27 June, 2014

Vintage Bike Parts, Wooden Boats, and Practicality.

The very first VO bike was built up with, mostly, vintage components.
My thinking has evolved about any number of things that I was once very certain of. For example, I spent much of my life building and paddling wooden kayaks, but now I'm much happier with plastic kayaks because they require no maintenance and are unbelievably rugged. They are, in a word, more practical.

When I started VO, some 8 years ago, I was into building up my bikes with mostly vintage parts. Back then I spent an inordinate amount of time on Ebay looking for old bike parts. I wanted Simplex retrofriction shifters, Huret derailleurs, Maxi-Car hubs, French city bars, CLB inverse brake levers, and a hundred other wonderful and obscure bits and pieces. Today I use only modern components and accessories. Again, they are more practical and more reliable.

There are so many more cool and functional parts being made today than 8 years ago, many of them based on classic designs. And, if you'll allow me to pat VO on it's collective back, many are made by us. You can buy brand new 50.4bcd cranks, high flange touring hubs, all sorts of city and rando bars, great polished rims, lovely seat posts, functional and shiny racks of every sort. A number of companies make this wonderful stuff again, not just VO.

In most cases, these new parts work better than their classic inspirations. Our 50.4bcd chain rings are stiffer and shift better than the old ones I used to buy on Ebay. Modern Dia Compe center pull brakes are stiffer and stop better than classic Mafacs. Grand Cru long reach brakes outperform any vintage equivalent. Stainless steel racks don't rust like the old European chrome versions. And while the classic Maxi-Car hubs are still among the longest lasting, they won't work with modern cassettes. Even the better production frames being built today are superior to those of 30-years ago.

Like wooden boats, vintage bike components have a certain cachet and there are those who love them for that, and for the history. I also realize that some folks are naturally collectors and for them it's a great hobby. As for myself, I've always wanted to study and learn about stuff, but not to keep or collect what I wasn't using. Yet I still have a lovely set of retro friction shifters, a long cage SLJ derailleur, CLB levers, and a few other bits in a box behind my desk, just can't bring myself to sell them. And I still own a wooden pulling boat.

Do you still look for and use vintage parts? And what other classic parts should be made again?

23 comments:

Natasha Lynch said...

agreed, vintage is nice for concourse display bikes , when it comes to riding daily it makes a lot of sense to use modern 'classic inspired' components , there is still quite a few gaps in the market , 6 and 7 speed indexed gear systems , good quality 6 and 7 speed freewheels and chains to name a few , i use 6 speed indexed shimano gear system that never misses a beat and the old sedis chain has done many thousand miles and is still not worn out according to my chain wear gauge , where as my three month old £50 10 speed chain is shot already , for us that like to ride without fuss and who prefer the reliability of older gear and classic purposeful design, companies such as VO are truly a god send , keep up the good work and keep those wonderful products coming , me and my bikes thankyou ! ;-)

jonathansmith68 said...

I was looking through the online store and trying to think of a product or products that I would like to have that V.O. doesn't currently make/source, but I was having a difficult time. It seems that you guys have covered just about every piece and component of the bike.

I did, however, think of a few things. I noticed that the only aero set of drop-bar brake levers you guys carry are the Tektro RL340s. It'd be cool to see a classy, yet modern, high-quality offering that combines the comfort of SRAM and Tektro with the quality of Shimano or TRP. Drilled-out could be a nice touch (a la the TRP RRL SRs).

With all of the big companies (SRAM, Shimano, Campy) constantly in an arms race for who can cram more cogs in the rear-end, it'd be nice to see a company offer some high-quality STI/Ergo-like brifters for 7, 8, and 9 speed indexed systems. Maybe you could combine forces with someone like Microshift in order to produce a classy offering.

Lastly, and tying into the last statement. Maybe sourcing or producing some high-quality 7, 8, and 9 speed cassettes and freewheels could be nice. Although, I understand if these last two ideas are not viable due to the big three having pretty good control over this market (and most-likely benefit greatly from economies of scale). It just seems like there should be a company that focuses on refining 7, 8, and 9 speed groups as they work great and everyone seems to be abandoning them in the pursuit of more gears.

Just my 2 cents!
-Jonathan

Anonymous said...

If you buy good equipment, use it long enough and be cheap enough to believe that if something still works well, there is no need to replace it, you end up still riding 120mm (5 sp) turing bicycle - a custom turing frame from 1982.

With half-step + granny, sometimes vintage is the only choice.

Whenever a component needs replacing, I try to go with the classically inspired modern equipment; but find that only works part of the time.

So, don't forget the 5 sp market!

Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with Jonathan regarding narrow range cassettes (including 6 speed???) and likewise don't forget 5 speed freewheels. I recently built a set of wheels using VO rims/650B with Vintage Campy High Flange Record hubs using a 5 cog freewheel and a 130 mm axle with symmetrical spacers and this just about eliminated any 'dish.

