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The Three R's

By Jim Cunningham, CyclArtist

Now class... Who has done their homework and can list the three "R's"? Jimmie? "Refurbish, Renovate and Restore". Very good! What are their simple definitions? Anybody? Eduardo? "Refurbish... To clean and polish, preserving all existing finish and parts. Renovate...To make new, updating components, making modifications such as changing paint design or adding braze-ons. Restore...To rebuild, refinish and replace as necessary to return the bicycle to it's original new condition." Very, very good!

Now, presuming that all present have fulfilled the pre-requisite... ownership of a vintage race bike, I'd like to preview the semantics, economics and ethics chapters of your Vintage Racing Bicycles Textbook, as relates to the Three R's:

In refurbishing, the aim is to preserve the bike, and whatever resale value it may have, while providing maximum miles for the dollar. Careful maintenance, cleaning and storage are paramount. (Even for Paramounts!) Ideally, the process should begin when the bike is new, although this is rare. With care, even bikes ridden extensively can age gracefully and develop "patina"... That is, aging and weathering which imparts character and authenticity.

To preserve resale value, parts should not be replaced unless necessary, and then, only with identical parts. In some cases, substitution of "period" parts, which could have been substituted at the time of original purchase, is acceptable. Special care should be taken to clean weathered surfaces gently and keep them clean and dry. Waxes may be used to seal the finish and slow further deterioration. When the bike has acquired a "patina", replacement parts, even of the same vintage, may look too fresh and out of place.

If the bike is ridden, spare parts should be stocked. Eventually all "soft" parts, rubber, leather, plastics, wood, may become fragile. Beware old tires and old sew-up glue! When putting away parts for the future, don't forget to store any documentation you may have. Original purchase papers, service records, catalogs, magazine road tests, race coverage in which the bike or it's brothers were used, all these things will become more interesting with age. They may be invaluable in documenting the bikes place in history. Records can show that the bike has been preserved in its "correct" configuration. A well cared-for bike can be kept in "like-new" condition indefinitely. The finest ones deserve to be.

CyclArt, has mastered a technique called "CyclTique". Starting with a damaged or neglected bike, missing parts are replaced with correct era used ones, then all parts are cleaned, polished and rebuilt. If decals & striping are visible, they are photographed, traced and reproduced. In some cases, we can save a portion of the original finish and match the new paint to the old. If rust has taken hold, or the frame has been refinished, it is stripped to clean metal, repaired as needed and a durable new finish is applied. In any case, since the components show their age, new paint is carefully "weathered" using airbrushes, and other techniques to artificially simulate the appearance of a well maintained original. When the finished result is in our showroom people often ask anxiously, "you're not going to repaint this are you?", mistaking the finished product for an original, which should be preserved "as is".

Renovation is often and appropriately performed on contemporary bicycles. Often called "upgrading", it can be used to change a bicycle's, fit, performance, appearance, or purpose. Making changes to your bike is a part of what keeps many of the more technically minded interested in the sport. Most riders will simply replace parts with whatever appeals to them, is currently available, and fits their budget. On older, or more valuable bikes, however, renovation becomes more problematic.

All bikes eventually get old, and a few become more valuable with age. Even if a bike is carefully maintained and "refurbished" as outlined above, eventually, due to difficulty in acquiring parts, damage, or desire to adapt to currently fashionable technology, there will be great temptation to renovate. Renovating devalues collectible bicycles. An otherwise full Campy Super Record DeRosa is somehow compromised (some would say bastardized) with a set of current Shimano 105 brakes, no matter how well they work. So if changes are to made to a current or potentially collectible bike, it is wise to store original parts for possible reinstallation or inclusion at time of future resale.

Never renovate with resale in mind. If, however, you intend to keep the bike indefinitely, if it is not exceptionally rare or valuable and if visions of your renovated bike keep fogging your Oakleys... do it. If you are ambitious, or creative, you can push renovation into "customizing", turning ordinary bikes into sublime, personalized, tasteful exotics. Bicycle "hot rods", can be just as exciting as their gas-guzzling brethren. As with the auto hot rods, there can be a certain charm to a tasteful mix of old style and new performance. As much as I love the classics, I'll admit, that some of my best moments at CyclArt have been in helping a rider define and realize his dream bike. Sometimes, the client has worked out the design and we execute it carefully to the letter, other times, we brainstorm with the client to extract his sleeping dream bike. When they're "right", such bikes can be very seductive!

To "Restore" a bicycle, the goal is to return it to it's original state. Through use, accident, renovation or neglect, most high quality bicycles become candidates for restoration.

As with classic autos, the most valuable are usually super-low-mile-like-new-originals. A near-perfect original will not increase in value if restored. In fact, I discourage such work. However, flawed, rusty or damaged bikes can become highly desirable if properly restored. At CyclArt, we have always discouraged restoration as investment, but given the recent surge of interest in vintage race bikes... who knows?

There is great satisfaction in returning a sad, battered and rusting old campaigner to "better than new" former glory. This year's super-bike is next year's old news and carries a guarantee of immediate depreciation. On the other hand, nice vintage bikes are appreciating in value, and become increasingly interesting with age. Then, of course, there's that special satisfaction in dropping the guy on the high tech bike.

I've written at length about the importance of accuracy in restoration. For now, suffice it to say that virtually any bike can be restored very accurately. If, as has happened in balloon tire bicycles and other collectibles, we are to witness increased collector activity in vintage race bikes, care in documentation and doing restorations right is important. CyclArt takes quality "before" and after photos as part of restoration projects.

Paint, chrome and decals should be as they were when the bike left the factory. Many difficult to find components can be polished, re-chromed and rebuilt. When possible, "new-old-stock" (NOS) parts are installed. NOS are unused parts stored since new. As in life, compromises may be necessary, at least until the elusive rare part turns up.

Some restoration work is very tedious. Given the economies of production, one often invests several times as much labor restoring a bike as was put into building it in the first place. Research and networking take time. Patience is the key. Often, because of parts availability, or rider preference, component substitutions are made. In some cases, this turns a restoration into a rejuvenation, but where care has been used in selecting parts from the same time period as when the a bike was new, it can more correctly be called a "period custom". That is, not as delivered new, but how the bike could have been created if custom orders were possible. This segment between restoration and rejuvenation is interesting and affords a balance of history and freedom of choice.

Tonight I want everyone to read the chapter on bicycle museums and prepare for a class trip.

Class dismissed! ~ JFC