For the most part, studying a bicycle frame set's characteristics, can help in determining a bicycle's vintage.  However, using those characteristics can be horribly misleading.  In other words, this article will act as a guide, rather than a map, revealing land marks, rather than sign posts.  You might not find the correct house, but you will at least end up in the right neighbourhood.

Let's assume, for the moment, that cutting edge Velo technology is reserved for top of the line, or close to it, models.  And, let's also assume that, sooner or later, the top end technology will trickle down to lesser steeds.  Assuming that to be true, one must understand that the trickle down system, spans both years and, often times, decades.

With decades in mind, consider vintage road bicycles from the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties.  Though the bikes all look much the same, as they blend through the years, there are distinct frame characteristic differences that suggest age.  Remember, the clues offered by the frame set, with respect to its vintage, are only clues and not perfect indicators of exactly how old any bicycle might be.

What frame and fork set characteristics fall under the microscope?  Tube set?  Lug type?  Drop-out type?  Geometry?  Cosmetics?  Serial number? Frame material?  Drop-out spacing (front and back)?  Color combinations?  Art work?  Fork crown style?  Fasten technology?  There are many things to consider, when seeking to understand the detail, inherent in every vintage road bicycle frame and fork set.


As the interest in vintage road bicycles grows, serial number data bases grow too.  In other words, though not all bicycles are represented with an on line serial number data base, some are.  Raleigh, is the first that comes to mind but others are available.  Execute an online search for Raleigh serial numbers and see what happens!  Or Nishiki, or Holdsworth, or what ever.  What one seeks might already be offered.

Do not get too excited about serial numbers.  Some serial number information can be misleading.  Peugeots from France, for example, cannot demonstrate what is and what is not, this year or that.  Similar situations will continue to prevail, for some time, as the open community adds information to the vintage bicycle interest, such as this article is attempting to do right now.

None the less, if you do stumble across a data base of serial numbers and corresponding information, then chances are you will know when the bike was built, in what month and, perhaps even where made.  For example, some Raleighs were built in the Carlton factory in Worksop England.  That would be an important clue to have on hand, assuming one knows a bit about the Carlton factory, and its interaction with Raleigh.


Virtually every vintage road bicycle frame set is made out of pipe or tubing, be the material of choice either steel or aluminum.  In all fairness, some might argue that early carbon fibre frame sets might qualify as vintage.  Regardless, the older a bicycle is, the more likely it will be made from some form of steel, be it straight gauge steel, high tensile steel or some alloy offering great strength and light weight.

So, most bicycles, from the beginning of time, right through to the early eighties, will be made of some form of steel pipe or tubing.  If there is still a decal or sticker, indicating tubing make and/or type, simply do a search, on the net, for that tubing.  For example searching for some information on Reynolds tubing, one of the two grails of vintage road bicycle tube sets, produces a very useful vintage determination page - Classic Rendezvous offers a Reynolds decal page.  You can do the same for Columbus, Ishiwata, or what ever.  In most instances, some information will present itself, if you search diligently.

It is entirely possible that the actual decal will be hard to find, and/or identify.  Often times, the tubing decal would have been installed right where the rider would carry his/her tire pump.  In so doing, of course, the decal would often be scuffed up, sometimes to the point of being gone all together.

Or, how about the period tubing decal in another language?  That's right, not everyone speaks Canadian - eh.  The point is, observe what you can, if you can, then do a search and compare.  You just might get pretty close to the target.

Of course, if you search for information on other tubing types, it is quite possible that no results will present themselves, hence a dead end.  But fear not...


Frame set details, things that cannot be changed without great difficulty, will help to narrow down vintage, much of the time.  For simplicity's sake, understand that the rules offered are general, apply to most situations but can prove to be misleading.  So, do not think the following examples are cast in stone.

Braze-ons are frame features that assist in attaching various components (front derailleur, shifters, transmission cable guides, water bottle mounts) to the bicycle frame set.  Older machines, generally, will have fewer braze-ons.

