13

I want to acquire my first road bike with a limited budget (~400€) but I'm faced with a lot of choices, found an old vitus 979 equiped with campagnolo chorus, a little rusty but really pretty and sleek and weighs 8.5kg at a price of 300€, and found other more modern bikes (btwin) around 400€ all weight around 10kg all equipped with shimano sora or tiagra not that pretty.

I don't know what to go for now knowing that I'll be improving buying some used pieces as time goes by.

The purpose of the bike is longer exercise rides and commuting in all weathers.

Any tips or recommendations are welcome, thanks.

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  • 1
    Throw in maybe a new chain and/or new tyres and you'll be happier with the young-timer with its quality parts than with something with a low-range groupset.
    – Carel
    Aug 2 at 12:31
  • 2
    If you are interested in the history of Vitus 979 frames on-the-drops.blogspot.com/2016/12/…
    – David D
    Aug 2 at 15:11
  • 2
    Might be worth googling "Vitus 979 unbonded".
    – Klaster_1
    Aug 2 at 17:53
30

Although I support keeping older bikes in circulation in general, this particular bike comes with some caveats. One of my riding buddies had a very similar bike.

  • The Vitus 979 is a bonded aluminum frame with small-diameter tubes. It was notoriously flexible when new. It was rumored that Sean Kelly, who raced on one of these, had to replace his fork after every stage of the Tour de France, although this story is probably apocryphal.
  • The rear triangle is spaced 126 mm on this bike. A few years after it was built, the standard for road bikes was changed to 130 mm (to accommodate freehubs with more gears). You can squeeze a 130-mm wheel into the dropouts on this, and you can still find 126-mm hubs, but with this bike, you are yoking yourself to an old standard that will have less and less support over time. It is possible to cold-set a steel frame to 130 mm; my understanding is that it's not a good idea with this frame, though.
  • Campagnolo Chorus parts of this era had pretty bad shifting.

You can get some great deals on high-quality older bikes, but I'd go for a slightly less old bike.

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  • 10
    You can squeeze a 130-mm wheel into the dropouts on this... I'd be more than a little leery of doing that on a 30-year-old bonded AL frame... Aug 2 at 14:42
  • 4
    @AndrewHenle I should clarify that I don't think it's a good idea to squeeze a mismatched hub into any bike, but I agree, it's an especially bad idea in this case.
    – Adam Rice
    Aug 2 at 15:22
19

Depends what is your goal, but personally, I'd go for the modern one. Maybe for this budget, you can find something second hand with Shimano 105, that would be also an option.

The reasons are:

  • weight is a secondary concern, unless you are in competition and are looking for 1/10th of seconds (and other parameters are similar). The weight that matters is the total weight (rider included), 1.5kg is not a big percentage if this total weight. And even if you plan to race, speed is also influenced by other parameters.
  • there's one thing I really don't like with these old road bikes: huge chainrings and small cassettes. You'll suffer in steepish hills. Modern bikes (even entry-level ones) have a wider range of gears, which translates into a capacity of climbing steeper hills without destroying your knees (in the 80's, it was believed that low cadences were better and races were more flat). This point might be especially problematic if you plan to ride with friends: it's important to be as close as possible to their specs so that it's easier to keep up with them. You'll be closer with a modern Sora than with an 80's superbike (unless they are all riding with 80's bikes ;)).
  • more convenient to have integrated brake/derailleur shifter than shifter on the frame.
  • I don't know about this bike in particular, but older bikes for sure don't have indexed shifters (so you have to "feel" the right position for the shifter)
  • if your budget is constrained now and plan to upgrade, it will be easier to find upgrades for a recent bike than a vintage one - but whether it's worth investing in an entry level bike is another question, as parts+labour will quickly become more expensive than something new with the right specs, and also entry-level bikes usually use other standards than midrange ones (for example quick-release vs through axles).
1
  • This should be the accepted answer; do not focus on the weight of the bike too much.
    – SQB
    Aug 5 at 11:47
11

I'll weigh in as the single person in this thread who actually seems to have ridden, and owned, multiple Vituses. I love them, always have, mainly for their history, their gorgeous looks, their light weight. I ride my current one in blue daily, as a city bike, have for several years. As a relatively inexpensive mid-range frame, it handles nimbly, and the weight is impressive.

Regarding the stories of exploding frames, they are in my experience apocryphal. It is certainly not completely unfeasible, but I have never heard a first hand tale of it. Unless you are a very heavy rider, or subjecting it to Tour de France level stresses, the strains on the lugs are probably immaterial. I keep mine outside, year round, in a cold climate. I worry far more that maybe the 30+ year old aircraft adhesive might become brittle in that weather. But its conjecture. So I ignore that.

