For the next 12 months I’m on sabbatical from my full time job in the UK, making Melbourne Australia my basecamp between travels. The idea of not working may seem great at first, but I need some on-going projects to keep my brain ticking over. The plan is to spend the next year getting my teeth in to some interesting bicycle restoration projects, tracking down cheap, old, rust-bucket racers with a bit of charm that I can make roadworthy again to turn a small profit.
As much as I’ve always loved cycling and it’s something I can’t live without, I’ve never been as keen on the maintenance side of things and have always had my bikes serviced professionally for anything other than punctures, brakes, cleaning and easy to replace parts. I’ve always wanted a bit more mechanical knowledge, so hopefully this will prove interesting in the present and useful for the rest of my cycling years.
Money is a bit of an issue, so the main rule will be to avoid customising bikes by adding too many parts and as much as possible just service what’s already there to bring the bike back to life and get a bit of a turnover going to keep me busy with new projects. Definitely won’t be repainting anything either, even if a bit worn or chipped in places, I think the original paintwork and design is best (and easiest).
PROJECT FRANKENBIKE #1
I bought this one for $15, surprisingly lightweight Graecross Pro-ten Tange high quality frame, good true wheels/rims, chain ok, nice vintage suntour rear derailleur, very cool crankset… but tyres rotten, pedals not right, MTB brake levers, 5 speed, stem not right and hard plastic grips like cheese graters on the hands. I’d already changed the tyres to new ones by the time I took the photo:
Here’s the finished bike (below), I’ll be keeping this one for myself as it rides like a dream. At first I really wasn’t happy with the MTB brakes as they left me no option but to mount them on the top bar. The consensus in bike forums etc was generally that it would be some kind of crime against cycling because you need them on the drops for when you’re going fastest or more so because it’s just not the done thing. I was keen not to buy myself any new levers and to make do with what I already had. Thinking about it more, I figured I won’t be using the bike for any competitive racing and the only times I’ll be using the drops anyway will be when i’m on the flat going slowly against a nasty headwind. Having mounted them on the top bar I actually quite like how it looks and it just seems to work best with hand positions I use 99.5% of the time.
Spot the difference, rack and bottle cage taken from other bikes I’ve acquired recently, everything else I’ve added were brand new bargains I found online. Although the brakes lever situation may seem unusual, they work fine and the setup feels like it’s tailor-made for the type of riding I’ll be doing and the way I ride on the top bars anyway, so it’s a keeper. Might have a slight problem going up long hills though, but I’ll think about that later. Really happy with how it’s turned out and the lessons learnt for the next one. I love some of the parts on the bike, especially the crankset and the Tange frame. Overall it’s a very comfortable, quiet ride and a very responsive bike.
PROJECT RUSTBUCKET #2
I came across this one decaying outside a charity shop and felt sorry for it. It’s a heavy-weight Chinese mass produced 90’s MTB (aka pretty crap), but I liked the garish retro colours and decals, which reminded me of an early 90’s shell suit. It cost a total of $5, so figured it would be worth buying for the hours I could spend getting it road-worthy and also to test out a few methods for removing rust before risking trying them out on any of the vintage racers, WD40 and scrunched aluminium foil seemed to be most effective, Diet Coke came a close second.
Was an enjoyable process, learnt a few things, prevented it going to landfill and sold it for a small profit to a guy who just needed a bike to get him to work and back, so everyone’s a winner.
PROJECT PEUGEOT #3
Was hoping to find one of these to work on at some point. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly which model this is, but I can narrow it down to the years 1973-75 from the decals and other clues would make this either a U08 or A08 model, Peugeot’s entry level bike-boom racer/randonneur. Over the years quite a few parts have been replaced, or upgraded to better ones, such as the crankset, shifters, bars, rear derailleur, front fork and a few other bits. The old fork would have been half-chrome, but the full-chrome replacement looks pretty good. Overall the bike had been slightly disrespected by past owner/s, with several home-made accessories added, such as the rack, which had damaged the paintwork. There were also lots of other bits of tat screwed on and tied to various places. The 1960s Miller dynamo light was working until I removed it to clean and couldn’t get it working again. Luckily a guy wanted to buy it to convert it to LED. Most of the hours spent renovating the bike were spent removing all the dirt, gunk and rust that had built up over the years.
