Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vintage Advertising Time Machine

Although it probably drives my wife crazy, or makes me seem like one of those deeply troubled people on A&E's Hoarders, I can't bring myself to throw away old bike magazines. When you write a blog like The Retrogrouch, having a stockpile of bike magazines going back to the 1970s can be a great resource. Anyhow, I just get a kick out of digging up old issues of Bicycling and looking at the ads. The full page ads from Bike Warehouse (that's Nashbar to anyone born after 1980) and Bikecology just about kill me. 1979, Bike Warehouse -- Phil Wood hubs, $49.95 a pair. Oh, to have a time machine.

Looking at the bikes and the riders in the ads is also just a fun glimpse at a time when ideas and attitudes about bikes, and the industry itself, were very different. For example, look at these two ads from Schwinn -- both from '79. People ride in basic sneakers and clothes that were no different from what they might wear for any kind of physical activity back then. Granted, the shorts were super short (for both women AND men), but there's not a bit of lycra to be seen, and nobody seems to wear any cycling-specific clothing.

Note the his-n-hers matching outfits with the short shorts. Gotta love the helmets. Decent hardshell helmets, like the Bell Biker, were just being introduced to the market, but some makers of the leather hairnets were trying to bulk up their old-style helmets to keep on top of things (the ones in this ad are branded "Schwinn" but I'm certain they were made by Kucharik). I'm no weight weenie, but I always have to smile at the "X-tra Lite" moniker Schwinn gave their better bikes -- this ad touts the lightweight 31 lbs. of the LeTour IV. Still, they'd last forever.
I'm enjoying the turtleneck with shorts on Jean-Claude Killy, the Olympic skier. No helmets this time. But they do seem to be enjoying themselves out for a casual ride. In today's flat market, highlighting the simple fun of riding will probably sell more bikes to a wider market than trying to sell increasingly complex technology to existing cyclists.
I always liked the fresh-faced models in the Fuji ads from this era. Notice the guy behind her decked out in the cycling-specific clothes of the day -- knit jersey and shorts, the cycling shoes, and the leather hairnet. One didn't see that in the ads very often before this.
The Takara girl's look epitomized active wear of the late 70s. Short shorts and tall socks. 
No models this time -- just a really nice touring bike, then or now. Before the racing mindset took over, bikes like this were the ultimate expression of what makes a great bike. True long-distance touring bikes like this would become terrifically popular among the Japanese builders in the early-to-mid 80s, but this 1979 Miyata Gran Touring was one of the first. About the only things it didn't come with off the showroom floor were bags and fenders. Notice the features that would become standard touring-bike fare -- brazed-on fittings for bottles, racks, and fenders; cantilever brakes; sturdy racks front and rear; 40-spoke rear wheel (36 front -- which I think makes a smart combination); SunTour PowerRatchet shift levers (on the downtube -- the bar-end versions would have been an even nicer touch); and half-step + granny gearing. The late Sheldon Brown called these "possibly the finest off-the-shelf touring bike available at the time."
Not a lot of deep insight or grouchy ranting today. Just some light musings on my imaginary time-machine. Enjoy.


  1. My first thought at seeing M. Killy was "Willem Dafoe".

    1. Funny -- That would make for a very different ad, wouldn't it?

  2. I love seeing these old advertisements. The block letter Fuji logo on her shirt looks like the same artwork that's on the downtube of their current "Feather" model. Perhaps a Fuji graphic designer was looking through the archives? Now if they would only bring back those forged 110BCD cranks with the logo detail.

  3. I’m currently rehabilitating a Miyata Grand Touring that I found on eBay. My original intent was to resell it, but it’s starting to grow on me….