"Vintage" vs. "modern" road bikes - difference?
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  1. #1
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    Post "Vintage" vs. "modern" road bikes - difference?

    I am looking to get a little more serious about cycling and want to invest in a new (used) bike. I plan on using the bike for longer rides - going for a few centuries over the summer and cycling across Canada once I am finished with university.

    I'm not all that familiar with bikes so I was hoping some who are more well-versed in the land of bikes could provide me with some information.

    I currently own a refurbished 1983 Motobecane Mirage Sport. It's a decent bike (I believe it was one of their entry-level road bikes at the time if I'm not mistaken). For those familiar with Motobecanes or other vintage rides, what would be the difference between this bike and a top-of-the-line vintage bike, such as the Motobecane Team Champion? Would it mostly be frame quality?

    And what would be the major differences between a top-of-the-line vintage road bike compared to a modern steel or chromoly road / touring bike?

    And lastly, how would these compare to a decent carbon bike?

    I hear a lot about speed not being much of a difference between frame materials when riding on flat land. Would the biggest differences be comfort and feel?

    Any information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I've been lurking biking forums for weeks looking for useful input but there seems to be a lot of contradictory information and opinions out there in the forums.

  2. #2
    old school drop out
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    I ride newer road bikes mostly, but own a couple of older bikes and still ride them as well. IMO, the overall average speed (especially on a solo ride) are not that different. The differences are in how quickly or comfortably you can find the gear you need/want.

    An old bike has fewer rear cogs (5, 6, or 7) that generally cover a smaller rearing range, and also often have a larger front ring 42T instead of 39T (or smaller). As a result, I find climbing hills to be harder on an older bike - I'd prefer to be in a lower gear. And when I switch gears the jumps between gears is greater - meaning that I may not be able to spin the cranks as the speed I'd prefer. On a solo ride neither is a huge deal (although some climbs are much harder), but in a group ride it's harder to keep up.

    Also, the shifter location is different. On a modern bike you shift the bike with the brake levers. On older bikes shifters are on the down tube or at the end of the handlebar. Both of the older locations work okay, but are less convenient for shifting. Again, on a solo ride, who cares? But in a group ride if you're struggling to hang on losing a little time with each shift may cause you to be dropped.

    So, yes a new bike will be easier to ride and easier to ride with a group. However, if you look at your overall average speed the difference will be minimal.

    Comparing carbon to modern steel is even less of a difference. Weight is the only factor where a carbon bike will always out perform a steel bike. The weight difference between high-end frames will be 1-3 pounds (likely somewhere in the middle). On climbs there will be some difference but not a lot. Do a climb with a full water bottle and then with an empty water bottle. How big was the difference? That's how much difference you'll feel with a lighter frame. Other differences between frames exist (such as comfort, stiffness, fit, etc.) but there's no guaranty that any specific carbon frame will be better/worse than a steel frame.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by sambam613 View Post
    I currently own a refurbished 1983 Motobecane Mirage Sport. It's a decent bike (I believe it was one of their entry-level road bikes at the time if I'm not mistaken). For those familiar with Motobecanes or other vintage rides, what would be the difference between this bike and a top-of-the-line vintage bike, such as the Motobecane Team Champion? Would it mostly be frame quality?

    And what would be the major differences between a top-of-the-line vintage road bike compared to a modern steel or chromoly road / touring bike?

    And lastly, how would these compare to a decent carbon bike?

    I hear a lot about speed not being much of a difference between frame materials when riding on flat land. Would the biggest differences be comfort and feel?

    Any information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I've been lurking biking forums for weeks looking for useful input but there seems to be a lot of contradictory information and opinions out there in the forums.
    The price difference in the older steel frames is usually justified by the use of different tubesets. Case in point, if i remember correctly, within bianchi's line there were the tretubi bikes like the Nuovo Alloro (Columbus SL main triangle w/ chromoly stays), the Columbus SL bikes like the CdI, and Columbus SLX bikes, like the specialissima. People had a really hard time distinguishing performance and ride quality differences between the three. There's a magazine article comparing a number of tubesets via some blind test riders and basically, the upshot was that it was hard to tell on the road. Hopefully someone can come in and post a link.

