I know, it’s a bad play on words but I couldn’t resist.
The only thing better than finding a nice vintage bike advertised locally is one that’s a really good price. If you have deep pockets, there’s no shortage of really awesome classic bikes that you can buy. The challenge is finding something that won’t break the bank.
A couple of days ago I started my day as I usually do – scanning the local classified ads to see if there were any interesting bikes for sale. Right at the top was a newly listed Gardin 400. The frame was tiny but one of my kids has been asking for a road bike so I figured for the price the seller was asking, it would be worth checking out.
Joe Gardin – Champion of Canadian Cycling
Joe Gardin was an Italian immigrant who came to Canada in 1955 with literally nothing – just one suitcase and the clothes on his back. He built a successful manufacturing business and became the Canadian distributor for Cambio Rino derailleurs and Cambio Rino bikes that he had made to his specifications. Eventually, he decided to build his own bikes so he brought some frame builders over from Italy and set up a frame building shop in his factory in Ontario.
For a time in the mid 80’s, Gardins were a common sight in Canadian bike stores. Gardin made a range bikes from entry level, to the very high end Special. Joe Gardin was very involved in the competitive cycling scene and actively sponsored the Canadian National Cycling Team.
I bought a Gardin TNT in around 1986 in anticipation of a long bike commute to a summer job. I’d sold my beloved Nishiki a couple of years previously to pay for a plane ticket to Mexico and was making do with my old Sekine. The Campagnolo Triomphe equipped Gardin was a nice bike but when the mountain bike craze hit in around 1987, I traded it in on my first mountain bike.
The Gardin 400
Back to the Gardin 400. I arranged to go see it after work. It can be hard to tell what kind of condition a bike is in from grainy cell phone photos so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. When I got to the seller’s house, I was really surprised to see an absolute gem of a bike in surprising good condition for its age. In fact, it looked like it had hardly been ridden at all, and definitely didn’t show any signs of being stored outside. It looks to me like it still has the original Benotto cello tape on the bars.
The frame is made out of Columbus Zeta which is straight gauge, carbon manganese tubing produced by Columbus during the 70’s and early 80’s. The fork crown is nicely pantographed with the Gardin name. The paint is a very nice pearlescent white and in remarkably good condition. It’s also apparently tough as nails because in places there are scuffs but no chips to bare metal that I can see. The decals are in fantastically good condition. All the frame needed was a quick wash to put it back into near new condition. The chainrings, cogs, and rims show very little wear.
The bike is outfitted with an interesting assortment of components. I had expected to see some Cambio Rino parts but there aren’t any. At different times, the Gardin 400 came with Shimano or Cambio Rino derailleurs, or in this case, Simplex.
Simplex was Campagnolo’s main French competitor, and Simplex derailleurs were common on French bikes like Peugeot, Motobecane, and Gitane until the company went into receivership in 1988. Bikes equipped with Simplex components were ridden to victory in the Tour de France many times over the years by riders like Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Thevenet, and Laurent Fignon.
The derailleurs on this bike are unique in that they are made mostly from Delrin plastic. Delrin is tough and light, but when it ages, it tends to get brittle and old Simplex derailleurs are known to crack or break. Another thing that’s unique about Simplex rear derailleurs is they’re mounted on the derailleur hanger with a bolt and nut or a shoulder bolt that’s inserted through the back of the hanger and threaded into the derailleur. Italian and Japanese derailleurs are held on by a bolt that’s threaded into the derailleur hanger. That means if you want to use a non-Simplex derailleur on this bike, you’d have to modify the derailleur hanger to make it work.
The shift levers, crankset, and hubs are Gipiemme Azzurro. Rims are Record Serie Elan 100 from Italy. The brakes are Modolo Flash and still have the original Modolo brake pads. Cyclo Starling bars are mounted on a pantographed stem. The fluted seatpost that supports a Selle Italia Mundialita saddle doesn’t have a maker’s mark that I can see. The pedals look to be original, but I don’t see a manufacturer’s mark on them.
All budget, but nice quality components. The only thing on the bike that really needs attention is the brake hoods which are cracked. I’ll try to track some down on eBay.
I can’t really say too much about how the bike rides because it’s way too small for me. It seems quite well built and probably would have been a pretty decent entry level bike for someone just getting into racing. It’s definitely a huge step up from my old Sekine or the Raleigh Grand Prix that I lusted for more than any girl in high school.
A bit of air in the tires, and the bike is all ready to go. The Campagnolo style metallic braid rear derailleur cable housing is practically worth the price of the bike on its own, so overall, I’m ecstatic with my purchase. Even though I can’t ride it because of the size, this nice little piece of Canadian bike building history will fit really nicely on the wall in my man cave.