Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vintage Ten Speed is Painless, it Brings on Many Changes.

(Apparently the 1980s is Vintage now. I am so very, very old.)

Jealousy and curiosity being equally powerful motivators, it wasn't long after Ginger went Full Roadie that I began to wish I could experience the social aspect of the road ride without all the attendant arse padding. Especially when special 'family' rides were offered by various organisations and I found myself road-blocked from even the lower end rides because my bicycles were too 'slow'. "Road bikes only!" they inevitably specified. Aside from justified outrage that a 'slow' ride did not appear to exist in Perth (I have since discovered there was a Tweed Ride in Fremantle last year. Fie on after-the-fact facts!), I was genuinely interested in expanding my bicycle skills by experiencing different types of bicycles. I had also seen how slender road rider's arms were, thus invoking the third motivator: Vanity. The pseudo-nonchalant viewing of local ebay listings reached its inescapable conclusion…

circa 1980s 10 Speed Repco Traveller.
The comfortingly solid steel and lugged Repco was purchased with visions of a bicycle touring Tasmanian future. These visions are still a work in progress, as is the Repco. It was sold in technically rideable condition but with more room for potential satisfaction than current jubilation. For a start, the brake levers are an evolutionary dead-end in the bicycle world. A dead-end which I came to discover had been lovingly christened, 'Suicide Brakes'.

Suicide and lavender. A winning combination.
Note that the usual brake lever sitting on the curve of the drops has a strange side projection. This runs parallel to the straight middle of the bars, supposedly providing the ability to brake while your hands are on top rather than moving them down to the drops. According to internet bicycle history, sports cycling was all the rage in the 1970s and so bicycle shops sold drop bar road after drop bar road to Average Joe despite what Average Joe (or Jollene's) requirements and skills might actually warrant. Instead of admitting that one style of bicycle does not fit all, (and likely blinded by dollar signs as they rode the craze for…um…road bikes…that they rode.) somebody clever came up with the idea of 'safety brakes'; extra levers right next to the top of the bars, coincidentally where the drop bar averse automatically like to put their hands because going from zero to drop bars is freaking scary and people don't instantly take to hunching forward with reduced field of view. Surprising, I know. Great, right? Safety wins again! Except: Turns out that a secondary brake lever is not nearly as powerful as a primary one so you actually get less braking power from the 'safety' brake. It also turns out that the top middle of the bars is the absolute worst place for an inexperienced road cyclist to put their hands as it gives the least amount of stability and control. Lastly, the suicide levers made other hand positions awkward. Ultimately, brake lever technology moved forward and bicycling fell out of fashion so that unsuitable bicycles were no longer being forced upon unsuspecting and innocently ignorant consumers. Until the mountain bike craze of the 1990s when it happened all over again. And now the hybrid bike push. And fixie epidemic. Anyway, having personally experienced these 'safety' brakes, I can anecdotally confirm that they suck. Stopping distance is not so much about stopping as it is about hoping there is a cushioned surface somewhere in the next 5 metres. Or at least not a car.

Stem mounted gear shifters.
The other problem with the Repco is one of my inexperience rather than mechanics. The stem mounted gear shifters and the gears themselves are terrifying to me. They are not 'indexed' as I am used to when it comes to gears. By not indexed I mean that they, 1. Don't have any kind of numbers or lines anywhere, and, 2. Do not reassuringly 'clunk' into place in the way that I am used to gears sounding. Usually, when shifting gears there is a nice click or a clunk to signal to the modern rider that teeth and cogs are interacting harmoniously and you are not about to participate in anything awful like the chain making a bid for freedom or your face meeting the pavement. If indexed bicycle gearing is like a staircase inside your house, these gears are like finding your staircase has been replaced with a water slide. They are known as friction gears and I am told they are a pleasure if you know how to use them. Because there is no predetermined sweet spot, you are able to tweak them to your liking. Great in theory but as I am still learning how to deal with indexed gears of more than one chainring, still a little above my skillset for now. I am aiming to conquer them though because I would hate to replace something which works and also because I think the stem mounted shifters are very pretty.

Lastly, I am not a huge fan of the orange and silver colour scheme but that's a problem for Future Fat-bottomed Girl and the powder-coater of her choice. Hmm…I've always wanted a cherry red frame…here's the rest of the Repco without comment. Or a bit of comment.

There's that 'Vintage' patina! You know. Rust.
I have no idea if this is good or bad.
Restrained lugs.
"Repco Cycle Company Huntingdale Victoria"
Australian manufacturing or just a sticker?
None of that Yankee spelling here. Ls and Us everywhere!
The days of the metal head badge were but a memory when this Repco was born.
Shimano branding detail.


  1. Nice post! Here's a very similar salvage of one I found -

  2. Thank you for this post. I just purchased a "vintage" 80s Raleigh 10 speed that also makes me feel very old! I rode it to work today and am trying to figure out where in the world I should put my hands when climbing a hill. I found all hand positions terribly awkward to get the right leverage. I had to do the walk of shame up the hill because I just couldn't figure it out! I appreciate your detailed writing about these vintage bikes; I can relate to all your concerns. I wonder, 3 years later, how you feel about this bike now?

  3. Love your blog. I have one in blue! I rescued it from the dump and gave it some TLC and it's looking lovely. It's a pity it doesn't ride as lovely as it looks...