    IMO, the main reason why tubesets matter is for resale purposes (and for marginal weight savings due to more aggressive butting, but not a dramatic difference to justify the drastic price differences). A SLX tubed vintage steel bike is just going to be worth more than a SL bike.

    Compared to modern steel bikes, it depends on the bike. Real differences in feel are going to be a function of the geometry more than the tubeset. That's not to say that tubeset doesn't matter--it's just going to be a very subtle difference. WRT to modern manufacturing processes for steel bikes, some makers are still using lugs and solder, while others are tig welding SST or weldable steel tubesets like Reynolds 853. I'm sure there are differences between the two--but i'm not knowledgeable enough about frame making to be able to say. In the end, if the geometries are a wash between an older steel bike and a new steel bike, you're not going to feel much of a difference between the two.

    Comparing steel to carbon depends on what the end user is looking for. Obviously a vintage steel bike is going to be noticeably heavier (20 lbs is a reasonably "lightweight" retro-modern steel bike) whereas a carbon bike is going to be a good 5 lbs lighter. Does that 5 lbs really matter? Maybe up a very long climb, but on flat land, you won't feel much of a difference. There can be big differences in road feel, however. Vintage steel tends to be a bit more compliant, springier, compared to carbon. IMO the steel fanatics are not wrong--there is a special feeling to steel bikes that is not replicated by any other frame material. Carbon can be very smooth riding (or the opposite, it depends on the design), but i think a carbon frame would be hard-pressed to replicate the same kind of feel that one gets from a classic steel bike.

    As an owner of a carbon bike, a ti bike, and a vintage steel bike retrofitted with modern components ("retro-modern" round these parts), I have to say that all 3 bikes have their own redeeming qualities. The steel bike holds its own against its modern stablemates and is my choice for certain kinds of rides (longer, flattish rides, or when I want to show off, since I think it's the most beautiful of my bikes) but I've climbed some pretty big hills on it and it was a dream to ride, if i gave up a few fractional avg mph's going up the hill, I didn't notice.

  4. #4
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    I also wanted to add, I would have no problem taking an entry level steel bike from the 80's, slapping campagnolo centaur (or better) on it, and riding it. Sambam, in your particular case, what would make me hesitant is that it's a motobecane--which I think falls under the general rule of "Pain in the ass french bike" in which it's difficult to find NOS or new or even used parts that will be compatible with the funky dimensional standards that the french bike industry alone, standardized on. There are some ways to un-PITA-ify a french bike, and there are some french bikes that are worth the pain (Peugeot PX-10, for example), but it's an added obstacle to restoring an old french bike.

    That said, finding a nice vintage steel frame that's not a french pain the ass for a good price shouldn't be hard. There's such a plethora of good frames from any number of great manufacturers that what makes one better than the other is solely preference, aesthetics, mythology, and other non-objective factors.

  5. #5
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    Thank you so much for the useful replies! I am looking at two road bikes at the moment. One is a Bianchi Superleggera (Columbus SLX) and the other is a CF bike put together by a semi-pro cyclist (so I can't seem to find too much info on the frame and am not all too familiar with all the components used).

    Here are the ads for them:

    51cm Bianchi Superleggera Frameset - Columbus SLX | frames, parts | Ottawa | Kijiji

    ECLIPSE ROAD BIKE FOR SALE | road | Ottawa | Kijiji

    The seller of the CF bike claims the value of the bike should be at least $3000 minimum if bought from a store but he buys parts wholesale and puts them together himself. I'm not sure how accurate this statement is at all (but he seems like a nice and trustworthy guy :P)

    What I am most worried about is having my bike stolen. I do have a good Kryptonite lock and I lock it up with a cable as well but I'm afraid if I left a CF bike out for a few hours it would be targeted for theft. I'm not so sure if the Bianchi would be just as likely to be stolen or not, though.

  6. #6
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    Let's look at part of your plans: riding across Canada. Are you planning on carrying all your gear? If so, most racing bikes of any era will be fairly unsuitable. Most modern production touring bikes are heavier and less enjoyable for fast day rides than performance bikes. Some production touring bikes of the 1980s were made with the same tubing as racing bikes but with the geometry that allows you to carry that load comfortably and so might be the perfect compromise for you.

  7. #7
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    When I do plan on riding I plan on going as lightweight as possible. Would this make a road bike a feasible option?

