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The Build

January 14, 2011

Another feature of this blog will involve the chronicles of the least handy man in the world building a bike (the amusing part is that I have my wife’s blessing; all the more amusing/terrifying since the build will become a toddler transporter). Over the winter, I’ve been putting together a bike for commuting purposes and for a baby seat for my daughter. I’ll report on its progress, but here were the rules:

  1. I cannot afford another bike, so this has to be done as cost-effectively as possible.
  2. It must be safe for two.
  3. I still want an interesting ride.

I’ve long been tempted to try a fixie, so I decided this was my chance. While fixed gear bikes have long been the choice of hipsters (which I am not), they’re also tremendous for working on your pedal stroke. I also take a certain, irreverent pleasure from the notion of blowing past hipsters with a baby on the back. The premise is likely in breach of Rule 2, but the jury’s still out on that. By way of compromise, I’m putting on a flip-flop hub so I can ride it as a freewheel if necessary.

The first step was to find a frame. Ever since the New York Times lauded cycling as the new golf, just try finding an inexpensive used bike! Everyone thinks they have a collector’s item or some vintage bike that’s secretly worth a fortune. This threatened to make adhering to Rule 1 pretty difficult. After several weeks of spending too much time on craigslist and ebay, I finally stumbled across the frame above. It’s a 54cm Raleigh Olympus. It’s no classic, but it is a good, steel bike, and at $40, I’m not complaining. It actually came complete with wheels and two(!) sets of handlebars (which, to use one of my father’s expressions, seemed a little excessive). The photo above is mid-stripping (about the time I thought I should maybe record a “before” shot before tearing the whole thing down). Notice the hideous, blue army camouflage hockey tape on the handlebars. I couldn’t get that off quickly enough!

After stripping the frame down and removing the fork, I’ve started sanding the frame in order to remove some rust spots and to give it a new coat of paint. A few years ago, I bought an electric sander to refinish some furniture; it’s turned out to do a pretty good job on the frame, and safer and cleaner than any of the chemical paint removers out there. The lone problem is that the sander makes a lot of noise, so it’s not an ideal activity once the kids are in bed (which is when I have time to work on the bike). I still have some work to do in the nooks and crannies, but the frame is looking much happier in chrome than in the dark navy shown. I had considered soliciting my toddler’s opinion on colour, but decided that I might just avoid the awkwardness of vetoing her choice and go with a conservative white. More to come…

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