old peugeot road bike make sense for a beginner
April 21, 2013 5:49 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to get into road cycling, but I cannot afford even the basic entry level bikes (with the Trek 1.1 running at $700 - and the others going on up in price). I found several old Peugeot bikes from the 70s and 80s on Craigslist in my area that are available for under $200. My question is would one of these old high quality bikes work or would I just be riding an albatross (so to speak)? I want to be able to keep up with my buddies if we ride together - so would I be too slow and/or worn out on an older bike? If people in the 70s could bike long distance on these things, why can't we today?
posted by cmp4Meta to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The problem is that I'm guessing most bikes for sale from that era are the equivalents of that Trek 1.1 (it's just a numbers game), which don't age as well as the higher-end stuff, especially considering that folks don't maintain lower-end bikes as well. Plus, everything just wears out. True, you'd be fine with an older frame and newer components, but the new components are probably the bulk of the cost.

If you're sure you want to get into biking, save up and drop the coin for a new bike. If it might be a passing fancy, get a cheap older one. (Note that older bikes these days have a bit of a "vintage tax". They're not as great of a deal as they might have been five years ago.) Whatever you do, don't get a big-box (Wal-Mart or Target) bike. Worst of both worlds.

If it's in good shape, well-maintained (and you're the same), you won't have trouble keeping up with your friends unless they're a lot more experienced, in which case a new bike wouldn't help all that much. In short, if it's half-decent, what you're riding isn't going to make the difference between being able to keep up/go the distance and not.
posted by supercres at 5:58 PM on April 21, 2013

Addendum: if you can set aside $100-200 for new tires, new cables, and a serious tune-up, you'll likely be in great shape on something older. And learn to stay in the right gear; it's harder on downtube shifters, so even more important to going the distance and keeping your knees in good working order.
posted by supercres at 6:01 PM on April 21, 2013

There's no reason you can't ride these with your friends and you may even be faster than some. If the bikes are in good repair, the biggest difference is that newer bikes are going to be much lighter than the 70s bike. That makes it harder to accellerate or climb hills. It will also be less convenient to shift gears in these older bikes.

Supercres has a great point about the "vintage tax." In our area, you can often find a much better deal on 90s or later bikes.
posted by advicepig at 6:01 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

My experience is that the older bikes, though they look awesome, will require maintenance that will meet or exceed the price of a new entry level road bike. Add to that the fact that the bikes will generally be heavier and the parts consisting of older technology.

You may want to move away from the big names and look cheaper new bikes, at least until you (a) decide if you really like road-biking and (b) find things you do and dont like about whatever you purchase.

Have a look at Bike's Direct (http://www.bikesdirect.com/) and see if any of those fit the bill. FYI: I think you have to assemble them (or have them assembled and adjusted), so factor that into the price.

Good luck.
posted by NYC-BB at 6:02 PM on April 21, 2013

Sure, there were excellent bikes made in that time period that would be fine today if they're in good repair. But chances are that the older bikes will need some work, which will require parts that are becoming hard to get. Many components meant for newer bikes simply won't fit older frames, or if they do fit, won't play nice with related older parts. If you are mechanically inclined and have time on your hands, you'll be able to keep a good old bike going indefinitely. If you have to pay other people to fix your machinery, just buy something newish off Craigslist.
posted by jon1270 at 6:03 PM on April 21, 2013

I would have to recommend against BikesDirect unless you're going to spend at least $600-700 and are mechanically inclined to put it together yourself. You're much better off with a $200 used bike and a $200 tuneup/parts replacement than something like... this. That's not a whole lot better than something you'd get from a big box store; "bike-shaped object" by LBS calls them.
posted by supercres at 6:09 PM on April 21, 2013

First, it really depends what your friends are riding. Are they all spandexed up on $4000 road bikes or cruising around the neighborhood on hybrids?

