Vintage mountain bikes are iconic pieces of history. Preferred by those with bohemian hearts, they look cool and enhance the lifestyle of their owners. But finding and buying vintage mountain bikes isn’t easy. Beyond looks, there are many technical things to consider.
I remember my first vintage mountain bike. I had thousand questions and doubts. Would I be able to ride it or invest in a beautiful piece of junk? Choose a reconditioned bike or one to recondition by myself? These questions might torment you at this very moment.
So, if you want to choose the best vintage mountain bikes for your collection, follow my guide. Find out what’s important when buying and how to invest your money in a valuable collectible.
Vintage Mountain Bikes: Why?
There are many reasons to buy vintage mountain bikes. Some people collect them. Others want to have a cool ride. Others see in a retro mountain bike the celebration of the classic bicycle design.
Despite the reason, vintage mountain bikes are simply cool. That’s why they are preferred by the trendsetters. By those who love putting a basket of flowers on the handlebar or carry their puddle in a vintage rear storage basket.
Personally, I love vintage mountain bikes because they help me bring an homage to the history of cycling. I love restoring vintage mountain bikes and display them in my garage. I rarely ride them yet I believe that any enthusiast cyclist should own such a cool piece of history.
How To Decide Which Vintage Mountain Bikes To Buy?
Deciding which vintage mountain bikes to buy depends on your purpose. Do you want to collect them or ride them? In the first case, decide what models you like and focus on those. In the second, decide which vintage mountain bikes suit you.
When buying a retro bike to ride it, the first thing to consider is your lifestyle. Are you using your bike to commute? Or only for leisure purposes? Do you like to push yourself and reach objectives or light rides are more than enough?
If used for commuting, choose an early steel mountain bike from the late 80s. These vintage mountain bikes have a relaxed geometry and promote an upright riding position. They are comfortable and navigate easily through the rush-hour traffic.
Fancy more intense riding experiences? The racier-type vintage mountain bikes from the 90s might suit you better. These bikes promote a stretched-out riding position and are ideal for the romantic dreamer in you.
Regarding specific models, it’s hard to advise which are the best. But your aesthetic sense will certainly guide you through your choice.
What’s About The Size?
Size matters! That is if you fancy riding your “brand new” vintage mountain bike. But finding the right size of a vintage bike is often a hassle. Because manufacturers changed the designs and styles over the time, the current sizes won’t find a correspondent in the old-fashioned bikes.
The geometry of the frame influences the size you need and the best thing is to consider your height compared to the size of the bike. For example, I’m 6’ tall and am riding a 20-inch vintage mountain bike. However, my advice is to look up the manufacturer’s specifications on size once you’ve individuated the preferred model.
To enjoy riding your retro bike, my advice is to change the model if the bike you want doesn’t fit you. Don’t focus on one model only and remember that there is the right vintage mountain bike for everyone out there.
Where To Find Vintage Mountain Bikes?
Once again, there isn’t a sole valid answer. You can find vintage mountain bikes in many places but it depends what you’re looking after. If you’re passionate about restoring old models and your main purpose is to build up a collection, you can find cheap or even free bikes at dumps or old vehicle deposits.
Your neighbor might even have an old and unused retro mountain bike forgotten in a dark corner in the garage.
If you’re looking for a vintage bike to ride, things are slightly different. Restoring an old bike that hasn’t been looked after is hard and often not worth the hassle. Yet, there are many stores and websites that sell well-maintained vintage mountain bikes. Privates also advertise their vintage bikes for sale in various places on the web or in local bike shops.
Who sells the bike is less important than how the bike has been maintained. Unless you’ve found your dream model in a reputable bike shop, there are a few things to consider before closing the deal.
Vintage Mountain Bikes Inspection: What To Check?
Check For Integrity
Many inexperienced riders search for complete vintage mountain bikes in shops. Yet, I closed some of the best deals with privates. The main issue when buying a vintage mountain bike, or any type of vintage vehicle, as a matter of fact, from a private is that you can’t check how the bike has been maintained.
Moreover, in many cases, the bikes might be incomplete. Some owners have disassembled pieces of what it used to be a prolific bike. I love giving these bikes a chance, especially when we’re talking about a frame. In fact, I bought a few valuable frames from less informed owners who only claimed peanuts for their treasures.
Yet, when buying incomplete vintage mountain bikes, you should consider which parts are missing and the model of the bike. For example, I wouldn’t invest in a frame that comes without a fork. Finding a matching fork for a retro mountain bike isn’t worth the hassle.
The model is also important to check if there are compatible wheels and accessories for the frame you’ve found. After all, it’s not like you can pair a retro frame with modern wheels and seat.
If you don’t have time and patience to dedicate to this hobby, look for a complete vintage bike, either restored or to restore.
Check For Rust
Once you’ve individuated the bike or frame, check it for rust. To be honest, it’s very likely to find it. Especially if the bike has been stored outside for a long time. However, the presence of rust doesn’t mean that you should ditch the bike and start looking for another.
Small patches of rust on the tubes are simple to fix. With few quality products and minimal skills, you can turn a slightly rusted bike into a shiny jewel without hassle.
However, if there is rust on the seat tube or under the bottom bracket you might want to think twice before buying. If these parts are badly affected by rust you might have to replace them. Needless to say, they are not exactly easy to find.
Check For Cracks
Your future vintage mountain bike passed the first examination with success! But your worries shouldn’t end here. An old bike might have cracks on its frame or fork that may or may not be easy or even possible to fix.
Cracks are usually present on the junctures, such as around head tube, around the bottom bracket, and in all the other points where the parts of the frame meet. If cracks are present, decide whether the bike is worth the investment based on the frame’s material.
If the bike is made of steel, the cracks are usually easy to fix and the bike might be worth repairing. Things are different in the case of aluminum frames. Aluminum is rarely worth fixing as cracks will most likely reappear soon after you’ve fixed them.
To individuate all defects, examine the bike in sunlight and don’t close a deal if the owner refuses to take the bike out of the garage. If the bike is dirty or covered in mud, it’s worth the hassle to clean it thoroughly and examine it before buying.
Check The Aesthetics
Vintage mountain bikes come in different designs and the aesthetics plays an important role. It will determine whether you’ll see the bike as a valuable addition to your collection or as a vehicle worth riding.
Choose the model of the frame by consulting vintage bikes catalogs and compare the bike you’re examining with your ideal model of retro bike.
When it comes down to looks, don’t expect to find a vintage bike on the best of its days, unless you’re closing a deal for a restored item. Yet, don’t let scratched or chipped paint put you off. These cosmetic issues are easy to fix. And you’ll even have the chance to paint the bike in your favorite color.
Ride The Bike
If the bike you’re interested in comes complete, ride it before buying. Even if it’s only a collection item, your vintage mountain bike has to be functional if you want it to have some value. Riding the bike will help you understand if the frame is straight and if the wheels are aligned.
You’ll be able to see how it handles and how safe it is to ride. Some issues, such as the brakes system, tires, and chain are easy to fix if faulty. Yet, misaligned wheels or a crooked frame are not worth the hassle.
At the bottom line, choosing vintage mountain bikes for your collection is more than a matter of preference. Beyond an attractive design, the condition of the bike will tell whether it’s worth it or not. And remember, even if you only want to admire its beauty, a vintage mountain bike that isn’t functional is not a valuable addition.