Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Phoenix Project - The Rules Of The Game

Since I arrived here from Japan 4 weeks ago, I've been having a field day on ebay.  Initially, the goal was simply to liquidate the last remnants of bike stuff I've still got lying around with the exception of 1 road and 1 rough stuff bike for me and 1 bike for my wife.

It turns out that I have a lot more stuff than I imagined - I've closed or have in progress about 80 auctions so far and it looks like about 30 or 40 to go.  But what is more unexpected is the prices vintage bike parts are bringing even in recession bound America. I'm conjecturing a NOS Suntour Cyclone GT rear mech is an innocent, shiny bit of happiness and escapism amidst the gloom, sort of like Shirley Temple flicks during the last Depression.

Ooops, did I really say that... let's keep moving.

I've been in denial of the growing evidence for some time, but this latest ebay foray is finally forcing me to accept the fact that vintage bike stuff is no longer a place for crabby cheapskates to wallow in champagne on a beer budget.  Sure, there are still great values out there, but they are fading rapidly.

To keep up vintage appearances, one now must be downwardly mobile to Dia Compe centerpulls, saving the NOS Delta Brakeset for junior's college fund.  That really isn't very fun.

There is a big, happy exception to this, though, in that framesets and complete bikes are still relative values.  Perhaps not nearly as overwhelmingly so as in the past, but frames and complete bikes are still competitive with new production.  However, component prices are killer now, approaching the point where living la loca vintage costs real dough, especially if you want nice stuff, not mid-grade and lower.

I made this point in The Death of Vintage thread I started in the Classic and Vintage area on bikeforums.net and got royally flamed for the most part.  Interestingly enough, the most vehement flamers were guys who last year or so introduced themselves along the lines of, "Hi, I'm Fred.  I haven't ridden in twenty years but I found my old bike in the basement.  I don't know a lot about bikes, but I can tell you it is green and big and seems to have dollar signs all over it. Can anyone tell me what it is worth?", and since that not so long ago happy day have been getting up at 5 am to scan craigslist and be the early bird who rips off the clueless, the recently widowed, and so forth.

I'll leave readers to draw their own conclusions about that.

Me, I figure people who were late to the last party will be late to the next one, which then gave me the idea for our next project.  It has all the elements - lots of spendy, luscious parts old and new, maybe some insight into navigating the ever-shifting trend line between edginess and dorkiness that plagues the unwary cyclist, and just plain old being right.

So here are the rules of the game that will be unfolding in upcoming episodes of Fuji Otaku.

First and foremost, blow lots of the cash I'm raising on this great ebay blowout (robatsu is the home of the .99 cent, no reserve vintage bike part auction) and build one bike.   Things are starting to wind down, soon I'll be reduced to desperately selling combined lots of used bar plugs like a lush chugging cologne, but I've already raised around 5k and there are still some goodies left to be sold.

Second, this bike, minus the frame, should be built only from parts that are currently available from established retailers.  This doesn't apply to the frame; my contention is that vintage frames are still a bargain.  It is ok to actually buy the part on ebay or from an individual to get a bargain, but the part must still be available commercially, although not necessarily in production at the moment.

Third, the goal of this bike is to be an example of a modern, yet timeless, neo-classic ethic or aesthetic, perhaps even our little contribution to the future path.  The timeless retro-grouch values apply, such as durability, all-rounder-ness, practicality, and silver parts wherever humanly possible.  But we won't be scared to press boundaries, reassess the old values, agonize over political implications of choice of cable hangers, and question shibboleths.  Ultimately, this will end up being the bike I don't mind throwing down $500 to ship to Japan, as that will be comparative peanuts.

Fourth, since I have a lot of very recent data on the price of cool old parts, we can do some cost analysis, is blowing obscene amounts of cash on current "classic" best of breed parts really more expensive than going easter egg hunting for old Campy C-Record?

Fifth, all the new stuff has to come from companies with provenance and heritage, guys who doggedly survived the years when a leather saddle got you laughed out of the bike shop.  This is probably the hardest part, since so many new vendors are springing up selling copies of old French parts made in new Chinese factories - as an aside, although I find it humorous, I have no ethical objections against this business model.  It just doesn't fit into the project vision.

Finally, Calvinball rules apply to this project and reader participation and commentary are highly encouraged.

Stay tuned for "Part 1 - The Frame".

1 comment:

Julian said...

Hey. I was wondering if I could ask for your help with something. My dad owned a Fuji America from '77, 25" frame, which I've been riding the past couple years. I recently crashed it and bent the frame in a quite unfixable way. I was hoping you could help me find a replacement frame (doesn't have to be perfect condition) or point me in the right direction. It would be really appreciated. I feel terrible for crashing my dad's bike.