I've had mixed luck with the older Craigslist finds, sometimes it's been difficult to find parts or they had problems I didn't notice at first - it's a bit of luck and maybe not best if you're not ready for a project. You can get a decent new bike for between $400 and $600 (my current commuter is in that range), but what I'd do, as others recommended, is look on Craigslist for a road bike or hybrid that was made in the last 5 years. Judging by my area's CL, there are usually $800+ bikes for $300-400 or even less. I'd also check if your area has a local shop or community repair center that has tuned-up older bikes.

I would also consider borrowing or renting a bike in the short term to get a feel for what you want. Ask your friends / social media if someone has an extra bike in the garage that you can borrow in exchange for a tune up.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:14 PM on April 21, 2013

While I am not an expert, as an older bike owner (and a friend to a few older bike owners) the thing I would look out for is weight. My older bike is *much* heavier than my friends' newer bikes. I don't know if that's universally true but it would be something I'd factor in to my decision-making process.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:16 PM on April 21, 2013

I think it depends what you want to do with it. I prefer old road bikes for city riding, would never buy any other type, and am a little bit at sea bike shopping if I don't know where to snag an old 10 speed from the 80's.

But I'm not sure I'd use such a bike for randonneuring (even casually). And absolutely, if you hope to be competitive rather than just being excited to have ridden a bike a hundred miles, you're going to need something lighter, faster, and more sophisticated.
posted by Sara C. at 6:27 PM on April 21, 2013

And one thing to think of with older French (and European) bikes is the availability of parts. Many of the older bikes have parts that were machined differently and it can be expensive to replace things, which I found out when I got a lovely Raleigh that needed a new bottom bracket.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:28 PM on April 21, 2013

I love Peugeots, I learned to wrench on one and there's one in my family's garage that is one of my father's prized possessions. I would not buy a Peugeot. They are not only outfitted with *very* dated parts for which you need special tools to work with (cottered cranks, for example are a sensational PITA to even re-grease,) they often have FRENCH THREADING which means if anything breaks you are going to have a very, very, very difficult time replacing whatever it was. For $200 - 400 you can scoop up an exceptional early 90s steel race bike -- something you can fix up when necessary, with no extra hassles and still very much a performance machine.
posted by johnnybeggs at 6:30 PM on April 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Again, I wouldn't use an old road bike from the 80's for very long distances or competitive racing, but if all you want is to ride around town with your friends, commute, and maybe do some light touring, you'll be fine. My typical ride is a mid-80's low end 10-speed and I have never needed hundreds of dollars of maintenance on any bike, anytime, for any reason.

Maybe check the tires for dry rot and pay for a shop tune-up? Which might run you $100 at the fanciest shop in a major city? Even so, $300 for a bike that'll take you a hell of a lot of miles over many years (with my above caveats) is a damn good deal.
posted by Sara C. at 6:33 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

It might be too late now, but you can usually get new bikes from the previous year for 30% off or more in January/Feb/March, as bike shops try to unload their floor models and any excess stock they have lying around to make room for the new models.
posted by deathpanels at 6:49 PM on April 21, 2013

The NYC road cycling world is replete with tales of people who turn up to races or competitive group rides on some older rig and dusted everybody. This is an example of the ancient truism "It's not the bike, it's the rider." Assuming you aren't the next Peter Sagan, you should use the best equipment available to you.

The two bits of information I would ask are, 1. What kinds of bike do your friends ride, and 2. What sort of riding are you planning on doing with them.?

If they are on Cervelos and attacking each other up
the local mountains or such, you'll want to start saving up. If they're on Surlys and doing 15 miles to the bakery, you could get an older steel steed.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:52 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

YES! By all means, do it. The advantage to Peugeot is if you can find a carbolite Peugeot frame - they're seriously light for steel. While there's disadvantages (french threading), stuff like shifters, tubes, tires, etc is all standard to normal road bike stuff. New road bike stuff like brifters is great, but that's also VERY expensive to upkeep - 9 speed cassettes START at $50, and they will wear down and need replacement. Integrated shifters go for hundreds.

