Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 October 2014

This Post Is "Rare" And "Vintage"

It seems that every other bike, part or accessory advertised on eBay or Criagslist is “vintage” or “rare”.

A "rare" "vintage" bicycle

 What, exactly, is “vintage”?  Is it the same as “antique”?

According to the wine industry, “vintage” is the wine-making season or the gathering of grapes for the purpose.  So, every year in which wine is made has a vintage.   Years with great wines have great vintages; from that, “vintage” took on the connotation of a wine for the ages.

How does a bicycle, part or accessory fit any of those definitions?  I guess any model year could be considered a bike “vintage”.  From that, I suppose a particularly good year for a bike model might be called “vintage”.

So, one of last year’s models might be considered “vintage”.  But an unexceptional bike from long ago wouldn’t get that appellation.

What about “rare”?  It sometimes seems that anything that hasn’t been made in a while is called “rare”—even a Schwinn Varsity, Peugeot U-08 or PX-10, Raleigh Grand Prix, Motobecane Mirage or Fuji S-10S (or it successor, the S-12S).  Each of those is a fine bike, in its own way.  If you want one, it won’t take you long to find it:  Millions of each were made, and many are still around.  In fact, it would take just a bit of patience to come across one in excellent condition:  During the ‘70’s Bike Boom, many people bought bikes because it was the thing to do, rode once or twice and decided cycling wasn’t for them, and kept their bike in a basement or garage.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t buy one of those bikes.  The PX-10, in particular, is worth getting or keeping, whether you want to preserve or restore it or re-purpose it as, say, a light-load touring bike.   (Check out what the late Sheldon Brown did with his.)  Each of the other bikes I’ve mentioned will serve some purpose:  The Varsity is a tank; the Mirage and S-10S give stable but nimble rides and the Raleighs are, well, Raleighs.

If you want one of those bikes, or any like them, look around and don’t buy the first one you see.  Also, think about how much you can (or want to) spend.  If something is described as “rare” and you’ve seen one like it somewhere else (or it was made within the past few decades or by a manufacturer that’s still making bikes)—or if it’s called “vintage”—the price is inflated. You can probably find something like it for considerably less money in a thrift store (outside of hip neighborhoods in large cities), on a bike classified site or publication, or even in a bike shop that sells used bikes. 

Buying from the bike shop may be your best option, especially if you can’t or don’t want to do repairs.  You’ll pay more, initially, than you would in Goodwill or to someone who’s listing on a bike site, but you’ll probably get a bike that’s ready to ride.  (Occasionally, a shop will sell something in “as is” condition, but shops that specialize in, or simply sell a lot of, used bikes will usually fix it before selling it.)  On the other hand, if you get something “for a song” from a yard sale or flea market, you may have to spend almost as much as the cost of the bike from the shop to make it rideable—or even to restore it as a wall hanging.  This is especially true if you pay someone else to do the work for you.

One thing I’ve noticed is that shops that sell used bikes tend not to deal in hyperbole.  Very often, such shops are owned and operated by mechanics.  They tend to be quiet, unassuming people—like the folks who run or staff most thrift shops and many flea markets.  You won’t hear them tossing around words like “rare” and “vintage”.  And you won’t see those words very often in bike listings from actual cyclists.

23 October 2014

Stopping Everywhere: Weinmann Brakes

A couple of days ago, I wrote about something no one seems to make anymore:  a component (as opposed to an accessory) found on bicycles in all price ranges.  Specifically, I wrote about Mafac Racer brakes, which were found on everything from the most elegant constructeur frames to utilitarian commuters.

Today, I am going to write about another such component.  Interestingly enough, it is also a brake.  Like the Mafac, there's a good chance you rode it, especially if you came of age during the '70's Bike Boom.  You may still be riding it.

I am talking about the Weinmann Vainqueur center-pull brake.  If you rode a derailleur-equipped bike from just about any British maker or Schwinn --or Motobecane orany number of other continental European manufacturers-- it most likely had the Vainqueur. (Motobecane, Raleigh, Schwinn and some other bike-makers re-badged them.) Schwinn outfitted their otherwise-Campagnolo-equipped  top-of-the-line Paramount road bikes with Vainqueurs; on the racing version of the bike, they could be replaced with Campagnolo side pulls for an extra cost. Such an option was not available for the touring version, which had larger clearances for wider tires and fenders.

Also in common with the Mafac Racer, the Weinmann Vainqueur was often found on bikes made by constructeurs like Rene Herse and Alex Singer.  On such bikes, the brake arms were likely to be fitted to brazed-on posts like those used for cantilevers.  It must be noted, however, that you can't use cantis on a center-pull mounts or vice-versa:  The studs for centerpulls were located higher up on the fork or seat stay than those used for cantilevers.

The Weinmann Vainqueur was introduced around 1957, or five years after the Mafac Racer. From the beginning, they were made in two lengths:  the 610 and 750.  All of the additional length on the 750s was below the pivot bolts. That might be a reason why some cyclists thought they were flexy.

