13 July, 2016

Best Era for Cycling

by Scott

Our shipper Brandon here at VO has a game of "what time period would you like to live in"?  He and his girlfriend have discussions at home debating the best time period in history to have lived in a place or to have experienced certain things. I thought we'd expand that to cycling.

I'll limit the option to decades after WW2. Let's take a little look at the decades and some of the highlights:

1950's - Post war Europe starts to recover. French constructeurs ramp up production of bikes that were stopped or reduced during the war. Simplex derailleurs dominate the industry. US road bike building start with Schwinn at the front of the market. Raleigh starts importing bikes to the US. Era of travel by sea is ending as air travel becomes more popular and affordable.

1960's - Perhaps the pinnacle era for French constructeur bikes. Schwinn Paramount production starts in the US. Gear clusters go past 5. Hostel touring popular in Europe as incomes go up and rationing in Europe is ended. Sun Tour introduces the Slant Parallelogram derailleur making shifting easier and more reliable. TA introduces the Pro 5 vis crank set.

1970's - Mass introduction of French and Japanese bikes to the US. The rising cost of fuel pushes the first US bike boom. Bike Centennial starts up promoting the Trans Am bike route across the US. US frame building takes off. Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle begin the custom frame building tradition of the NE US. Campagnolo Super Record Gruppo introduced. Dura Ace introduced as the Japanese alternative.

1980's - Mountain bikes become mass produced. Index shifting arrives and gears go up to 8 in the rear. Aero brake levers and clip in pedals become standard items on racing bikes. Pastel neon frame colors becomes popular for a year or two until we realize our mistake. Cassette bodies become the norm and freewheel hubs start a downward spiral. Mainstream US media takes notice of cycling after Greg Lemond wins the TDF.

1990's - Carbon and Titanium start to become within reach, price wise. Intergrated shifting and brake levers become popular, cycling seen on TV stations that don't have 3 digits in the channel number. Yen drops off and manufacturing moves to Taiwan from Japan for frames and most components. Garish colors for MTB's are the rage despite the 80's. Anodized purple becomes the go to color for US made CNC'd products. Campy introduces a MTB gruppo. Discontinues gruppo a couple years later.

2000's (noughts) - Shimano and Campy continue to battle it out to see who can put the most gears on a cassette, Carbon shows up on lower and lower price points of bikes. Multiple wins in the TDF results in the "Lance" effect: an uptake in road bike sales and sales of USPS jersey's.

2010's (teens) - Gear cluster battle reaches stupid levels, Camo becomes a "thing" color wise, steel bikes make a resurgence in major manufacturer lineup's. Women are welcomed as customers and offered products designed for them rather then just a different color scheme. Bikepacking offers lightweight touring to the masses and hipsters a new place to drink bourbon.

What era would you prefer to ride in?


John Ellsworth said...

Most of the bikes in the family fleet are clustered around 1990 (some a little later, some a little earlier). No neon paint or splash bar tape, thank you. Call it 1990's, because I like my STI.

New bikes can be much more technically advanced, sure. But I'm middle-aged and on the slow side of fast, so most of those advancements are wasted on me anyway. Plus I can buy and rebuild a barely used 1992-3 Kestrel/Paramount/Trek/Miyata/Bridgestone for a small fraction of the price of a fancy new Specialized, and that lets me snap something interesting when the mood strikes. I buy a lot of VO cable sets, because I like to mix it up.

headset said...

Now is great time for touring with open borders etc, but I ride bikes from 90' so, I guess, it compiles few decades:)
Nice article, thx

S. Molnar said...

Racing bikes: 1970s. You had almost universal compatibility among manufacturers and Campagnolo had not yet begun its slide into mediocrity (eventually reversed to some extent). Also, lugged steel frames, friction shifters, lovely quill stems, and loose ball bearings that could be serviced at home. Tubular tires and pedal retention systems (i.e., toe clips) were not as good as later, but you can't have everything.

Commuting bikes: 2010s. Lights, frame styles, lights, gearing options, lights, tire selection (including studded), lights, component selection, lights.

Coline said...

I had the most fun in the seventies. Beautifully crafted steel frames with Campag bits which still work like new. more importantly there were fewer cars on the roads for long tours.

Anonymous said...

