Friday, May 24, 2024

The 1980s are forty years old

Earlier this week, I did two things:

1. I invited a local vintage bike retailer to come by and pick through my large stack of tools and parts and buy what she wanted.

I brought out the stuff I was ready to part with and invited her to sift through it, then make a pile and we’d discuss price. As she sifted through my stuff, she selected a rather large pile of things and then made a lowball offer. I said she’d need to pay considerably more for everything she wanted, especially since a lot of it was in good shape and still very usable — and we both knew she’d flip the most vintage pieces at a premium on her retail web site.

She sighed, and made the pile smaller. I then told her what I wanted, and she said, “you’ve got a lot of low-end stuff here.” 

“Maybe low-end by today’s standards,” I responded, “but most of these components can be disassembled and overhauled, and that makes them worth more.”

We finally agreed on a price where neither of us was ecstatic, but I think I came away happier than she did. I won’t sell to her again. And I fully expect to see some of my bits for sale on her web site and fairly high prices. 

After all, someone out there thinks this saddle is worth four figures. 

It’s a bicycle saddle. A thing you sit on while you ride. I love Daniel Rebour’s art, but I honestly don’t care if his signature shows up on something no one can see while riding. Plus, he’s been dead for over forty years.

2. I sorted through a great deal of what was left, putting it into multiple boxes. I pulled out a few pieces I wasn’t yet ready to part with. I loaded the rest not two trips with a wheelbarrow, walked the lot around the corner and deposited it in a neat pile at a public section of curbside. Then, I went home and advertised it on my Buy Nothing network with a general location. Within the hour, people came over and helped themselves to whatever they wanted. Four hours later, the six boxes had shrunk to three. I expect much of the rest of it to disappear over the holiday weekend.

I’m fine with that. Because I have to be.

The truth is that the used bike market has seriously slumped since COVID. Point of fact, it probably began slumping before then, but the bottom fell out after 2020. 

Thanks to a ferocious return to automotive travel in cities across the country and a priority given to repairing and spending car-centric infrastructure, a lot of transportational bicyclists are simply not riding as much as they used to. 

Add to the mix the demographic shift — lots of people used to ride more regularly have aged and are riding less, and a lot of younger bicyclists with money would rather pay someone else to fix their bicycles. 

Finally, blame the bicycle industry, which has embraced e-bikes and higher-end, purpose-driven performance bikes, and which has discontinued more and more lower-end parts that work across branded and models when used in pure friction mode. The last thing today’s bicycle industry wants are bicycles that can be kept going way home-based repairs and repairable parts. They are trying to sell new stuff. This has been the reality since I was an inventory manager for my shop, and it’s only gotten worse.

So yeah, if you’re looking at that pile through the lens of high-end collectors who want Campy (and those guys will always want vintage Campy), or through the lens of people who’d rather not get their hands dirty, well then yeah, all the parts I’ve saved up over the years are probably “lower end” parts.

But there’s a whole subgroup of bicycle enthusiasts out there who still ride $200 bikes and fix those bikes themselves, these parts will be a goldmine. I won’t make any money off them now, but I can set them free and someone else will find them useful. 

I still have a few things I’ll hang onto until I absolutely cannot make a single repair on my own bikes anymore.

The bicycle industry as the tech bros, carbon-fiber babies and “gravel” riders with five percent body fat have reimagined it in 2024 is not green, not sustainable and not terribly welcoming to lower-income riders. So here’s a nice big middle finger for you. I do not miss working in the industry at all, and I am fiddling while bicycle Rome burns.  If and when things truly go south, I will wonder if you kids can scare up enough carbon-fiber bits and e-bike batteries to keep going. I strongly suspect that there will be folks who will regret once telling me not to help keep the older bikes going when I should’ve sold new stuff.

I’m not sorry.

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