THE FRAME AND FORK SET
The frame set is the vintage road bicycle! The frame set is the most important thing to pay attention to when first inspecting a potential candidate for restoration. You can hang a beautiful full Campagnolo Super Record grouppo, wheels and all, on an entry level or worse yet, department store road bicycle. And it will ride like an entry level or department store bike. On the other hand, you can install entry level components on a Cinelli, and the bicycle will still ride like a Cinelli. That is until the cheap components wear out and they will wear out quickly.
With this in mind, paying very close attention to the frame and fork set is extremely important. Doing so might well save you tons of grief, not to mention a bit of good old money to boot. With this fundamental issue in mind, what needs to be considered when inspecting a frame and fork set?
If you think for one minute that a thirty or forty year old vintage road bicycle will arrive at your door step without some kind of frame damage, think again. I find a great many vintage road bicycles each year and very few still retain their original geometric integrity. In other words, the bicycle's frame or fork set is bent! And or dented. And or both.
Vintage road bicycles, when compared to virtually all other styles of bicycles, are fragile at best. Do not, for the briefest moment in time, believe that the top of the line racing bicycle's frame is nearly as sturdy as the frame on a mid fifties CCM Cleveland single speed work bike.
Take the time to look the road bike's frame set over very carefully. A full section of MY "TEN SPEEDS" is devoted to helping you understand just how to conduct your inspection. Look and learn a bit about what to look for when inspecting a vintage road bicycle frame and fork set. Doing so will save you a great deal of grief and money if you do it right.
If the bicycle you are inspecting is too big or too small, you might want to reconsider the purchase. That said, if the price is right but the size wrong, go for it anyway. A bike that does not fit you, might well become great trading material later on, should you ever want to use it for that purpose. My grandson will have to grow a bit before he will fit this lovely old Cambio Rino.
I believe that in days gone by few people purchased bicycles that fitted them properly. Most of the vintage road bicycles that I stumble across have big frames. And most of the people who I acquired the bicycles from appeared to be too small to fit the frames. Perhaps there were different fit criteria in the Old School days. The only explanation I have run across to help explain this unusual situation hinges on the issue of speed. A long time local bicycle vendor who was selling bikes in sixties and seventies told me that people used to believe that bigger bikes were faster. Though this defies logic it is the only reason I have ever been given for the abundance of large framed bikes that I find on a regular basis.
When I first started riding vintage road bicycles, I opted for frames that were too big for me to ride properly. Proper fit, starts with the correct frame size. And size is determined by measuring from the center of the bottom bracket spindle, along the seat tube, to the center of the top tube. This measurement will define a vintage road bike's size, usually in centimetres. For example, my grandson's Cambio Rino's size is 62cm. He would have to stand well over six feet to fit such a big bike.
I am sure that there are very sophisticated procedures to follow when determining bicycle to rider fit. I have a fairly simple fitting procedure that I follow. Perhaps these simplified fit guide lines will work for you also.
With your riding shoes on and heels shoulder width apart, measure the distance from the floor to you crotch. Measure to your crotch, not to the crotch of your jeans or riding shorts. In other words, hold one end of the tape measure snugly against your crotch. The other end will be touching the floor mid way between your heels. This measurement we will call the "inseam". I might add, that it helps to have assistance with this procedure to ensure accuracy. How much you like each other will, of course, determine who holds which end of the tape measure. With your inseam determined, it is time to consider a bicycle's Stand Over Height.
A bicycle's Stand Over Height (SOH) is the distance, from ground level to the top of the top tube. Compare your inseam measurement to the SOH of any bicycle. Seek a "crotch to top tube" clearance of approximately two finger widths. For me, two finger widths is just a tad over one and a half inches. I am comfortable with that SOH clearance. One inch would do and so would two, but I would not want to step outside of these limits. Doing so would mean that the bicycle in question is either too big or two small, respectively.
If too big, you will not be able to straddle the bicycle comfortably when standing at rest. Too small, and you will never be able to achieve proper leg extension, unless you install a very long seat post. Of course, there are other concerns with a too small frame set. The point is, make sure the you and the bicycle are a good fit to begin with.
There are two vintage bicycle genders. Men's and women's. The man's bicycle features a horizontal top tube and is the better design from the structural point of view. Why bother with the two designs? Modesty! It is pretty much as simple as that. In Old School days, it would have been considered immodest for a lady, often times wearing a skirt or dress, to straddle the horizontal top tube. Hence, for modesty's sake, the ladies bicycle was introduced.
Although the bicycle gender issue had merit in the old days, the need for bicycle gender is no longer. Modesty issues are viewed differently in today's society. But the need for sensible bicycle frame designs is still present. Some of today's bicycles appear to be gender oriented, but they are not. Modern bicycles are people oriented and designed for ease of use. The Step Through design, associated with the ladies bicycle, is a "user friendly" frame concept. Mounting and dismounting, whether wearing a pair of blue jeans, a business suit or a dress, are all made easier by this Step Through frame style. All that said...
Men’s bicycles frame sets, with the horizontal top tube, are far more collectable than their female counterparts. This statement is true, both from the collector’s and rider’s points of view. I almost always pass on the "Step Through" frame design that has become associated with a woman’s bicycle, however…
Generally speaking, the woman's bicycle will have experienced less and/or more careful use. With this in mind, most of the components will be in better condition, when compared to those of a man's bike. Again, the opportunity for the trading issue surfaces.
