Vintage Bikes

200 years after its invention, the bike is experiencing a boom. Vintage road bikes are now hot property, and the passion for cycling is catching on.

Fahrrad, Fahrräder

Even Tuscany’s most beautiful routes, the Strade Bianche, are taxing rides. Photo: Dan Zoubek

Saturday morning in the center of Berlin. Two men in their forties, accompanied by their girlfriends, peer through the window and enter the somewhat peculiar coffee shop. Aside from the fresh coffee from the polished portafilter machine, everything in here revolves around bicycles. Vintage road bikes, to be precise. “Classic racing bikes and good coffee belong together, in my opinion,” states Alex Bisaliev, the founder of Steel Vintage Bikes. He and his team sell restored bikes
to Berlin trendsetters, and the rest of the world via their online store

Cycling is booming in Berlin, as is the associated business. If you’re looking for evidence of this upturn in the fortunes of the ‘pushy’, look no further than the recent petition for a bicycle traffic act, which gained over 100,000 signatures in Germany. Signatories demand more consideration and rights for cyclists. Practical and enjoyable simultaneously, chic older racing bikes are the choice of more and more people in the German capital. Retro and vintage are ‘in.’ As a result, many young (and youngat-heart) Berliners are dusting off their forebears’ bikes from basements around the city.

Or they invest in a new ‘antique’ classic – and investments they are, as Bisaliev and his crew know. The owners of this hip cycling café have specialized in the restoration and sale of such old gems. Better-known racing bikes often carry fourdigit price tags. For especially coveted treasures, 5,000, 6,000 and more euros are not uncommon. Customers include trendy Berlin riders, lawyers from Italy, managers from China, a Taiwanese popstar, collectors from Vietnam and Mongolia. Oh, and Sir Bradley Wiggins – 2012 Tour de France winner and five time Olympic gold medalist. “There are now a lot more collectors interested in original vintage bikes,” reveals Alex Bisaliev, who began restoring old steel road bikes in his student flat in Freiburg five years ago. “The collectors see the bikes as investments that can also be ridden and enjoyed.” At special auctions, collectors bid eye-watering sums for bikes that end up as wall decorations for luxury lofts in Manhattan or Tokyo.

Of course, these historic bikes can – and indeed want to – be ridden. And they are, not just for the daily commute in the trendy cities of our world, but also at dedicated vintage bike events. Here are more and more of these events across Europe. The biggest and most renowned event takes place each year in Tuscany at the beginning of October. At L’Eroica, thousands of woolen-jerseyed cyclists clamber take to the white gravel roads – the Strade Bianche – on their trusty steeds. Including the manager from San Francisco, who took his 1980s Colnago Master off the apartment wall and brought it on the twelve hour flight to Europe especially for the event. “This event, the atmosphere is so great and so unique – I just had to be here,” he enthuses, as he fortifies himself with white bread, olive oil City life Dedication and a passion for detail isn’t just reflected in the furnishing of Steel Vintage Bikes, but in their care for the trusty steeds too and hard cheese at one of the tour’s feeding stations. Washing it down with a swig of Chianti, he hops back into the saddle. A worthy celebration for the 200th anniversary of the bicycle, in all its beauty. Karl Drais would rejoice.

Steel Vintage Bikes Berlin

Dedication and a passion for detail isn’t just reflected in the furnishing of Steel Vintage Bikes, but in their care for the trusty steeds too. Photo: Dan Zoubek

The Mecca of Cycling

But it isn’t just an increase in vintage bicycles in Berlin. That is just part of a more general trend in the German capital. The bicycle is edging closer and closer to dethroning the car as the number one form of transport in the city. Berlin’s role model? Copenhagen. At the end of last year, more than 265,700 bikes were rolling around the city – for the first time, more than the total number of cars. Almost exactly 200 years after Karl Freiherr von Drais started the success story that is the bicycle with his velocipede, his creation overtook the motorcar in Copenhagen. In doing so, the Danish capital underlined its reputation as the world’s cycling capital. Many cities around the planet wish to emulate the Northern European city. There is even a verb to describe the process of making a city more bicyclefriendly – to copenhagenize.

The advantages of switching from car to bike are manifold – roads are relieved of traffic, with bicycles also having a far lower impact on the surface than motor vehicles. That benefits both drivers’ wits and cities’ budgets, as less needs to be invested in road repairs. Simultaneously, people get fitter and healthier through the regular activity. Almost as side-effects, pollution and land demand in the city also fall.

Copenhagen’s place at the top of the ladder of cycle-friendly cities is all thanks to decades of rigorous planning to the benefit of cyclists. New, broader cycle paths were built, and in certain cases entirely removed from motor traffic. Special bike bridges and tunnels developed across the city. Cycle-friendly traffic lights cater for almost uninterrupted journeys. The number of bicycle hire stations also make the bicycle accessible any time, anywhere, and for virtually anybody.

Called a ‘Dutch bike’ for a reason

Copenhagen is not alone, and hasn’t been for some time. Many other cities are also getting in on the act. At the forefront of the competition is the Netherlands. In the so-called Copenhagenize-Index of the world’s most cycle-friendly cities, Amsterdam and Utrecht occupy second and third place behind Copenhagen. Eindhoven isn’t far behind in fifth place. “We are a nation of cyclists,” explains Ivan Marijnissen. In his job as a DEKRA damage expert, he must often deal with bicycles, such as when evaluating damage to vehicles in traffic accidents or checking that roadworks are being carried out in the proper fashion.

Fahrrad, Fahrräder

Steel racing bikes are part of a growing lifestyle in which enjoyment also plays a key role. Photo: Dan Zoubek

Of course, the man from the Netherlands’ South is himself no stranger to a bike – whether off to a friend’s house or heading out for groceries, the bike is his first choice. Lots has been done, he explains. “We have so many brilliant cycle paths, as well as well-thought out route planning. Both combine to provide a great – and safe – experience,” he enthuses. “Despite this, it is still necessary to stay alert and pay attention to possibly inattentive car drivers,” explains Marijnissen. The advantages outweigh the risk by far though. “It’s quicker and more relaxing to get into the city by bike than with a car – with the latter you just end up becoming part of one gigantic traffic jam,” he says. The DEKRA expert ascribes a large part of the current success story to the dawn of the e-bike. “They are now very widespread. Especially for older people, that added support from the motor is very practical. And with the faster speed-pedelecs, large distances can be covered in little time,” says Marijnissen.

Back in Berlin, Alex Bisaliev leans back in his chair, sips at his cappuccino and looks forward to jumping on his own bike once again. Open on Saturday, closed on Sunday – finally time for a tour of his own. He’ll be climbing into the saddle of his favorite ‘roadie’ – a 1960s Paupitz. A Berlin original, in Berlin. He puts down his cup and surveys the gleaming bikes positioned around his café. “My whole life revolves around these beautiful machines now.”

Author: Felix Krakow

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