Having refurbished quite a few bikes in the past 6 months, I have decided to pull this bike out of my shed and give it a go. Here’s a “before” picture. I got this bike brand new in 1987 or 1988 from Wooden Wheels Skate Shop in Newark, Delaware. I was about 12 years old. It’s a 1987 GT Pro Performer with the O.G.K. mag wheels. 1987 was the last year that GT manufactured in the U.S., making this bike worth more now than when it was brand new. When complete it will be all original except for the tires and grips. After I refurbish this one, I’ll probably refurb my sister’s mid 90′s purple Dyno.
1987 GT Pro Performer; Before Photo
Here’s another 80′s relic I came across recently that I’ve actually decided to keep for myself, instead of sell. It’s a Schwinn Mirada in Turquoise with color matched stem & bars. I tore it apart completely and re-cabled the bike with white housing. I put on some clear silicone Oury grips to let the color come through. It turned out too nice to sell, and I’ve instead decided to part with my Huffy Beach Cruiser, the bike that re-introduced me to cycling as an adult. While it has sentimental value, I’ll probably never ride it again, and after all, it’s a Huffy from Wallyworld. This Schwinn will become my de facto neighborhood cruiser.
1980's Schwinn Mirada MTB
1980's Schwinn Mirada MTB
Commuting by bike has increased in recent years, and so has bike manufacturer offerings in the “commuter bike” category. If commuting by bike is something you’re interested in, you can get into it much cheaper than rushing out and buying a $600+ dollar commuter bike. How? Find a quality late 80′s to mid 90′s rigid mountain bike and convert it to a commuter. You can come by these kinds of bikes on Craigslist or thrift shops, often times for significantly less than $100. Figure another $200 in modifications and you’re saving $300+ dollars over a dedicated commuter. For the sake of brevity, I won’t give many examples but the kinds of bikes that come to mind are Schwinn mtb’s like the Mirada, Trek lugged frame mtb’s like the 930 and Specialized mtb’s like the Hard Rock. These kinds of mountain bikes are mostly built from higher quality cromoly steel tubing. Their components, while not fancy, are durable. Lastly, the riding position on these bikes is similar to what you’d find on a flat handlebar commuter bike, a position designed for higher speeds and efficiency (though less so than a drop handlebar road bike).
When buying a bike, make sure you buy one that is properly sized to you. In general, when standing over the bike in the shoes you’ll be riding in, you want about 1″ of space between the top tube and the top of your inseam. Once you have purchased a bike, conversion is straightforward. Put on some road worthy rubber, from bargain tires like the CST Selecta with kevlar puncture protection, all the way up to the highly rated Schwalbe Marathons. Most commuter tires now have reflective sidewalls for safety, too. You want tires that are 1.5 – 1.75″ wide. These tires will slice the wind better and have street tread which will lower your rolling resistance. Most will also have a higher PSI rating than mountain bike tires, which also lowers rolling resistance. For comfort I’d suggest a pair of ergonomic grips such as one of Ergon’s offerings. Lastly, a decent rear rack and pannier bag setup is in order if you plan to carry clothing, gear, etc on longer distance commutes. For shorter commutes a messenger style bag like those from Timbuk2 work well, too. I used a small Timbuk2 for my 6.7 mile commute. Spend some time cleaning the bike and giving it a thorough tune up. Get familiar with your bike, you’ll be spending a fair amount of time on it if you become a dedicated commuter. One of the best things you can do as a commuter is learn how to tune and maintain your own bike. Park Tool and BicycleTutor.com both have excellent resources to learn. There may even be a bike co-op in your area, or local groups/bike related businesses like REI that offer basic maintenance classes. You will save yourself quite a bit of money by maintaining your own bike as well.
While this post does leave out quite a bit of information about bike commuting, there are plenty of resources to learn about the topic, Google is your friend. I mainly wanted to touch on the commuter bike conversion process and hope you found the information useful.
Yesterday I replaced 18 spokes across 5 of our pedicab wheels. All of the broken spokes were inside spokes. One wheel had 7 broken spokes all in a row. I don’t know a ton about wheel physics, but that must have been some serious load or impact! Dealing with ordinary 26″+ wheels at the bike shop, I’m always amazed at how out of true a wheel goes with one or two broken spokes. It was very strange, but the wheel with 7 broken spokes was still almost perfectly true. Most certainly attributed to the fact it’s a 20″ 48 spoke wheel. I have to say I’m surprised at the durability of the wheels we’re using, granted I did buy very stout wheels, but I personally have had 1,200 lbs on my pedicab before. That’s 600 lbs on ONE 20″ bike wheel! I’d like to see some destructive testing done to see at what point a wheel would actually fail catastrophically.
On bringing back gummed up trigger shifters from the dead. I used to apply Tri-flow liberally, let it sit, actuate the shifters and blow the Tri-flow out with an air compressor. MESSY! Usually had to repeat this process at least twice. Now using an ultrasonic cleaner with full strength Simple Green brings shifters back to life in less than 10 minutes. Blow the Simple Green out with and air compressor and then lubricate with Tri-flow or similar. Consumer grade ultrasonic cleaners can be had at discount tool stores for around $60. Most small bike parts will fit, including derailers, bottom brackets, cassettes and freewheels, chains, shifters, etc.
On valve stem placement. For the longest time I always aligned bike inner tube valve stems to achieve some sort of visual symmetry between the logos printed on the tire sidewall. I’ve since changed my thinking on this practice. Regularly filling bike tires now has me aligning the valve stem with the pressure rating on the tire. This is very useful, as one can easily find the tire’s pressure rating by simply looking at the sidewall right by the valve stem. Much easier than rubbing dirt and grime off the sidewall trying to find the pressure rating at some random location.
Tools you should never have to use on a bicycle: Mapp gas torches and chisels. I used both on Friday. The crank arms on this particular bike were seized onto the bottom bracket spindle. Seized on so well that using a crank arm extractor tool ended up stripping out the threads from the softer aluminum cranks. I had to soften the aluminum crank arms with the torch and go at them with a hammer and chisel to free them from the bottom bracket spindle. The fixed bottom bracket cup was another issue altogether that involved a trip to the bike shop to put the cup in the bench vise. I was able to turn the frame with significant leverage that I couldn’t get with a 12″ socket drive and a fixed cup removal tool.
When assembling the larger parts of a bike such as the bottom bracket, crank arms, pedals, seatpost, etc. Use anti-seize paste on threads and metal to metal surfaces. It will make the task of disassembling in the future much more pleasant.
When I say single speed, I mean single speed road style bikes, like the Kona Paddy Wagon, not a single speed beach cruiser. I’ve taken our demo bike out on a few rides up the Scottsdale greenbelt and all I can say is, single speed bikes are a great workout. Aside from that, they’re also really fun to ride and require very little maintenance. The Paddy Wagon is set up with 42×16 gearing. The front chainring is 42 teeth and the rear freewheel is 16 teeth. Unless you want to be mashing on the pedals, you really want to be in the 75 – 90 cadence range. At 80rpm you’re doing 16.5mph and at 90rpm you’re doing 18.5 mph. That’s a pretty good clip and the high cadence results in more aerobic effort meaning it’s a great cardio workout. The Paddy Wagon is set up with a flip flop rear wheel, one side is free (freewheel, aka single speed) and the other is fixed (aka fixed gear, the pedals never stop turning). You can flip the wheel around and switch between a single speed and a fixed gear. One of these days I’ll give the fixed gear side a chance. For now, I’m happy coasting.