Reuse, Restore, Re-cycle!
Cycling can have a transformative effect. It can change lives and neighborhoods. These qualities are at the heart of what inspire bike-friendly movements around the world. For some people, though, the transformation of a bike itself is equally inspiring. These are the folks who you might see with subtly beautiful single speeds, ultra-customized cruisers, or immaculately restored classics. For anyone wanting to turn an old bike into something new, we wanted to help you get started on turning that old clunker into a sweet ride. Check out these pictures to see what’s possible with a 1952 Schwinn Cruiser (and other bikes) here.
Do you have an old Schwinn 10-speed sitting in the garage? Maybe a Raleigh, or a Bridgestone, or a Bianchi? Don’t trash it. Restore it! Old bikes have a class and quality all their own. They don’t have the super light-weight or newest technology of modern bicycles, but with a little TLC, these bikes can get you up and riding in no time. Not to mention it reduces waste and makes for a fun project.
The first thing you’ll want to look for is rust on the frame. Look everywhere. Check every nook and cranny on the frame and fork. A little rust is ok and can be sanded down. Once sanded off, apply two or three coats of clear nail-polish to the sanded area to protect the bare metal. Let each coat dry before reapplying. If there is too much rust, you will have to look elsewhere for a bike. Too much rust will make the bike uneconomical to restore unless you want to send the bike to a frameshop for a full repaint, which will cost $200 or more. You may also have some luck taking the frame to an auto body shop.
If the frame and fork look ok, check out the wheels. Are they wobbly? Are the rims or spokes rusted? If the wheels are very rusty or have a wobble so bad the wheel resemble a taco, you will need to replace one or both of the wheels. Wheels generally run at least $50 each for a basic model, which does not include the tire and tube or gears for the rear wheel.
How is the chain? A rusted chain is ok. Thankfully, chains are relatively cheap. If your chain is toast, twenty dollars can get you a new chain. You can also try soaking it in grease.
We’re more concerned with the derailleurs (aka derailers), the spring-loaded devices that move the chain up and down the gears, and the gears themselves. Your bike will probably have two derailleurs – one on the front mounted above the crank and one on the back mounted at the center of the cassette. How do the derailleurs look? If they look rusty, bent, or damaged, you may need to replace them or have them repaired. The gears also come in two parts: the cassette (rear) and cranks (front). If the chain is rusty, there may also be rust on the cassette, cranks, and derailleurs. If the cassette and cranks are rusted, they will either need to be disassembled and refurbished, or replaced. When in doubt, take the bike to a bike shop for a through inspection by a mechanic.
Next check the brakes and brake levers. Possibly most important for your restoration bike project is a solid set of brakes and levers. Squeeze the brake levers and check that the brake pads make full contact with the side of the rim. The brake pad should not touch the tire. Also check that the pad still has some life left. Bike brake pads are just like car brake pads – once they wear down too much, it’s time to replace them. The cables and cable housings may also be rusted or seized. If you find it hard to squeeze the brakes, you will probably need to remove the cables and clean them or have a new set installed. Cables and housings are relatively cheap and make for a much better – and safer – cycling experience.
A final option is to modify your bike, which will probably have gears, to a bike with only one gear. A one-geared bike, called a single-speed, has fewer moving parts and requires less maintenance. A single-speed bike may either allow you to coast without moving the pedals or will require you to pedal when the wheels are moving. The latter example is called a fixed-gear bicycle (fixie) and often does not have mechanical brakes. Your brakes are your legs! To slow down and stop, you restrict your pedaling movement. Riding a fixed-gear bicycle takes practice is not recommended for the novice cyclist, especially when riding in public streets with cars.
This article does not cover everything included in restoring a vintage bike or even making it road-worthy, but it will get you started. If you’re concerned your bike is beyond salvation, take it to a bike shop and ask a mechanic to evaluate its condition.
Though you may spend $100-$300 restoring a vintage bike, it is well worth the investment. A comparable new bike may cost hundreds more and will look exactly like every other bike out there. A restored vintage bike will stand out from the crowd, show that you took the time and effort to rescue an older bike, and will be easier to spot on a bike rack full of new bikes.
Go for it! Check your garage or your local garage sale. You might find a gem waiting to be restored.