Braze-on style, and even location, tended to change over the years.  For example, derailleur cable guides, first clamp-ons and then braze-ons, were located on top of the bottom bracket.  Later bikes saw, and continued to see, them attached underneath but an inherent problem prevailed with either design - wear.  The cable, rubbing on the braze-on would result in wear, and wear eventually right through the braze-on.  The final cable guide location was underneath, in braze-on like form, but protected with nylon lining.

Shifters were traditionally clamp-on units.  Old School technology, at its best.  However, technology changed, and so did the securing of the shift levers.  Down tube braze-ons began appearing in the very late seventies and took over in the eighties.  These features would work with down tube shifters, stem shifters and even the modern Brifter system.

Rear brake cable guides changed in style and location in much the same fashion.  Each style or location change focusing on improved performance, or durability or both.  With the coming of the eighties, the most common location and style of rear brake cable guide was on the top of the top tube and full casing style.

And so it goes with many frame set features.  Clues that help to ball park a frame set's age.  Sometimes pretty close and sometimes not.  Though not GPS perfect, they will help one get a feel for probable era of manufacture.  Following is a list, if you will, of common frame set features that can all be considered when attempting to define vintage of a bicycle.


OLDER(1950, 68)

TRANSITION(1968 - 1975)

NEWER(1976, 1980+)

