Sunday, October 8, 2017

Moving Backwards in Time with Parts: "Retrograding" a Project

Sometimes you build an old bike project, and later go back and edit your work. Sometimes those edits involve "going back in time" or "retrograding" the parts on the bike.

 Used to describe a person, "retrograde" as a noun can be a severe insult. But in this sense, I use it as a verb to describe work on an old bicycle: my 1941 Schwinn New World. At one time, "retrograde" as a verb meant to travel back in time with whatever it was you were working on.

I think that's a great word for those projects where you start off with some more modern parts, and over time end up migrating with the project back towards original or period-correct parts, or even just original parts from around the same era.

I see no shame in this, though it does get costly if you're buying all your parts twice (one newer set and one older set). Let's take a look at the 1941 New World project.

First, I previously had on this bike a set of aluminum, Weinmann brake levers from the 1970s. They worked well, but I eventually started wanting something a little closer to the original Schwinn-built brake levers. Those originals cost $100+ per set for a nice set. But what about something that looks a lot like the originals, costs less, and is more of an "older" lever than the Weinmanns?

I also had a set of 1990s-era Schwinn reproduction grips. What if I could locate an old set of original Schwinn grips that would function and work on this bike? Sure enough, I eventually found a relatively nice set of post-war Schwinn black grips that swapped right onto the bike.

In addition to "oldness", 'retrograding' a bike can also bring the project to a more consistent, overall condition. The reproduction grips worked well and were nice looking, but were perhaps a bit toonice for this 1941 Schwinn. These old Schwinn grips are just the right condition for this project.

Bike projects evolve to reflect each owners' inclinations. At 20, I was hellbent on original and correct. Fourteen years later, I'm more flexible, but still demand a coherent and "old" type product. So I "retrograde" some of my projects. I go back and decide "old stock" may be just what I want in some cases.

This is never at the expense of safety, but it is more something with an eye to the project as a whole. I want something fun, presentable, classic, and consistent.


  1. I have a DL-1 with a 1981 build date. I am using older parts to make it appear to be an older model, mainly to satisfy myself. Bike parts are relatively inexpensive so retrograde away!


    1. I replaced several parts on my 1978 DL-1 with older parts as well - mostly replacing plastic stuff with metal.


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