I'll go for 70's. My bikes were no great shakes, but:
1. I was young and thin, I didn't get a sunburned scalp from not wearing a helmet, and I could sleep on the ground without waking up thinking I'd been run over by a steamroller.
2. The bike boom made cycling almost cool. Remember "Breaking Away" (1979) - huge shot in the arm for a dorky kid.
3. Cycle touring took off, particularly around the bicentennial. I used campsites created then in later tours.
4. Bikes were easy to repair, almost everything was cross-compatible as long as you stuck to the right (not French) threading.
5. Eddy Merckx. No Lance.
6. No internet, I was out riding instead of posting my silly opinions for strangers to read.

Ben said...

Traffic and the courtesy of drivers has a way bigger impact on my cycling than the bike I'm riding. Whatever era has the fewest cars, the cleanest exhaust and the friendliest drivers is the one for me.

peddalhead said...

Regards equipment, my tastes in styling run towards the 60s through 80s but the same style components made today are much better quality.

As far as actually riding, except for the increased traffic on the roads I prefer the current time as my trips are longer and much more adventurous than anything I did in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

For looks, 60s and 70s hands down. Silver components, among other reasons. For functionality, the here and now. Rims are so much stronger now, they hardly ever go out of true. Braking is WAAYYY better, thanks to dual pivot brakes and others, including hydraulic disks. Shifting is also vastly improved, both because brifters put the levers where your hands are, and because the mechanism on even mid-level components just works incredibly well, e.g., SRAM Rival. (Friction shifting also works great, but the placement of the levers on the downtube or the bar ends is, for me, far inferior.) Frame designs now compared to the 60s and 70s are also more practical and varied, if not as good looking. In the 70s, an off the rack "touring" bike, e.g., Dawes Galaxy, had room for only relatively skinny tires by today's standards, and riding position on the bike was fairly aggressive. Now the industry is waking up to the fact that a road racing frame with bars way below the seat is not all that comfortable. Old people are buying bikes, I guess!

bsimon said...

There is nothing wrong with 'right now,' defined as that period of time that started when I learned to ride in the 70s through currently working in the industry as an adult. When I was a kid, the handy guy across the street modified a tricycle into a mini penny farthing 'kids' bike for the neighborhood kids to learn on. I never could ride that damn thing, but eventually hopped on my brother's bike and rode that easily. Riding bmx bikes around the neighborhood & much further afield than my parents ever realized taught me the freedom a bicycle brings. Around 1980 I got my first 10 speed, a fuji that I eventually folded on a parked car; we swapped the components onto a pretty sweet falcon frame. In high school I did my first touring on a school trip to France. It took me a few years to get into mountain biking, like so many others I put bikes aside when I learned to drive. Then, after college & landing a 'real job' a buddy turned me on to the dirt. I kept that rigid bianchi for almost 20 years, it was eventually joined by an old fuji I used for commuting & touring; an old falcon I converted to singlespeed, until those were pushed out by a cargo bike, fat bike & more. I don't know what's coming next, but, dang, its been a pretty sweet ride so far.

David E said...

If I had a time machine I'd want to visit the 1890's and experience the first cycling boom. They had fewer paved roads and much less advanced bikes, but there weren't any (motor)cars to worry about and it would be great fun to go for a long ride out in the country and come home by train - maybe hang out at the local cycling clubhouse and go see the excitement of a 6-day race.

Unknown said...

Right now is pretty cool. A lot of options to choose from. A lot of tire options, wheel options, brake options, etc. Discs are getting better, indexing is smoother. Larger tires are becoming more of a norm.

Bikepacking set up was a game changer for me over rougher stuff.

Last but not least, women are being recognized for their great accomplishments in mainstream cycling.

A few downsides is quality steel is not as prevalent on production bikes and road bikes are looking more like Tron. All can still be avoided.

Anonymous said...

Now. More options than ever before. The internet exists and virtually anything can be ordered from a variety of retailers (like VO) and on my doorstep in days. YouTube and various forums and internet communities exist to share collective knowledge, experiences, and advocate for this wonderful pastime.

And we still get to search out all of those treasures from decades past.

Bob Torres said...