My first road bike was/is a Peugeot 10-speed, and while I'm a bike mechanic now myself, I put less than $80 into it in its entirety, and that's mostly in orange tires, because, orange tires are awesome.
posted by kpht at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2013

Anything older than about 1988 is going to have inch-sized rims instead of 700cc. THis is going to be a giant pain in the ass, even if you switch over to 700 rims and re-mount the brakes. I gave a friend an old World Sport (great bike, I still ride it in my dreams sometimes) and the rim-size problem alone made it more worth it for him to buy a used, newer bike.

Do any of your friends have an old bike that might fit you?
posted by notsnot at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2013

Best answer: If you're new enough to ask this question, then the old steel-frame bike will be fine. It doesn't matter if all your buddies are carbon-everything A-ride types; you, as a beginning cyclist, will not be able to take advantage of any advances in the last twenty years or so. To quote an old racer: if you could switch bikes with Eddy Merckx, who would you bet on?

That said, you'll probably enjoy an old frame with these parts:
- aero brake levers: these can be recognized by the cable being routed along the handlebars instead of sprouting out the top, and they will give you much more leverage from the hoods
- bar-end shifters with an indexed mode on the rear: these can be recognized by the little levers coming out the ends of your handlebars and a clicking feeling on the rear lever, and they make it much easier and safer to shift, which makes it easier to maintain a good cadence
- aluminum rims: these can be recognized by the duller, non-chromed surface and lighter weight, and they let you brake even when the rims are wet.

After you get it, swap in these parts:
- new brake pads, because those degrade over time. I like Kool-Stop's salmon-colored pads.
- clipless pedals, which let you work much more efficiently. If you don't know about this already, go read online about the importance of foot retention and the difference between toe clips and clipless systems.

I am currently doing NYCC's C-SIG on a 1992 Schwinn Voyageur with a kickstand and a rear rack, and so far I have never been second up any hill where we were allowed to ride our own pace. And one of my fellow SIGgies rides a Trek Madone. Of course, I wouldn't last ten minutes on an A-ride, but I'm not doing A-rides and neither are you.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:42 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

FWIW my uncle, who is 70 years old, is in deep mourning because his 30 year old Peugeot just got lifted. He lives in NYC, he is fucking fit, and he has ridden that bike daily and in annual triathlons that would make most people in this thread cry. There is no reason you won't be able to ride with your friends on a vintage bike.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:42 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have mixed feelings on this. I rode a bike like that for years, and loved the shit out of it. But would I buy one again? Nah.

Id go with the suggestions of bikes direct or a used 80s/90s bike. Get a trek 1200, or an old cannondale road bike, something along those lines.

You don't want a bike that old, even though it looks cool. The main point is that you could spend the same money and get a newer nicer bike since these old bikes are starting to get a serious "chic tax".

I can vouch for the quality of the mercier bikes on BD as well, several friends rode them for ages and then upgraded. I tried them out and they felt solid and awesome. I suspect them being some big name brands frames with different paint on them, just with $30 of margin built in to the price instead of hundreds.

And the mid-late 80s to late 90s road bikes from good brands are amazingly well made. The only thing newer bikes get you is lighter weight by a bit, integrated shifters on the brakes(and some 90s bikes have that), and exotic materials.

The biggest problem I had with my old French bike was parts/maintenance. Even if you get a perfectly tuned up ready to go bike, what happens when someone backs in to it when it's locked up, or wings you on the street and tacos a wheel? Mine was hit while on a transit rack, and I got an insurance check. I couldn't find a comparable rear wheel, and getting a set of two that wasn't shit quality priced out at as much as your entire budget. Tires were way harder to find and the only options were complete Chinese garbage and top of the line. No mid range $25 tires on that bike. The cranks were also damaged later, and replacing the bottom bracket with something French threaded to upgrade from cotter cranks that weren't worth replacing was $$$ if I wanted to.

For about your price, I've gotten several nice early 90s road bikes. They were lighter, more comfortable, funner to ride, and I could slap cheap parts on them all day any time they needed it. They also held up better over time than the French bike, which was never quite 100%.