Pertaining to your question of newer vs not quite as new, I would opt for newer, not from safety but technology. The earlier suggestion of 105 is a good one; even if you bought a 10-15 year old 105 equipped bike, the advances in shifting, in braking and other areas would make that 105 (or ultegra or DA) much better choices than the Chorus. Old Chorus, Victory, is simply beautiful stuff, so nicely crafted, sculpted and finished. But it just cant compare.

9

If I were buying a vintage frame (and assuming that it fits), I would generally be more inclined to buy a steel one. I'm not a vintage expert, but the Vitus 979 appears to be an early aluminum frame.

In theory, aluminum has a finite fatigue life, whereas steel, titanium, and carbon do not (assuming equal quality control on the materials and frame construction plus proper care, anyway, e.g. ti frame could fail at the welds if contaminated during welding). I am not sure how much this matters in practice, but it could be worth considering. More to the point, steel was the first material used in bikes, and steel construction techniques were well known. If the Vitus is one of the first iterations of aluminum design, then you may be taking a risk. It was designed as a lightweight bike, so it's not a guarantee that they were designing for long-term durability. Also, they might not have refined the bonding techniques used at the time (unlike modern aluminum frames, this one appears to be joined with lugs, and they're bonded, i.e. industrial strength glue). Basically, the epoxies used may have been adequate, but modern epoxies could have higher bond strength, more consistent bonds, less sensitive to variations in storage conditions and hence less likely to have the manufacturer accidentally exceed them, stuff like that. Basically, that frame should be more likely to fail than an steel frame of an equivalent era with the same wear.

However, "more likely" has to be interpreted in relative terms. Imagine that you somehow knew that within 10 years of riding, 0.5% of equivalent steel frames would fail, and that the Vitus had a 100% higher probability of failure, i.e. 1% of them would fail within 10 years of riding. That's a big percentage change, but it's maybe not a big deal in real terms.

Speaking of bike fit, it has changed in a number of ways. The Vitus has a racing fit, and a level top tube. If you know you have relatively short legs, you may have a bit more trouble fitting to the Vitus. My read of the brief description in the article is that the Vitus may also be a relatively quick steering bicycle. This can be enjoyable, but preferences differ. I don't know what modern bikes you're looking at, but chances are good they will have more relaxed positions and stable steering unless you were looking at an entry level racing bike, rather than an entry level (general) road bike.

5
  • @EricS I did write that aluminum has a finite fatigue life.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Aug 2 at 23:31
  • Sorry I misread it. Steel is only infinite if sufficiently over designed.
    – Eric S
    Aug 3 at 12:09
  • That's OK, it is only a 2 character difference. And yes, I realize my statement is simplifying a lot.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Aug 3 at 13:16
  • @EricS with steel, the design only needs to ensure that you never exceed the yield strength in order to make it last infinite. With aluminium, even a heavily overbuilt frame won't last forever because unlike steel, it fatigues already at the smallest elastic deformations. That's why aluminium tends to be used with stiffer designs than other materials. – However, this effect is mostly relevant for aircraft applications, where you're talking tens of thousands of hours under heavy load, often with turbulence. For bikes – debatable. Aug 3 at 15:01
  • @leftaroundabout With steel you have to keep stresses below about 1/3 of the ultimate tensile strength to get unlimited fatigue resistance. Above that and you can get fatigue failure with steel.
    – Eric S
    Aug 3 at 15:21
4

This is not a full answer, but I don't have enough reputation to leave a comment.

There is one more thing that you may want to consider when making this choice, and that is a resale value of the bike.

For the vintage bike, if 300 euros is a reasonable price for that particular model today (which I don't know and you'd have to find out elsewhere), then it's not likely to change a lot in a year or two, and you'll be able to resell your bike once you are ready for something new and not lose money.

With a new 400 euro bike it's probably not going to cost more than a 100-150 euros after that time, and in 10 years its price will be down to almost nothing.

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    It's a good point, but I would like to add a nuance. I'm not sure that a vintage bike bought by a beginner, and "upgraded" will retain its value. To retain value, the bike should be maintained properly, and replaced components should be from the same period (or ideally the same).
    – Renaud
    Aug 3 at 7:32
  • replaced components should be from the same period (or ideally the same) -- that's... interesting. I have a bike it's getting hard to find components for, and I would think that the expense of replacing the drivetrain with parts that are still produced would increase rather than decreasing the value, by making it possible to further replace those parts as needed. Aug 3 at 19:48
  • @CharlesDuffy my assumption was that people interested in the "vintage experience" (and willing to pay the "premium" for that) would rather have something as close to the original. If the point to buy the bike for utilitarian purposes, I think that more recent 10/15-y mid-range bikes have better value than an upgraded 30y+ bike, but I may be wrong.
    – Renaud
    Aug 4 at 8:18
3

There are objective and subjective criteria to help you in making this decision. Some criteria may be more or less important to you.

