Friday, March 19, 2010

Are You Classic, Or Vintage, Or Both?

Sometimes when I'm mucking around with all these old bikes, I start wondering about myself. Then when I'm writing for this blog, I start wondering about the readers.

What I wonder about is how much of our involvement in this is due to the bikes being vintage and how much it is to their being classic.

That is, if lugged steel bikes were affordably available new with all the classic features - lugwork, friction, shiny, level top tubes, Nervex lugs, friction shifters, metal headbadges, etc, would I (or you) still be haunting Craigslist, Ebay, and our respective workshops keeping vintage bikes in service?

The possibility of the new option seems to be increasing day by day with the growth of new production "classic" bike frames and parts. For my part, there are a couple of things that will probably prevent me from ever being as happy with new production as vintage. The primary obstacle will be that probably nobody is ever going to bring back loose ball hubs, bottom brackets, and headset.

Me, I like that stuff, the ability to cheaply service a bike with a handful of tools, bearings, and grease is a core element of the simplicity of cycling. But I suspect that those who feel as I do are a tiny minority of the market demand now driving the classic bike renaissance.

There is a heritage issue as well. Somehow, reissues from anonymous, white label manufacturers that would just as willingly crank out carbon crankarms seems to lack a bit of authenticity - sometimes it seems there is a whiff of Disneyland/Dreamworks illusion crafting in some of the new products, with some of the vendors trying too hard to strike a pose. Nonetheless, I use bits and pieces of these emerging products, but I'm not sure my heart would quite go pitty-pat on an entire machine constructed of such.

For me, there is a lot more magic in tracking down and rehabilitating a vintage crank than painlessly ordering a new facsimile from the web. But maybe that thought is also just a pose as well, albeit a purist type one.

I'm just wondering if anyone else ever thinks about these things. One answer is shut up and ride, but sometimes I think about this while riding.


James Black said...

Fuji Otaku,

I'm glad to see your blog active again! I'm a Fuji fan and enjoyed it last year. You might have seen my webpage on the Fuji Sagres I used to own. I'm most partial to the America, though, and have a rusty old frameset I might build up some day.

I've thought about the issue you wrote about here in similar terms. I argued on the iBOB list some months back that the vintage bikes have more "authenticity" than a contemporary lugged bike could achieve, which choice of term proved controversial. Upon further reflection, the term "aura" as used by Walter Benjamin is a more appropriate designation of what those old Fujis possess but modern reproductions lack.

James Black

T. E. B. H. said...

I have to agree that the new stuff just doesn't pull me in. I have been looking to build a fixed gear bike, and when Fuji rereleased the feather for this model year, I considered it. I also considerded the fact that this bike isn't built by the Fuji that built the Royale I love so much. That said, I'm still looking for a vintage frame and parts six months later.

JPTwins said...

I think TEBH gets to the point. The bikes made back then, sealed bearings or not, do not resemble the bikes of today and the companies most likely do not have the same standards. And I cannot afford a bike of the lugged steel caliber that would be new (ahem, Rivendell), nor do I want to.

I scored my Fuji for $75 and put another $200 into it and it's probably going to last me quite a while!

I'm not wed to the 'vintage' idea, but i do love the classic look. I've also wanted to restore something like this for a while, so there's that too.

Most of all, and this was your last thought: I just want a comfortable beautiful bike that fits me that I can ride all around.

robatsu said...

Funny thing about Rivendell. If one really subscribes to their core philosophy, as I tend to - simplicity, clearance, lugged frames, do-it all sorts of bikes, nothing new under the sun, don't throw money away, and bikes serviceable by owners - one could make the conclusion to not buy a Riv, but rather buy an old steel 70's/80's bike for a few bucks and get it on the road.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I just have more of a "waste not, want not" mentality. These older bikes are certainly serviceable and have a bit of character.


JPTwins said...

Good point on the rivendell philosophy! I hadn't thought of it that way! Now I can just spend my cash upgrading the bikes I already have...