I just couldn't buy one when there's such a glut of awesome 80s/90s bikes out there on Craigslist for the same money. And bikesdirect would be tempting as well.
posted by emptythought at 8:31 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will just say, as far as maintenance, that my early 80's Japanese road bike is an absolute dream to work on and I have never had any difficulty finding parts for it. I have heard that European bikes from the same era can be a pain in the butt to get parts for, but that has not been my experience with my old Fuji. It's always been very reliable and easy to maintain, and learning to work on it has been a real joy over the years. I can't speak to whether or not something like that would be suitable for your needs (it's not really clear from your question what you want to do; "road cycling" is a pretty broad topic) but I've done thousands of miles of commuting and around-town riding on it over the years and it's always served me well.
posted by Scientist at 8:41 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

i do this all the time and currently am riding one of two modified two schwinn le tours. but as someone upthread indicated buying the bike was only the beginning. in order to make ride ready i have to sink about 200-300 in parts. that's parts only--i do all my own installation and maintenance so i have no labor costs.

most older used bikes have 27 inch wheels which should be swapped out for 700cs, plus new tires. that's usually about $150 right there. in addition other parts will often need to be replaced--bottom brackets are often rusted or bent, chains need to be replaced and the derailer is pretty crappy.

if you knew a lot about bike maintenance you wouldn't even bother asking this question. there's nothing wrong in diving into it but it'll take a while before you get good enough to be satisfied with your ride. and that $100 dollar bike ends up costing you $3-400. if you don't want to get into repairing bikes go ahead and spend the money up front at a local bike shop. if you do that you'll spend a lot more time riding and less time fixing up.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:59 PM on April 21, 2013

Thirding do not buy an old French bike. I bought one for $100 which soon needed a new bottom bracket. Parts are so hard to find that it's not even worth replacing.

You can definitely get a newer used road bike that takes standard parts in that range. I wouldn't spend a lot of money on it BC if you really get in to biking you'll end up replacing most of the parts anyway.
posted by hamsterdam at 9:11 PM on April 21, 2013

THis is going to be a giant pain in the ass,

Rim size has never been a problem for me. I have fixed flats and replaced tires with no problems, ever.

I suppose it's true that if your plan is to buy an old bike that needs a lot of work and completely rebuild it with new components, rim size might make life complicated.

But if your plan is to buy an old bike that is in good working order and just ride it, whatever rims it came with are fine.
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 PM on April 21, 2013

Can you keep up with your buddies?

If your buddies are serious cyclists riding nice bikes, probably not.

I have a heavy, old french bike. (A Gitane, not a Peugot). It weighs a fucking ton, and I think hauling that thing up hills has made me a better cyclist. But I don't even want to think about joining group rides with people who have clipless pedals and lighter, new bikes - I would get my ass handed to me super duper fast.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:01 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing the warning against some of the older Peugeots with French threading. Talk to someone who bought one (not the person selling it).

I do like old steel bikes. I commute to work (only 3 miles in each direction) on a mid-70s Raleigh that I bought about a year ago for $200. I have spent a few hundred on it over the last year. If I wasn't commuting, it might have been less (ie I wouldn't have gotten fenders). However, even without the fenders and rack and lights, it's still *much* heavier than my 10-year old Specialized Allez Elite. It's plenty comfortable enough to ride longer distances, but I wouldn't want to go on long road rides with folks on light bikes.

If you're new to cycling and not otherwise in great shape, you might find it hard to keep up.

I have a few suggestions: even if you can't afford those entry level bikes, go ride a few, just to see. Also, ride a few of the older steel bikes to see how different they feel.

Finally, I can't imagine anything your cycling buddies would like more than to help a friend get a new bike. They might have one you can borrow, or they might be able to round up someone else's, for a few rides. And they will probably totally dork out with on looking through Craigslist ads. I'm not really in the market for a bike right now, but it'd be almost as exciting if a friend was.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:50 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a low end Japanese racing bike from the 1980s. I have a low-end hybrid bike from the mid-2000s. Both excellently maintained. At my level - occasional distance rider - then only advantages the newer bike gives me are: 1) index shifting, so I rarely miss a gear, and 2) a lighter frame. The weight difference is really nothing at my level. Pretty sure I'd ride 40 miles at the same average speed on either bike.

