In a brightly lit room, clear of any other distractions, a collection of mostly vintage bicycles from England, France, Italy, and the U.S. (circa 1920-1990) stood in rows on track-like wood flooring. At first I saw only road racing machines, track bikes, folding city types and some long distant touring steeds. Slowing moving around the room the finer details began to reveal themselves.
Incredibly swept and bent drop bars perched upon adjustable length sliding stems were real steel beauties, the thinking and craftsmanship of times gone by. Heavy fixed gearing, cotter-pins, and leather toe-straps made me stop and envision how crazy it must have been to watch these bikes being raced and the incredible sound they must have generated when whizzing passed. Oddly enough what really stopped me in my tracks was the black leather racing shoes that some of the bikes had draped over the top tube, the laces tied together. These slim and perforated shoes had a dance-like quality to them and made the bicycles more personal and real. A far cry from the carbon soled, plastic buckled ones we cycle in today.
A vintage Campagnolo brake system, leather saddles and bags, big metal fenders and relaxed raked forks always get the attention. Detailed lugs and a split seat tube, two thin tubes running vertically with the rear tire situated between them are metallic wonders and one incredible way to make the chainstays as short as possible. Talk about snappy!
How about a three-wheeled road-type bike with a single front fender, no baskets, an amazing looking drive train and a single top tube shifter. Maybe an old stop watch mounted to the funkiest bent bars Iâ€™ve ever seen or high flanged, colored hubs are more your taste. Custom painted head tubes, wooden rims, hard plastic grips, it was all there and more photos can be found in the Dirt Rag/Bicycle Times gallery. If the opportunity ever arises and thereâ€™s an antique bicycle show or museum near you, I highly recommend checking it out. Thereâ€™s no disappointment.
Personally though, my all time favorite aspect of antique bikes are the head badges. To me that small piece of worked metal or painted image proudly adorned on the head tube is a piece of history in itself. Mythical four-legged creatures with wings and tails, standing before a spoked-wheel circled by a date, builder name, or company information with together creates a shield. Thereâ€™s really no other way to describe how an honest machine can make someone feel.