Vintage bikes in vogue

Vintage bike enthusiast and dealer Brian Purdy talks about the comeback of old school bikes.

For retired 65-year-old writer Brian Purdy, bikes have become much more than a hobby.

Like many people, he’s been riding bikes since he was a little kid, but it’s only been in the past five years that he’s rekindled his love for bikes. They’ve helped him get through a hard time in his life.

“My marriage broke up and I basically had nothing. I needed to get around and I didn’t have money for the transit, I didn’t have money for smokes, I didn’t have money for anything. The easiest way to get around was a bicycle,” he says.

Brian Purdy with his reclaimed 1970s Vulcan. (Photo- Mitchell Mullen)
Brian Purdy with his reclaimed 1970s Vulcan. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)

Necessity inspired adaptability and soon Purdy was smitten with his newfound passion. Local Halifax co-op Bike Again, which runs a build-to-own program on Almon Street, helped him build his first bike: a vintage Raleigh three-speed.

“I got obsessive about it for a while,” says Purdy.

“Some might think I’m still rather obsessive about the history and the technology, but you know if you’re interested in something you just saturate yourself in it and it kind of sticks to you.”

Since then, Purdy’s been buying, collecting and selling bikes. For him, the elegance and simplicity of bicycles — especially the older variety — was what drew him in.

“I love the history, I love the romance, I love the tradition, I love the usability and the practicality, I love that one-third of a horse power will put you up the tallest hill,” says Purdy.

“It’s one-third of a horsepower that a person generates on a bicycle, and look what can be done with it. It’s astonishing.”

Coming back

Most vintage bikes on the roads today are from the early 1970s. Purdy, like most bicycle enthusiasts, call the years between 1972 and 1974 — the height of bike popularity in North America — the “bike boom.”

Bikes from that time were made with durable steel frames, and that’s why many of them are still roadworthy after hanging in people’s garages for decades. The way these bikes stand the test of time still amazes Purdy.

“I swear, if the end of the world comes what will be left are Raleigh three-speed bikes and cockroaches,” he says.

Bike production has changed since the ’70s and the old steel frames have been phased out in favour of less expensive aluminum for standard commercial bikes and carbon fibre for racing bikes. The only way to get these steel-frame style bikes nowadays is to pay the high price for a new one from a specialty manufacturer or pick one up used. That’s where Purdy’s business comes in and he couldn’t be happier about it.

While he’s been selling bikes for almost as long as he’s been collecting them, Purdy says, in the last year, he’s been getting more attention from Haligonians searching for these vintage bikes. The old bikes from the ’60s and ’70s are back in style in a big way, and to Purdy it’s no surprise.

“They’re cool. It’s cool to reuse things from the past and have something that doesn’t just look like something every Tom and Harry has.”

Brian Purdy's 1972 Gitane Sport de Lux. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)
Brian Purdy’s 1972 Gitane Sport de Lux. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)

To use or collect?

It’s not just the durability of the bikes that matters to Purdy, but the uniqueness of them. For Purdy these bikes are personal, and they lend themselves to being fixed up and updated.

“You can customize them and make them feel more like they’re yours,” he says. “There was real craftsmanship back in the day. People really did care.”

Though there are people out there looking for vintage bikes in their original condition, Purdy doesn’t have a problem giving his bikes an update. While some collectors are very concerned with authenticity, Purdy thinks bikes are meant for riding.

“You have to divide cyclists between users and collectors,” he says, “[Collectors] want the bike to be all original.”

“A user won’t think in terms of concessions, but that the modernization of the bike is something they feel is necessary in order to make it as viable as possible.”

 

Purdy knows this first hand. He’s put lighter wheels on his French 1960s Gitane road bike to make it a smoother ride.

Trying to meet the needs of his customers is important to Purdy, whether they are users or collectors. For Purdy it’s part of the enjoyment, but also a standard he sets for himself.

“You want to give the best bike that you possibly can, you want to give what the customer wants and if the customer is particular you want to meet that,” he says.

Tuning up for the spring thaw

Spring is on its way – hopefully. Halifax cyclists and cycle shops are looking ahead to a busy season of bike repairs.

With winter weather still pummelling the peninsula it seems like spring is far off on the horizon. Despite the unco-operative weather, cycle shops and bike enthusiasts around the city are waiting with anticipation for the first taste of warm weather. In fact, it’s coming up to the time of year where many cyclists start to drop their bikes off at shops in the city for a well needed spring checkup.

Alex McOuat, a bike mechanic at Ideal Bikes on Barrington Street, says the big rush of people coming in to get their bikes repaired is weather dependent.

