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I have had a couple of vintage bikes (from the '80s and earlier) and all have been absolute nightmares to work on: They always seem to have weird dimensions which aren't available anymore or in the area (e.g. Imperial sizing for bolts and threads or weird sizing for shift cables) or parts which don't even exist anymore (e.g. rod brakes). Furthermore, not only is it a pain for me to work on them, but most repair shops I go into won't even touch them because they can't get the parts necessary to fix them.

At the moment I am fed up with dealing with the above-mentioned vintage-related problems and problems from newer albeit cheap bikes, which I've also had in the past; Based on my frustrations with older and cheap bikes, it seems all old bikes are a pain to work on-- is this true? On the other hand, is a "proper" modern bike such as one from Cannondale, Trek, Genesis, Surly, Salsa, Kona, Specialized, Fuji etc. with e.g. brifters and cantilever or disc brakes going to be more enjoyable to work on, or are they just as annoying as old bikes? In other words, does working on bikes just suck in general?

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    Every bike (that survives at all) becomes "vintage" after a period of time, And the bike manufacturers have conspired to increase the rate of "vintagification" over the years, such that a bike can effectively enter that category in ten years or less if you are unlucky in your choice of componentry. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 29 '16 at 20:39
  • It also depends on what bike you have. My 80s road bike is considered vintage by some, and it pretty much fits everything normally now, aside from hub spacing which I could fix if I was inclined to. – Batman Jan 29 '16 at 22:29
  • I'd agree older stuff is different to work on, with a lot more variety and generally wear or bodges over time. Newer stuff is often cleaner, and perhaps needs less physicality than older stuff. – Criggie Jan 30 '16 at 12:33
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No. Older bicycles are no harder to work on than modern bicycles provided you have specialized knowledge regarding older standards, possibly specialized tools and the ability to obtain parts designed for older standards.

Generally a bicycle built now will likely conform to a set of standards that are common and in place now. If you bought a bike today, and purchased all the tools necessary to work on it today, you'd likely find that new bikes five years from now would have a lot of overlap, but some standards would be new/different and a few new tools may be required. In addition, all the parts necessary to rebuilt said bike would be available. Five years from now you would have a lower percentage chance of finding all the parts, but it would still be very high. Additionally some of the newer mechanics may not be familiar with your "older" setup, but there would be many around that were very familiar with it.

Drag this out for 30+ years and you see where it is headed. A "vintage" (a term badly stolen from the wine industry and used incorrectly) bike will have mostly standards that are no longer used, require some tools that may no longer be common, and may or may not commonly have parts available. Additionally, 30 year veteran bike mechanics are a rarity, so someone with all the knowledge of said bike is going to be hard to find as well. It simply isn't worth most mechanic's time to try and figure out a bike from sometime around when they were born or earlier (especially when they are paid by the job).

People often buy inexpensive (or overpriced) "vintage" bicycles thinking that it should be cheap to fix up an old bike. The truth is that it requires specialized knowledge, parts and sometimes tools. It should be similar to what you would expect buying a 1978 Ford LTD that is rotting out and not currently running.

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  • It can't be yes and no. Since the question includes all it means that a no answer precludes the possibility of a yes. – jqning Feb 1 '16 at 6:00
  • Edited to meet your pedantic need. – Deleted User Feb 1 '16 at 15:50
  • I think your answer is pretty good, but I have to take exception to your example of a 1978 Ford LTD. A 1978 Ford LTD should be a cinch for any shade-tree mechanic to work on! You might do better to go farther back, for autos, and refer to Whitworth standards vs modern British standards, vs US standards, vs metric standards. In good humor, :) – Corvus B Mar 20 '16 at 0:39
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You mention a number of manufacturers there, but to be honest it's not so much the bike manufacturers you need to think about (there is no "standard frame"), its the manufacturers of the components - the groupset - which fit onto the frame.