Here’s the finished piece after many more hours than expected and a steep daily learning curve. Very happy with how it turned out and a real pleasure to ride around, especially when you have a quick glance down at your feet in the vintage chrome toe-clips.
From two-wheeled shopping trolley to fighting machine. In the end the bike needed new 27″1/4 tyres, new bar tape, new rear brake cable + housing, new FD gear cable + housing, new stem, a more slender seat switched with another bike and the addition of a really nice vintage Suntour Compe-V FD that was redundant on my 5 speed Graecross tourer (above). An interesting lesson learned was to use an old shoelace as a versatile de-gunking multi-tool that can be fed through all manner of small gaps and tight spots.
PROJECT CITY HYBRID #4
This one was a nice chance find that I picked up for free, left unwanted outside someone’s house along with a few bits of furniture and other dated bits and bobs. On first quick inspection in the night-time rain, I nearly left it alone, but then noticed the nice metallic paintwork, Tange Cro-Mo butted frame, alloy 700c rims, good tyres and some nice cantilever brakes. On the flip-side though, the bike had no seat-post, no seat, grips were torn, and when I checked at home I realised the RD shifter wasn’t working.
The bike scrubbed up nicely, with the de-rusted parts and metallic paintwork looking great. I removed the original decals from the frame, as they weren’t really related to any recognised brand, just Melbourne Cycle Centre stickers, it looks much better without them. The seat-post was replaced cheaply with a Kalloy alloy plain post and the seat was one I already had after buying it reduced price a month ago on the off chance I’d need one for such a project. Luckily the gear shifter (Shimano Altus C50 click shifter) was easy to fix. After taking it apart I was pleased to find that it was just a case of the original grease having dried and gunked up the mechanisms, so easily fixed with a toothbrush, some WD40 and moving it back and forth until it clicked as new. Other small jobs were tightening the loose, wobbly back wheel (which was affecting braking) and a small improvement by shortening the rear brake cable housing to give it a better transition. In the end was a quick job and made me a nice bit of beer-money.
PROJECT ROADMASTER #5
Not a brand with cycling pedigree and through online research there was a lot of dismissive snobbishness towards the ‘Roadmaster’ due to it being a mass produced K-Mart type racer in it’s day. For me, that kind of assessment, focusing on the bike’s low-end status 30 years ago, completely misses the point about what this bike is in a 2013 context. In current times, any low-end racer type bike with retro credentials has a street value related more to it’s transport value, retro styling and accessory value than it’s racing performance. They’re more than fit for purpose to get someone quickly around town in style. I think it’s also apparent that a bike that’s been in use for 30 or so years and still looks and rides nicely deserves a degree of respect and deserves to be recycled rather than scrapped. The bike is obviously heavier than something with a respected Reynolds, Tange or Columbus frame, but with the weight of racers these days, it seems a bit silly to pay much regard to the comparatively marginal weight differences of vintage steel-lugged frames. Up against the current crop of racers, no vintage bike can really be considered light-weight in comparison.
Anyway, more about the bike specifics. The frame is nice-looking lugged steel that’s held up well over the years with some nice components attached over time to appeal to the lower-end vintage geek and eye-catching bright green metallic paintwork. Rear derailleur is a nice quality chrome Shimano RS, Front derailleur is a 1966 designed Suntour Spirt, Weinmann brakes, Sakae Custom bars, Sakae SR stem, Shimano Z401 stem-mounted shifters, Dia Compe brake levers, Apollo sprung saddle that was previously on the Peugeot (above). Other than that, the cranks and pedals are unbranded chrome steel cottered cranks, but look really nice after a clean up and do a lot for the overall look of the bike. Apart from cleaning, there wasn’t much of a challenge getting the bike to it’s optimum, the biggest challenge was the physical task of getting the seat-post to budge. I replaced the crumbling tyres, replaced the old brake cables and housing and added new bar tape and apart from removing a few unnecessary plastic bits, the rest was all fiddly cleaning and de-rusting. I’m pleased with the end results, the bike rides comfortably and surprisingly quietly with the derailleurs and brakes working perfectly.
