[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: New Bike for $100!
How, after my old bicycle deteriorated, I solved the problem of acquiring an excellent new bicycle for little expense -- an environmentally friendly method for non-consumers.
Questions Why would we want to give up our old faithful bike? Why should a bike look a little grungy? What does an older bike have that a newer bike doesn't? How and why did I get my current bike? How has it been essential to me? What special qualities does my bike have? How can two touring bikes that look alike be very different? What is the hard task in restoring an old bike? Where did I get the paint and the paint remover? How much work was removing the old paint? How did I mount the bike to repaint it? How did I repaint it? What else did I do? How did my bike look after I finished?


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New Bike for $100!

No, this isn't a spammer, just me.

There comes a time when we look at Old Faithful and say "yuck." It looks like divorce time and happy bike shop owner time. $$$

My bike, cartoon-style.My own old faithful Schwinn has been looking worse and worse, with rust, chipped paint, and torn-up handlebar foam. I used to keep it in good shape -- I even waxed my chains -- before I started working 60-hour weeks and messing with computers on the side.

To some extent, a touring bike should look grungy; it's as good as a U-lock. For that reason, I had painted the bike flat black: not valuable looking, easy to hide in the woods, and easy to touch up. But I had made my last two tours without even finding touchup time (I did get a bike shop to overhaul the bearings and replace bad parts).

The bike shop owner tried to persuade me that my bike was no longer worth keeping up (his bill would have bought a decent machine).  He gave me a nice catalog full of beautiful bikes.  It was time to let the old bike go.  He asked me if there was anything that my old bike had that a newer bike wouldn't, and I said, "memories."

You see, that bike has carried me over 50,000 miles. I remember the day I bought it. I was out of a job, out of money, out of a bike, and almost out of hope. But I knew the location of every bike shop with a touring bike for sale in Northeast Alabama. I couldn't afford a touring bike, and I knew it, but I also could not afford to drive the van, and I needed a mental boost.  So, I went to the shop selling my favorite (probably because it was a little more retro than the others), talked a little, rode the bike less than a block, and handed over my credit card.

Although I had a van, the bike became my most important transportation.  I used it to see my parents, 75 miles away, and my son, 100 miles away.  After I got a job, I used it to visit Pennsylvania, where I was born, and stopped by to see the President on the way back (he wasn't home).  Two years later, the bike took me out to Colorado and all up and down their hills.  In the following years, I toured the South, visited New England, traveled to Ontario, and revisited Pennsylvania.

But another way to ask the question is, is there anything any newer bike has that this bike doesn't have?

You see, in spite of paying just $400 back in 1986, I got a brazed Tange No. 2 frame, designed by Schwinn and built in a Japanese factory.  If I decide I want better wheels or any other components, I can buy them and install them.  But I can't get a better built frame because this bike feels like heaven, and I knew it when I rode it that first block.

It's true that this bike doesn't have the cantilever brakes, the front fork bosses, the vertical dropouts, and the stretched frame that my other touring bike has, but I don't miss them.  What it does have -- and why my "real" touring bike has never been on a long trip -- is an incredibly sweet feel.

(By the way, the second bike was one of the ones I had been looking at before I bought the Schwinn; five years later, the bike shop owner insisted that I buy it for about half price.)

For years, I have been puzzling the difference; the two bikes are almost identical in every dimension except wheelbase, but the bike with the shorter wheelbase feels like a long-distance cruiser while the bike with the longer wheelbase feels sportier.  In fact, yesterday I found a simple test that really discriminates between the two bikes.  With one finger on the rump of the seat, I can push the Schwinn on a level road, and the bike itself corrects for any gravel or holes. With one finger on the seat of the Nishiki (also Tange. No. 2), I have to constantly move my hand left and right to control the bike.  Raymond Bridge (Bike Touring, the Sierra Club Guide) points out the cause: "If a builder wants to increase rake in order to soften the ride, he or she must decrease the angle of the head tube at the same time; otherwise the steering would become erratic."  The head tube angles are the same on both bikes; the rake on the Nishiki is greater. Not that the Nishiki feels erratic; it feels quick and responsive; the company might have even done it on purpose.

If I had to replace Old Faithful, the highest praise I could heap on a new bike would be to say that it feels just as good.

The only hard part to restoring an old bike is taking the components off.  I carry most of the tools to do so in my tool kit; taking a bike apart is a good way of testing to see if I have all the necessary tools.  The bottom bracket can be opened in the field (or woods) with a 16 penny nail and some heavier tool used as a hammer.  But at home, I keep a tool for this task which removes both sides.  The headset requires further tools; I just spray painted over the old one and then had it replaced at a shop (yes, it was fully indexed).

The bike before re-assembly.
The bike before re-assembly.

Painting is the cheapest and easiest task.  The first time, I let a body shop paint the bike after I spent two weeks sanding.  Then I had to repaint the bike within a year.  This time I used chemicals to strip the paint and just used sandpaper on a few stubborn spots and on rust.  I was relieved to find very little rust on the bottom of the bike; the damage was on the top bar.  Impressed by the Rust-Oleum ads on TV, I checked and discovered that the company had flat black, so I chose one can of undercoat and two cans of paint.  To paint the bike and retouch the fenders and carriers, I hung them from tree limbs, changing the attachment point with each session.  The only thing I had to cover up was the Schwinn name plate; I just used some electrical tape.  There are a few considerations in spraying the paint: holding the can too close or too far from the frame can create a poor finish; applying too much or too little paint at one time is also bad; one has to be careful to get even the smallest crevices while not overpainting the surrounding areas. By letting the paint dry between sessions and doing some mild sanding, it is possible to remove errors made along the way.  Since I was painting flat black, I added no top coat, but a clear top coat will improve the shine and durability of the paint.

Finished at last!
The bike finished at last!

In putting the bike back together, I cleaned everything, replaced everything that was badly worn, regreased everything that needed grease, and adjusted everything carefully.  Because I am a real klutz, I had to remount the front gear shifter four times (a different reason each time), and generally took my time.  Hey, I was giving the paint a chance to set!

My new bike now looks fantastic.  I even added to the front fender a black mud flap, purchased from a Pennsylvania Amish bike shop.  Now, I've got to be careful that no one steals my dream machine.  Fortunately, I can still disguise it with my ugly bags.


Painting Bicycles by Jeff Napier. His first advice is not to try. It is true, as Jeff points out, that a professional paint job will endure much longer. He also sees the painting process as being much more elaborate than I do.

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