 1971-72. During those early seventies Bike Boom years, bicycle sales more than doubled, topping out at close to 15,000,000, compared to the six and seven million, expected.
Pre-seventies road bicycles will have few, if any, braze-ons. High end models will be fitted with 700c tubular (sew-up) wheels, while all others will wear 27 inch clinchers. Plastic, of any kind, will be minimal (with the exception of the Simplex transmissions) and saddles will usually, be be suspended leather, on the better bikes, and plastic, or covered plastic, on the lesser steeds.
There will be little distinct visual difference between a bike made in 1965 or 1975. However, trends started to manifest themselves, during the seventies. The Japanese road bicycle made its debut, and forever impacted the road bicycle scene.
The following bicycles are all from the seventies, starting with the earliest years and progressing through the decade. The bikes pictured, in chronological order include: 1971 Carlton Professional, 1971 Sekine GS, 1972 Bottecchia Professional, 1973 Raleigh International, 1973 Bottecchia Special, 1974 Bottecchia Special, 1975 CCM Tour du Canada, 1975 Sekine SHT270, 1976 Super Mondia, and then nothing until 1980. Notice that all the bikes used as examples are of high end quality.
In addition to those pre-1975 machines listed, there are dozens more from the early seventies, that have passed through The Old Shed. But few post-1975 and pre-1980 vintage road bicycles have presented themselves over the years. This suggests a reduced interest, or at least reduced production. And the answer is both.
With the approach of the eighties and into the decade, a new bicycle grew rapidly in popularity. The Mountain Bicycle had found a market - big time! And with the introduction of the mountain bicycle, came the diminished interest in road bicycles. But that diminished interest disappeared with the onset of the eighties, and continued to gain ground ever since.
Early seventies road bicycles, particularly the high enders, are much the same as their predecessors. Few braze-ons, sew-up wheels, leather saddles and anything else one would expect from a road bicycle. The 1970 to 1975 vintage road bicycle is not particularly hard to find in North America. To that, add a milestone in the development of road bicycles.
Asian products, such as Norco, Nishiki, Fuji, Miyata, Apollo, and a host of country and/or area specific brands cropped up in the early seventies, gained momentum throughout the balance of the decade, and then, all but, took over in the eighties. And the reason for the rapid gain in acceptance - quality! Asian built bicycles were very well made, priced competitively right from the beginning of the 1970s and on. Pictured below: 1971 Japanese Sekine GS, 1972 Fuji The Ace, 1975/77 Empire Professional,
In other words, some very nice bicycles emerged from Japan, in the seventies, and with the onset of the eighties, the Japanese bicycle industry had captured much of the road bicycle market, around the world. With that in mind, bicycles, other than those of European origin, began to take their place in the North American, and European market places. But importation did not really get up to speed until just after the Bike Boom. With that in mind, it will be unusual to find a pre-1970, Asian road bicycles in North America. Unlikely, but not unheard of. At least two, both Sekine GS models, have found their way into The Old Shed.
Just as was the case with the pre-70 bikes, being fewer and harder to find, those old road bikes manufactured, after the mid-seventies, but before the start of the eighties, become very hard to find in North America, at least. One can only assume this to be a direct result of over stocking of shelves, in the effort to meet the Bike Boom's increase in demand, which, as has been mentioned earlier, did not last. With shelves over loaded, with unsold bikes and components, fewer of each were being manufactured during the mid-late seventies years. Hence, both will be harder to find today.
Put another way, hundreds of vintage road bicycles have passed through The Old Shed. However, there is not one shred of evidence that suggests even one of those bikes was of 1977 to 1979 vintage. Fifties, sixties and early seventies can be verified. Even this lovely old, and very early 1976 Marinoni, the finest of my mid-seventies bicycles, can demonstrate both its pedigree and vintage. But, between then and until 1980, there is nothing to report that can be verified.
The eighties prove to be a different story, at least in Thunder Bay. There seems to be an abundance of old road bicycles, beginning with 1980 and continuing on throughout the decade. This, in part, is a product of them being newer than their predecessors. But it is more than that...
It is not uncommon to run across an eighties something Peugeot, be it a bottom of the line Peugeot Sport, a middle of the road Peugeot Super Sport, or the more sophisticated Peugeot Course. It should be noted, the abundance of Peugeots in Canada, is a direct result of domestic manufacture. Understanding that Peugeots were built in Canada, for many years, will help one see why they are so plentiful today, in nearly every major Canadian city, coast to coast. This same situation applies to Raleigh and Sekine.
With the Asian bicycle manufacturers throwing their hat into the ring in the mid-seventies, the number of bikes available took a pretty good jump. Not only were there more bikes to choose from, but the bicycles were better made, believe it or not. The Japanese Quality Machine, initiated in the fifties, nurtured through the sixties and in full swing, by the mid seventies, forced the rest of the bicycle world to take a look at what was being offered to the public.