PROJECT MONARCH STAR #6
Picked this one up by chance from a bric-a-brac stall at a market for next to nothing. I think my rule now is that if I see something like this going cheap and I like the look of it, I’ll just buy it. On first inspection the heavy Australian-made 54cm frame gave away it’s very low-end status. Apart from that, everything looked ok on the bike, true wheels, brake cables and housing ok, nice metallic blue finish, nice chrome bars and levers, pretty good all-metal vintage Shimano derailleurs. Best of all, this is the first one I’ve bought where the tyres were ok, so no need to spend money on costly new tyres. On closer inspection back home, I could see that I wouldn’t need to add or replace anything and could look forward to an easy job, making a nice little profit margin on it. Shortly after bringing it home I received an email from someone saying they’d seen the Roadmaster (above) advertised. Although they loved the look of it, they were too small for the 58cm frame and wanted to know if I was working on any other bikes in a smaller size 153cm – 155cm. I sent them a picture of this one and they came back to me saying they were really keen to have a look and to buy it if the size was right, so nice coincidence and good motivation to get straight to work knowing that it had been pre-ordered and I wouldn’t have to go through the often frustrating online selling process.
As is always the case, these vintage bikes always seem to come with some kind of unique problem that I’ve never encountered before to make life interesting and test the limited selection of tools at my disposal. After de-rusting the chrome parts in record time, I started to notice that the apparently normal build-up of gunk on this bike had an altogether different consistency to every other bike I’ve worked on. Rather than the usual soft black waxy build-up that I’m used to, this stuff looked the same, but had the consistency of concrete and no amount of WD40 would even come close to budging it. There was a thick layer of it all over the chain, the derailleur, jockey wheels, bottom bracket and of course the cassette. The only thing I could do was spend a long time scraping and chipping it off with a blunt knife. Cleaning the chain wasn’t fun. This was the only challenge, I’m guessing it was a result of the previous owner using a vegetable oil to lube the chain. All that was left to do was to adjust the front derailleur and clear-coat the chips, scratches and rust patches. I’ve never tried this on a bike before, but the results were really good, I just used some clear nail varnish which turns out to be perfect for the job. In the end the bike looked great with a lot of retro character, mainly due to the combination of the blue frame with all the silver chrome on the bike. For visual effect I decided I’d leave the handlebars as they were, without bar tape and give the new owner the choice. They were also keen to keep the shiny chrome on display.
PROJECT SINGLESPEED #7
This was a bike I came across by chance and on my walk back from the post office, my girlfriend wasn’t overly impressed when I came home and announced “look! I bought another bike!”. I saw it sitting outside Cash Converters, the frame was good quality Tange double-butted cro-mo and the paintwork was in a very good state. There were parts missing, which didn’t bother me so much as I’d already envisioned my plan for the bike, but spotting these proved a good bargaining tool with the shop’s manager, who I eventually convinced to drop the price by about 40%. I still ended up breaking my rule on upper-limit spend by about $20, however I knew I could add a lot of street value to the bike and couldn’t resist a new project. The bike was missing a front derailleur, rear brake and the outer chain ring had been sawn off (although they’d done a neat job), however the plan at first sight was to make the bike a single-speed as I already had a very new and clean set of flip-flop wheels at home that I’d also impulse bought for next to nothing, hoping they would eventually come in handy for such a project.
