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.


  1. Mostly, in such ads, substitute "old and unused" for "rare" or "vintage." You could also substitute "overpriced" just as easily. Such, sadly, even applies to Mercians. :-(

  2. Steve--Sadly, everything you say is true. As for Mercians: As great as they are, they're not terribly rare.

  3. Oh yes, these "rare and vintage" advertisements always pique the interest. But you are so right as stated in your last paragraph. As pertaining to age - I think "classic" is much more relative word. That classic look that we all pine for, depicting the real meaning of what might be considered rare or vintage is really after all just classic.

    Glad to see you are still pedaling along :).

  4. Sue--It's great to hear from you again. Thanks!