The earliest Vainqueurs, made until 1964, featured engraved lettering and red washers over the metal pivot bushings.  The calipers were usually silver, but they were also available anodized in red, black or dark blue, rather like the "midnight blue" brakes Galli made a decade and a half later.  (At that time, Weinmann also offered wing nuts in those same colors!) To me, those brakes look rather nice--certainly, nicer than the Racer or any other brake Mafac was making at the time. 

Even more important, the earliest iterations of the Vainqueur had a single continuous spring that coiled around both pivots; after 1962, each pivot had separate springs.  Some argued that the single-spring models were stiffer and had a harder "feel", which made them more modulate-able.  (Is that a real word?)  I have never tested that hypothesis, so I couldn't say.  However, I can tell you that having separate springs makes cleaning and maintenance easier--and, of course, you can replace just one of the springs, if need be.

From 1965 onward, Weinmann abandoned the engraved lettering on the outer arm in favor of a foil applique.  It was red until some time in the late 1970's; after that, it was black.

Perhaps its most important feature--later copied by Dia-Compe, which made a virtual clone of the Vainqueur--was the "finger" that stuck out from the inside pivot arm into a groove on the back of the outside pivot arm.  That "finger", coated with plastic that matched the color of the sticker (and pivot washers), forced the two arms to work together.  I always liked that:  Once you adjusted and centered the brakes, you knew that there would be a nice, even action when you pulled the lever.

Some argue that Mafacs were of higher quality than the Weinmanns.  I find that debatable; having ridden thousands of miles on both and worked on dozens, if not hundreds of sets of both brands, I think the quality of the arms was about equal, though the finish on the Vainqueur was a little better than that of the Racer (though not of the later anodized brakes Mafac made).  However, I always though the quality of the fastening and attachment hardware was better on the Weinmanns than on the Mafacs.  At least, Weinmann's seemed a little beefier and didn't rust, tarnish or pit as easily as Mafac's.

One clear edge Mafacs had over Weinmanns was adjustability.  Weinmann brake shoes had threaded posts and bolted directly into the slot on the brake arm, in contrast to Mafac's pivoting eyebolt.   As I mentioned in my post about Mafac, that feature was important when many rims did not have parallel straight sides; however, when Weinmann's centerpulls came out, the trend was moving toward straight parallel sides, which nearly all new rims (the notable exception being those made for disc brakes) have today.  

Also, the transverse (straddle) cable on the Mafac Racer was infinitely adjustable in length; Weinmann's transverse cable had fixed ends.  But, in later years, Weinmann (as well as Dia Compe) offered their transverses in a variety of lengths.

Since I never had a rim like the Constrictor Asp, I never needed the kind of adjustability the Mafac offered.  And, as better replacement pads (such as Mathauser/Kool Stop) and cables became available, whatever advantages Mafac offered became less important.  It was probably for this reason, and the fact that Weinmanns were easier to set up, that some bike manufacturers--most notably Peugeot--that had been equipping their bikes with Mafacs shifted to Weinmann during the late 1970's.

Mafac went out of business around 1985.  Weinmann continued to make the Vainqueur for a few years after that.  But the demand for center-pulls dried up as the advantages offered by Campagnolo trickled down into mid- and lower-priced sidepulls, some of which were made by Weinmann.

Whatever one thought of Weinmann centerpulls , their name offered a moment of levity when some people--including Fred "Fritz" Kuhn, the longtime proprietor of Kopp's Cycles in Princeton, NJ--pronounced it "Vain-queer".

22 October 2014

Will Danes Go Dutch On Bike Parking?

In previous posts, I've lamented the bike-parking situation here in New York and in my own neighborhood of Astoria.  But, I must say, our problems pale in comparison with those in Copenhagen:

I don't think I've seen anything like that here.  Penn Station, on its busiest day, has nothing like the cluster of bikes in front of the Danish capital's main rail terminal:


You might say that Copenhagen has become a victim of its own success as a bicycle-friendly city:  In a city with more bikes than people and more than half of those people pedal to work.  Moreover, about 41 percent of those who commute from homes outside of the city to jobs in it arrive at their workplaces on their cykler.

But many cyclists are frustrated by the lack of good parking spaces.  At the same time, some non-cyclists are upset because bikes are sometimes parked randomly on sidewalks, blocking entrances to stores and people's homes.

City officials are looking all over--especially to bike-friendly cities in nearby Holland--for ways to solve the problem. One includes converting disused automobile parking spaces in residential areas to bike ports.  Another is the building of bicycle storage facilities like the one that can hold 10,000 bikes under the train station in Groningen.  It's watched by a guard day and night.  In Utrecht, three floors above the rail terminal offer parking for 4300 cycles.  Soon there will be another facility east of the station, which can shelter 12,000 velocipedes.

What officials are dealing with in Copenhagen is, I believe, one of the last major hurdles in turning cities into places where it's more feasible for most people to ride bikes than to drive or even take municipal buses or trains.  If the folks in the Danish capital can work it out, I think we'll see bike commuting grow exponentially in a number of cities around the world.