ESTIMATING VINTAGE - COMPONENT NUMBERS
Components can, and will, offer easy to find accurate and inaccurate vintage determining clues, and our Benotto example is no exception to the rule. This suggests that there is at least one inherent danger, when relying on components to determine a bicycle's vintage.
Components are extremely easy to change out, either individually or as complete groups. With that in mind, one must not only be capable of understanding a component's numbers, but whether they belong or not. And there might be clues to help determine even that.
Trusting the information of a single component, when determining a bicycle's vintage, is not a good idea. A single component might be of the same model but of very different vintages. In other words, if a front derailleur design was offered for ten years, then that would be less than useful at pinpointing the components vintage. This would suggest that every component, fitted to the bicycle, must be examined, researched and then considered for its value in determining actual overall vintage of the bicycle, itself.
Components can supply the exact address, but considering them all is what get's you into the neighbourhood, to begin with. In other words, a component trend towards a particular vintage window is far more important than a single instance of information on a single component. You must consider the entire group.
Some component numbers will define size or range. In the case of the Suntour front derailleur, the clamp size is 28.6mm. The component was made in Japan by Madea Ind. Ltd. Though, indirectly, this information can be used for vintage determining purposes, the window defined is close to useless. In other words, such information will be disregarded when attempting to determining the Benotto's vintage.
It will not be unusual to find vintage event information on an old road bicycle. The bicycle's art might include event dates, such as when the bicycle proved successful in some historic Velo event. When one considers the Benotto, the vintage event information starts at 1947, jumps to 1949, then to 1951 and finally, on the other side, to 1978. Hardly useful information, when one is trying to nail down an exact date. However...
The bars, fitted to the Benotto, had to be manufactured after 1978, how long after would be anyone's guess. But, at least we know that the Benotto is not pre-78. Well, we think we know. What would we say if the rest of the components pointed to 1975? You have to consider the numbers on all of the components fitted, if possible. And even if all parts say 1978, the bike might not be a 78. It could be a 1979 frame set fitted with parts left over from 1978. So, though close in determining actual vintage, one cannot ensure precision, through the component dating process. But you can come pretty close - sometimes.
Some component information will speak to inventory (part number) concerns. Many components will mention size, or length or even capacity. Some will accurately define the year, and/or actual month of manufacture and, when it comes to defining vintage, you can't get much closer than that!
Neither size, range or part number are of great concern, unless one has a manufacturer's parts/repairs manuals to work with. The size of a front derailleur's clamp capacity, on the other hand is, but indirectly. One would have to know when the size of clamp was used. And, in the case of the vintage road bicycle world, the size is much the same, for just about every front derailleur made in the fifties, sixties, seventies and perhaps even the very earliest eighties. Hardly a tool to use to closely determine a vintage. But one that might prove useful one day, when today's modern bikes fall under the vintage umbrella.
Year and month of manufacture! Now there is useful and easy to locate information. Researching what it means is another story, but easy enough to achieve. With the component's information firmly in hand or mind, or jotted down on a piece of paper, you are ready for a trip to a webpage, that will prove enormously useful with each attempt to determine vintage. It might not offer the expected information every time, but it is worth a try - every time.
The website is hosted by VINTAGE TREK and the name of the resource is Date of Manufacture of Bicycle Components. Google either and book mark the second page, for it will prove immensely useful, every time one needs to determine the vintage, of this, or that, or what it is bolted to.
What is so important on the Date of Manufacture of Bicycle Components page? The information contained there will serve to act as an accurate map, or guide, or key to manufacturer's year, and even month of manufacture, codes. Not of the bicycle, but of the components fitted to it.
Let's use the seventies, or eighties, Benotto to demonstrate how to narrow down the vintage window, through component comparison. The process is very easy to implement and should provide fun discoveries.
The Benotto is fitted with all of the components common on most vintage road bicycles. Those components include, at a minimum, the front/rear derailleurs, the brake callipers/levers, the steering stem/handlebars, the seat post, the saddle, and the wheel hubs. There might be vintage pertinent information on each and every one of these components. And, that information could either narrow the vintage window considerably, or prove to be extremely misleading.
