Riding as Ceremony: A Vintage Road Bike is All You Need


Riding as Ceremony: A Vintage Road Bike is All You Need

At some point earlier this year, I came down (again) with the vintage bug. I used to comb swap meets in search of a 58-60cm bike, NOS Campagnolo kits, hard-anodized wheels, and pantographed parts but it has been a while. Perhaps it’s because I feel so inundated with “new” tech announcements claiming “lighter, stiffer, faster, more aero” and at a certain point, it just gets to be too much. In the same way, I enjoy riding a rigid or a hardtail 90% of the time over a full suspension. Recently, I began to feel “tech fatigue” when it comes to drop bar bikes and have been looking at ways to simplify that riding experience…

Although I will give credit where it’s due. The Specialized Aethos got me back out on the road after taking a year+ hiatus. Yes, I reviewed and rode other drop bar bikes, mainly gravel bikes, but I didn’t enjoy riding on the road again until the Aethos. I went over the reasons in the full review, so if you need a refresher, open a new tab and read that first.

Over the past few months, I’ve been sneaking out in the middle of the day on quick pavement rides on this Eddy Merckx Telekom and a few weeks ago it dawned on me: this is all most of us need in a road bike. If you’re not training for crit or stage races, or obsessed with counting grams, or constantly in pursuit of upgrades, then you’re probably like me in that you’d prefer to simply ride up grades like Mr. Eddy Merxkx once said himself.

Road riding is a ceremony when you’re not making it competitive.

Part of that ceremony is requesting a gear change vis a vis indexed downtube shifters. Or perhaps it’s braking with intention and intuition, or as a response to the terrain, rather than braking as a reaction to it. Remember, rim brakes worked just fine for decades before the advent of disc brakes.

The feel of a steel chassis, with standard tubing dimension, lugs, and an elegant steel fork, makes each ride feel like a dance in the hills with a partner. The bike flexes with your input, rather than pushing back on it, something lost in an era of carbon forks on oversized steel tubing diameters. And yes, the 28mm tires absorb the rough asphalt and chip seal. You can even, gasp, ride gravel on these tires.

Of course, the gearing takes some getting used to but with a number of options for wider gear ranges with various freewheels available on the market and any number of front derailleur and crank arm pairings, you can get close to modern gravel gearing with old, forged cranks, and 7-speed derailleurs. Plus, they just look so much better… (sorry for the greasy hand prints!)

I’m not telling you to go buy a vintage bike this year. I’m simply stating my rekindling. It has been five years since I’ve owned a steel Merckx and while I should have included a note in my favorite products of 2021, I wanted to spend some more time writing about it…

Over the next few months, we’ll be diving deeper into vintage tech for modern applications. I’ve got Rons Bikes building a long-reach rim brake “all-road” bike and I just gave Chris Bishop a deposit for a new classic steel “gravel” bike with rim brakes and downtube shifters. While I really enjoy riding, photographing, and talking about modern gravel offerings, there’s something lost in the riding experience, and that ceremonial experience is something I’ve valued more and more in my life right now. Nostalgia? I don’t think so. Zen? Perhaps. Simplicity? Yeah… I think we’re getting closer.

I know some of you feel the same way, so let’s see your vintage rides in the comments!