For the first time in over half a decade, paperbacks are outselling ebooks in the UK. Vinyl has decidedly crushed digital copies last year, and is now on its way to becoming a billion dollar industry. ‘Out with the new, in with the old’ is the millennial mantra - and it seems all but imminent that bikes are next.
If you live in London, you’ve likely noticed a veritable flood of old-school, skinny-looking bikes with questionable paint jobs. And even though you know it’s probably just a fad, your inner hipster can’t help but scream: ‘I want one too!’
Welcome to the glorious world of retro bikes, and here are our top 5 reasons why you should just give in and go vintage:
1. A One-of-a-kind Ride
When you buy a retro bike, you’re getting something that’s likely been through at least 4 owners since new, and has had most, if not all of its original components replaced over the years. These bikes are the epitome of custom.
Not only will your two-wheeler be one of a kind by definition, it also comes fitted with a colorful history and personality that would make a Capriolo blush.
If you’re adventurous and have a specific design in mind, you can even make your dream bike yourself. You’d probably start by getting a frame, then buy a couple of forks, wheels...and before you know it, you've hand-made a bike that's the perfect extension of your character and lifestyle.
2. A Vibrant Community
Plenty of brick-and-mortars and online stores sell vintage bikes these days, but you’ll be paying a hefty premium for it. A true retro biker will find everything they need - from parts to tips to local riding clubs - on bike forums.
Whether you’re new to cycling or a seasoned pro, forums are the place to be. Sure, some members may act a bit posh and almost militant about the most irrelevant details, but isn’t that basically any community? Overall, the vintage bike brotherhood is incredibly welcoming, and it won’t take long before you feel like one of the gang.
There’s a myriad of bike forums out there - most are pretty small and usually cater to specific localities. For London (& the UK in general) the 3 that tend to have the best stuff are:
3. Reddit London cyclists.
3. Cheap Parts!
Vintage bikes are old (duh), so at one point or another you’ll be looking for replacement parts. For all you cycling newbies, here’s some bike building 101: the most important things on a bike are the frame & fork material, the quality of the bearings (hubs, headset, BB, etc..), and the quality of the drivetrain.
Some of these will cost a lot more than others for the same performance, purely because of their aesthetics or rare paint patterns (damn you pretty colors!).
But here’s the kicker – unlike their contemporary counterparts, you can often find vintage bike parts for dirt cheap. Once you’ve settled in on the forums you can start trading and buying parts at really good prices. And yes, it takes a bit of research to make sure that what’s being sold is actually worth it and you’re not just being ripped off, but you’ll be rewarded tenfold if you persevere.
4. Riding on Clouds
Many modern, low-to-medium end bikes are aluminium-based, and made to pretty loose tolerances for a price point. As a result, the bike often feels dead.
What I mean is the bike doesn't respond adequately to neither the environment nor the rider. The frame & fork don’t absorb road vibrations properly, and don't spring back to counter each pedal stroke. The result - as many commuters know - is a rough, uncomfortable ride that saps away the rider’s energy with each subsequent pedal stroke.
Older bike frames, on the other hand, tend to be made of either double or even triple-butted steel, with small diameter tubes that make for a comfy and lively ride. The basic argument here is that steel is simply more springy than aluminium – a valid starting point, though the reality is far more complex, as there are some very good aluminium frames to be found, just as there are some truly horrific steel frames.
Safe to say though, there’s a good chance you’ll find your retro bike very comfortable to ride – which brings me to my final point:
5. A Bike You'll (Actually) Use!
This for me is perhaps the biggest selling point. Too many people don’t ride their bikes because they fear damaging it, or having it stolen if there’s no safe parking where they’re headed.
With a slightly haggard-looking, dirt cheap and outmoded vintage bike, those woes all but disappear and you find yourself free to cycle anywhere, anytime!*
*Obviously, you still want to make sure to lock up your frame and wheels to something solid whenever you leave your bike out - a stolen bike sucks, no matter how cheap!
6. (Bonus!) A Doomsday-proof Bike
I’m only kinda joking when I say some vintage components will probably outlive the heat death of the universe. They're hard to find, but those rare older components from the pre-consumerism era bring most modern bike parts to shame. They were built as something you buy once, and maintain for an entire lifetime...or ten!
So there you have it - go out there, get yourself a bike as unique as you and I’ll see you on the road!