The handlebars offer an example of useful information only when considering how new a bicycle is, not how old. How new. The handlebars contain the date 1978 and appears to be original issue. This last call is one of judgement, based on comparing the bars to the overall condition/presentation of the bicycle. In the case of the Benotto, most of the components look as if they are original issue. At least, they appear to be so at first glance.
The front and rear derailleurs both contain numbers, but the ones that most point to vintage would mean nothing unless one has the code key to work with. That is where the Vintage Trek website comes in. By comparing the Benotto's Suntour front derailleur, we see the date code to read WE. Compare that code to the table on the Vintage Trek page, and you will learn that the derailleur was manufactured in 1980(W) and during the month of May(E).
Apply that procedure to all possible components and then compare all as a unit. If the trend says 1980, then it is very likely that the bicycle is of 1980 or 81 vintage. However, do not be dismayed if there is no immediate trend established. A bicycle that has lived, and worked, for a quarter of a century might well have had parts replaced, for any number of reasons, and that needs to be weighed into the evaluation.
Considering the balance of the components fitted, and then comparing the numbers to the information on Vintage Trek should prove useful in closing in on the actual date the bicycle was manufactured. Again, the information could be misleading but, generally, will prove to be a fairly good guide to the bike's age.
The Benotto's steering stem is an SR unit (Sakae), bearing the reach length(100mm), minimum insertion mark(MAX HT) and the date code (82-L). Though one can probably figure this out without a key, the key will indicate that the post is of 1982 manufacture, the month being December.
The SR seat post also offers pertinent information. In addition to the seat post diameter(26.6mm) and the minimum depth to which the post should be inserted, there is little else, except the letter/number B-83. That number would suggest the stem's year of manufacture to be 1983 and likely in the month of February.
In many instances the saddle can also be used to help determine vintage. Sadly, the only visible information on the Benotto's saddle was that it was Made in Italy. No other documentation presents itself.
The back of the Silstar cranks set offers similar information regarding part numbers, lengths, and dating codes. The example fitted to the Benotto includes the numbers 170, indicating the reach to be 170mm. Addition information on the arms include 80-G and 80-E, on the drive and nod-drive sides, respectfully.
When seeking to compare this information to that offered on VT, there appears to be nothing to reference. With that in mind, I choose to guess and base my guess on the other components fitted. Based on the 80-G number, I would guess the arm to be of 1980 vintage and possible made in July. The non-drive arm, 80-E would have been spit off of the assembly line in May of 1980. And those estimates seem to fit in with the vintage of all other components examined so far.
The Weinmann brake callipers offer their vintage story as well. In this case both callipers do have information, in clock-like form, embossed on the back side of the calliper arms(79 and a line point to six on the clock dial). The information contained there is easy to compare to the key on the VT site. The result suggests the callipers to be of 1979 vintage and manufactured in the month of June.
Sum up the findings so far...
Based on the above information, one must conclude the Benotto cannot be older than 1983. Though possible the bicycle is of 1983 vintage, it is equally likely that it would been made in 1984. Though later years might also be possible, it is quite improbable that parts would have been surplused that long, in the mid eighties. Particularly those components coming out of Japan.
There are, of course, many other date codes specific to this and that make of bicycle. Vintage Trek is a great place to search for vintage answers. Another great and much newer addition to the vintage identification process is Velobase.
Velobase is a really extensive resource, devoted to offering a catalogue of as many components, as they can. Once again, Google Velobase, and book mark the page.
In addition to those component numbers mentioned, many manufacturer's offer similar information, in not so similar places. Generally, and this is really generally, if the number looks like a date, it probably is. If the number that looks like a date is accompanied by a letter, the letter probably indicates month of production. Once again, general, not cast in stone rules.
Some of the more unusual date codes include unique presentations. At a minimum, these include...
The list above is one that will, hopefully, grow with the acquisition of experience. For the items identified will be those encountered personally, in keeping with the theme of this information resource.