I would love to ride the open country roads that existed back in the 60's and 70's but I do not want to deal with the drivers from that era again! In regards to choices on building a great real world bike, right now it is the best time. The choices are so much better than what we had 30 to 40 years ago. Gearing and braking alone weren't so great back then. Today we have more choices on tires, seats, components, pedals and even navigation devices opens the doors to places we can travel to. Back then it was a smaller industry and I always felt that only the "in" crowd can only have access to the nicer stuff. Now anyone can get what they need to make a real bike.

Unknown said...

I think the 2050s+ will be pretty good:
- collapse of global capitalism means local production is not only viable, it's necessary;
- the ongoing ecological disaster means people won't treat you like trash for riding a bicycle for transportation, since 99% of the survivors will be doing it;
- corollary to the above, there will be no traffic and tons of abandoned roads to ride on;
- improved civil rights for people of colour, women, and gender non-binary-looking folk will mean hopefully everyone will feel safe even when riding bikes - even possibly while wearing tight pants!

Unknown said...

Now is good, especially with businesses like VO allowing everyone to decide what a "real" bike looks like and how it rides.

BTW - M. Caron has quite an idealistic view of a post-capitalism world. Although I agree with his hopes for liberty, equality, and fraternity, I don't think economic and ecological "disaster" will result in improvements. And he needs to check with the real scientists about the ecology thing, and not put his faith in the carbon hustlers who are in it for the money and power.

Neil E. Hodges said...

My only complaint with 'now' is how there are a very small number of stock bikes with the gearing range I like. A lot of 'touring' bikes still come with either 30/39/50 road triples (30t is too big!) or 34/50 compact doubles (even bigger!).

I have multiple bikes with 26/36/48t cranks paired with cassettes up to the 30-32t range and like how there's still decent spacing between the gears for winching up hills and not hunting on flats. Put something like that on a stock touring bike (or get something like a Surly LHT that has it already), and I'm happy.

The one I have with a 30/46 crank paired with a 12-36t cassette has jumps larger than I'd like in some places, and I'd never consider making it even worse with a 1× setup that's in vogue today. I'll keep my front derailleur, thanks.

My only other real quibble is the dearth of non-'city' bikes with hub dynamos stock, but that's pretty much always been how it is.

Any other issues I have with 'now' are pretty minor.

Unknown said...

The 80s with beautiful and inexpensive (relatively) sport touring bikes available EVERYWHERE. All of the things that we lust after in a bike now, rear rack mounts,fender mounts,clearance for sensible tires,lugged steel, basically everything we pay out the nose for in a modern bike.

Doug L in TN said...

Just being here in 2016 is great. Granted there are an increasing number of distracted drivers, I am amazed by the latest offerings on line and at the local bike shops and for me a new custom bike is out of reach. In the 70's I could afford the custom bike and top of the heap components. I still have that bike which I finished in 81 but the components are now midlevel. I like the larger light weight tires that are smoother on the rougher roads and packed gravel. Thinking back to the 50's and 60's we were riding to and from school and neighboring towns on bikes with 26 inch wheels with 2 speed coaster brakes,1 3/4 inch tires and Boy Scout back packs held all our books or gear. The 70's brought lighter frames and gears the tires were smaller/higher pressure but not that much faster-you felt like you were flying though. Working in a bike shop and some bike club racing with John Meyer allowed me an inside look into Hi-E Engineering and all the aluminum components Harlan Meyer produced. We were profiling freewheel cogs and drilling chain rings mostly for better shifting and looks. The bikes were all but put aside by the 80's thru 2000's with raising kids and jobs. We are raising my nieces kids and the bikes are back in use riding trails and adjacent streets with some commuting. Politics and environmental concerns aside the present is pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Now! The bikes are better than they ever have been, the gear is better than it ever has been, and the road network is better than it ever has been.

Drawbacks: Bikes are seen by a segment of society as toys for kids and snooty adults.

Markus F said...

Now is fine. Bikes have never been better or less expensive. But touring in europe in the 1950´s would have been great.

Simon. said...

The particular appeal of now is that all the stuff from the previous decades is more or less available to us, and we are enjoying a particular revival of styles of bicycle (the sort that have led me to this blog) that makes many old bike much easier to keep running. I can't help feeling a little sad looking at maps from the 60s and 70's and seeing how much closer the city boundaries were- the countryside is not what it was.