11 January, 2023

Practicality vs. Sentimentality - Does it Bring You Joy?

by Scott

A lot of us have attachments to items we own that don't make financial sense. I'm not a sentimental person, by and large. I have a few objects that I hold near and dear to me, but in the case of the house catching fire, my wife and I will grab the cats and the wedding album and that's about it. 

I bring up the idea of bonds and sentimentality and how it pertains to bicycles. We get a lot of folks coming to us to help keep their older bikes going. We've got the various bottom brackets and headsets to keep those older Peugeot UO8s and Schwinn Le Tours rolling along, handlebars to replace the going-on-40-year-old original bars, and all the fixings to make them unique to the rider. I'm curious as to whether folks are keeping them going in their original shape, setting them up as a commuter bike with newer components, or something in the middle like changing the bars and consumables for a spiffy and novel weekend rider.

The larger question of whether or not a bike should be restored to its shiny and new glory, simply spruced up and ridden, or hung on the wall? The answer is a resounding...."it depends"....

There are so many factors that goes into a decision like this. Does the bike have sentimental value, significant historical value, or is it just a fun project to work on? These decisions aren't easy especially when it comes to a budget.

There is no question that certain bikes hold more or less value to us as individuals - for example, Adrian and Igor have matching Campeurs that they used for their Denmark wedding tour. You can read about his and her Forever Bikes here. 

A Peugeot UO8 is perhaps the best bike to use as an example here, as it is a re-occurring character at VO HQ. Peugeot made thousands and thousands of these bikes during the bike boom of the 60s and 70s. They were mid to low end of the range with Simplex shifting, Mafac brakes, and cottered cranks. They weren't anything special, but they were affordable, had cool graphics and Aztec lugs, and it got people on bikes - and that's what made it an icon of the era.

Photo courtesy of DJCatNap

Would a UO8 be my first choice for a restoration? Probably not. But if a particular UO8 had significance in my life, like it was a beloved family member's, a first bike, or something of that nature, well that is a whole different story. Now that specific bike has significant sentimental value and that doesn't necessarily have the same price tag as a random UO8. I would absolutely argue that it deserves either a full restoration or moderate refurbishment to make it safe to ride - budget allowing. Replacing consumables like chains, brake pads, handlebar tape, and tires goes a long way.

Adrian's Bertin with Campagnolo Nuovo Record

I see outrageous pricing for original Simplex derailleurs and hear stories online of collectors paying huge amounts of money for period-correct parts. Is it to recreate this bike from 1973 and then display it or is someone actually riding this bike? For a lot of people, it's a totally worthwhile exercise to go and take an older frame, fix it up, put a new saddle on it, new brake pads and cables and then go out and use it. But I think one has to admit that, like many things, bikes have improved over the last 50 years and to just blindly restore a bike back to its original condition may not be the best decision.

Do you restore old bikes for sentimental reasons? Do you restore them to stock condition or do you make them more modern? Let us know in the comments!


anniebikes said...

I had my brother's nearly mint Peugeot UO14 for 10 years. Upgraded to upright handle bars and nice tires. It was a back-up bike and kept for sentimental reasons, but I finally felt good about selling it in 2022. No regrets.

Tony Hunt said...

I love restoring vintage bikes, but for myself I have no interest in period correct restorations, I want to update where it makes sense. I feel as if the highest praise we can offer these bikes is to make them ridden again, not merely showroom pieces.

The problem is that modern components tend to be so chunky, black, and ugly I will at times use slightly less than optimal vintage parts because they are lovely and work well enough. I won't pay $300 for a Jubilee, but I'd pay $75 if only the ebay market would go down.

I started restoring in part because I couldn't afford new bikes. Now I do it because I find modern bikes (not yours!) so hideous, and steel so easily modifiable.

Vintage bikes also offer me perspective. Having only ridden them, I am able to put a bit of critical distance between myself and the claims of modern components. I don't consider myself a retrogrouch, but I know that I don't need, say, disc brakes or tubeless set-ups because I ride through Minnesota winters without em. It's perfectly fine if people like them! I'm not saying never. But I'm saying I'm not going to get rid of the bikes I have that work fabulously for me because of the allure of some mystical better.

I wouldn't be able to do these restorations without your products. We'd all be up a creek without them. You're happy to update where you think it make sense, but you're not going to start making ugly racks just to fit in. The humble Constructeur racks can handle big tours. Their existence puts modern pretensions to flight that a part should set aesthetics aside to "work better" or somesuch nonsense.

A lot of vintage bikes were also more daring than modern ones. Look at your Gerard bike there. 73.5 HT and 74mm of rake? Who's making bikes like that now other than Wake Robin? It's 71.5 x 52 for all of us now and it's boring. Thanks for all you do!

Aubergine said...

Old French bikes in general are nice to ride, even stock. But by adding judicious improvements, they can be quite remarkable. The main thing is the wheels and tires. Good aluminum rims and high quality tires (Herse for me!) transform those old bikes. Of course, other mods also can improve the durability and function of the bike as well. I put your bottom brackets in most of my French restorations so I can mount old Specialites TA cranks (you really should offer a 26 tooth granny for yours), and use the decaleurs and fenders as well. I'd love to see a decent 22mm handlebar stem as well!