The key players there are Shimano, SRAM and (in some places, for road bikes only), Campagnolo. These companies are safe bets as regards "standard" parts, - inasmuch as you buy into a particular manufacturer, who will offer either parts or an upgrade path. I think there is a tendency for them all to push newer and shinier parts - that's their business after all - which could be "upgrades" that you don't actually need, so you need to become savvy in that respect.

So yeah, the big plus is the effective standardisation of parts. Actually fitting them and removing them can still range from being easy to being a PITA, depending on what you're trying to do. No change there.

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Quick answer: No. All modern bike, with modern components (not cheap bike!) is adequately easy to adjust and replace. They are (mostly) standardised now.

Working on bikes has its own merits, as long as you can find parts. I guess it will be expensive trying to repair something that is already depreciated, in term of technology and manufacturing.

Whether a part/component is easy to replace or not, it depends on the:

  • Compatibility: how well the part is compatible with the old technology
  • Price/availability: How easy you could acquire a part and replace them
  • Documentation/support: how easy you could find information regarding the part, whether they are compatible with other parts, or just simply you can get the part replaced by the manufacturer
  • Functionality: does the part/component has any improved function that you would like to upgrade and improve your experience in cycling.
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  • I don't think I'd say that modern bikes are necessarily easy to replace things on. Try doing a bottom bracket thats not conventional threaded. Or even playing with indexing is far more fidgety than setting up friction shifters. – Batman Jan 29 '16 at 20:12
  • I agree that it is more complex to set up a modern components. However, the complexity is only part of the equation, there are also availability of the parts, the documentation for the parts, and the support from the manufacturer. – Nhân Lê Jan 29 '16 at 21:27
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Difficult and vintage are relative terms, and I think that relativity can vary depending upon the mechanic and LBS in question. Old and vintage may at times be interchangeable, but vintage generally translates as not only old but also good or special or rare or loved.

There are shops that regard bikes from the 90s as vintage, and still others that regard anything steel as vintage. My steel (not cromoly) '86 Schwinn World is probably vintage to some, but there's not really anything special or rare about it.

27" wheels and freewheels are common on vintage bikes, so the availability of replacement parts can be challenging. There is actually a wealth of wheel and tire sizes that are no longer used on production bikes, but the tires and tubes at least are still available. I'd love to meet the marketing genius who decided there needed to be both a 26 x 1.75 and a 26 x 1-3/4 wheel that were different sizes.

If one is keeping it vintage, then it's simply a matter of finding a replacement part and replacing it. Over time crud builds up on vintage bikes, which can make the maintenance work more challenging.

If one is upgrading a vintage bike, then the calculus gets more involved. Took my old Schwinn to my LBS last year, told them I wanted to upgrade, so look it over and give me some options. For safety, there were things I needed. For maintenance, there were still other things I needed. From there, I assessed what I wanted done and what I'd wait on. I went for a cartridge bottom bracket, triple crank, front and rear derailer, new brake levers, and new cables (both brake and shifter).

One of the things recommended to me for safety and comfort was a wider handlebar. This shop deals in some used parts, and this was only $15. It was well worth it, but the stem also had to be replaced when the handlebar was replaced.

When I put fenders on the bike, I discovered that 5mm eyelets are the norm, but my Schwinn has 6mm eyelets. Some light drilling of the plastic fender clips, and 6mm bolts fit just fine.

After blowing out two vintage rear 27" wheels--old bike wheels are no match for old bikes and old bicyclists--I bought a new wheel. Mine was bolt-on, but I wanted a quick release. The LBS had to cut the new wheel down because of the vintage (read narrower) hub spacing.

Next thing I eventually plan to do is move to 700Cs, a cassette (maybe), and Dia-Compe Centerpull Brakes (I like their vintage look). Frame will need to be coldset if I go for a cassette, but this LBS can handle it. That I think is the real key. One LBS may not want to touch a vintage bike whereas another LBS has vintage bikes in their business model. The former would regard a vintage bike as difficult whereas the latter would see it as an opportunity.

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