It is easy to tell how a bicycle was maintained, used, abused, stored and even loved, if you know what to look for.  Yes, even loved and this might be one of the easiest to figure out of all.

QUESTION: "Are you the original owner?"

LOVED:  If an auction listing indicates that the seller is the original owner, pride in ownership is suggested immediately!  The bicycle and its owner have been together long enough to have developed a solid relationship, on the owner's side at least.  It is most likely that the bicycle was of mid or higher quality level when purchased, suggesting a respectable price tag at the time.  A costly purchase implies great interest, perhaps eventually turning into shallow love, if allowed to run the full gambit of time and use.  The bicycle has retained its value in the owner's mind.  It always was and still is, his.  But for some unknown reason, he or she has after thirty years of ownership, decided to let their bicycle go.  Pay close attention to these listings if the bicycle offered is at all interesting to you.  These "I'm the original owner" bicycles are usually well cared for, understood machines even though they have probably seen considerable use.  And I emphasize use - not abuse!

If the seller does not indicate that he or she is the original owner, ask.  If the seller is the original owner, but failed to mention it in his listing, it could well mean that the seller and the bicycle did not spend enough time together to develop a shallow and one sided love relationship.  Which might mean that the bicycle has seen little or no use.  This Gardin 400, though no longer mint, is just such an example.

Ridden once, for less than an hour, the Gardin 400, later to be renamed "Bull", was in all but mint condition "as found".  Though I did not find the Gardin on-line, I did have to ask the Yard Sale host if he was the original owner.  Not only did he indicate that he was, he also went on to define the very long history and incredibly brief relationship, that he and the bicycle shared. History - 25 years!  Relationship - one hour!  In the twenty five years of ownership, the original owner had ridden the bicycle once for less than an hour.  And the overall condition of frame and components suggested that he was telling the absolute truth.  There were no marks on the big ring and just a hint of use on the small one.

This Gardin 400 was never a "loved" bicycle.  It was one of those forgotten mounts that only comes to the surface when it finally comes to mind.  Fortunately, it did not come to mind often since it was properly stored away, out of the way.  Or, more importantly, out of Harm's Way!

If the original owner failed to use this or her new bicycle, it is quite likely that it will have fallen into the realm of "in the way" from time to time, because it was not stored properly.  If not stored properly, storage damage is all but imminent.  Expect an assortment of storage woes, paint chips and scratches, even dents, where something or other has fallen on the thin tubing that often is associated with the better quality bicycles.  Storage damage might also be a product of Mother Nature's embrace, manifesting itself in the form of rust and corrosion.

QUESTION:  "How was the bicycle stored?"

STORED:  A properly stored bicycle will survive the ravages of time very well, as was the case with the Gardin 400 and this small framed Genesis.  An improperly stored bicycle will, as often as not, have suffered all sorts of "in harm's way" and/or environmental damage.  An indoor storage place that will be needed for other uses will lead to moving the "darn thing (bicycle) out of the way again".  Damage, in the form of dents, paint chips and the like will be the result.  A storage place underneath other stuff might well lead to a bent frame.  An indoor storage spot, chosen for its proximity and view of the outside will often lead to paint fading on one side or the other of the bicycle, as was the case with this early seventies Bottecchia.  And then, of course, there are a host of horrors that an out of doors storage place presents.  Knowing how a bicycle was stored is indeed valuable information to acquire.

QUESTION:  "Has the bicycle been crashed?"

ABUSED:  No problem with this one, I'm sure.  If the bicycle's frame set or components are all banged up, the bicycle was abused.  It can be no more simple than that.  Abuse damage manifests itself in the form of scratches, gouges, dents and bends.  Abuse damage can also be the result of inadequate or uninformed maintenance manifesting itself in the form or component wear or frame set distortion.  However, such deficiencies are not always easy to see immediately.  A beautiful old Mercier sat in the Old Shed for a couple of years before I noticed that the forks were bent.  I assumed that the bicycle's geometry was sound without actually inspecting carefully.  I did notice on initial inspection that the front and rear wheels did not match - a valuable clue now that I think about it.  The front wheel would have been changed out for a good reason.  I should have given this more thought at the time of purchase...

Scratched brake levers could mean that the bicycle slipped when leaned up against a wall.  Gouged levers indicate a crash.  Scuffed up or scratched pedal ends indicates that the bicycle was laid on its side frequently and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  If, however, both pedals are scuffed up, it means that the bicycle was laid down on its drive side and this is not the way to rest a bike. Gouged or bent pedal ends, indicate crash damage and that kind of damage might well have been transmitted to the frame set itself.

