New life for vintage bikes
May 15th 2020
Keep a bike for long enough, and it’s tough to get rid of it. You’ve covered a lot of miles together, and even the biggest developments in the cycling world aren’t enough incentive to part ways with that trusted mechanical friend.
So what to do with it?
Make it even more awesome, obviously. With some thoughtful component swap-outs in these specific areas, you can turn the bike of your memories into the bike of your dreams:
Comfort enhancements: Just like new, only better.
Your main weight-bearing points of contact on a bike are your seat and your handlebars. Since you started riding your trusty steed, four new comfort-related developments have come into the market:
Modern seat. In the old days, anyone looking for relief from a rock-hard saddle would buy one with a couple of big springs in the back, then load it up with gel covers, and lambswool covers over that, maybe even atop a wobbly spring post, resulting in a ride that was half comfy-butt, half bouncy castle.
Modern seatpost. You’d think seat a seatpost would be as simple as a post. But it’s not. Over the years, as bike frames have shifted more towards aluminum and carbon, seat posts have gotten larger-diameter–from 25.4 mm (1 inch) up to 27.2mm, 30.9mm, and finally 31.6mm. All these standards really means there’s no standard. If you want to upgrade the post on our vintage bike, you’ll need to know what diameter you already have.
Modern grips. Even when you make a “round shape” with your hand, it’s still not perfectly round like your handlebar. Ergon solves this mismatch by making your bar ends hand-shaped.
THINStem: The same bike…just less in the way.
So now you’ve got a comfortable bike. But it’s so inconsiderate of your living space that you need to banish it to the deck, which may be covered, but still has enough condensation to rust your bike and shorten its life. Consider this…
A THINstem is tested rugged enough for rough use, yet allows you to fold your bike flat by pivoting the handlebars 90 degrees in seconds.
Well…almost flat. There’s still the matter of the pedals, which are the next most protruding part of the bike–and at ankle height, too! You can use folding pedals, which offer some width reduction, or you can use pop-off pedals, which offer both rigidness for pedaling and the maximum reduction in width.
So our now-flattened RockHopper can be this convenient….
Pop-off pedals are available as flat pedals, SPD clipless, MTB and Mini-MTB. This video shows how they work and how to install them.
THINstems are available for old-style 1″ handlebars and the newer 1.25″ handlebars. This video shows how they work and how to install them. With older bars on vintage bikes, you will also need something called a quill-stem adapter, such as this one from Origin8, to go from the old-style low fork to the new style of tall fork and threadless stem.
Airless tires and Armour: Two ways to avoid flats altogether.
It’s a sunny day, you’re totally jazzed about your first bike ride in a along time…but both your tires are flat. And the pump isn’t where you thought it was. Sound familiar?
Even in the best of conditions, with a good inner tube and in your own home, a flat tire can turn a great day of biking into a day spent hiking instead.
On solution is the Tannus airless tire. It’s modern polymer that can simulate different tire pressures, offer a similar ride, and fit on the same rim, yet never, ever go flat.
Tannus Armour follows a different approach to flat reduction, primarily for wider tires. It uses a standard inflated tube, but protects it from nastiness such as goathead thorns with a strong, thick, and lightweight layer of foam. Even if you manage to get a rare flat out on the road, you’ll still be able to ride back without hurting your rim.
Antilock braking: Something to not flip out over.
When you brake quickly with a car, more of the weight shifts over the front end, making the front brake both a more efficient way to stop and a source of greater brake pad wear.
A bike is similar. On most terrain, your front brake is the most efficient way to do two things: stop your bike…or flip your bike—as I learned firsthand within two weeks of riding recklessly (but not wrecklessly) on my first bike with front brakes. Can anti-lock brake technology be applied to bike brakes to make bikes safer?
Apparently so. This new technology just now starting to appear on disc-brake bikes, but is already available on rim brakes, thanks to our friends at Revelo.
Safety lighting: Always a bright idea
I used to think that the most important bike light was the one in front that lit my way. But we live in different times, with more distracted driving than ever. A blinking taillight even in the middle of a sunny day can be a good investment, protecting you against what you do not yet perceive as a threat.
We don’t yet have a recommendation for a specific model of lighting system, but these characteristics are highly useful:
- USB, not batteries. You will always be able to plug it in and recharge. That’s means you’ll use it more.
- Quick removal without falling off. Yes, it’s easier to steal than one bolted on, but if it’s less hassle to recharge, you’ll keep it charged.
- Bright. On the back, 50 lumens should be fine. On the front, the more lumens the better.
- Long-lasting battery. The less often you have to charge it, the better.
- Accessible switch. I have an otherwise awesome light with an inaccessible on/off switch that requires no gloves, fingernail in the right spot, hold in for 4-8 seconds, and something about a horcrux. Not recommended.
Do you have a bike light that you think others should have (besides giving it away)? What model?
Efficient shifting: The complicated process of getting to simple.
So you want simpler, easier shifting. It’s totally possible. But you’ve got some decisions to make.
Before 1984, shifting was pretty low-tech. You pulled a shift lever and listened, adjusting it until the gear grinding stopped. Shift complete. Some brands made it a bit easier than others, but you could generally mix and match parts across derailleurs with no problem.
Then Shimano introduced S.I.S (Shimano Index Shifting): An up and a down lever for each deraileur, with super-precise, 1:1 lever-to-derailleur movement. One click, one gear. Awesome! The catch was that you needed Shimano equipment at each end of that cable–a groupset. Want awesomeness on both derailleurs? We’re gonna need a bigger groupset…
Today, among Shimano, Campaganolo and SRAM, there are at least three proprietary standards for index-shifting groupsets, and even more when you throw in different numbers of rear cogs and even newer systems like hydraulic shifting and wireless electronic shifting. Even chains and rear wheels are designed to accept certain numbers of derailleur gears.
All of which means… you can upgrade to whatever modern shifting you want, but watch for scope creep and the possibility that the groupset encompasses hundreds of dollars and most of your bike.
This is just a list of possibilities. A selective upgrade here or there can completely change how you use your bike, for many years of increased enjoyment. But try to upgrade everything, and you’re probably better off getting all these improvements together in an entirely new bike.
If you’re in the market for a new bike, still can’t part with your old friend, and don’t want to follow the N=1 rule of bike ownership—one more bike than you own now—then here’s a final idea about new life for your vintage bike…
Happy riding, no matter how old your bike is.
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.