Vintage bikes are typically defined as bikes that were produced between the 1920s and the 1990s, although the earlier date is open to debate. Mostly they are bicycles that have been made by hand and constructed with steel. In the past, steel was widely regarded as the best material for bicycle manufacture as it was considered the most responsive, hard-wearing and versatile material that was readily available.
There are, of course, bikes that out-date vintage bicycles; often referred to as antique bikes, these will be even older and come from before the 1920s. Some of these antiques can still be ridden, but because of their age, they will serve you far better as being a collectible item that you leave out on display. The difference between a vintage bike and an antique bike is that a vintage bike can still be used frequently, provided they are in good condition on purchase and are cared for once you own them.
Many of the companies that operated between the 1920s and 1990s are still producing bikes today. Lots of modern companies, founded outside of this era, are looking back to the golden age of racing bikes for inspiration for models. These modern reproductions are referred to as retro bikes, they may look like a vintage bike, but they will be kitted out with modern componentry and won’t provide the same level of joy as sharing someone else’s piece of history.
A beautiful example of a retro bike: the Bottecchia Leggendaria. It has the classy style of a vintage bike but has been constructed with modern parts.
There is nothing quite like the connection between you and the road as you get from riding a steel vintage bike. Steel is such a forgiving material and is not only capable of surviving the test of time, it also provides one of the most comfortable rides you can get.
Bumps or abrasions on road surfaces are met with ease on steel vintage frames, making a steel vintage bike a great choice as a commuter bike or a leisure bike for weekend rides. Vintage bikes with steel frames can weigh less than 8kg! Although steel is considered a heavy alloy, in bicycle manufacturing it provides a great balance between strength, durability and weight - and if your bike is your prized possession and you want to display it in your house, it won’t pull a wall down!
Here is a spectacular example of a Colnago. On show here is the Colnago Mexico TT from 1981, which was similar to the one used by the USSR Olympic team in the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow.
Founded in: 1985
From: Milan, Italy
About Bianchi: One of the oldest bicycle manufacturers. The first brand to introduce equal-sized pneumatic wheels.
Reasons to love Bianchi: High-quality Italian pioneers - many famous riders succeeded on Bianchi bikes in the 19th Century.
Recognisable by: Signature ‘Celeste’ colourway featuring somewhere on the bike, said to represent the colour of the Milan sky.
Founded in: 1952
From: Cambiago, Italy
About Colnago: Founder Ernesto Colnago was a medical equipment engineer who pursued bicycle manufacture after an injury ended his own racing career.
Reasons to love Colnago: Ernesto was a mechanic as well as a manufacturer and assisted many champions, such as Merckx and Masi.
Recognisable by: Their logo is something similar to the ‘clubs’ symbol from a deck of cards.
About Eddy Merckx: Founded by one of the greatest cyclists of all time: Eddy Merckx after his retirement.
Reasons to love Eddy Merckx: The bikes have been deemed worthy of use by a true champion of the sport.
Recognisable by: Merckx’s initials blend together to produce a cyclist for their logo.
Founded in: 1953
About De Rosa: Before entering into frame manufacture, Ugo de Rosa, the founder, was an amateur racer but wasn’t satisfied by merely racing so created his own business.
Reasons to love Eddy Merckx: De Rosa teamed up with many champions throughout the years, proving just how well-built and reliable his bikes are.
Recognisable by: The De Rosa logo is a heart, either featuring in the ‘o’ of Rosa, or around the ‘D’.
Founded in: 1882
From: Mandeure, France
About De Rosa: Founded before the car side of the business, Peugeot was a trusted and sturdy European brand manufacturing high-quality bicycles.
Reasons to love Eddy Merckx: Peugeot supported mainly French manufacturers of componentry even though the market was broadly dominated by Campagnolo.
Recognisable by: Featuring a pouncing lion on most items they produce, they also enjoy a black and white checkerboard design.
Founded in: 1948
From: Turin, Italy
About De Rosa: A father-son business that gained notoriety in the 1970s after many successful years of professional racing.
Reasons to love Eddy Merckx: One of the most distinctive brands that will sell you a bike in any colour you want, as long as it is blue!
Recognisable by: The Gios bright blue comes from a partnership with Brooklyn chewing gum in 1972, and since then the colour has remained.
Some of the most famous vintage bike brands
Nevertheless, there are many more classic vintage brands out there that are excellent too!
How much is a vintage bike worth?
Vintage bikes can vary greatly in price, but that depends on how many of the bullet points above are met. For example, a bike that meets all the criteria could cost in excess of €30,000. Normally though vintage bikes will cost between €2,000 and €10,000 - but you may also be able to find less costly bikes for around €1,000.
However, if you’re extremely lucky, you might be able to source a gem for around €400-€500, these bikes would have been made for comfort and city traveling as opposed to speed. Often, they will be referred to as Mixte or Sport Bikes and provide an interesting and reliable alternative to a more expensive vintage road bike.