1958 Carlton Flyer

196? Legnano

196? Peugeot PX10

1975 Sekine SHT

1976 Marinoni

198? ALAN SR

Key Indicator:  General lack of braze-on.  Head badge likely.  Solid colors.  Mostly France, Italy, and England bicycles present.  Some domestic bicycles offered. Key Indicator: General lack of braze-ons but beginning to become more common.  Solid colors.  More domestic offerings and some Asian bicycles present.  Movement towards better quality after Bike Boom of 1971/72. Key Indicator:  Braze-ons more plentiful.  Different styles and locations.  Brighter Colors, fancy paint, alloy frames more common, both lugged and welded.  More Asian than European present.  Increase in domestic builders.
Frame Material/Structure:  Usually lugged steel, Reynolds and Columbus being the most common.  Straight gauge most common, but some butted examples surfacing. Frame Material/Structure:  Primarily lugged steel, with some new chrome moly additions.  Tubing structure begins to lean towards butting and double butting.  More examples of aluminum alloy surfacing. Frame Material/Structure:  Steel, lugged or un-lugged.  Aluminum, lugged but mostly welded, become more prevalent.  Carbon fibre makes a debut, soon to become the material of choice, for the best of the best.
Braze-Ons:  Almost none.  Some attempts, offering very different and uncommon solutions to replacing clamp-ons. Braze-Ons:  Few in the early seventies but beginning to become more prevalent by the middle of the decade.  Many braze-ons by the end of the seventies and locations become more standard.  More tubing types. Braze-Ons:  Just about everything was braze-on by the mid eighties.  Locations were mostly defined by what worked best.  Lots of fancy paint jobs.  Many tubing types.
Water Bottle Mounts:  Rare in older bicycles.  Usually, bottles holders were clamp-on or handlebar mounted. Water Bottle Mounts:  Still few clamp-ons, fewer handlebar holders and some braze-ons beginning to appear. Water Bottle Mounts:  Braze-on exclusively.  Often times on down tube and seat tube.
Bottom Bracket:  No braze-on, cable routing usually achieved with a clamp-on.  Possible unusual early attempt at braze-on. Bottom Bracket:  Braze-ons just beginning, usually attached to the top of the bottom bracket. Bottom Bracket:  Braze on-ons gone or underneath the bottom bracket.  Braze-on might be gone, replaced by nylon guides, screw attached to the underside of the bottom bracket.
Rear Brake Cable Guide:  Clamp-on guides were the most common.  Some through the tube cable routing. Rear Brake Cable Guide:  Clamp-ons for the first half of the seventies, then braze-ons began appearing in different styles and locations (top either side, full closed casing, partial open casing) Rear Brake Cable Guide:  Braze-on almost exclusively and more through the tube routing.  Usually located on the top of the top tube.
Rear Derailleur Attachment:  Direct screw mount to integral hanger or screw on bracket adaptor. Rear Derailleur Attachment:  Direct screw mount to integral hanger or screw on bracket adaptor. Rear Derailleur Attachment:  Direct screw mount to integral hanger or screw on bracket adaptor.
Front Derailleur Attachment:  Clamp-On exclusively. Front Derailleur Attachment:  Clamp-on for better part of the seventies, with braze-ons beginning to surface with the approach of the eighties. Front Derailleur Attachment:  Almost all front derailleurs are attached with braze-on technology.  Lesser bikes, even today, still rely on clamp-on.
Rear Derailleur Cable Guide:  Usually a clamp-on fitted to the drive side chain stay. Rear Derailleur Cable Guide:  As the seventies progressed, the clamp-on cable guide became less used, finally giving way to a single braze-on.  Location was still an issue. Rear Derailleur Cable Guide:  Braze-on exclusively and usually located on the underside of the drive side chain stay.
Shifters:  Almost exclusively clamp-on.  Barcons infrequent but present.  Friction only. Shifters:  Movement away from the clamp on the the braze-on.  Always located in the same spot. Stem shifters make their debut. Shifters:  Almost exclusively braze-on, for either shifters or shifter cable guides.  Always the same located in the same area.
Socket Head Screws:  Rarely found on pre-seventies bicycles.  Hex nuts were the standard. Socket Head Screws:  Beginning to surface in the mid-seventies on some high end bikes.  Best frame indicator will be recessed brake calliper mounting holes. Socket Head Screws:  Huge use from the early eighties, until present day.
Rear Drop-Outs:  Almost exclusively long horizontal. Rear Drop-Outs:  Mostly long horizontal but some short horizontal near end of decade.  Most European have adjusters.  Asian drops often times lack adjusters. Rear Drop-Outs:  Fewer long horizontal, more short horizontal, some vertical drops.  Adjusters both common and uncommon.
Drop-Out Spacing:  Older bikes will measure 120mm, rear inside drop face to inside drop face.  Front, face to face, = 95mm usually. Drop-Out Spacing:  Face to face measurement increases to 125mm, towards end of decade, to accommodate six cog freewheels.  Front, face to face = 100mm increasingly often. Drop-Out Spacing:  Face to face increase to 130mm to make room for eight cogs and up.  100mm is standard for front drops face spread.
Paint/Art:  It is not uncommon for a bicycle's art to include actual dates, often times indicating when the bicycle won an important race.  Primarily water transfer decal art. Paint/Art:  Other special art offerings can, infrequently, offer clues to assist in determining vintage.  This One Hour commemorative Francesco Moser, being a prime example.  Mixture of decals and vinyl stickers. Paint/Art:  New technology makes psychedelic and patterned paint possible and the eighties exploited the new opportunity.  Decals were fully replaced with stickers.
Fork Crown:  Flat lugged crown most common, often ornate and/or chrome plated. Fork Crown: Sloping crown began to appear, sharing space with the traditional lugged crown, at the beginning of the seventies, continuing till present day. Fork Crown:  The Unicrown fork found acceptance in later half of the eighties.

Though there are many features to consider on a vintage frame set, few will point directly to specific year of manufacture.  With the exception of bicycle serial numbers, there are few opportunities to otherwise pin-point exact vintage.  That said, once the general clues are learned, it does become easier to quickly recognize an old bicycle from a newer one, and with a fair degree of accuracy.  And, with practice, the skill will become refined, allowing for increasingly accurate guesses.  And that is still all the end conclusions will be - the results of guesses.

But there is a way to supplement, and perhaps refine, what the frame set's characteristics suggest.