How to Detail a Classic American Bike
Everyone has always seen you as a nerd, a dweeb, or smuck. To solve the problem, you have plunked down a grand for the latest and best touring, commuting, racing, or mountain bike and another bundle for the most expensive cycling clothes and shoes to go along with it. But to your consternation, absolutely no one pays attention to it or to you. What went wrong?
To understand your problem, it's necessary to understand a little sociology. In every society, the males who want to attract females and the females who want to attract males have to acquire status, and what they have to do to acquire status varies from society to society.
In some societies, females have to put huge plates within their gums and ears, and in other societies, they have to elongate their necks with copper rings. In some societies, males have to have pierce their noses with huge bones, and in others, they have to pierce something else with smaller objects. But ask yourself, what happens to the native who belongs to a society where plates are worn within the gums and who elongates her neck instead? The answer is that she has stuck her neck out for nothing; her status is zero.
Now, think about our society. What carries the highest status? Well, in our society what was once called the motor car confers the highest status. This explains why people are willing to put more than a year's salary into a vehicle they sometimes rarely use. However, our society is not uniform. In some neighborhoods, owning a Lexus puts one at the top, in others a Cadillac, in others a pickup with monster tires, and in the country an old beat-up pickup that doesn't look like it would even run. And of course, people wear clothes to match their vehicles, from the expensive suit in the Lexus to the overalls with the beat-up pickup.
Now the reason an old beat-up pickup can put one at the top in some areas is that it is anti-status. In the country, the millionaire wants to show that he is a good old boy just like everyone else. However, he still wants to be on top, so he drives a pickup that is more beat up than anyone else's.
Now where does the bicycle fit in this? If you think about it, a bicycle is the ultimate symbol of anti-status. Everyone else's lives are built around the worship of their motor vehicle, and here you come along riding a bike! So the only person you're going to impress with your fancy bicycle is some twelve-year-old kid who intends to ask his parents for one next Christmas.
Yet some people do ride bicycles and yet manage to have high status. How do they do that? They do it by recognizing the anti-status position of the bike, like the millionaire farmer recognizes the anti-status image of his old truck. Therefore, instead of having the newest, greatest, best bike, they have some old, beat-up, rusted-up contraption that doesn't look as if it would travel a block, even if the whole distance was downhill.
So, in purchasing that new bike, you outsmarted yourself. However, your position is recoverable. All you have to do is to age your bike a little so it looks like one of theirs, and then you will have the keys to the kingdom.
Before going on, I might mention to lose the fancy duds. Use them around the house or something. If you really must wear them, take them out and put them on a clothes line for a few months, bright sunny weather and rainy days included. Then they will be faded and hopefully stained and dirty, and then will be fit for public use.
Getting the bike ready is going to take some time, but if you want to have pride in yourself and present the best appearance, you won't mind the effort, and you will find yourself rewarded at the end.
The first task is to find a place to age the bike. It should be somewhere in the back yard where no one will notice, and where you can run a water sprinkler all the time. Prop the bike up somehow -- you don't need to buy a fancy bike stand -- and then place a water sprinkler where it will occasionally spray the bike. But before running the sprinkler, get a bucket of hot soapy water and get as much grease and oil off of the bike as you can. An hour's work here can save you a month of waiting later. Also, if you will get a nice heavy wood rasp, you will find it can effectively remove paint in patches which will begin the transformation of your bike. Finally, start your sprinkler and leave the bike alone. How much you need to run the sprinkler depends on your weather and climate. If you are having warm sunny weather, leave the sprinkler on around the clock. If your nights are cold and damp but the days are pretty, cut it off at dark. If your days are wet and rainy, you may not need the sprinkler at all.
As a final precaution for those with derailleur-equipped bikes, before leaving the bike, make sure it is shifted to the small-small gear (or, if your bike has a triple, you may shift it instead to the large-large gear). For those with hub gears, I suggest shifting into the middle gear.
Your bike is ready for the next stage when the cables, chain, and any other exposed bare-metal pieces are fuzzy with red rust. If your brakes no longer work and your gears are frozen into place, you have been successful. Hopefully, there are also nice patches of rust where you removed the paint.
Unfortunately, your bike had nice alloy parts that would not rust. Some cheap chrome, which would have rusted very nicely, would have been better, but there is no sense in crying over spilled milk. We'll correct this problem later.
The second task is only for those with bikes with dropped handlebars. You will never be nothing but a nerd unless you change those bars. One good idea, if they have not rusted up too bad, is to pull them out and put them back in backwards. This small change will immediately move your bike from the lowest spot on the anti-status pole to the highest! However, should that prove too difficult, simply rotate them until they are upside down. But if the bars are rusted too badly to do even that (a good sign that the rest of the bike has been properly prepared), then just remove the brakes and put them on backwards. Be sure to tear off most of one of the brake hoods with a screwdriver if you didn't do that while reinstalling. Don't mess up both brake hoods because that will look as if you did it deliberately, which is very uncool. Never, never, never admit that you prepared this bike. Just say it was an old bike that you found in the backyard.
With the dropped-handlebar bike or with any bike with tape or foam on the bars, cut the tape or foam with a knife just enough to get it to start to come apart. There is nothing more cool that dangling tape or split-open foam.
You might also want to gorge some holes in your seat, but I won't insist on this one.
Does your bike have fenders? If so, it is not necessary to remove them if you can dent them with a ballpeen hammer (if metal) or hack them with a hatchet (if plastic). If your efforts are unsuccessful, you will have to take them off. However, if the front fender doesn't look too nice, you might leave it on the bike while taking the rear fender off. Very cool.
There's not a great deal that can be done with alloy and high-quality chrome, but you can take a heavy metal chain and manage to scratch it up fairly well. Just beat the hell out of the bike, as any other damage will only add to the cool effect.
Now, we are ready to take care of that paint job. Go into the garage and round up all the mostly empty spray cans that clutter up the place. Position yourself upwind from the bike a few feet, and spray towards the bike in sort of a vague way. Of course, wimps will want to remove the wheels before doing this. When half of the paint is gone, reverse the bike and then finish. Don't have any spray paint cans? Then just round up whatever house paint you have, pour small quantities into a jar without stirring (don't worry about whether the paint is oil paint or latex), dip a brush into the paint, and splatter the bike from a distance.
The bike is almost ready. Now we have to find a sloppy mud puddle big enough for the bike. The mud should be thick enough to leave a good coat. I would suggest looking someplace where people ride four-wheelers through the woods. Take the bike and throw it into the puddle, then pull it out, and throw it in again with the other side up. Don't hesitate if grease, garbage, or dead animals are floating in the water; that's even better. Then ride home.
Your bike is now ready. When you pull it up to the bike stand, you will find yourself surrounded by admirers, including those of the opposite sex. You could have saved yourself a lot of work if you had shopped at Goodwill to begin with, but you have redeemed yourself, the important result.
Once again, never, never, never admit that you did anything to prepare this bike. If that got out, it would ruin you forever!