A scuffed up rear derailleur suggests lack of understanding, on the part of the owner.  Light scuffing to the rear derailleur would suggest that the bicycle was laid down on the wrong side, from time to time.  Not really a big deal from a mechanical point of view but certainly a concern when considering the cost to replace, if cosmetics are a rebuild issue.  A gouged rear derailleur indicates crash damage and the damage might well have traveled into the frame set itself in the form of a bent rear derailleur hanger, or worse.

If a scuffed up or even torn saddle presents itself, don't get all excited and immediately expect crash damage.  More often than not, a scuffed up or torn saddle is a simple product of a bicycle falling or slipping, while leaned against a wall.  I am guilty of creating this kind of damage myself and I am pretty careful with my vintage bicycles, be they ones I intend to keep or ones marked for auction to others.

QUESTION:  "What was the bicycle used for?"

USED:  The best way to determine how much use a bicycle has seen is to look at the sprocket teeth, both on the crank rings and rear cog set.  A bicycle with a large ring that is more worn than the small ring was used by someone who rode a lot and at considerable speed.  Speed suggests race situations and the bicycle might well have bee used for racing.  Racing bicycles have tremendous strain placed on virtually all systems and this strain manifests itself in the form of wear and metal failure.  If I suspect a bicycle was used for racing, I pay additional attention to areas that might have failed under stress.  A hairline in a crack in a crank arm being a perfect example.

If I see little wear on the big ring and more on the small ring, the bicycle was probably used for either recreational purpose or transportation endeavours, such as commuting to and from work  This suggest minimal strain on mechanical parts and the likelihood of stress cracks is greatly reduced.

Front sprockets, or rings, are generally made of alloy and quite soft when compared to the steel sprockets generally found on freewheel cog sets.  Needless to say, soft alloys will wear much faster than their steel workmates found on cog sets.

Another easy to see indication of amount of use is the wear on the rear wheel rim braking surface.  Lots of wear, equals lots of use and perhaps the need for a new rear rim.  Lots of wear on the rear rim and little or none on the front means that the bicycle was used improperly.  Used improperly in this case means used by someone who did not know how to properly ride a bicycle, relying primarily on one brake rather than two.

QUESTION:  "Who maintained the bicycle?"

MAINTAINED:  How do you know if a bicycle was maintained properly or not?  Simply put, you don't know but there are some things that do offer clues that help generate a story of maintenance.

Grease extruding from wheel hubs, headset and bottom bracket bearing cavities is a really good sign.  Oil covered drive chains and drive sprockets is also a good sign but does necessarily mean that the bicycle was properly maintained.  A skim of oil on hubs, chain stays and the like can also be viewed in a positive light.  Simply put, and even though excessive lubricant is often a bad sign, the presence of lubricant suggests an awareness to maintain and, at the very least, helps to preserve the bicycles painted and exposed metal finishes.  The abundant lubricant also helps to preserve internal components, again by preventing rust from forming.  If I run across a bicycle with lots of lubricant showing, I at least know that the previous owner understood the meaning of and need for lubrication.  I feel confident that the seat post and steering stem will not be seized.  I doubt that there will be any rust inside the bottom bracket housing.

If I see a that the seat post clamp is distorted, I question maintenance understanding.  Common seat lug distortions include a closed gap and/or elongated bolt holes.  A badly distorted seat post lug is an indication that the owner did not know how to get his seat post tight.  To the novice mechanic, tightening a seat post is just that - TIGHTENING!  But a seat post that is too small, worn out or dirty will never get tight, no matter how much torque is applied to the seat post clamp bolt.  This seat post clamp bolt was tightened to its maximum, finally bending to take the shape of the seat lug, which was miserably distorted and required considerable attention to repair.

When you first approach a bicycle take a look at how the steering stem is mounted.  If the stem is mounted obviously high, with little stem inserted into the fork steering tube then it is reasonable to assume that the bicycle was used little by a person who did not understand much about mechanical principles.  When you see a stem mounted this high, be warned that damage to the steering tube might well have occurred.  The expanding steering stem, if inserted too little and tightened too much, might actually expand the threaded portion of the steering tube.  If this happens, it is quite likely that the entire fork set will need to be replaced.