Wednesday, January 28, 2009

meant to be used

Last week I noticed that my Simplex B & B front derailleur, after ten years on my bike, had cracked at the clamp. Not sure how long it had been that way, but knowing I needed to replace it, I began scrounging around in my stash of bike parts until I found its replacement.

I'd obtained an even older Simplex Super LJ derailleur about a year and a half ago and stored it away in anticipation of this event. Last night I made the swap, and rode home with the new dearilleur secured to my bike. It worked fine and I was happy.

(Side Note One: All bike mechanics have a private stash of parts. The variety and generation depends largely on the generation of that mechanic and the beginning of his/her serious technical interest in bicycles. Most of my parts, for example, reflect a mid- to late-1970's sensibility; while a younger mechanic might have a collection of early-generation mountain bike parts. Most of us keep a small supply on hand with which to repair our own bikes, and perhaps family members' bikes as well. We also tend to hoard parts if we know it will be difficult to replace a part we particularly like. For example, I have this wacky thing for Suntour Power-Ratchet stem shifters, and I have five sets in my parts box. Since there's not much call for this component I don't feel especially guilty for hoarding five sets. If it were something rarer and more in demand -- like 1970's-era Campy Record derailleurs -- my level of guilt might increase, at least a little.)

Because Simplex is a company that no longer exists and whose components are of historical interest to bike tech freaks, I posted photos of the repair on my Flickr page.

Within hours of posting the photos, I received an email to my Flickr box from a fellow who scolded me for using such a rare and valuable component on my bike. "You should remove that part immediately and either store it, or put it on ebay. In fact, if you want I'd make you an offer for it that I suspect would be far more than you paid for it."

Well, he was right. I'd paid only ten bucks for the derailleur, because it came into the shop as part of a large lot of used parts, and I'd bought it with my worker discount. As for storing it, well, I'd already DONE that for a year and a half; now that I needed it, it was there for me. I figured my mission had been accomplished.

(Side Note Two: when I first started working in the bike shop where I remain employed today, we kept a large case of vintage bike parts on display. We mostly kept the nice stuff in there, like early Dura-Ace and Campy. A couple of times a year, a Japanese businssman would come through town, and he'd call ahead to see if our case was full. It usually was. He'd swing by an hour or so later, and proceed to virtually clean us out. We'd be several hundred dollars richer and he'd walk out with a box of fancy old bike parts. This had gone on for a few years by the time I was hired.

One day we asked him where all those bike parts were going. He replied, "I take them back to Tokyo, have my doctor friend clean them in a sonic cleaner, and then I put them on display in one of the glass showcases in my office lobby."

We were dumbfounded. The guy was buying up all these parts and then just sitting on them? "Don't you ever use any of them on a bike?" I asked politely.

The businessman shook his head emphatically. "Oh, no," he said. "These are special parts that are no longer being made. They are status symbols in Japan. To use them on a bike would be to destroy them." Seeing that we were still confused, he added, "I and my friends are great lovers of bicycles, and we collect and trade these parts with each other to complete full component sets."
I imagined twenty such offices in high-rise towers throughout Tokyo, filled with gleaming, restored Campagnolo parts that would never go outside again.

We thanked the man for his business. He loaded the box of vintage parts into his rental car and drove away. We decided then and there that we would never again allow him to clean out our case. We'd rather sell at least some of those old parts to people whose old bikes actually needed them to keep going. When he called us the following year, we lied and told him there hadn't been much to come in lately. He was surprised but accepted our story. Seven months later, he called and one of my co-workers did the same thing. He must have gotten the message because I'm told he never called or came by again. But by then, Ebay had begun to siphon off the supply of good, older bike parts from the shops.

Within a year of that man's last phone call to us, we'd noticed a real falling-off of higher-quality used parts and frames coming into the shop. The genie had been let out of the lamp and could never go back; people began to perceive that their stuff was worth far more than shops had traditionally paid out, the parts began appearing on Ebay and Craigslist more frequently. That was pretty much the end of the "innocent" age. Unfortunately, it was also the end of being able to easily find old parts that fit older bikes, and our vintage parts case has never been quite as full since then.)

I wrote back to the fellow who'd emailed about my derailleur swap. I thanked him for his advice and his interest, but explained that I bought that derailleur with the intention of using it, as I feel that bike parts were meant to be used on bikes. I planned to ride with that derailleur until it crapped out, and would not feel a shred of guilt at the idea.

I haven't heard back from him and I suspect he thinks I'm nuts. That's okay by me.


Emily said...

I'm still sad that my dad has never repaired his magnesium crankcase 0.15 cubic inch engine. He used it a lot when I was very small, and it had some minor parts break. It's not a horribly hard fix, since Henry the friend who made it still makes engines and would be happy to see it run again.

I suspect the guy who contacted you wouldn't understand *that* either. And all the explanations about power to weight ratio, precision engineering and how sad the bustedness makes Henry will not get through to him.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! To ride it, is to truly appreciate it.

lynnef said...

exactly right.

Anonymous said...

I'd be more motivated to pull things from my parts box and sell them if I knew that someone really needed part X and would start using it immediately. I wonder if there's a low key non-ebay way to arrange this kind of marketplace online. It happens to some extent on the ibob list, but you have to sift through a lot of other stuff as well.

Anonymous said...

It's probably a good thing that there are museums in the world, and their job is to preserve examples of this sort of thing for future generations. If you're not running a museum, that's not your job. Not every classic item needs to be preserved, and if they were, the world would be completely clogged up with untouchable preserved items. Old stuff is a joy to use, and it feels better when it's being used, too. Really, it does. I been using old stuff whenever I can for a long time now, and I asked. Val

beth h said...

That's the problem, "anon". You just can't be sure whether you're selling the part to someone who needs it for a bike, or to someone who'll stick in a glass case at the office. Crazy world, I tell ya.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer for this. It sounds as though the Japanese guy really appreciated the parts for what they were and what they represented. It sounds as though some here appreciate the utility of the parts.

I have one bike from which I've save most of the original worn out parts as I replaced them. A headset badly brinneled. Bent derailer. Bottom bracket so badly rusted I broke my wrench trying to remove it. They have no use. I just appreciate them. Live and let live.

Tim said...

I'm with you Beth! Sure, it's probably a good thing that someone out there is preserving SOME of these things, but they were made to be ridden!

Anonymous said...

Great article on using old parts. Good for you to actually put the FD on a bike & use it. I've got a whole bunch of old stuff I inherited from a friend that's gradually finding homes. One of my requirements is that it go on a bike & not just complete a collection (not that much of it is "collectible"). It's OK for bikes (and other things too) to look good but they are meant to be used & enjoyed.
Enjoy the ride.

dougP (from the RBW group)

David said...

I think I have a similar facination with Suntour ratchet stem-shifters. Are you talking about the really long ones with the large barrel-diameter. What the hell are we going to do with those?

beth h said...

Well, I've got a set of stem-mount Power Ratchets on my road bike right now, and they work just GREAT. Plus, I know how to open them up and replace the internal spring when it's shot (yet another useless thing I learned during my apprentice days).

Anonymous said...

I have a few old parts that I like to display, but all are well used, and most of them were used by me! I started doing this a decade or so ago when I realized that the derailleurs from old bikes that I owned, or used to own that I kept stashed in my tool box were kind of fun to look at! I do think that hording new-in-the box parts for display only is a waste!