Saturday, October 31, 2009

Preservation, antiquity, use

Being the proud owner now of a "vintage" bike comes with some issues. On one hand 1971 doesn't seem like a very old bike when you see 30's 40's and 50's bikes all the time.  On the other hand, it's older than I am (barely).  And the "technical" definition of an antique is something 30 years old.

One of the really appealing things about the technology of bicycles is that they are simple and durable machines  and a 1940's bicycle can easily be taken for a 20 mile ride with a modicum of care, and without major concern for damaging it. It's a mass produced technology, not an artisianal handcrafted item. Although modern disposable society and changes in the way our culture views bicycles as toys rather than transportation have made older bikes slightly rare, to me they're not antiquities.

The DL is in really good shape.  It has, for example its original tires (I'm told).  And they're really in remarkable shape, very elastic with only a few cracks in the sidewalls.  Yet I worry they will fail abruptly and hurt or strand me.  So I intend to replace them with modern puncture resistant tires with reflective sidewalls as an additional safety feature.  I could tell that the idea of this was painful to the guy I bought it from because it was breaking up a "mint" bike.  I suppose I will keep the original tires in my limited storage space, just in case I ever want to return it to "mint" condition.

I'd like to add a modicum of carrying capacity to this bicycle.  But adding a rack or a basket might interfere with its original appearance, which would offend purists.  I still think I'm going to do it.
At the moment though, my inclination is to resist replacing the wheels with a generator hub and/ or a new, more advanced internal geared hub.

When I started the search for a new old bike, I looked at a lovely light roadster from the late 50's.  It had lovely paint and all its original accessories.  It seemed a travesty to break it up, spread the dropouts for my nexus hub, replace the handlebars,  front wheel, saddle, everything.  Making Robert into a bionic bike didn't bother me because he had no grand provenance, no important pedigree, but I couldn't break up a beauty like that when someone might cherish it as it is.
And although I appreciate the desire for people to celebrate and appreciate the great bikes of the past,  I also want a safe dependable bicycle with all the great features of the present.  I want a bike I can use, not a museum piece.   And at what point does a bicycle become a museum piece,  something that is sacrilegious to modify and modernize?

This is something I have thought about a fair bit in the preservation of historic architecture,  and I think I've figured out where the line lies (for me) on that topic.  I'm still trying to figure it out on bicycles.

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear - I have so many things to say on this topic - but suffice to say I agree with your decision to update both Robert and your "new" DL-1. You should not ride on vintage tires even if they are new old stock; they will explode on you. Ask me how I know! You are right also that a DL-1 of this vintage is not a terribly big deal. Elsewhere int he country maybe, but New England is full of them. So just do your thing; it's your bike and not the guy's who sold it to you. I've been recently given a 1936 Lady's Tourist that I don't quite know what to do with though!