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Sometimes, these old bikes don't want to come apart. Menotomy Vintage Bicycles owner Vin Vullo works to remove the seat from an old bicycle. - Staff photo by Ann Ringwood

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Rebuilding the enjoyment found in riding a bike

By David Brusie / Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Vin Vullo owns and operates Menotomy Vintage Bicycles, Inc., which restores vintage bicycles of different kinds.

His business recently provided local restaurant Savoury Lane with a delivery tricycle.

Q: How did Menotomy get started?

A: I have worked on bicycles since I was a kid and never really stopped. When I got into the world of high-tech in the early 1980s, I began buying and selling vintage bicycles and parts as a hobby. When the internet came about, I saw a great opportunity for a Web-based, mail-order business. In 1995, I started Menotomy Vintage Bicycles as a business, and I incorporated in 2000.

Q: Was it a hard decision to change from the consulting business to the bike business?

A: No, I was definitely ready for a change. I was getting tired of sitting in a cubicle 40 hours a week. At first I ran the business evenings and weekends while consulting five days a week. As the bike business grew, I began spending two days a week on bikes and only three days consulting. In the past few years it has been all bikes and almost no consulting and I'm quite happy with that.

Q: Was that a hard transition?

A: A little scary perhaps, but not really hard. A person can make a lot more money sitting in front of a computer writing software than they can make by turning wrenches on a bicycle. But with a bicycle, or any hands-on work, you can actually see and touch the results of your work.

Q: What do you like about working on bikes?

A: Taking a funky old crusty bicycle and bringing it back to life. Like many other consumer items, bicycles are often purchased and then neglected. People will buy a bicycle, ride it a few times, and then never touch it again, except when they move it from one side of the garage to the other. I end up with these bikes 25 to 50 years after they were purchased. Many times all they need is a good reconditioning. I take them apart, clean, lube, and tune them as well as replace anything that needs replacing. After a few hours of reconditioning work the bicycle gets posted on my Web site, OldRoads.com, ready to be purchased by a collector or someone looking for a unique-looking reliable, cycle. Working on cycles also gives me a chance to work side-by-side with my daughters. They help restore bikes, pack orders, and they are becoming pretty good mechanics. They are also taking over some of the Web site work and picking up some business skills. Of course, all of this depends on their social schedules and I often only get their help when their calendars are open.

Q: What do you dislike?

A: The bookkeeping. Also the amount of spam in my e-mail. Being a Web-based business, I do most of my communication via e-mail, and every day about half the messages in my inbox are spam. I also have to spend a couple of hours a day at my computer maintaining the Web site. It gets close to a half million hits a week from people using the online vintage bicycle picture databases, discussion areas, archives, cycle research databases and checking out the over 300 cycles and parts for sale. All of these things need constant attention in order to make sure the information provided on the site is clean, correct and up to date.

Q: Do people have any misconceptions about vintage bikes, or about cycling in general?

A: The first thing a lot of people think about when it comes to vintage bicycles is one of those old High Wheelers from the 1880s where the rider sits atop a huge wheel and wears a handlebar mustache. Actually, I sell very few of those. Most of the vintage bicycles I deal in are 1940s and 1950s balloon tire bicycles, and 1960s and 1970s "banana seat bikes" and English three-speed roadsters. In my opinion, cycling today has lost its way. For the most part, the only adults you see riding a bicycle these days are people with $3000 road bikes wearing skintight Lycra racing clothes traveling two and three abreast while blocking traffic. Those people give cycling a bad name. You rarely see people cycling for casual exercise or for transportation. And you almost never see people cycling in street clothes. The beauty of vintage cycles is the fact that they have an upright riding position, and are comfortable to ride. You don't have to be hunched over, literally pedaling your heart out. The old cycles come with chain-guards so you don't get grease on your pants, kickstands so you can park them anywhere, book racks so you can actually carry a package, and fenders so you can ride through a puddle and not get that stripe of water and dirt on your back. Most of these old cycles are single speeds or three-speeds so they are easy to shift. The three-speeds have a wide gear ratio so your highest and lowest gears are not that different from those on a 12-speed bike. And, you can shift the old three-speeds while you are stopped.

Q: What is the main interest people have when they contact you?

A: Usually people have questions about either a cycle for sale on the Web site or about an old bicycle they are researching. They want to know how old the cycle is or how many were manufactured or what color schemes and accessories the cycle originally came with. I've also had requests for cycles to be used as props in movies, plays and commercials. Last year some of my cycle archive photos were used in a PBS special and other photos are going to be used in an upcoming pilot on the History Channel.

Most bike shops today don't carry the line of parts I carry. For example, old Schwinns take a special-sized tire. A standard off-the-shelf tire will not fit on the old Schwinn rims. I keep a large supply of these tires, while many bike shops don't want to take up valuable storage space with these tires because there isn't much demand for them from your average customer. I stock old-school items like tall chrome sissy bars, banana seats, monkey handlebars, torpedo lights, hub shiners, wicker baskets and a full line of three-speed replacement parts.

Q: How did you become involved in building the Savoury Lane bike?

A: Last spring Paula Gordon of Savoury Lane was at Brimfield, the large outdoor antique show in central Mass, and she saw an old three-wheel delivery bicycle. She thought it might be an interesting way to do deliveries and gave me a call. I came up with a few ideas, ran them by her, and between the two of us we came up with that all-chrome balloon tire delivery cycle you see cruising around West Acton. My site sells a lot of lowrider cycles which are brand new single-speed cycles with deep metallic paint, front Chopper suspension and lots of chrome. I built the Savoury Lane three-wheeler using low-rider parts.

Q: What are your future hopes for Menotomy?

A: Right now I'm content with the size and volume of the business. If I were to expand it, I might like to get some retail space and start a vintage and used cycle shop. There isn't enough local vintage bike business to justify the cost of retail space, and Acton already has a good bike shop which sells new cycles. But there is a market and a need for used cycles. I may also expand the cycle repair service I run through my other Web site, BicyclePickup.com. The problem with having a retail space is you have to have set hours for walk-in customers. Right now I don't have that problem. My web site is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and my cell phone is on during normal business hours, no matter where I am.

Check out Menotomy Vintage Bikes online at www.oldroads.com.

Staff writer David Brusie can be reached at dbrusie@cnc.com.