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    Possibly... an improperly loaded bike can develop a nasty high speed shimmy but if you aren't camping (no need for tent, sleeping bag, etc) then you can get away with just a few day's worth of clothes and ride a bike designed for performance rather than a load-hauler.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by sambam613 View Post
    When I do plan on riding I plan on going as lightweight as possible. Would this make a road bike a feasible option?
    A carbon road bike probably wouldn't be feasible if you plan to mount pannier stays . . . for this type of ride, I'd probably choose a steel-framed, Surly Cross Check or similar.
    The world is full of nice people. If you can't find one - BE one.

  10. #10
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    There are some carbon road bikes out there that can handle rear racks with stays, but not large panniers (not enough chainstay length for heel clearance). Smaller panniers certainly are possible on some carbon bikes.

  11. #11
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    I think the modern bike would be a better choice then a vintage bike. You would get STI shifting (gear shifting included within the brake handles), Also a wider spacing at the rear wheel which would allow 10 gears. Modern road bikes have threadless headsets which have proven to be very durable and the stem has a faceplate which allows changing the stem or handlebars easily. Most spirited road racers look to carbon fiber road bikes or aluminum frames such as the Cannondale Caad 10. For touring with panniers and camping gear a bike like the Trek 520 steel touring bike would be a good choice. On the custom steel, there are a lot of custom frame builders that can build you one for road racing, touring, or sport touring. Columbus Spirt oversize tubing makes a fine bike. They are all good choices and you just have to decide your budget and what sounds good to you but I would look to modern design so you can have STI shifting and either a 2x10 or 3x10 gearing set up. If you live in a wet climate like Portland then fenders should be considered also. So I guess you could decide what use the bike would need to provide, and the budget of the bike. Go to bike shops, go on test rides and discuss fitting with the bike stores. Many bike stores do not want to bother with fitting and just want you to buy something and get out. Look for a bike shop that has a fitting program going on. No matter what bike you buy if it fits poorly then your up the creek.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by bradkay View Post
    Possibly... an improperly loaded bike can develop a nasty high speed shimmy but if you aren't camping (no need for tent, sleeping bag, etc) then you can get away with just a few day's worth of clothes and ride a bike designed for performance rather than a load-hauler.
    ^^^^ This.

    There's a lot more to the differences between touring bikes and performance bikes than simply being able to bolt on a rack. The geometries are much different.

    One of my commuters is a performance bike. With more than 13-15 Kg on the rear rack, the tail wags the dog, even on flat, level city streets. And of course, I'm limited to small panniers intended for use on the front. Fine for commuting across town, but I couldn't imagine riding it trans-continental, unless I had a follow car to carry all my stuff.

    Putting a load on the front results in the bike falling further than intended in corners, and having to be muscled back up to straighten out. It also tends to wander from a straight line.

    Longer chainstays in back, and different fork rakes and head tube angles in front solve these two problems on touring bikes. Properly done, a fully-loaded touring bike can handle quite normally, but the changes result in sluggish handling when unloaded.

    These days there are "light touring" bikes around that try to find a middle ground. I own one of those too. It's happy with up to 30 Kg on the back, but its handling is still a long way from snappy when unloaded.

    IMHO, you're looking at two bikes. One for around town and your centuries, and the other for touring.

    EDIT: I understand that this is a different question than vintage vs. modern. You can get performance or touring oriented bikes in vintage as well as in modern.
    Last edited by brucew; 04-10-2014 at 11:31 PM.

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    Thank you all so much for all the useful input. I think at the moment I'm leaning towards buying a Bianchi with Columbus SLX frame. I am absolutely in love with their celeste colour and older road bike designs! I think once I have the money I'll eventually get a bike in each material but that won't be for some time.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by sambam613 View Post
    Thank you all so much for all the useful input. I think at the moment I'm leaning towards buying a Bianchi with Columbus SLX frame. I am absolutely in love with their celeste colour and older road bike designs! I think once I have the money I'll eventually get a bike in each material but that won't be for some time.
    It's a beautiful bike. There is a Bianchi dealer down the street and to me the steel Bianchis are by far the best looking. Their carbon bikes look wussy, like it was made for metrosexual primadonnas. Powder, baby blue bike on a men's bike? A whitish color that almost looks pink? It's lame.

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