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I found an old Favorit racing bike. I didn't weigh it without all the parts but I find it pretty light, and it has a nice classic look. It is however really rusty (superficial damage only). Right now it's been rebuilt, and except for the very old and damaged crankset (which I'm going to change), it rides fine.

My question is: is it worth it to repaint the bike and slowly rebuild it with higher quality parts? I'm not looking for the lightest bike, just a strong, comfortable and durable bike. Also, I like the fact that the bike would be unique and customized. Would I be better off buying a bike, or getting a better quality steel frame?

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You should specify the parts you have on that bike (type of bottom bracket, wheel size etc), or put some pictures. – Mladen Jablanović Apr 24 '13 at 14:55
Is it worth it? It's fun to me, and it might be to you. You probably wouldn't be asking this if it wouldn't be. For pure bang-for-the-buck in terms of performance, buying a 1997-era road bike from Craigslist or a new bike from Bikesdirect or the like would be your best bet. – Alan Gerber Apr 25 '13 at 19:05

5 Answers 5

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You would undoubtedly end up with a "better bike" if you bought something new off the rack. I'm excluding BSOs because —by that very definition— they aren't bikes.

That might be a controversial viewpoint but it shouldn't be. There are a few basic reasons:

  • Frame technology is objectively better now. Better materials and better designs. Even if you don't like soft carbon or hard 6061/7005 alloys, there are well-engineered solutions for everybody. In short, there is choice.

  • Restoring a frame can take serious time and equipment. If you aren't kitted out for metalwork and painting, you're going to spend a lot of money on this. If you aren't competent or you don't enjoy doing it, that's more expense.

  • Restoring components can be even harder. If you need to replace like-for-like springs and gears, you're in territory where things can get very expensive.

  • If you're replacing components, consider that bike assemblers get their parts at extreme discount. A discount you probably won't be able to achieve without buying older second-hand parts.

    So unless you can find a discount group- and wheel-set, a last-season stock-clearance bike will be the cheapest new-parts option. And that comes with a frame.

You can boil that down to say: The monetary difference between buying a good bike and restoring an old one with new parts is very slim. If you consider the objective quality of the frames, components and your time, it can be even harder to justify.

On the other side of the coin, you have already identified value in the project. There is sentimental value, there is personal value in having something that is truly yours. This may also be an enjoyable hobby for a few months. That stuff means something.

But as soon as any of the {wheel,chain,group}-set need replacing, the monetary balance tips the other way. And the objective base quality of a 70s-80s steel frame is always going to be in question when you can compare it to a ~2015 frame.

In short, the only person who can answer this question is you. It all depends on how much value you derive from the process and outcome.

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I disagree with both your points on frame newer technology being "better." Frames are on average much stiffer than in the past. Modern designers are valuing sharp handling on smooth surfaces over general compliance and comfort. Depending on your riding goals these may be viewed as drawbacks. – Rider_X Nov 21 at 18:35
You have ignored what you will get off the rack new for the same dollars. Where I live, you can get what was the 'best of the best' twenty years ago or a new BSO from a department store for the same $$$. Even if you get something slightly better than a BSO, in a year, the old bike will still be an old bike, the cheap bike will be a worn out cheap bike. – mattnz Nov 22 at 20:19
@mattnz That part is simple. I haven't ignored BSOs, I just don't class them as bikes. To boil down what I'm saying: The monetary difference between buying a good bike and the components off a good bike is very slim. That gets even slimmer when you factor in the time and end result. – Oli Nov 23 at 9:03

I agree that you need to treat it as a hobby but I don't see how it's as expensive as buying a new bike. I have refurbished nearly a thousand bikes from the 70s through 90s vintage. I usually buy them for $40 to $80 at non-profits and sell them as commuters or college bikes for $100 to $200. Parts usually cost around $40 with the most expensive item being new tires; grease and bearings are cheap. Will they shift as smooth as a modern bike; nope but that's part of their charm. As far as labor time it depends; if you triage it and then only fix the items that need fixing then I usually spend 3 hours on 90s bike and 8 to 10 hours on 70s to 80s. If I tear it down completely and rebuild it; touch up the paint on the frame it can take as long as 40 hours. Cleaning is half to three quarters of the labour. Labour and cost can be minimized by triaging the bike before you buy it so that you know parts cost and labour before you buy it. Parts for vintage bikes are much cheaper. You can get a 6 speed chain for $6 where an 8 speed chain can cost over $20. In Seattle, you can find used brakes, vintage derailleurs, shifters out of a parts bin for $5 a part.

The bike I ride the most is a Schwinn Varsity that I purchased at garage sale for $15 then bought a 90's girl's bike with 700c wheels for $20. Tires, a used one pieces 3 speed crank, and a modern brake for the front wheel set me back another $40. The total cost $75. The paint is pretty rough so if I was to resell it would be worth around $50 on CL in Seattle but I love it.

The first time you rebuild a bike you're going to spend at least $20 for some cheap second hand bike tools and hang the bike by ropes instead of a stand and use the brake pads as a reference to true the wheels. You don't need a lot of tools to start and can buy only what you need. Also, bike shops will usually let you borrow their tools. In Seattle there is one non-profit "Bike Works" that will let you use their stands, wheel truing stands, tools if you put in an hour fixing up their kids bikes for resell.


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$20 for some bike tools? That's amusing Seems to me every third job needs a tool you don't have, so you have to borrow one, buy one or make it. Repairing bikes is fun and rewarding, but its not financially viable. – Criggie Nov 21 at 21:50
"bike shops will usually let you borrow their tools"... every shop I've worked in has a strict "you can use simple tools in the shop if we know you" policy. Some favoured customers might be allowed to use things like the truing stand, but that's rare because they're in the way while they're doing it. Maybe it's different in Seattle. – Mσᶎ Nov 22 at 20:13

You will need to treat this like a hobby. I took an old bike from a wasteyard one year ago to see if I can make it being able to ride it again. I repaired a lot, replaced parts and tuned it. From an objective view, it is not worth it:

  • It will cost more in the end than buying a new or used bike
  • You will have to spend lot of time
  • Don't be surprised if anything is broken again

So you really need to enjoy the process, otherwise it is just annoying.

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As Alex suggests, it's cheaper to just buy a new (or "lightly used") bike than to buy all new parts for an old bike.

As to the practicality (cost aside), the main question is what parts will fit. If the bike is designed for caliper brakes or has odd threading on the BB or some such then it will be frustrating trying to find new parts and your choices will be exceedingly limited.

(This is partly why the big bike parts makers like to change schemes regularly -- to obsolete old bikes and force you to buy new. Lots of the supposed "improvements" aren't.)

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+1 For concerns about compatibility and the "conspiracy theory" deserves another. – mattnz Apr 23 '13 at 3:15

Buying parts alone is sadly a rather expensive way to get a bike and I doubt anyone would be able to tell you if it's worth it to you. That said, I'd be very tempted.

I like old bikes and it's better they get rebuilt and used than end up in landfill.

You should spec up the components you want/need and compare the price with a new one of similar quality and see which you prefer.

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