An old bike in good shape will be fine.
posted by zippy at 11:14 PM on April 21, 2013

I am carrying a few extra pounds. I do not have the lightest, fastest bike. It is a hybrid, because when I bought it most of my cycling was cycle commuting. Since then, I've done a 300 mile ride (over 3 days) and sportives. I am not the fastest cyclist, but I haven't been embarrassed on sportives either. One day, I'll get a better bike. But the simplest path to carrying less weight is to lose it myself, not to reason that shaving weight off the bike is where the issue is.

It really depends on how serious your buddies are. I believe the entry level for club cycling here in the UK is being able to ride at 12mph over the course of 60 miles or so. For that, you don't need a top notch bike. You need a reasonable level of fitness and a decent bike.

What you do find with cyclists is that people trade up and double up, which means there is a ready market in bikes that have been loved by their owners until they decided to buy a newer bike. I'd go look for those, and I'd start by contacting your local cycle clubs and seeing who is interested. You'll get a lot of fluff about how a bike was $xxxx retail when new, but somewhere along the line you'll find a good entry level bike someone no longer needs, which they have maintained, and which will be cheaper than new bikes of equivalent quality retail.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:12 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I owned an entry-level Gitane in the early '70s, and lusted after the Peugeot PX-10, which in its day was a very nice bike. You don't want either of these, not on your budget:

- the entry level bikes were TANKS by comparison to today's bikes - heavy, low-alloy steel frames, steel rims, relatively fat tires.
- as everybody above has said, their parts aren't interchangeable with anything but another vintage French bike. Even French components (maillard freewheels, for example) that turn up on ebay are more likely to be English threaded.
- the components were amazingly poor by today's standards - the Simplex rear derailleur, for example, was made of molded plastic, flexed like you wouldn't believe, and wore out quickly.

Now, the PX-10 was a different story - nice quality butted frame, better brakes & components. But - and this is a big "but" - sew-up tires. You will either pay the cost of the bike in replacement tires in your first year, or you'll have to build a new set of wheels. That said, this could be a nice project, along the lines of restoring a vintage MG or a Vincent Black Lightning.
posted by mr vino at 4:39 AM on April 22, 2013

johnnybeggs: "They are not only outfitted with *very* dated parts for which you need special tools to work with (cottered cranks, for example are a sensational PITA to even re-grease,) they often have FRENCH THREADING..."

By the mid-to-late '80s this was no longer true (apart from Peugeot's attachment to Helicomatic freewheels... but the Helico tool doubles as a bottle opener!) 1986 and later Peugeots used standard parts, mostly FAG bearings and Shimano and Suntour components. I worked in a Peugeot shop from 1986-1989 and we only encountered cotter pins and French threads on old bikes.
posted by workerant at 5:05 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can find one that's made from 531 tubing or similar, then go for it - these will be good-quality lightweight frames.
Avoid any Carbolite models - these were low-end entry-level bikes. Seat-posts from low-end Pugs are notoriously hard to replace too, thanks to their abnormally small diameter of ~24mm.
posted by anagrama at 5:18 AM on April 22, 2013

For what it's worth, I've seen signs in two different local bike shops stating that they will not work on Walmart or "Internet" bikes - I take that to mean models known to be sold on BikesDirect or sites like it.

The reasoning behind Walmart bikes are obvious - those things are deathtraps and for liability reasons I wouldn't want to be the last person to have worked on it before it fell apart underneath you. I don't know if it's the same reason for the BikesDirect bikes, or if it's just sour grapes - but in either case, it may make it difficult for you to get service on your new ride.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:06 AM on April 22, 2013

When I got back into road biking, I spent a whopping $20 on a road bike at a garage sale, a mid '80s Univega with the casting flash still on the tires. I ended up spending about a hundred bucks more in tweaks (a large portion of that on new handlebars that had the more modern less curved shape on the "down" portion), and then put over two thousand miles on it before I broke down and bought a tricked out Cannondale with Dura Ace components.

