While I love vintage bicycles, and they often can be a very feasible and stress-free means of getting a good, dependable bicycle cheaply, there are certain issues to keep in mind if you’re thinking about getting one. Here are a few things that I’ve run into in the process of owning and riding vintage bicycles that might come in handy if you need to have one worked on in the future. Many of these might not be as big an issue in other countries where a significantly higher number of vintage bicycles are still in use and there is less focus on the latest and greatest super sporty technology, but these are some things I’ve run into here in Portland.
Both Raleigh and Schwinn (and perhaps others as well) made their bikes with proprietary components that were often odd sizes or shapes. Both used kind of unusual wheel/tire sizes, Raleigh used unconventional threading on some parts of the bicycle, and Schwinn used an unusual seat post diameter.
Older Sturmey-Archer rear hubs and matching rims often had 40 spoke holes, but 36 is the typical standard now, so if you have to replace either the hub or the rim it can often mean having to replace both, as it can be difficult to find a hub or rim which has 40 spoke holes (though rims are easier to find than hubs).
Older bicycles often used cotters (thick metal pins) to hold the cranks (which the pedals are attached to) onto the axle that spins when you pedal. It’s a good system, and works quite well, except that nobody makes them anymore, so the cotters themselves can be quite difficult to find if you need, for any reason, to remove the existing ones.
The issue I most recently ran into, is that Raleigh used special double-ended brake cables, so when my brake cable broke yesterday, I couldn’t just go to the shop and have it replaced – they had to order one from Sturmey-Archer and it has to wait until they ship the cable in. Thankfully it was the rear brake, which is the weaker one anyway, so the bike is still usable for a lot of trips, but I’m riding Trina’s bike for my work commutes until my brake gets fixed.
I don’t want to scare you – if the bike has been well taken care of, there is little chance that you’ll have anything major go wrong with it, but the chance is always there, so it may help to just know what might be coming, so that if it does, you’ll be more prepared and have an idea what to do about it.
The upside to this, is that it may connect you with people who share a love for vintage bicycles, or just bicycles in general. It may introduce you to people who you never would have known otherwise, and it may give you at least an elementary understanding of how your bike works, just out of necessity. If you have a good local shop that will work on these bikes, it will give you some camaraderie and perhaps a good laugh here and there when you turn up at the shop and they groan “oh no, cotters again?” :)
To end the post, I thought I’d list a few resources that I’ve found for parts, service, and advice. Hopefully some of it might be helpful for you!
- BikeSmith Design is where I get cotters for our bikes. They also provide other parts and services that may be useful to someone with a vintage bike.
- Old Bike Trader has a lot of random Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer parts, some of which are original stock, some pattern parts (made to the same specs as the originals), and many of which are extremely difficult to find elsewhere.
- Sheldon Brown’s Site has a lot of bicycle related info, some of it specifically related to old Raleighs and Sturmey-Archer hubs.
- Old Roads has some user forums, parts for sale, as well as full bicycles for sale, and can be a useful resource both for parts and advice.