New bikes are tempting. But some steel road bikes from the 80’s are pretty sweet.

When does it make sense to buy the new bike?

Ask Levi: New Bike, Or Ride My Lotus Excelle from 1986?

Today’s question is about the downsides of sticking with a classic bike like a 1986 Lotus Excelle when getting into faster group rides that involve pacelines with riders on new bikes…

Hey Coach,

I’m in good shape at 60, & very recently rediscovered my 10 speed Lotus Excelle racing bike from 1986, my local bike shop put on new 27 x 1-1/4″ tires, and now I am currently riding solo for an hour a couple of times a week on a 3 mile oval to just get used to shifting gears, etc., and I ride weekly with local bike shop 13 mile flat/rolling rides (1 hr.)

Beginning next spring, I seek to participate in any of the plentiful rides sponsored by local bike clubs, all levels (but most of the guided rides are in the 15 mph range/ 30 miles, too much for me now). I’m told by the membership guy at one of the local bike clubs that with the new bike technology, the club rides over the past decade have just been getting longer and faster, and that I will have to consider an upgrade of bikes if I’m going to pursue riding…

But since I’ve only begun riding (I have lived in an urban area outside of NYC since I bought that Lotus and have to put the bike in the car for an 8 mile ride to get to points suitable for starting a ride… so I’ve rarely rode the bike) I’m not about to invest in equipment or clothes until I’m convinced I will continue to ride.

But I can see, while on my solo practice rides at a local popular 3 mile oval as well as the bike shop rides I have participated in, that while I’m on rolling descending hills, I can’t keep up cadence, there are only 6 gears in rear, and that I get passed by bikers who keep their cadence and really fly away from me, I could see how I could be a “problem” in a paceline at 14/15 mph rides…

in your opinion, what are the downsides, in terms of paceline rides, to my keeping the Lotus? (I’ll get to my 3 speed Rudge from 1960 another time)

Thanks,
Louis Lotus

Hey Louis,

I think it’s great you’re getting back into riding on a nice classic Lotus, not to mention getting in on the group rides where people are probably riding expensive, super light bikes.

I’m the last person to recommend a new bike in situations like this, so I would recommend keeping the Lotus. I’ll admit that a new bike would probably be lighter, feel better, and give you a more comfortable ride, but that doesn’t mean it will solve all your problems.

I also bet you have room to improve your cycling fitness, considering you “very recently” got back to riding. Especially if you’re in good shape otherwise, just give yourself some time to adapt to riding, and I bet you’ll speed up a little bit on your own. It can also take months or years to get comfortable at a variety of cadences, so cut yourself some slack – efficient riding takes a high amount of skill.

lotus excelle 10 speed road bike

So here’s the downside as I see it… You have 6 gears, compared to the 9 or 10 cog choices you’d have on a new bike. As you noticed, you’ll have less options to find a comfortable cadence for any given situation. One gear might be a little high, but if you shift, the next lower gear might be a little low. This means you’ll have to get used to sometimes pedaling faster than you want and sometimes pushing harder than you want, in order to maintain a certain speed in a paceline. This should become less of a problem over time, though.

There are probably some other little problems if you want to nit-pick. The downtube shifters, for example – it will take you a little longer to shift than someone who has shift levers at their fingertips at all times.

Now, let’s talk about descending these rolling hills.

You’re spinning out your highest gear on descents when people pass you, so the issue is your top speed. That can be part low gearing, part not being used to spinning the pedals at 120rpm, and part aerodynamics and drafting. So having a bigger gear to go to doesn’t always solve the problem. Your big chainring is probably 52t and your smallest cog is probably 13 or 14t. A newer bike would give you an extra gear or two to help get you going faster, but if people are getting away from you on descents, a lot of that is actually skill and tactics, rather than gearing.

Having a higher gear or two will help, but you’re just delaying the inevitable. (I’ve had that same problem.) They might be group rides, but quite a few racing tactics still apply.

A big one is using the draft on the downhills. You probably know that the higher the speed, the more the draft helps. So going downhill, it is very easy to pass someone by staying in their draft and then swinging out at the last second. So for you, getting a good draft and spending most of your time in the paceline rather than at the front, should be all you need to do.

I’m not sure if you’ve been in a true paceline on this hill or just happened to be out there with others, but descending in a group usually involves lots of passing and/or braking. So you might find that actually being on the group ride makes it easier for you to keep up. And really, the people in these rides shouldn’t be trying to drop you, especially not on a downhill.

Overall, I definitely think you can go further with your current bike before investing in a new one. If you fall in love with riding, by all means, get a better bike, but more riding and practicing your drafting can go a long way!

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2 Comments
  1. It’s true. New bikes make fancy eye candy but you can’t beat the feel of a good old steel 10 speed. Unless you’re decked out in sponsor logos head to toe!

  2. @Tim

    Yep, it’s always fun to ride older bikes and beat the guys who try to buy their fitness!

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