Saturday, August 31, 2013

Restore, Renovate, or Leave it Alone?

When it comes to vintage bikes, one subject that often leads to serious debate is the issue of originality and whether to restore a vintage bike or leave it alone. On the Classic Rendezvous forum, where vintage bike fans "meet," I've seen some pretty heated debates (though still civil -- it's a great group) on the restoration question. Opinions can vary a lot, and people can get pretty passionate about the subject. Although it's probably a bit like adding sand to a beach, I'm going to share my thoughts here on whether to restore, renovate, or leave it alone.

First thing -- what kind of bike is it? Is it fairly rare and/or valuable, like a bike built by a highly respected and sought-after builder or brand? If it's an early specimen of the marque, or if it has some provenance (owned by a well-known racer, for example) it might be even more valuable than other examples. Bikes that have a lot of inherent value are almost always worth more the more original they are. It's a question of rarity. The bike is already pretty rare to begin with, but how many of them are completely original? So even if the condition is not exactly "showroom" or "mint," if you want to preserve that value, you leave it alone. Faded paint, minor chips or scratches in the paint, or some flaking decals will not lower the value anywhere near as much as throwing a new coat of paint on the frame. Get some good advice on treating the little chips and scratches to keep rust from developing, but otherwise just learn to enjoy "patina."

1973 Mercian Superlight -- original paint, correct
components for the year. As good as it gets.
Now, actual damage is another issue. If there is serious rust going on under huge patches of bubbled paint, or something is cracked, crimped, or just plain broken -- not just a minor cosmetic issue -- then I'd suggest that a restoration might be in order. Likewise, I might suggest the same if some previous owner destroyed the original finish by performing a home-job rattle-can Krylon paint job. Get some advice (the CR group is a great resource) on finding someone who can make the repairs and repaint it while still respecting the integrity of the bike. But my suggestion is that with a rare, valuable, sought-after bike, the only way to go is to do an actual restoration. That is, to restore it to its original state -- as closely as possible. As tempting as it may be to have braze-ons added that weren't originally there, or to change the color to something that better suits your current taste, I'd really suggest doing those things to a different bike. Have the painter match the color and decals as closely as possible to the original. And dear god, whatever you do, don't get it powder coated!

Replacing components may or may not be much of an issue. It depends. Replacing a worn-out Campy Nuovo Record derailleur on an old Colnago with another one just like it isn't too hard to do. There can be slight differences in model years (and some are actually inscribed with dates), so it's worth the extra effort to find a replacement that is really the same -- at which point, it shouldn't affect the value or desirability of the bike in the least. But if the components were unique or rare, it's probably better to keep them (even if they aren't perfect) than to replace them with the "wrong" parts. Some great French builders, collectively known as "Constructeurs," would craft some of their own components, or have them made to their own specs and inscribed with their own name. Rene Herse would be a great and well-known example of that. Finding proper replacements for parts like that can be difficult or nearly impossible. Replacing them with more common or "ordinary" parts would probably lower the value of the bike a lot more than keeping the original parts even though they are in less-than-ideal condition.

Okay, so what if the bike is really nice, but not particularly rare or valuable? I'm talking about something mass produced by a major company, like Schwinn Paramount, Raleigh, or Peugeot, and especially higher-end models with Reynolds 531 tubing and Campagnolo components. In cases like that, originality is still desirable but I'd worry a little less about getting a repaint if the condition is not what you're after. If you can live with the patina -- Fantastic -- but I'd still suggest that if someone wants to get a repaint, that it be done with respect to the original. I'd still spring for an actual "wet" paint job, and save the added braze-ons for another bike. Just my opinion.

Early 80s Nishiki mixte. A pretty basic Japanese bike.
Renovated with new paint, updated wheels, Brooks
saddle, and Velo Orange racks and fenders.
Then there are lots of bikes out there that are nice -- not rare -- not that valuable -- but that make good vintage rides. Middle-of-the-line bikes from popular brands cranked out during the 70s bike boom, and/or Japanese built bikes from the 70s and 80s with lugged chrome-moly or manganese alloy frames (whether straight gauge or butted) and SunTour or Shimano components. With bikes like that, I don't worry about originality in the least. In these cases, if the bike is worn or tired-looking, I'd likely suggest a renovation -- not quite the same as a restoration, which I've already described -- but to renovate, which basically means "new birth." Want to put modern parts on a vintage frame? This is the bike to do that with. Want new paint, maybe a new color, but don't want to spend a bunch of money? Go ahead and get it powder coated. Want to spread the rear triangle to fit modern hubs and gear clusters? Do it. Take an old "racing" bike and convert it to 650b wheels. Add long-reach brakes and fenders. Put on a cool rack. Maybe a basket. The great thing is that you're taking a nice old bike that might otherwise be sitting around a basement, barn, or garage, and putting it to good use. Bikes like these can be relatively inexpensive fun projects that attract tons of attention from people when you're out riding. People will notice that your bike doesn't look like all the others out there with their big welds and fat tubes. "Where'd you find that bike?" they'll ask. I get that all the time.

There you have it -- certainly not the last word on the subject -- but it's what I think. If someone's considering tackling a vintage bike project and they still aren't sure if they should restore, renovate, or leave it alone, my last bit of advice is to ask around a bit. Check out the CR resources and get some opinions on the specific bike in question before making big changes that can't be undone.

No comments:

Post a Comment