I live in a very affluent area of the country, when people show up to club rides with downtube shifters, I know it's gonna be a leg burner, because these people have been riding since the dawn of time and are fit.

When you move from the old components to the modern shifters, you'll be amazed, but: yes, this is a totally reasonable path to take. I promised myself I wouldn't buy a new bike 'til I could pull a 20 mile loop near my house in under an hour, and in the process of getting there would ride in pacelines full of multi-thousand dollar carbon fiber wonder devices, and the lack of brifters in a paceline was kinda clunky, but other than that...
posted by straw at 6:48 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work in a bike shop and once a week someone brings in an old Peugeot, Mercier, LeTour, Panasonic, Univega, etc. that they picked up on Craigslist. Sometimes they're in great condition and don't need a damn thing. Sometimes they're a hot mess.

You can absolutely get a great bike for your budget on CL, but you're going to have to be patient and you need to know what you're looking at. Rust is bad, but not a killer. Cracks are a killer. Look for hairline cracks around the bottom bracket area, especially where the chain stays join the bottom bracket shell. Sometimes you don't see these cracks until the frame is flexed a little.

The most common issue I see with these bikes is loose hubs. Riding on a loose hub will kill it. Riding on an overly-tight hub will kill it. Hubs need to be precision adjusted, and we can do it quickly with our tools at the shop. You can do it at home as well, but you need to know what you're doing. The next thing we notice a lot is loose cranks on the bottom bracket spindle. Riding on a square-taper spindle with loose cranks, even for a very short distance, basically kills that spindle/crank interface, and both need to be replaced, or they'll loosen up over time.

Chains can be replaced quickly and easily, and can be inexpensive. Multi-speed freewheels (the gears in the back) are very easy to replace, but finding a 5-speed can be a little difficult sometims. 6 and 7 speed freewheels are pretty easy to source. Rear derailleurs are also pretty easy to find that will work, especially if you're shifting in friction mode and not indexed mode. Front derailleurs can be a little harder to source but usually they're fine.

Someone mentioned swapping out 27" wheels for 700c wheels. A lot of older bikes have steel rims in 27" size, which has horrible braking performance when wet. 27" tire selection is also somewhat limited. Swapping to 700c wheels would give you unlimited tire selection and a good, new braking surface. I'm not saying you can't find 27" tires, I'm just saying there aren't as many. 27" and 700c tubes are interchangeable, but 27" and 700c tires are not. Look for corrosion on the spoke nipples. A little rust is ok, but corrosion is not. Look for tiny tiny cracks on the rims near each spoke hole.

Cables and housing probably need to be replaced. There's a right way and a wrong way to do it, and doing it wrong has a pretty big impact on performance. The bars probably need to be wrapped. You can do that yourself with some patience. Use some nice tape that feels good to you, since you're going to be touching it 100% of the time you're riding the bike.

Pedals are usually ok. If not, they're easy to replace and don't have to be that expensive. You want it to spin smoothly (shouldn't feel crunchy). They shouldn't rock up and down or side to side. Same with the cranks. Same with the bars. Same with the wheels.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:25 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Bike Boom bikes (70's and early '80s, when mountain biking became a thing) are beautiful and awesome and I've owned a few. Good examples are probably out of your price range, as they are in hot demand by bicycle enthusiasts, of which there are a good number ever since gas crept above three bucks a gallon.

Parts since the '70s right up until today are largely standardized, and found cheap on the internet and in bike store bargain bins, and new reproduction parts are available in the highest quality (and in the cheapest quality if you're strapped for cash).

This can be an expensive and time consuming hobby. Unless you're buying a restored bike or a bike to restore, maintenance and repair is going be an issue. It's gonna need a lot of it until you get it back in shape... this is a 35 year old bicycle, remember!

A better bet would be the alloy bikes of the 90's and early aughts. These are generally available in your price range, in good repair and tune from your local bike shop's used bike selection. After a few years of training, you may develop the sensitivity and nuance required to tell an alloy from a steel from a fiber framset... getting started, you won't be able to tell the difference.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2013

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