Is my bicycle too old to restore?

Is my bicycle too old to restore?

As spring creeps ever closer our minds start to fill with images of things we love to do.  Gardening, swimming and just maybe, riding a bicycle. It may have been some years since you last rode a bike. Yet of all the memories you could recall, riding a bicycle is a perennial flashback for many. Spliced on the end of that memory of you coasting down your favourite path is a new trailer of you doing the same thing this summer. And sadly, it often quickly fades in a cloud of doubt. Doubt that you could, yet you know you can.

The greatest buzz-kill however, is the thought of buying a new bicycle.  "Buying new" is what we have been conditioned to do when when need or want something. You may ask yourself questions like, "how many speeds?; what size?; what if I buy it and don't like it?; Can I afford it?" etc. This is a common scenario played out in the heads of would be bicycle riders.

Here is an alternate scene, a retake if you will.  Imagine riding that bike of your youth that you loved and then fast forward to the Summer of 2016 and imagine riding that same bicycle again. The one that fit you. The one you knew how to ride in all conditions. The one you could shift gears on, or not, and brake safely whenever you needed to. Did you think of this as an option for bicycling this season?

1979 Raleigh 5 Speed 1973 SuperCycle 3 Speed 1967 CCM Single Speed/Coaster

To get this show to theatre, lets begin with finding that bicycle of your past. In fact, you may still have that very bicycle.  Unless you grew substantially taller since last riding it, it probably still fits or could be adjusted slightly to fit you, maybe even better than before.  If you still have it, I bet you kept it inside somewhere, maybe even your parent's garage. It is likely in very good condition overall. Sure it will need some replacement parts (tires, chain) and a solid tune-up, but that may be all that is required to get you rolling again.

Don't be sold by anyone who looks at an old bicycle and says, "You'll never find tires for that; That will never be safe to ride; You should get a new one...they have 21 speeds now and are made of light weight aluminum; etc., etc.". You can still get tires for almost every bicycle ever made. Vintage bicycles were made of steel and built to take the abuse of several generations of everyday riding. And yes, new bicycles are lighter and have more gears, but is that an imperative for you to ride your bicycle.  In fact, bicycles sold by most chain stores (albeit, light, multi geared contraptions) are less safe because of the lack of quality manufacturing and failure of parts to work properly. As long as it is in reasonable condition, your bicycle is NOT too old to restore!

To cut a long story short, if you think of bicycle restoration in purely monetary terms, you miss the environmental value of repair and re-use. In other words, we should not just keep buying new imports of poor quality and throwing things away. Chances are, if you are reading this then you have some sympathy for this view. Bicycle Hub, 2010

I also happen to believe that your body remembers the bicycle you spent many hours riding.  Some call it muscle memory; I call it a feel for what's familiar.  I know that my 20 year old mountain bike, which is a tad small for me is the most comfortable to ride. Even more so than my seven year old, ideal sized, modern touring bike.  My mountain bicycle just feels familiar.

If you were to restore bicycle you already own there would be no learning curve.  No need to learn how the gears and brakes work.  No need to get used to the style and position of the handle bars or the way it feels on the road. A short, simple reintroduction is all that is required.

So now you are wishing you never got rid of your old bicycle.  Don't fret.  You can likely still find the same or similar model out there.  Either from a vintage bicycle shop, Kijiji, yard sale, private sale, auction, police sale...and who knows from where/who else! It is best however (unless the bicycle is in obvious "mint" or close to that condition) to have someone look at it.  Do be careful of "pickers", those who buy and sell at an absurd price, seldom knowing anything about a bicycle's condition and only about current eBay pricing of similar models. See this blog post for more on buying vintage. This actually happened to me this past summer.  I stopped to look at a bicycle I spotted while driving by a yard sale. The asking price was $40. I was told it was $40 because, despite a broken shifter and many other issues, it was "vintage". It was a late '90's big-box store brand worth exactly $0.  Don't let this story discourage you though.  There are many good people out there selling good bicycles at a fair price.  Your perfect bicycle is out there somewhere.

Rhonda's Dad's 1951 Raleigh

Leanne's 1985 ProTour Sole's 1980's Peugeot

So before you let that annual dream of riding a bicycle to town for brunch fade for another year, hop on the internet and search for your favourite bicycle of recent memory. Then contact your local bike shop (LBS) or one that specializes in vintage bicycle restoration and service, and start making some new memories. 

Take care, Daryl

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Hey Curt, Sorry that I’m just seeing your comments now. Thanks for contributing! I think we’re kindred spirits in that regard. When you said “I have all the old bikes I can possibly cram into my garage and shed”, I thought you were describing my addiction. I too worked for “Bikes for Kids”, our local United Way Bicycle program that repaired donated bicycles to give to kids free of charge. Many that were donated were not suitable for new homes, because of style, gearing, etc. I too had to refrain on many occasions. I currently drive a two-speed kick-back Sturmey Archer geared bike and absolutely love it. Good luck keeping that addiction in check ;). All the best, Daryl


Great article. I agree 100% and that’s probably the reason for my old bike addiction. I have all the old bikes I can possibly cram into my garage and shed, almost every one is pre -1980 as that’s what I prefer to ride and tinker with. I volunteer with our local Bicycles For Humanity bike recycle group so temptation is always there but I try to limit my bikes to coaster, 3 speed light cruiser or the occasional road bike or mountain bike.My newest is my Kona Blast and my oldies include several CCM from the 1930’s-40’s.

Curt Saxton

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