Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Bike that Never Was

A woman in town wanted a road bike to leave at a place she regularly visits in Maine, so she wouldn't have to transport her regular bike back and forth.

A good used bike is like a glass slipper: it's no use if it doesn't fit. We don't see the flood of trade-ins we used to get in the 1990s, when everyone was dumping their road bikes to get mountain bikes. Some places probably do a brisk trade in used bikes, but few of them make it all the way to our backwater anymore.

I had a couple of frames hanging around. If one of them fit her, I said I would try to scrape up the parts turn it into a bike.

The frame that fit had a bent fork. But I had a fork that would probably work. The frame had a crank, derailleurs, a headset and seatpost.

We got pretty lucky with wheels and brake levers. I kept running into blockades and then surmounting them somehow. The only things we had to buy new were the handlebars and interrupter brake levers. Oh, and a chain and cables. And she wanted a good women's saddle. That was the most expensive item.

On second look, my replacement fork didn't look all that great. I remembered I'd bought the Park Big Honkin' Pry Bar, so I figured I would take a shot at straightening the fork that was on there.

The Park BHPB-1
Lacking a fork jig, the straightening process was an art project. The first time through it looked pretty good until I put a wheel in it. Even then it wasn't too bad...until I tried to make it better. The quest for near perfection, as always, was a trapdoor into Hell. I tried to quit at least a half a dozen times before it somehow ended up better than some 1970s production bikes were when new.

The bike isn't ready to roll out yet, but we're down to the rigging and details.

I don't even remember where I got the frame. As I worked on it I noticed things that make me think it had been improvised by Bill, a mysterious man who had been the team mechanic for cantankerous old geezers around town until his death from cancer several years ago. The frame before me might have been ridden by Crazy George. Crazy George's riding habits did not kill him. He was run over walking in a crosswalk one early winter night, going from the library to the church across the street. A van hit and dragged him. He lingered for weeks at Maine Medical Center before finally succumbing. This is how it is to be elderly and non-motorized.

Crazy George would have ridden the bike with its bent fork, helmetless and headlong. Bill would have kept it running as best he could with parts he scrounged. I am only doing the same thing, with better parts and tools. The improvisations I have upgraded were all cleverly done. They showed knowledge of how a bike should be, not just superficial applications of whatever hardware-store bolt will sort of fit the hole in need of filling.

Because a bicycle is a collection of parts, I can keep an eye out for a better frame and fork while my client rides this one. Nearly every part will transfer to any decent frame that comes along.


Justine Valinotti said...

I grinned a little at your comment about '70's production bikes, given the current "retro" craze. The high-end bikes from that period were indeed great an had craftsmanship you rarely see anymore. But some of the cheaper ten-speeds were strange, to say the least, if not flat-out scary. When I worked in bike shops, I saw many--some from revered manufacturers--with misaligned frames or forks, or with gaps in the frame tube joints.

Scrounging for parts can actually be fun: I've built a few "beater" bikes that way.

Steve A said...

What are all those truck tires in the background? Perhaps "fat tire" bikes will be taken to a new level?

cafiend said...

Junk box custom has always been a fun way to get a lot of good use out of old bits and pieces.

Now that better things are available, the crappiness of some old 1970s stuff is part of its nostalgic appeal.

Those aren't truck tires in the background, by the way. They're the family inventory of snow tires, awaiting November.