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When it comes to riding a bike, nothing beats the look and feel of riding a beautifully restored retro bike. It’s classic, timeless, and aesthetically pleasing with its unique vintage look.
However, genuine vintage bikes cost a fortune, and most of us simply cannot afford one. So unless you have a retro bike lying around that you can spruce up and repair, you need to find another solution to make your dream come true.
The answer? Looking for the best vintage style bikes that let you enjoy modern capabilities with that old-school look.
The Beauty of Vintage Style Bikes
There’s no question that old school bikes are lovely, but if you’re on a tight budget, vintage-looking bikes are the next best thing. These old fashioned bikes are so popular nowadays that lots of major bicycle brands are trying to meet the demand, but also, many vintage bicycle brands have popped up.
Retro bicycles are great because they offer all the modern stuff that makes bicycle riding fun and easy, but they also showcase the unique features of old-style bikes with their simple, minimalist looks and classic frame geometry.
3 Best Vintage Retro Style Bikes in 2021
To help you realize your dream of riding a retro bike, we’ve reviewed the top three best vintage retro style bikes on the market, so you can not only visualize each bike’s aesthetic appeal but also glimpse how it functions on the road.
Schwinn Sanctuary 7 Cruiser Bike
Our top pick is the Schwinn Sanctuary 7-speed cruiser bicycle, which lets you enjoy the leisure of cycling around town in a sleek ride that gives you all the comfort and style you need for an enjoyable ride.
It’s made with a light steel frame with strong but lightweight aluminum alloy rims and a comfortably padded cruiser saddle that keeps you pain and discomfort-free even in long-distance rides.
Moreover, it also features a Shimano rear derailleur and SRAM twist shifters for total performance and riding versatility, all while maintaining that cruiser simplicity. The Sanctuary also comes with full fenders and a rear cargo rack for your safety and convenience.
- Steel frame (16” step-through or 18” step-over)
- 7-speed Shimano drivetrain
- 26” wheels, for riders, 5’3” to 5’8” tall
- Comes with fenders and a rear rack
- Lightweight and comfortable to ride
- Secure packaging, easy to assemble
sixthreezero Ride in The Park Men’s 3-Speed Touring City Bike
We also fell in love with the sixthreezero Ride in The Park, a versatile men’s 3-speed touring city bike that’s great for a wide range of applications, such as cruising, coasting, climbing, commuting, doing chores, and riding by the beach- all in complete comfort.
This vintage style bike features lightweight aluminum construction and effectively navigates hilly terrain and urban traffic alike. Its handlebar geometry is designed with upright riding in mind to make long rides feel more comfortable.
In fact, you can even customize the tilt and height of the handlebar. And, the handlebar grips are made of a soft and luxurious synthetic leather in stately brown that’s complemented by the classic stitching detail, so you don’t only look cool, you also get to enjoy that firm grip. To top it all off, it comes with matching full fenders and a rear rack so you can add a basket if you wish.
- Lightweight, low profile aluminum frame
- 3-speed drivetrain with easy twist grip shifters
- Hand brakes (front and rear) for easy stopping
- Double walled rims on 700c wheels, fits riders 5’ to 6’2” tall
Firmstrong Urban Lady single-speed women’s bike
Another amazing option is the Firmstrong Urban Lady single speed women’s bike, a comfortable cruiser that makes for a relaxing ride. It’s lightweight, well-made, easy to assemble, and is ideal for gals with petite frames who want a relaxed and easy riding experience.
Perhaps the best thing about this, other than its vintage aesthetics with the classic design of a curvy beach cruiser, is its comfortable, oversized bicycle seat with dual springs that really give. It also features wide rubber block handlebars with soft foam grips that are easy on the hands.
Not to mention, its white-walled balloon tires make for a cushioned ride when you’re casually rolling on flat surfaces to cruise by the beach, go around the neighborhood, or use it as a retro town bike without having to fuss with lots of different gears.
- 15” to 26” durable steel frame
- 24” aluminum wheels, fit riders 4’ to 6’ tall
- Coaster brakes are easy to use even for kids
- An affordable, casual, and cute option
- Available in multiple colors and sizes
Vintage Style Bike: Key Features
Classic, retro, and vintage style bicycles are pretty much the same, as all of them belong to one niche of modern-yet-antique rides. That said, what are the things that differentiate modern vintage bicycles from regular bikes?
Commuter / Urban Use
The classic bike style featured simple diamond frames that were intended for general use, aka urban riding, and commuting. This standard ride was the common trend of the day since there weren’t really purpose-built bicycles such as the road bikes, mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, and others we see today.
What this means today, however, is that most modern retro bicycles are designed the same, so if you want to race or ride trails or do anything other than regular urban riding, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a vintage-style bike that can accommodate your needs.
Form and Function
Simply put, classic bicycles were mostly utilitarian, as they were excellent alternatives to automobiles. Even today, bicycles are cheaper, more effective against traffic, and require less maintenance than a car.
As such, modern vintage bikes are designed with this same utilitarian purpose in mind. Meaning, the bikes come with various functional accessories such as full fenders, integrated racks with baskets, chain guards, and built-in headlamps.
Upright Riding Position
Another key feature of urban retro bikes is the upright riding position, which is less about performance and more about comfort, especially when it comes to long-distance rides so you can get around town with ease. This is achieved with the frame design, seat height, and handlebar height (and style).
That said, there is the exception of the path racer retro bike, which seems to be making a comeback in recent years. It’s pretty much the old school equivalent of modern road bikes and comes with a style that features an aggressive riding position complemented by low swept handlebars.