The early eighties bicycles looked, much the same as their 1979s predecessors. However, changes were occurring, many of which would be readily visible, and most of which would dramatically impact user friendliness.
Braze-ons, be they on the bottom bracket, down tube or seat tube, were common place on most eighties, and newer, bicycles, except those of absolute entry level quality. And, even those used braze-on technology, simply because doing so lowered manufacturing costs. Indexed shifting became increasing popular, finally finding acceptance in the eighties. Both, high end bikes and entry level offerings were fitted with the indexed transmissions.
The Aero brake lever surfaced, and the clean look took hold and has remained, in different forms, through to today. Gone are the exposed cable and casing loops, commonly found on older bikes. Headbadges and other ornamental items were gone, once again positively impacting manufacturing costs, offering savings which were passed on to the customer. However, with those cost saving practices, some of the vintage quality of old road bicycles fell by the way side.
Bikes from the eighties will be either friction or indexed or both. Many road bicycles, particularly those from the later half of the decade, will be fitted with Aero brake levers, and probably light action brake callipers. The common cloth handlebar tape will have been replaced with cushion plastic offerings, which, quite frankly offered great improvement in the hand comfort arena.
Bright colors were common, fancy paint jobs, and less chrome plating were features common on many eighties road bicycles. But overall, the eighties addressed user friendly concerns, already mentioned - better shifting, more effective braking and a movement toward bicycle ergonomics. Bicycle ergonomics? Increased user comfort and comfort safety - that is a nut shell description of the ergonomics of concern.
Pictured below, starting from 1980 and working through the decade, consider the appearance of the eighties road bicycle. The bikes, in order of appearance, are: 1982 Canadian Peugeot Sprint, 1983 Canadian Peugeot Trophy, 1983 Canadian Gardin Special, 1984 Italian Tommasini Prestige, 1987 Italian Bianchi Volpe, 1988 Italian Bianchi Trofeo,
By the end of the 1980s, bicycles looked much the same as those from the sixties, unless you actually looked. Quality issues had been addressed, by many of the European manufacturers, in an effort to compete with the wonderfully clean machines coming out of the Far East. New technologies were surfacing, at a frightening pace. Even traditional frame materials were being challenged, offering new markets for aluminum frame sets, and, of course, carbon fibre wonder machines that lead today's charge, in building a better bicycle.
With the onset of the 1990s, most of the major changes, to the road bicycle, had found their way into production. Though the indexed transmission was now the norm, the shifting mechanism took a giant user friendly leap forward - Brifters.
Brifters are a combination of brake and shift levers, hence brifters. These wonderful components allow for easy, indexed shifting, without having to remove one's hands from the handlebars, as was the case in down tube shifter days. A gigantic leap both in bicycle safety and user friendliness and, might well mark the division point between vintage and not vintage.
With the Brifter system, gear choices increased from twelve to fourteen, to 16, 18 and 20. Today's wonder transmissions even offer 22 gear choices and, in some cases, jump from ring to ring and cog to cog through electrical impulse. Yup, today's highest end bikes can come fitted with electric shifting transmissions. Nothing vintage about that.
Road bicycles, manufactured after the late eighties hardly qualify as vintage, for all intents and purposes. Though wonderful machines, they are, none the less more like the bicycle still sitting on today's show room floor, than they are like there twenty and thirty year old predecessors.
Few bicycles, of late eighties or early nineties vintage, have managed to enter The Old Shed. And only one, the Marinoni Squadra, is of 21st century origin. The bicycles include an early nineties Italian Pinarello Trevisio, a nineties something Canadian Proctor-Townsend, an approaching mid-nineties Italian Bianchi Trofeo, a mid nineties Canadian Marinoni Special and the last of the newer breed, a Canadian 2000 Marinoni Squadra.
Notice the clean, or uncluttered, appearance. Aero levers or Brifters. Split saddles. Ergonomic handlebars. Any number of technological changes, all pointing a user friendliness and/or performance, will present themselves on the newer road bicycles.
Of course, many of the Old School features, thanks to the technology trickle down situation, would remain on lesser bicycles, and do so for many years to come. Even in today's Brifter driven or shifted, Velo world, the buyer can still walk into a department store and walk out with Old School technology. Technology, incidentally, which is not intended to appear antiquated, but actually is.
Getting the big picture, when considering decade differences in bicycles, does help with the vintage determination process, provided that one keeps in mind that there are no hard and fast rules. Only general guides, to help narrow down one's vintage identification search.
Bicycle frame sets, and fork sets, and wheels, and just about everything else, have remained much the same, since first being introduced to the transportation world. But there were changes, changes in design, materials and even purpose. And some of those changes can be used to help ball park a bicycle's age. But what if ball park is not good enough
Do not be disappointed if, at the end of this exercise you still are not sure how to determine a bike's exact vintage. I know for sure, that I cannot do so. But, I can tell, a newer bike, from an older one, and with some degree of accuracy, by paying attention, not only to overall appearance, but also to a host of little clues, that almost always present themselves on any bicycle.