Probably not a complete list

Objective Criteria

  1. Wear and tear - Without a teardown you can't see lubrication and bearing surface wear on the old bike but you can get a feel for miles and care by looking at the bike. Pulling the wheels and spinning the axle, drop the chain off the chainring and feel the spindle. Of course checking the normal wear items. Do not discount the impact of age on tires / brake shoes / lubrication / etc. Where the bike was stored plays a huge role in deterioration. Generally (not always), rust is a red flag.
    On one end of the spectrum a worn out older higher quality bike would be less desirable than a new bike.
    On the other end of the spectrum - a best possible scenario - the older higher quality bike would be in like new condition and compare well to a new bike.

  2. Quality of build - Sometimes (not always) a more expensive bike (old or not) will have better quality build. Better frame materials, better workmanship, possibly a better design than a new less expensive bike and possibly better parts. Better parts do matter, but only if they are not worn out. Quality of build is sometimes difficult to evaluate but it's good to keep it in mind.

  3. Availability of parts - it sounds like parts will be available for both of these bikes but it's something to keep in mind.

  4. Fit - With a new bike you can get whatever size you need (given availability) but with a used bike you'll need to make sure it fits you.

Subjective Criteria
Once you get past the objectively comparable items you are left with subjective things.

  • Which bike has the best ride?
  • How does each bike feel on different surfaces? (smooth roads to very bumpy)
  • Which bike best suits your riding style and situation?
  • Which bike looks the best?
  • If you buy an older bike will your riding friends subject you to "old bike snobbery" and are you willing to put up with it? Lots of people who ride bicycles have strong opinions against anything old. We have had questions on this Stack Exchange from people with older bikes around this topic.
    Then there is new bike snobbery. People who believe that unless you spent at least [SomeLargeAmount] you bought a bad bike.

How you weight each item is up to you. Many times people purchase what is objectively the wrong bike because of looks or peer pressure - and that's fine. Each person needs to make a decision they can live with. You need to decide what's most important and weight the criteria accordingly.

0

I'd be highly suspicious of old super-lightweight bikes, especially if they have a high mileage history.

A rugged equipped bike for touring use (u-lock, hub dynamo, lights, reflectors, mudguards, rack, kickstand) with technology that was available in 1980s (and still is today) weighs about 15 kg. Of this, about 4 kg are the accessories so 11 kg is the base weight of the non-equipped bike.

Perhaps if you make the frame and fork less sturdy, which is feasible if never using the bike to haul cargo, you could make the base weight 10 kg.

Anything below 10 kg such as 8.5 kg weight should be treated with very high suspicion. While today it may be feasible to construct a durable 8.5 kg bike from carbon fiber (then you'll have to accept the fact that after a crash the condition of the carbon fiber parts is unknown so the bike may be unsafe to use and declaring it safe would require access to very expensive non-destructive testing equipment), or from very high strength aluminum and advanced manufacturing techniques like hydroforming (then you have to accept the fact that aluminum has worse fatigue characteristics than steel, so longevity for very-high-mileage use may be questionable), those techniques and materials probably were not available and/or affordable in 1980s.

I think the keyword that was used to reach the low 8.5kg is "aluminum". Back then, fork steerer tubes were probably 1", maybe 1+1/8", and even 1+1/8" is a bit too small diameter for durable aluminum forks. Handlebars used 25.4mm or 26.0mm mount whereas those made in today use 31.8mm mount that makes aluminum handlebars durable. All those aluminum components, if ridden a lot, have a lot of load cycles behind them so you'll never know if a component fatigue cracks tomorrow.

If the bike has a steel fork and you'll change the aluminum handlebar to a modern 31.8mm aluminum handlebar (requires changing the stem too and it may not be easy to fit a modern stem to an old bike that most likely has a threadless fork -- you'll need threadless/ahead adapter for that), then your risks are reduced a lot. Frames usually don't fail catastrophically, it's forks and handlebars that fail catastrophically.

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    It's hard to give a clear number as to what is too lightweight, and besides it will be an average statement (e.g. for the average rider, this weight may be too light). I admit you may have a point about the steerer tube width; you're right that 1" was the standard then, and that diameter may be inherently unsuited for aluminum. Per the link in my answer, there may have been options for either aluminum or steel steerer tubes, but the former were known for shuddering. I disagree that you need 31.8mm aluminum handlebars. 26.0mm aluminum bars were used successfully for a long time.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Aug 2 at 18:16

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