Vintage equipment!!!!

When I started making bicycles, back in the ‘90s, I was living in the Navajo Nation capital, Window Rock. To say it was isolated from the market would be an understatement. I was on my own! So I took it one step at a time. Luckily I had a telephone and could order stuff like tubing once I got hooked up with Aircraft Spruce and Reynolds USA.

Building complete bikes was another matter. I needed cranks, wheels, tires, handlebars, etc. etc. I got a lot of equipment on blowouts from Nashbar and Performance, but also started finding nice older stuff kicking around. Sometimes I would find good stuff at the Albuquerque “U-fix-it Corral” .. like old wheels with Campy hubs or whole bikes with high-end equipment for 10-20 bucks.

The guys at Cosmic Cycle in Flagstaff would sell me “obsolete” top-of-the-line components sometimes. Steve Garro was really kind to me when he worked there, and I built up a few bikes with really fine obsolete equipment he sold me for a pittance.

Garro sold me that stem!

Bicycle equipment had been going through slow changes when I started building – triple cranks became widely available, five, six, then seven speed freewheels and rear axle spacing went from 120 to 126, then 130 and 135mm. Cassette hubs got more and more speeds crammed on. Last few years we have seen umpteen different bottom bracket “standards” and tons of other innovation.

Been doing a fair amount of loaded touring – in the US, Italy and Thailand so far - and thinking about touring bicycles. And building them. So what follows applies mainly to touring and riding-around bikes and uses.

I’ve gone back to using vintage equipment. You don’t need the latest and greatest equipment and features on a touring bike. You do need your equipment to be durable and functional. You should be able to repair it on the road, or get it repaired or replaced even in remote locations. You DO need a wide range of gearing, but you don’t need 11 speeds on the cassette.

A bike that gets ridden on long tours should have a chain that can be broken and put together with ordinary tools. Over nine speeds in the rear and you start getting into exotic chains that require special tools. It should also roll on tires that can be replaced, need be, in Turkey, Chile, or Laos.

Burn out a bottom bracket on a trip? Now what? Your chances of finding a square-taper, English-threaded replacement are pretty good. Other types? Good luck.

Try finding a new bottom pull front derailleur that works with a triple crank and fits a 1 1/8” seat tube; or a new, top-of-the-line index shifter for 8 or nine cassette speeds.

Here’s what I look for: Wheels, 135 mm spacing, quality hubs with a 7-9 speed freehub body, and at least 32 spokes. If there is a world-standard tire that can be bought anywhere, it is probably the 26” (559mm) mountain bike tire. If you get vintage wheels, it’s worth it to pay a little more and get a set with good rims.

Gearing: I like a 12-32/34 cassette. SRM is still making a nice 9-speed with an aluminum spider – get it while you can. For cranks I look for a 4-pin mountain crank with 42/32/22 gears. The Race Face Turbine is nice and there are a lot of them out there. Some fit a square taper bottom bracket. There was an early 4-pin XT crank with a square taper BB but the top gear was riveted on and IIRC 44 or 46 teeth. Shimano also made a four-pin XT crank with external bearings that looks good but is a little hard to find used.

I got along pretty well friction shifting with Dia Compe barcons. Gevenalle makes a 9-speed set that can index shift, but touring is not racing and you generally have time to fiddle a friction shift. Older Dura-Ace barcons have a friction mode that allows using them on 8- and 9-speed cassettes.

Derailleurs: Any top-of-the-line rear derailleur will have the travel you need for an 8- or 9-speed gear set. A long-cage XT or XTR unit is pretty decent. I use a 1 1/8” seat tube and a bottom pull front derailleur, which is a tough combination. Once in a while I find an old Deore unit which has a cage that fits a mountain-bike-size big ring and has a bottom pull. When I find one I grab it.

Bottom brackets: Perhaps once the industry settles on a 30mm standard I’ll change over, but so far I am sticking with 68mm and English thread. FSA and others still make an excellent sealed, square taper cassette BB. And if you can find a pristine, top-of-the-line, ISO-taper, loose ball BB with the right spindle length, grab it. I like the ISIS standard as an idea but the taper is too slow and they loosen up. At least they do for me. I may try ISIS again this year, and see if my luck improves. Octalink? Shimano has abandoned that standard for high-end stuff but there are still a lot of XT and XTR cranks around, some in good condition.

Brakes: I like V-brakes. You can get road-style QR levers for them from Tektro and Cane Creek. Cantis are the thing for the retro look and work quite well with machined sidewall rims. V-brakes are just all around better is all. Disc brakes are OK provided you beef up the fork. I haven’t put discs on a touring frame yet but won’t rule it out.

Front end: A 1” steerer is just fine for a touring bike, and I like the look. Nobody is making a 1” clamp-on stem for threadless, so I go with a threaded headset and a quill stem. Cane Creek, Tange and Chris King make excellent threaded headsets. A used headset can be a bit of a crapshoot, but Campy and Shimano have both made good ones and most bike shops in the world will have the wrenches, at least for the Campy. The Nitto Technomic is a good-looking, cold-forged stem with extra rise and accommodates 26mm bars. It’s stiff enough long as you aren’t hammering a climb or something.

So besides function, why go with vintage? A lot of it is really good-looking stuff, with design, workmanship and finish that puts all but the best of the modern stuff in the shade. It looks right on a lugged frame And I get a secret thrill from foiling the planned obsolescence of the Shimanos of this world.