It would also appear that collectable interest is growing when ladies bicycles are concerned. A few women's vintage road bikes are being offered and sold on Ebay these days. Perhaps they too will one day have collectable value.
CHILD SIZE ROAD BICYCLES
Though not a gender concern, children’s bicycles present one more opportunity for confusion. I have little interest in children’s bicycles, other than those I need to acquire and maintain for my own grand children. From time to time, however, I do run across a child size road bicycle. To date, it has been my experience that these bicycles are of little value and, quite frankly, not really road bikes at all. Those that have come my way were very poorly made, heavy and hard to set up. I am sure that the ride offered would be poor, to say the least. However...
A kid can pick up a stick in the back lane, and win an empire with it before he gets home for lunch. Consider what he or she could imagine with their own road bike.
Simply put, the older a road bicycle is, the more collectable it will probably be. As a vintage road bicycle’s age increases, so does its collectable value. Collectable value - not ride value! The older the bicycle, the less "user friendly" it will be, all things being equal.
Fancy tubing, super-duper drop-outs, and sophisticated components based on technological development might, but probably won’t, be present in the older mounts. But the bicycle is OLD and that is important! How important will depend on many things. The point is, don’t dismiss a potential candidate for restoration just because it lacks some or all of the features that would normally define a quality bicycle. Focus on the details, yes - but keep the big picture, the bicycle itself, in mind also.
My CCM Grand Prix is an entry level steed, but it is old. For that reason, I have decided to hang on to it for a while. The late forties Rochet Paris sports a bent frame and fork set, but it is too old. I had intended to invest the time, effort and money required to Street Restore the bicycle. Of course, someone wanted to build the bike more than I did and offered me my 1976 Marinoni Quebec in even trade. How could I possibly say no.
The overall condition of the vintage road bicycle's cosmetics is very important to collectors and rider's alike. If the paint and art work are still good, it is a big plus from a collectable point of view. If the bicycle has been repainted and is all nice and shiny, its value has quite probably diminished. This late seventies Cambio Rino 2000 was in excellent mechanical condition "as found". However, the paint was beyond repair. Repainting a vintage road bicycle is an option only if the paint and/or art is really shot. But repainting will lower the value of a bicycle. Shiny is indeed nice, but not if it ends up destroying the frame set's credibility. Remember, the fancy frame set is made from a special material and so documented with a tubing decal. Once the bike is painted, who is to say what material the tubing is made from? Credibility becomes an issue.
“You can restore a bicycle a hundred times but it can only be original once.” That is about as simple as it gets. A bicycle in its original state, even though it might be wearing a patina of age, will always more be more collectable than a fully restored one. It's hard to beat this original old Bianchi that was covered with a layer of sawdust when I found it. The lovely old Italian steed cleaned up very nicely and is about as close to mint as they come these days. The only way I can get a bicycle like this is if I find it like this. I can make any similar Bianchi look exactly like this an many times as I wish to do so. But I cannot make it original even one time.
Wow! Neat racing bicycle! Or is it…?
How do you tell a racing bicycle from the touring or recreational bicycle? To be honest, it is difficult to do so without careful inspection. Frame features such as drop-out eyelets are not indicative of a race bread steed. Neither are luggage rack eyelets. However, their presence does not mean that the bicycle was not intended for racing. When trying to determine what the bicycle will be best suited for, look at the overall geometry.
A frame set’s geometry determines how the bicycle will handle when in use. Relaxed geometry frame sets usually offer long wheel bases and front forks that are less vertical.
The longer the wheel base, all other things being equal in the frame set, the more stable and predicable the ride will be. The best example of wheel base and lack of stability is the unicycle. It has a wheel base of zero and is anything but stable. A bicycle’s wheel base will vary depending, not just on intended application but, also on the size of the bicycle itself. A bigger bicycle, generally, will have a longer wheel base than an identical but smaller one. Pretty much self evident, when one stops to think about it. The problem is, how can one remember all of the wheel base sizes and applications? Perhaps you don’t have to. Just look at the frame set and, assuming that the wheels are installed, focus your attention on how the wheels fit into the frame set.
A racing bicycle will offer very little clearance between the seat tube and the rear tire. The race bread steed's front wheel will be closer to the down tube than will be its touring or recreational counterpart. Front and rear tires will crowd the fork crown and seat stay braces respectively. Everything will appear to be compact, with few gaps in a machine designed to be tight and precise. A racing bicycle will allow no room to mount fenders (of course there will be no fender mount eyelets on the drops to begin with). A racing bicycle will have no braze-ons to permit attachment of luggage racks. In short, there are many indicators of a frame set’s intended purpose. All you have to do is look for them.
So many choices will bubble to the surface when considering what kind of vintage road bicycle to choose. Tubing type, chrome moly, high tensile steel or plain old pipe. Pressed steel drops or the much stronger forged units often boasting their pedigree with the manufacturer's name pantographed into the surface. Men's or women's design. Touring or racing. Original or restored. Perhaps now it becomes easier to understand why someone interested in building up a vintage road bicycle must first get to know vintage road bicycles. So many choices, and the best of the best is not always the best choice to make.
It is easy to choose the best of the best. If the bicycle has the best tube set, the best drops and the best component grouppo, what else is there? There are many other things to take into consideration when choosing to Street Restore an old bike. Follow all of the best of the best rules and you will likely end up with a great old road bike. However, there are some rule breakers that should also be considered. And it is the rule breakers that are perhaps the most important of all.