12 February 2014

Some Of My Old Commuter/Beater Bikes

I am both delighted and amused that Bike Boom-era ten-speeds are en vogue, at least with certain (mostly young and urban) segments of the population. 

Go to Bushwick, Brooklyn or any other enclave of the young and self-consciously hip (and bohemian poor) and you’ll find flocks of vinage Fujis, packs of old Peugeots, ranks of stalwart Raleighs and gaggles of Gitanes and other classic names promenading through plazas or chained to railings.

One reason is, of course, that such bikes are—as long as they haven’t been crashed, submerged in a deluge or otherwise abused—as good now as they were then.  While nobody would try to race those bikes, most of which had mild steel frames and cottered cranks, they offer rides that are reasonably quick yet comfortable.  The frames geometry, while maligned by racers and other performance-oriented riders, make the bikes versatile in ways that few contemporary bikes are.  That is the reason why so many have been converted to single- and fixed-gear urban cruisers.

What that means, of course, is that such bikes sell—especially in New York and other urban areas—for far more than they did a few years ago.  Even so, it’s often less expensive to buy such a bike, convert it and add racks, baskets or whatever else one likes, than it is to buy a new “urban” or “Dutch” (really, some marketer’s idea of “Dutch”) bike.

However, I can recall a time when Bike-Boom era ten-speeds could be had for a song, or even less.  As I recall, that time commenced around the mid-‘80’s, when mountain bikes became the machines of choice for the few (at least here in the US) bicycle commuters and “ride around the park every other Sunday” cyclists of the time.  Most people who bought ten-speeds in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s rode them only for a short time before relegating them to garages, basements, barns and other “out of sight, out of mind” sites.  Eventually, they’d be sold in garage or estate sales, or even given away.  Some people used them in trade-ins for mountain (or, later, hybrid) bikes, so old ten-speeds could be had for very little money even from bike shops.  

For years—about a decade and a half, in fact—I used such bikes for commuters and “beaters”.  When I could, I rode them “as is”—of course, after inflating the tires, lubing the chains and such.  Usually, I changed the saddle and one or two other parts, and added a rear rack and fenders if the bike didn’t already have them.  As parts (usually wheels) broke down or wore out, I replaced them, sometimes with parts I had on hand or friendly shops allowed me to scavenge.  My ability to build wheels came in handy, as I could get discontinued models of rims cheaply and re-use the hubs that came with the bike, or get inexpensive replacements.

From the mid-‘80’s to the mid-‘90’s, bike theft was (I believe) even more rampant than it is now.  That was a further incentive to use such bikes, as losing one wasn’t as much of a financial (or emotional) blow as losing one of my better bikes would have been.  On average, I would say that I would ride one of those bikes about a year before losing it to a thief.

None of my photographs included any with any of those bikes in it.  However, I can recall, fairly accurately, each of those bikes and when I rode it.  I will list them below:  The year or decade in parentheses is the time, as best as I could determine, the bike was manufactured.  The year(s) on the right side indicate when I used the bikes.

Follis Tour de France (1960’s).  1985-87.  Stolen.

Raleigh Record (1960’s or early 1970’s). 1987-89. Stolen.

Jeunet (1960’s or early 1970’s). 1989-90. Crashed.

Peugeot U-09 (1978).  1990.  Stolen.

Motobecane Mirage (1960’s-early 1970's).  1990-92. Crashed.

Windsor (model unknown, 1970’s). 1995-97.  Loaned it to someone who later bought it.

Atala (model unknown, 1960’s). 1997-2001. Cracked after landing from a jump.

Motobecane Nobly (1970’s). 2001-2002. Was too big; sold it.

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