“As soon as we get a few nice days in a row we see a huge influx of people bringing in their bikes to get tuned up,” he says. “Just when we had a warm day last week I had a few people bring in their bikes to get checked out.”

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Alex McOuat, bike mechanic at Ideal Bikes (Photo by Mitchell Mullen)

The cost of getting a bike tuned up is around $50 at most shops in the city. McOuat says safety isn’t the only reason why people  drop their bikes off.

“It just makes riding your bike so much better, especially on the first ride after a long winter like this one has been,” he says.

With the constant snowfall, slush storms, uncleared sidewalks, roads and bike lanes, there are bikes around the city that have been abandoned to snow banks and left to rust. McOuat says that he’s definitely seen a few come to the workshop while he’s been working.

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Bikes in the workshop at Ideal Bikes. (Photo by Mitchell Mullen)

“We’ve had a few come in that have been left completely for a winter and the person wants it fixed because of a sentimental attachment. For that it’s usually a whole overhaul of the bike, if it’s completely rusted. As long as the frame is OK you can get all the … pieces to put it back together,” he says.

To cyclist and University of King’s College student Ryan Butt, there’s no excuse for having an out-of-order bike by the time better weather rolls around.

“Don’t spare expense,” Butt says. “If your bike needs the repairs just spend the money to get them. It’s worth it.”

Butt is an avid bike enthusiast. Having worked at a bike shop himself, he knows a thing or two about when and where people should be getting their bikes fixed.

“I think it’s important around this time of year for people to keep going to local bike shops like Cyclesmith, Halifax Cycle, Ideal Bikes. They all have friendly, passionate people who really know what they’re doing and are there to help,” he says.

Butt, like the rest of Halifax’s savvy cyclists, is just waiting for that first day of spring.

“I’m really anticipating the good weather,” he says. “It’ll be good to get back out there with a bike I know will work.”

New photography exhibit asks: what is it to be Nova Scotian?

MFA thesis exhibition of NSCAD student Evan Rensch, “By your pleasure, I did see,” opened on March 9 and features a range of photographs exploring perceived and authentic representations of Nova Scotian life.

The crowd filters into the gallery and one by one comes face to face with a large unfinished looking wall complete with an exposed wooden frame and utility cords running down the side; not something you might expect to see when coming into a photography exhibit. The first thing NSCAD masters of fine arts student Evan Rensch wants his audience to consider is what happens behind the scenes.

 

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His thesis photography exhibit By your pleasure, I did see opened at the Anna Leonowens Gallery on Monday.

Rensch’s new exhibit features a collection of photographs that explore the contrast between the image of Nova Scotia presented in the province’s tourism marketing campaigns and the real lives of Nova Scotia’s residents.

The photos in the exhibit range from the interior of an overgrown rustic cottage, to the kilted security guards of the Delta Halifax, to the cluttered workspace of a local call centre worker.

Exploring the cultural and historical perspectives of the Maritimes has been an interest of Rensch since he began photography.

“I grew up in New Brunswick and I wanted to come back to the maritime region after being away for five years,” said Rensch. “I wanted to come back specifically to photograph here. To a certain extent I developed, more than an interest, sort of a commitment to a lot of the culture and issues in the region.”

MFA Thesis project of Evan Rensch. - Photo by Mitchell Mullen.
MFA Thesis project of Evan Rensch. – Photo by Mitchell Mullen.

For Rensch, the way Nova Scotia presents itself as a province often comes at the expense of depicting the province’s modern life.

“This work is about labour and it’s about the on the surface labour that a visitor or new comer to the province sees and also the backstage, the call centre worker, the people whose labour we maybe don’t acknowledge in official narratives of the province.”

Amanda Shore, a NSCAD student attending the gallery opening, said the way Rensch set up the space added an engaging dimension to the exhibit.

MFA thesis of Evan Rensch "By your pleasure, I did see" - Photo by Mitchell Mullen.
MFA thesis of Evan Rensch “By your pleasure, I did see” – Photo by Mitchell Mullen.

“When you walk in you see the back of a wall and you see the power cords, the studs and the nails and you’re kind of allowed to turn around and have the work reveal itself to you and that’s really lovely,” said Shore.

Rensch says the representation of the province especially extends to Halifax’s urban growth.

“It is an increasingly urban society in Halifax. There’s huge migrations of people from rural communities into the city and it’s grown tremendously,” said Rensch.

“I’m interested in the official pastoral image [of Nova Scotia] juxtaposed with what we know as our daily existence here in Halifax.”

The exhibit is open to the public and runs from March 9 until the 21.