New (Old) Bike

So my first project over the summer was really one that occurred out of necessity. Typically I use my bike for about 90% of my transportation so when I realized that my bottom bracket was rusted and even worse, seized there were only a few options.

  1. Keep using my old bike and run the risk of not crashing (fun but probably not great!)
  2. Buy a new bike to use (I would have probably done this but after seeing how nice some more expensive bikes are, I was looking to buy a bike in more of the $500 range which is definitely way out of my budget.)
  3. Build a “Theseus’s Ship Style” bike out of spare parts (This would take a lot of time and arguably be worse mechanically)

Part I: The Bike Co-Op

I eventually settled upon option three because there is a pretty neat program at the U of I in which you can actually build your own bike thanks to the help of the CU Bike Project. This option is nice because you are literally assembling a bike from scratch so you can learn a lot about what goes on under the metaphorical hood of your vehicle and also get a great deal on the parts.

Thus, I began to start heading to the bike Co-Op every afternoon to do work on my new creation. The first step is to pick a frame, and so after some bad eggs, finally settled upon a 1970’s Schwinn road bike frame. It wasn’t in fantastic condition but it was a good fit for the parts I was to salvage from my old bike so it fit the bill for me. Then my next task was finding wheels to go on it which turned into a week-long affair. Luckily this is where being in the Bike Co-Op came in handy because the three mechanics were able to give me a lot of advice about what combinations would work well, which is quite necessary when there are about ten competing standards for the six or so mechanical elements that compose each wheel. I spent another large chunk of my time making sure that the wheels were as frictionless as possible as well as ensuring that they were centered on the axles which would ensure a smooth ride later on.

Part II: The Ship (bike) of Theseus

Next up was to assemble the drive-train of the bike, which is the same salvaged single speed freewheel pedals I used on my old bike. I really like the rather insane gearing ratios that enable me to get a lot of torque and speed as long as my legs are up to the task. Funnily enough, this retrofit was by far the fastest and I went from 0 to 60 in about half an hour.

After this, the next task was to put brakes on my bike, something I was unfamiliar with because my last one had come with the pedal-back style brakes, which are totally different than the traditional contact brakes. From there I went on to route a lot of cabling all through the bike and then hunt for the appropriate brakes to put on my bike. This calibration process is difficult as well because the tolerances required for the brakes are to say the least slim. This meant I spent about three days just tweaking how tight/loose the brakes really were.

Part III: The Final Test

After this my bike was almost complete, but I still needed to add grip tape as well as test drive it. The grip tape might have been one of the most interesting parts because I have never used a bike with drop handlebars before and was really looking forward to trying it out. After wrapping the bars in grip tape the head mechanic of the bike shop had to test my bike to ensure it wasn’t going to be a total death trap when I hopped on later to ride it. This also took a bit of time to perfect because as it turned out my tolerances for rider safety significantly decreased after spending about four weeks deeply wishing for a new bike to use again. That being said, I finally passed all of the drive tests and was able to walk away with a completely “new” bike for about $130, which is pretty darn cheap if you know how much bikes typically cost.

Although I definitely don’t have any future plans to build any future bikes I certainly appreciate the level of detail that this project took, as I now know just about every mechanical feature of my bike and also how to fix it. I think this also did good things for my mechanical skills in general which I admit were certainly lacking before this project and are hopefully at least now acceptable. I also had a blast talking to all of the mechanics at the bike Co-Op as well as the other members. I always like to get out of what I refer to as the “college bubble” so getting the opportunity to talk to adults and grad students as well as a ton of undergrads was a really nice break from the land of freshmen. I’ll end on the note of saying that I now think that bike Co-Ops are some of the neatest organizations around so if you have ever wanted to learn how your bike works or if you are interested in getting a really good deal, definitely check out your local bike Co-Op.