Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A nice read on CL

I peruse the bike section of craigslist pretty often. I ran across this post in the for sale section. It's a good read.

Ready to Buy a Bike!? (everywhere)

Date: 2011-02-28, 7:53PM PST

For most of us, the pure joy of being on a bike represents our first forays into the world of freedom. But given the bewildering choices in the used bike arena, how does one buy a decent bike at a fair price? In the Bay Area's Uber-Bike friendly milieu the choices seem to expand exponentially. So what criteria does one use to get a good deal?

Generally speaking, it's usually a good idea to source an 1980's or more recent era Japanese bike. Some of the best brands of that epoch were Fuji, Miyata, Nishiki, Bridgestone, and Centurion. SR, Sekai, Panasonic, Shogun, Univega (made in the Miyata factory), KHS, and several "Schwinn-Approved" bikes also came from this era. Japanese-made Bianchi are also represented in this pantheon. There's plenty more, as well, particularly Specialized (SBI) bikes. In my professional opinion Specialized came to represent the "Apple" of the bicycling world. SBI bikes and products are among the world's most well-thought-out cycling products. From inception their Allez road bike, the Sequoia Sport-Touring bike, and their full touring Expedition represent some of the best of the best.

Regrettably, there are lots of European bikes from this period which are woefully incomparable. While many of these bikes have legendary names, they're not equivalent en toto. Beware of overpriced Schwinn's Varsity and Continental models, and be equally scrupulous of most European bikes, especially Peugeot, Gitane, Jeunet, Motobecane, Magneet, Flandria, etc. And if stumbling across a Sears & Roebuck "Free Spirit," referred to in metric sizing, run! The same applies to the thousands of Firenze.

There's been numerous CL ads where these bikes are being sold as "classic/vintage Italian" road bikes for upwards of $300-400. Back in the 80s, if you bought an alarm clock, a toaster-oven, or a Sony Walkman from "Matthew's Top-of-the-Hill" Daly City, you were awarded a Firenze. Most local bike shops were forced to place hand-written placards in their shop windows stating, "No Firenzes." Yep.....they really are that bad.

While some of these bikes were ostensibly "top of the line" in their respective days, they were quickly eclipsed by the influx of Japanese bikes.

When in doubt about a bike's relative value, call your local (reputable!) bike shop and solicit their opinion. Most technicians have plenty of experience and immediately know the difference between a good deal and a waste of money.

Typically, these bikes were designed, imported, and marketed in standard, SAE English sizes. Generally, the more ubiquitous models came in the following sizes: 19.5", 21," 23," and 25." Occasionally, one of these same manufacturers would carry a 27 inch frame, as well. Traditionally, metric demarcations have been the sole domain of truly high quality, hand-brazed or silver-soldered frames. In other words, a "54cm" Varsity is pure nonsense. By indicating the frame's size in centimeters rather than inches is gross pretentiousness and doesn't add a nickel to its value, end of story.

The vast majority of these bikes, irrespective of frame geometry, intent or application, retailed anywhere from $150-450....the operative word being "generally." And generally speaking most of these same bikes were equipped with SunTour or Shimano components. Tragically, SunTour filed for bankruptcy, despite how well their products worked. Shimano thrives to this day and some argue they have even outdone Campagnolo. After all, it was Shimano that developed the market's first production Double-Sprung, Slanted Parallelogram rear derailleur.

Campy's classic Nuovo Record and Super Record Single-Sprung/non-slanted rear derailleurs accommodated a 24T rear cog while Shimano's entry level versions easily handled a 28T cog.

Finally, it's not so much whether the frame is made from steel, aluminum, titanium, or carbon fiber. All of these substrates work (when properly engineered) and all impart their own resonant and performance characteristics. It's not enough to proclaim that one is "better" than the other, per se. Ultimately it comes down to how large the frame's tubes are (outside diameter) and how thick the gauge of their respective tubes.

Aluminum and carbon fiber do share one dastardly common property---when they fail they usually do so in a catastrophic "snap." Steel frames which include 4130, 1020, 1024 and stainless steels, etc., don't rupture (at least normally) with no warning. Titanium is also a fine substrate and generally not prone to immediate failure.

Moreover, it's inaccurate to intone that "steel is real!" Carbon fiber, Al, and Ti are just as "real," as well. In the end, do some homework, vet the seller, read differing opinions and you'll be fast upon the road of an informed decision.

Caveat Emptor, indeed!

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