Important Things To Look For Before Buying
While it’s true that you can find vintage-style bicycles almost everywhere, it doesn’t mean that they’re all good. A lot of these bikes, especially from big box brands and shady manufacturers, are more about the flash and style, and less about actual functionality and performance.
In other words, these bikes may come with good looking frames and sleek paint jobs but are severely lacking in quality components, fit, and finishing.
If you don’t want to end up with a cheap bicycle that will cause you so much headache and disappointment, take note of these important factors when searching for the best retro bike:
Bicycles of any type are composed of many different components. These can be made in-house or sourced somewhere else. The question is, if it’s in-house, is the manufacturer known for producing good quality stuff? If it’s outsourced, does it bear a good brand name, like Shimano?
Furthermore, what are these components made of? Cheap plastic, heavy steel, lightweight aluminum, innovative carbon fiber, or expensive titanium? This construction material is an important indication of the component quality, which translates to the bike’s quality.
Frame Material and Bike Weight
In relation to component quality, let’s talk about frame quality, meaning, the frame’s material, and weight. When it comes to retro bicycles, you typically have a choice between hi-ten steel and lightweight aluminum alloy.
On one hand, steel is cheap, but it can be incredibly heavy, and on the other hand, aluminum is much lighter, but can also be somewhat pricier (though nowhere near as expensive as carbon or titanium frames). You want to account for the weight since this influences how much effort you need to exert in pedaling, and even the cargo rating you need for a bike rack on your car.
Vintage Frame Style
Nothing says true vintage like a step-through frame. It’s traditional and has that understated elegance that high profile step-over frames simply don’t have. However, there are still many options for step-over frames if that’s what you prefer.
Color: Traditional or Vibrant?
Since modern retro bicycles are all about style, one of the major decisions you’ll need to make has to do with the frame’s paint job. If you really want to stick with the classic appeal, the best colors are subtle traditional ones like streamlined blacks, whites, and silvers, or muted vintage colors like navy and green.
Or, you can go the other way and opt for a splash of modernity with vibrant colors that scream fun, such as reds, greens, and yellows.
Wheels and Tires
As for the wheels, you have the option between 700c and 26-inch wheels. 700c wheels are large but slim, similar to those on a road bike. These typically come with larger tires to make for better control and comfort. Meanwhile, 26-inch wheels are similar to what’s on mountain bikes, meaning they are wide and tough, designed for mixed terrain.
That said, whichever you choose, avoid the old fashioned single-wall rims and opt for stronger double-walled rims. You can also look for classic cream-colored and whitewall tires in the size you prefer. Here’s a short guide on how to measure bike wheels.
Gears: Yes or No?
You also need to decide whether you want multiple speed gears on your bicycle. Single-speed bikes are nice if you want an easy, straightforward bike that requires low maintenance. These are great if you’ll mostly just ride on flat, even terrain.
On the contrary, multiple gears such as with 6 or 7 speeds are more suitable for tackling hills and headwinds, as well as for carrying extra cargo in baskets and bike pannier bags. There are also multi-speed bikes with internal hubs, which lets you enjoy the clean and low maintenance appeal of single-speed bikes, but with the advantage of extra gearing.
When it comes to safety, you don’t have to limit yourself to the old school caliper brakes which are on traditional retro bikes. You’ll want to go for something more powerful, safe, and reliable, such as high-quality V-brakes, or more vintage-looking dual pivot caliper brakes.
We mentioned earlier that vintage style bicycles are designed for functionality, but it’s always nice to accessorize your bike with extra stuff that makes your commuting trips easier and more convenient. These include the following:
- Full-length mudguards and a chain guard to protect you and your bike from water puddles, mud, loose soil, and even grease
- Bike pannier racks for adding optional pannier bags and rear baskets as extra cargo space for your belongings, groceries, and other items
- A kickstand or home repair stand to help you more easily clean, maintain and repair your bicycle without having to lean it against the wall or lying down on the floor
Want An Actual Vintage Bike? Look For These Things
If you have the budget, nothing beats the authenticity of a true vintage bicycle, whether it’s new or used. After all, classic bikes are built to last, and therefore, promise sturdiness, durability, and style, along with often better quality parts than what you can find in today’s market.
When looking for real vintage bikes, there are a few things you need to remember in order to find the best set of wheels. These include:
First of all, what part of the vintage appeal do you like most? Is it the challenge and aesthetic of restoring a bike from just after world war 2? Is it the quality and prestige of a bike from the 1950’s golden era? Or is it the relative ease of repair and upkeep of a more modern ’70s to 80’s bike (which technically aren’t vintage)?
Size and Fit
One important thing you have to understand about genuine vintage bikes is that most of these don’t offer any allowances for adjusting the handlebar and seat height and position, unlike modern-day bicycles. This means, either the bike fits you, or it doesn’t.
To ensure that you have the right size bike, make sure that the saddle height lets your feet touch the floor when you’re not moving, and that your legs can fully extend when pedaling.
We know that there’s a wide range of vintage-looking bikes on the market, and so, buying the best retro bike with confidence means understanding what these bikes are made for, and what are the things that make a good retro bicycle.
Remember, a vintage-style bike is designed for equal parts convenience and style, so they should have features such as baskets and chain guards, among others. Of course, the frame, gearing, brakes, and other components must also be considered.
Finally, retro bicycles are great in the sense that they offer a certain simplicity of riding along with a nostalgic aesthetic. But at the end of the day, it’s not for everyone. Some riders prefer the thrill, versatility, and performance of other bike types, such as BMX bikes and road bikes.