My first old Peugeot can be seen here: https://i.servimg.com/u/f11/20/13/59/84/9435e910.jpg

Anonymous said...

I collect bicycles that I love for their aesthetics, their engineering or historical significance, or simply because they happened to cross my path. I have opinions about my bikes, as well as opinions about collecting and handling them, but I’m ok with people who have different opinions. Ultimately, my guiding principle is to preserve a riding experience rather than just a machine.

Bikes are dynamic, changeable things, and many bike people are relentless tinkerers. So bikes rarely stay ‘original’— they’re tweaked and modified and accessorized. If I have a bike that’s all original and has some historic significance, I’ll keep it as I received it, performing only whatever work is needed to make it safe and rideable. Otherwise I feel free to season it to my own tastes. VO products & aesthetics happen to mesh very nicely with my tastes.

I don’t think I’m overly sentimental, but now that I’m in my 60’s I can appreciate the tug of sentiment. Older English bicycles aren’t especially valuable, but they’re beautiful to me and I have several in original condition dating as far back as the 1940s. When I happened on a 1949 Sturmey-Archer AW hub with 3-cogs and a Benelux dérailleur, I built a wheelset with it, and then a complete bike in the style of a 1936 Raleigh Golden Arrow. It is absolutely a replica— not original, and not strictly accurate. (700C alloy wheels vs 26 inch, a ‘72 Sports frame, etc.) Purists might point out that it’s not museum-correct, but I find it beautiful and it’s a joy to ride.

And for me the ride is the point. New bikes and new tech don’t alarm me or cause me to despair. They are thrilling to ride in their way, which of course is different from the ways in which old bikes are thrilling. The contrast is exquisite. But more than that, it’s a window into the experiences of riders long past. Vintage bicycles, like vintage tools or musical instruments, require user engagement. This isn’t dressing up in old clothes— you have to step out of your time and your expectations and deal with the machine as it is. When I pedal my 1951 Lenton Sports up a hill, it feels exactly to my body as it would have to a rider in 1951.

I can understand wanting a period correct restoration, even of a mass-produced bike, even if it’s only for sentimental reasons. Perhaps an older rider wants to feel once again the familiar ride of his first real bike. Or perhaps for a younger rider it’s a machine that reveals the skills and strengths of his grandfather’s generation. But even a low-end, non-original, fixed-up, mixed-up bike can be exciting to someone. And sometimes sentiment is just excitement with a few decades of patina on it.

Please note that I’m responding as anonymous because I’m feeling too analog this evening to figure out profiles, etc. If it matters to anyone, my name is Jack.

greenyuppie said...

I think there is some uneasiness in retiring or giving up on a frame - they are a metaphor for our own mortality vs. unending optimism, sustainability, and self-improvement.

2whls3spds said...

It depends. I have a few that are kept in pristine original condition just because. The rest are set up to be ridden regularly so will have upgrades to make them a bit more user-friendly. They run the gamut from 3 speeds to a few late 80s 21 speeds.


Maeda Suntour Fan said...

Anon 1/13, I have 3 English bikes, one a '54 Claud Butler, so it was built
when Claud ran the company, it has grubby but original paint.
The parts are period plausible to period correct.
But for daily riding I replace the Benelux Tourist rear mech
with a Suntour VXGT.

I've Ellis Briggs that had been covered in red paint, it was
refinished, now with some period parts (mid 1950s), and some
wonderful Suntour parts, to make it easily rideable.

So it depends.

George A said...

Bicycles, like most mechanical items, have been (and still are) being continuously improved over time. A moving target. That does not mean that earlier devices are without charm and merit. Who wouldn't like to discover a barn find a dusty Wright Brothers or perhaps a shaft drive Columbia and then spend an enjoyable winter restoring it to riding condition?

Aside from historic bikes, the vision of owners of old bikes differs from rider to rider. Some want to restore their machines to period authentic condition. These will be ridden occasionally in group rides but most will become wall hangers.

Others want to upgrade an old bike to make it more ride-able (triple rings, better brakes, lights, etc.). Some have a budget which makes acquiring an old bike and doing the upgrades themselves financially attractive. Others might already have an older bike in the garage.

Taking an old frame and doing a total upgrade is akin to putting a Chevy v/8 into an MG. Done right, with attention to also upgrading brakes and suspension, dramatic performance enhancements can be made and the end result is better able to keep up with modern traffic. But, in the end, one still has an old frame (or body) with the inherent limitations. Does this old frame with upgrades provide the owner with satisfaction? Only the owner can answer that question.

Old bikes aren't going away any time soon *there are still lots of them around) but the expertise to support older bikes, at most bike shops, is disappearing. New bikes are expensive and like new cars are a PITA for a shade tree mechanic to work on. It would be nice to see shops that caters to supporting old bikes and their owners regardless of the owner's vision. Velo Orange is a step in that direction.

The bottom line is that nostalgia is a powerful component of this discussion. An old bike, no matter how thoughtfully updated, will never be on the same page as state of the art. But for some that's not the point.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep a bike until the frame cracks or warps. I long for a reason to dump my beloved bike so I can get a new one, for after dialing it in and obtaining bicycle knowledge, I now know the customized bike I desire that would suit me perfectly.