Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The high cost of free bikes..

Oh hello! Where did you come from?
A couple of months ago I was given a nice late 80s "Club Fuji" frameset(62cm) that was supposed to have a cracked downtube. I thought that "someday" I would cut out the damaged tube, braze in a new one and pass it on to someone.  When I realized it only had a cracked downtube decal, and a totally superfluous, non-load-bearing decal at that, I got all giddy and "dancy" since it meant a FREE BIKE! A free bike with nice light Ishiwata tubing in 62cm! A size that's really just a bit too big for me, but something I've always wanted to try. Yippee! Hallelujah!

For me and my friends that hoard old bikes and parts, the opportunity to build, completely from stock on hand, a FREE BIKE that isn't just another boring old bike, is a special thing. It's something we all like to think we can do anytime we want, something that justifies all the dragging home of wrecks, the dozens of boxes of bits and pieces and the time spent risking tetanus cleaning and fiddling with all those bit's and pieces. Really though, it takes a small miracle to be able to come up with enough good parts of the right quality, type, vintage and origin to build something we would think of as a Nice bike. Something interesting and special and not "just another old bike". Maybe something sparkly enough to make Velouria from "Lovely Bicycle" jealous.

 I should probably stop here and define "free" a little better; It doesn't mean you pay nothing for the bike, it just means you don't have to pay any more when you finally get a round to putting it together. You may have spent a trillion dollars on the parts but as long as you weren't buying them for a specific bike than it doesn't count. It's just "stuff you had". You know, free. It also allows you to answer the question "Where the hell did that one come from and what did it cost?" with a simple "Why I builded it mysewf  outen the bits and buttons unner my bench my Luv. Didn't cost a Penny!" without being that most miserable of creatures, a liar.

All this for ZERO DOLLARS!
It's easy to get close, maybe just short the right crank and handlebar and a few other items that end up costing $211 and 3 months of your life to track down. But that's far from free isn't it, and usually ends up as a bike you either end up cutting corners on or having to sell off pretty quick before someone starts investigating the unapproved dispersal of $211. It's even more frustrating to get almost there, to be one Brake-lever (that you know you have in a box somewhere)short of a complete Upper-Mid-Level-Late-60s-Italian-Racebike and know that that one remaining part is going to require 5 E-bay auctions lost, the purchase of 3 scuffed and bent levers that will yield all but one of the parts required to make one decent one, and 2 years of either not riding the bike or riding it with some mongrel place-holder lever until you finally find the misplaced one you gave up looking for only to discover it wasn't a Universal like you thought but only a dime-a-dozen Modolo. It's demoralizing and why I'm always telling myself to find another, slightly less frustrating stupid hobby. I swear, it would be less screwing around to find and assemble the skeleton of an adolescent female Pterodactyl, bit by bit over the course of a lifetime, than a "proper" 1967 Legnano.

But to have in your possession ALL the right parts of the correct age, brands, and condition is so exciting, so special, that it paints a picture of smug satisfaction on the face of the Bicycle Junk-Man like nothing else.  That Fuji frame was the one thing I lacked to build a really nice 80s vintage Japanese, lightweight steel roadbike. One I could try a few things out on, have a good time riding and maybe even leave at my in-laws in Florida so I could have a fun bike to ride while visiting without dragging my best bike down the interstate hanging from the bumper of my car. 
Floating spring, made from a spoke.

 I mean I had everything, right down to some nice(ish) tires and a saddle! All upper-mid/lower-upper level Japanese stuff, except for the French Mafac Competition front brake which I'm not going to try to justify, I just dig those brakes. A lot of the parts are N.O.S. stuff I've been saving for 25 years or more, just waiting for a chance to build something neat for free! 

 I decided I'd do a few extra things while I was at it. Stuff we used to think was cool back then, things like drilling out the brake levers, the chainrings, and the seatpost(which I was too lazy to clean the excess powdercoat from the bottom of since it's hidden in the tube).

Downtube front, bar-end rear.
More holes...

 And maybe drill a bunch of holes in the bottom 8 inches of the handlebars. All that stuff that makes you faster you know.
If I was going to do all that I might as well whip up  a nice stem out of some scraps of chrome-moly       and braze some centerpull brake mounts on the fork to stiffen things up a bit in the stopping              department.   Those two things alone probably saved as much as a quarter of an ounce for only 5 or 6 hours of hard labor.                                                                                                         

 I decided I ought to go ahead and strip the old paint off the Fuji while I was at it and see if I could make it look a bit better than the typical Japanese bike from the era of Teal and Green spatter paintjobs.

