Recently I’ve been reading about a fellow who’s been riding the same bicycle for over thirty years. He’s built a real relationship with that bike, and to this day he still rides pretty much every day of the year, through nearly every sort of weather, rain or shine, hot or cold. Although he doesn’t say as much, clearly there’s a sense of bond; the bike is a familiar old friend. I quite envy him that rapport.
Over time, he’s changed out parts, swapping out wheels, changing derailleurs, repainting and ultimately re-chroming the frame. He’s made many changes to his bike over the years, tailoring it bit by tiny bit to seamlessly mesh with his evolving cycling needs, transforming from racer to gracefully aging commuter cyclist. It’s been quite a makeover, but the process of change has been organic, a natural and harmonious matching between rider and bicycle, one complementing the other.
At what point, I wonder, did it become de rigueur for vintage bikes to be treated as art, restored and returned to pristine original condition? Why this need to recapture a lost past?
I’ve recently acquired a pair of Schwinn Paramounts. One, a 1966 model, is complete and I believe it is probably entirely – or very nearly so – original. I feel an intense guardianship for this bike and for maintaining a strict degree of originality. This, even though the 53/49 chain set is definitely too tall for my everyday riding needs: yet I simply can’t bear the thought of removing the crank set and replacing it with something mostly period correct and far more practical.
The second of the two is a 1972 model, and it came to me as a frame, fork, head set and bottom bracket. The paint was in terrible condition – and no, one would decidedly not describe it as “patina,” but rather just a crappy looking frame with bare, exposed steel. The chromed lugs are in marginal state, but the flaking chrome on the head set is cosmetically far worse. Functionally just fine, but aesthetically it’s in rather poor circumstances – quite sad, really, and needing a great deal of loving, not to mention paint.
I’ve found that 60cm frames hit my sweet spot for fit, and the 60cm 1966 Paramount doesn’t disappoint in that regard. I was a little surprised however, to discover that the 58cm 1972 Paramount – smaller than I normally prefer – also seems to fit quite well.
Amusingly enough, I feel no similar sense of obligation to the 1972 bike to restore it to glorious originality.
This is an amazingly freeing insight. I can, in fact, build this bike up any way that I’d like, any way that fits my needs – and change things up as my needs vary.