Luckily the bike was already fairly clean and there was hardly any surface rust which made a nice change, as cleaning and de-rusting and old bike is normally what takes most of my time and isn’t the most enjoyable aspect of the recycling process. I already had all the spare parts I needed for the project from opportunistic bargain purchases on Gumtree and clearance parts on the big web-sites. I started the usual way by stripping the bike of anything that easily unscrews including derailleur, handlebar, brakes, levers, cables and housings and gave everything a quick clean and shine. The wheels that came with the bike were also pretty good, so those were set aside to be trued-up for a future project. I replaced the fixie-style bar for drop bars (which seem to be more fashionable in Melbourne), added some brand new Avid-FR5 brake levers, new brake cables and housings, new seat, new bar tape and of course added the new wheels and tyres. Finally I adjusted the chain length, added the chain and was happy to see that the chain-line was absolutely spot-on. The rear wheel needed some spacers on the axle, so for this I just used some washers from the local DIY store, no way was I going to spend money being ripped off by a big bike company selling me something that does exactly the same job for probably 50 times the price. There were several parts from the bike that were left over, such as a really nice Shimano Light-action rear derailleur, the alloy rim 27 1/14 wheels, the handlebars, a faulty shifter and some Shimano 105 pedals. I decided to keep the derailleur and wheels for my next bike and sold the pedals and handlebar, reclaiming roughly a third of what I paid for the bike in the first place.
Anyway, this was the end result, I didn’t take a ‘before’ snap unfortunately. Really happy with everything apart from the handlebar tape, which to me looked a bit like a couple of bandaged arms (but that’s just me).
PROJECT 5-SPEED #8
I did remember to take a ‘before’ snap of this one, it was hard to tell much from the one low-quality photo in the ad, but I could just about make out the sticker on the seat-tube which I worked out was a Tange 900 (double-butted cro-mo) sticker. The asking price was so low, I decided it was worth buying for just the Tange frame, the crankset, pedals and the excitement of a new challenging project. If the other parts were useable, that would just be a bonus.
I collected the bike in the pouring rain from a French traveller who was moving on to his next destination and didn’t really take much time to give the bike a proper inspection, but the main thing was that the parts I was mainly interested in were all in a good restorable state. I’m not really sure how the guy was managing to ride this thing – both wheels were a good centimetre or more out of true, the stem and handlebars were bent, the shifter cables were slack and the rear axle was so tight and gunked up that the wheel barely spun. After a good inspection, taking in to consideration the spare parts I already had, I had a pretty solid idea of what I was going to do. As always I stripped the bike down leaving just the frame with the crankset attached, the Tange frame was nice and light, with a decent alloy SR Custom crankset and alloy pedals. The heavy steel stem and bent bars would have to go. I decided to remove the decals, which were nothing worth saving, and went about carefully treating the rust and scratches with WD40 and 00 wire wool, before giving them a clear coating with some nail varnish (which turns the rust black), also giving the alloy crank parts and pedals a good clean and buff with fine wire wool.
The inner chain-ring was missing a couple of the attachment bolts, so lacking a the tools to remove the crank, I decided to just saw through the chain-ring and unbolt to remove it and make the bike a 5-speed, chain line isn’t perfect, but good enough. Now time to build the bike up again, firstly by adding a spare alloy SR stem that I’d cleaned up. I’m using the leftover wheels, rear derailleur and shifter from my last project, so just a case of some truing, cleaning and fixing the shifter. The indexing mechanism of the shifter wasn’t clicking, so I had to take it apart, work out the problem and reassemble it to make it work again. It was a good feeling that I’d managed to fix it. Because it’ll be a 5-speed, I went about customising the shifter, removing the redundant lever and sawing, then filing back the metal lever attachments to make it look like it it was made as a 5-speed shifter. I added some brand new track bars which I bought on clearance from one of the big online sites and decided they’d look best without grip tape. For brake levers I thought the best option was to go for a couple of top-bar mounted Tektro mini-levers (commonly used as second levers on cyclocross bikes) to give a slick urban look. The seat was leftover from my favorite bike that I restored and the tyres were some brand new Duro white-wall tyres, again purchased dirt cheap several months ago on clearance on the assumption I’d need them in down the line.
Really pleased with the final look and performance of the bike. It was especially nice how parts I’d ripped from the previous project and bought months ago all came together to make a very cool looking urban 5-speed.