How about some VO handlebar specific water bottle cages, single and double? Meaning with the old time double clamps rather than your still OK adapter for mounting conventional cages...

Ciao,
Bruce in Montana

John I said...

Though I appreciate, (and buy) some modern parts, I still use many more vintage parts. Why? They are very well made, and quite inexpensive if you're patient. When you can get a decent pair of Campy Record freewheel hubs for like $40, or 600 tricolor 8sp hubs for $25, SR seat posts for $12, and a wide variety of high-quality quill stems for $20, it's really hard to pull the trigger on new stuff.

Anonymous said...

Medium quality 28.6 clamp road front derailleur with built in cable stop. This part was found on tens of thousands of mid to low priced French, British and Japanese bikes from the 70's and 80's.

Not exciting, but much needed for repairs/restorations. Kind of like French headsets and bottom brackets.

Anonymous said...

Enormous Stash of Campy Parts just went up on Craigslist DC FYI.

S Molnar said...

I know you guys have already ruled out freewheels, but you did ask; after all, you sell freewheel hubs. I prefer freewheels and friction shifters because of lower cost, slower wear, easier maintenance, and no need for a gazillion gears. Maybe the latest generation of IRD freewheels has solved their reliability issues, but they do have a credibility problem.

MT cyclist said...


Chris: I've long been a fan of Chesapeake Light Craft boats, and the company seems to be doing well since you left. It's fun to check up on their new models, etc. When I started researching kayak kits about 10 years ago I agonized between CLC and Pygmy. I finally settled on a Pygmy. The deciding factor is that they're closer to where I live. Of course Velo Orange has been a tremendous success. Thanks for your innovative parts and great service.

lawschoolissoover said...

Some old stuff can be nice. I like old friction shifters (real friction, not switched to friction), and I've just switched from a standard "racing double" (53/39) to an extended range double built on Sugino PX arms (see here:

http://lawschoolissoover.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/little-changes-make-me-cranky/

I guess one consideration for me is that I don't care for parts that are designed to "look" vintage. The PX cranks look reasonably modern to my eye, yet retain the functionality (and some of the quirks!) of the original Cyclotouriste arms.

I guess in connection with the arms, I'd love to see a medium-cage rear derailer that would allow wider-range doubles (see blog for potentially gory details).

Tony Hunt said...

I'd also like to see Grand Cru level drivetrain components: 5-9 sp freewheels/cassettes, wider range of rings for your super lightweight 50.4 cranks, a boxy, shiny derailer that doesn't look like a Men in Black weapon, as a few examples.

And although your racks are wonderful I'd love to see that same quality done in something other than a French aesthetic. Like a contemporary take on old Blackburn racks or something. (A matching set is a must. The Soma Mini Front rack is a friendly little thing but there's no companion rear)

Anonymous said...

I applaud your modern 50.4 cranks, as I have broke two sets of TA cranks due to pesky French pedal threading. I would like to see more chain ring options for those cranks though.

I am still on the fence for my next build (one year away), I would like to go with the VO 50.4 cranks, but I have found a modern SRAM crank in my preferred 48-32 combo...

Overall your doing a great job of perfecting time-tested ideas with modern reliability--kudos.

Wes Ewell said...

My introduction to VO came when I was restoring my 1974 Raleigh Super Tourer a few years ago. I bought the brake levers from you on eBay, then ordered the Mafac style brake pads from you. Click on my name to see what it looked like when I finished.

George and Shelly said...

I'd like to see a 50.4 crank with modern arms that would permit easier front derailleur set up. You retro model can be a bit of a pain to set up! Love the gear options though!

Anonymous said...

Anon's idea of a front derailer with a cable stop is a good one. Now that many derailers are made in braze-on only, an easy way to make that happen would be an adaptor clamp with the stop built in. Much cheaper and easier than a whole new derailer and seems like something VO could make happen.

Rich F.

Anonymous said...

Clicking on Wes Ewell's picture just reminded me; how about a modern version of the Huret Jubilee rear derailleur? How hard could it be to produce, its so simple! (and elegant) -Tony

Anonymous said...

I think it would be great if there was a convenient way to lessen the inflated amount of rear sprockets to a sensible one (5-6 maybe) and in exchange get to choose the size combination for one's specific needs (and chainrings) and also get the ability to flip a worn sprocket around for added years of service. Then we could also again have some sturdier chains to further enhance the newly rationalized power transmission system. Some company could even try re-introducing a Nivex-style rear derailleur with a double cable actuation and that sensible-seeming location attached to the chainstay.