So I did all that, then powdercoated the fork, the headtube between the lugs and a panel on the seat-tube.  All Gloss Black (with a bit of silver metallic that didn't quite get cleaned out of the cup on the powdercoat gun but magically made the Black look like you're staring out into the milky way(it's just like the great Bob Ross said, "We don't make mistakes, we just have happy accidents...")). I shot the stem I made with that magic black as well. I painted the rest of the frame with Chevy Cobalt Blue rattle-can touch-up lacquer over a coat of some silver I had that made for a pretty decent facsimile of the old British "Flamboyant" paintjobs of yore. It really "Flammed" good. Then I sprayed it all with some clear aluminum wheel coating and it all got a bit clouded and runny. Still looks pretty good from a few feet but dang, it was better before. Oh well, it's all so fragile you can almost chip it with a fingernail so in a few years it's either going to "look like hell" or like a "Well Patinated Survivor", depending on your perspective. The powdercoated areas are going to look pretty perfect till the end of time though, the stuff I use is meant for the chassis of Kenworth trucks and is just about indestructible if you do it right. Which I did, thank you.

So now I have a nice new old free bike to mess around with. And while it did require way too much time, time that would have been better spent counterfeiting 20s or working on my time machine(although you never have to get in a hurry working on a time machine, for obvious reasons), it's a really fun bike with the best brakes of ANY dropped-bar bike I've ever owned, AND I've discovered that a light bike with 12 well spaced gears and friction shift is still a thing of great dignity and grace and also that a 62cm bike set up for me actually works really well. I don't miss the lost stand-over(I never yank both feet out of the clips simultaneously while egress-ing the machine so don't find it an issue) and I really like the late 50s British-ish look of a tall frame with only a couple inches of seatpost sticking out and the bars about level with the saddle without 100mm of stem towering over the headset.
A bike fit for a small Giant.

 It all works great for what this bike is for.

 Although I can't decide what this bike is for. It doesn't have enough clearance for the big tires I like riding on these days(I've got 28s on it now with absolutely no room for fenders), so it's not going to become a commuter. It's got way too many braze-ons to strip it down into a sleek and sexy fixed gear, and while I thought long and hard about sweating off the bosses and cable stops, it's got internal rear brake cable routing through the top-tube so I'd still have those gaping holes to deal with. Plus the dropouts are really too short for a good fixie... Anyway, it still won't let me run the 33mm CX tires that work so well on our dirt and gravel.

Maybe I will have to move it on to someone else after all.  I suppose I could just use it as a fast bike for nice days on smooth roads, I.E. semi-permanent exile in Florida where it would languish for 358 days a year which seems a little sad. Too many bikes. Sigh.

Oh well,who cares, it was free.

Moon and star cutouts on stem. Hardly worth the trouble.
Custom shifter mount, 2 hours to save 1 gram.

Cable hanger, also made from a spoke...

Mirror mirror, on the wall, how many bikes is this now?


  1. So I see you have entered the perilous world of selfies! Personally I could never get away with showing that much leg, but I applaud your bravery!

    For what it's worth, it is not difficult to make me jealous when it comes to old bicycles... pretty much the one thing that won't is the unicorn fork you are rocking here! That bar tape colour is perfect though, especially on a black bike. Glorious job. And free!

  2. Thanks V! At least about the bike, the leg speaks for itself.

    I don't really dig unicrown forks either but since they have no soul it's OK to do things like wantonly braze on brake mounts and cover them with sparkly black plastic powdercoat. Something I'd never do to something fancier.. That blue Benotto bar tape has been in my hoard since 1986 when I worked at a Fuji shop in Leola Pa. and I still have 2 rolls left, I wonder if I'll still have them in another 29 years...


  3. I am knocked out by the job you did on those baseless shifters. Whoah.
    The unicorn fork got my attention, too- almost did a double-take- but when you're rolling, you're rolling. At this point, it's not a clam, it's a passing note. Jazz, Man.


    1. HA! I'm glad someone else digs some of those crazy extras, the holes in the handlebars especially peg the Dork-o-Meter. Not wrapping the bottom of the bars so the holes still show borders on the ridiculous but I like it that way...

      Boxed your stem up this evening BTW...

  4. I meant to complement you on your house-made stem, too. Cool thing, that.

  5. I see you are the kind of artist who conceals his true agenda. You say you worry about mismatched brake levers when you rebuild a bike, but this is about as unlike a traditionalist restorer's rejuvenated Club Fuji as can be imagined. It is, instead, an intertextual postmodern masterpiece. Prewar French brake mounts mock Jan Heine by appearing on a new generic replacement fork, which in turn, and by contrast with the frame, reminds any who forgot of the excellence of the Japanese robot framebuilders of the 80s (so who needs a constructeur?), while the drillium leering from above points up the difference between the DIY tinkerers of that era and the more skillful fellow who made the new artisinal stem. Anyone with an eye for such things who walked by it locked to a parking meter would find himself having suddenly a lot to think about.


    1. I wouldn't have thought to describe that bike as an "Intertextual Postwar Masterpiece" but now that YOU have, I think I'll agree as modestly as I can...


      BTW, that's the factory fork as odd as that seems.