Anyway, in so many ways so many good things have happened in the bicycling world in the last decade or so. Lot's of good stuff being produced to help us cyclists navigate around the worst excesses of the racing/image/toy -conceptual offerings of the industry.

Alex Wirth said...

I'd love to see some vintage style lighting with modern guts, inexpensive front and rear alloy racks ("Like a contemporary take on old Blackburn racks or something. (A matching set is a must. The Soma Mini Front rack is a friendly little thing but there's no companion rear"), a full chain case, old school double water bottle mounts for the front handlebar, an innovative/attractive/lightweight take on the YWS frame lock, and of course I will echo the requests for an attractive and smooth shifting set of derailleurs. Your offerings to date are phenomenal.

mhandsco said...

If we're allowed to dream a moment, I would buy a Sachs Huret Jubilee clone rear derailleur. Especially if it had a kit of elegant delete bolts to make it a chain tensioner for 1, 2 or 3 speed applications.

VeloOrange said...

I think some of you overestimate our abilities and resources.

Derailleurs are, frankly, beyond our capabilities. We could sell a slightly altered Microshift, but I'm not sure it would be worth the effort.

So far as we can tell, there are no factories left that can, or are willing to, make a really good 5-7 speed freewheel.

Lighting is something we've considered, but it gets very complicated, takes up too many resources, and it's something I'm simply not personally interested in.

I guess the bottom line is that we want to stick to the categories of products that we think we can do really well.

Anonymous said...

The Campagnolo Record quick release was a perfect thing... and then the CPSC had to bungle it up. I expect no one there had ever operated a quick release, and perhaps to this day. They certainly know nothing about bicycling.
From a manufacturing standpoint it's also a great item, because it is so versatile. The same parts, with just a change of skewer, can be used for a front hub, rear hubs of 120, 126, 130, 135mm, or tandem hub lengths; and importantly, also for a seatpost binder. I use an old Suntour one as a binder on my road bicycle and it's very convenient. And almost the same lever can be used as a shift lever... and in turn the shift lever can be used on downtubes, bar ends, or stem or thumb shifter mounts; or to control a BB-mounted generator from the seatpost.

You have a serviceable QR, but it's just not the same as the flat-lever, conical adjusting nut with bronze bushing and functional circlip Campagnolo Record. And while nowadays we can get fine 120mm five-speed freewheel hubs from Phil or Paul and even five speed cassette hubs from Grand Bois, where do we get really good skewers for them? I see Gran Compe has the right beginnings of the lever shape and style in their down tube shift levers... how hard to go from there?

Second item: The MA-2/ Module E (27 x 1-1/8 version) rim. You could call it the VO-2 or Module V. The profile, the cross section, the combination of light weight (420g spec), strength, durability- all are proven, and recognized as ideal. Your current offerings are not quite the same.

Third item: Avocet-type tires in 25, 28, 32mm. Where can you get the same combination of smooth tread, long wear, wet grip, light weight, sidewalls protected by a high profile of the tread rubber, and low rolling resistance? Not to mention low cost...

Fourth item: Five-speed freewheels. The quality doesn't have to be super-high- maybe the Sun Race are good enough, or close enough to start?

Rick Cremer said...

I am totally at one with my April 1951 Sturmey Archer AM 3-speed medium ratio hub laced onto my 1980 road bike with GB stoker bars. It had been in use from inception until sometime in the mid-eighties, and now again by me since 2005. It was then rebuilt with 2 newer axle cones, grade 25 bearings and a splined driver. I love it. I commute 11 miles daily and now ride it exclusively for all my 25-75 mile weekend rides here in northern Illinois. It shifts flawlessly up and down while moving or if needed at sudden stops. It coasts forever, and it's 3 gears are spaced about 2 teeth apart. I haven't ridden any of my 4 way-way cooler vintage road bikes in over a year. I did try the new S/A 3 speed fixed hub with a free wheel and felt it had noticeably more drag and a lot of slop. This old hub is just getting into its prime at 63 years old, and I'm only 62, but hey.
BTW, I run 180mm crank arms, a 42t bio-pace chainring and a 13t rear sprocket. After a bit of experimenting, this seems to be the best choice for me here in the Fox River valley. It takes 22-27 minutes to get to work on my 1980 LaTour with 14 stop signs and 2 major thoroughfares to cross. + I'm happy all the way.
Sun-Race obviously has the patent rights for a hub that was looked over for its extreme reliability and its compatibility with urban riding, rolling hills and general flat lands.
-love, Rick

Xophere said...

I would pay $100 for your seat post in a 27 or smaller size I could shim. Not that you would charge that. I could see some nicely style spd pedals if there isn't a hug fee to use the standard. How about alight but good size 15 mm wrench with some leverage. I have a pdx one that is a combo tire lever but it is too short to get a good amount of force.


Love my wheel set, head set, quick releases, seat post, bb.