Sunday, January 04, 2009

Utility Bike

After the failure of my previous attempt at building a commute bike, I found this one on Craig's List.  Back in the mid-80's, this would have been pretty lustworthy.  It was built to go fast, using aluminum tubes glued into steel lugs.  Twenty-year-old glue is not the most confidence-inspiring construction for me to ride, but I figure I'm not leaving city limits on this bike and I can always take the pieces home on the bus if it fails.


I'm into the silver paint.  It reminds me of the silver-on-silver paint scheme on a lot of Mercedes.  Since I have too many bikes, my commute bikes get names.  This one is named "Mercedes."


The cockpit is totally old-school.  I'm really into the downtube shifters - now that I've tried barend shifters, I think this is the only place to put separate shifters on a road bike.  The right shifter is actually indexed, which usually works, and is pretty cool.


The head badge reads "Raleigh Cycle Corporation of America."  I'm not sure what the deal is with the ownership of the company, because Raleigh is based in the UK, but these bikes were made in a factory in Kent, which is several miles south of Seattle.  I actually saw another one locked up outside the grocery store the other day, which I enjoyed.

Mercedes has kind of beat up wheels and the bearings need to be replaced.  They're sealed bearings, which is very unusual for the '80s, so when I'm less broke I can order replacements.  Probably.  On the other hand, if they were the older cup-and-cone style, I could repack them this evening.  Despite the notchiness of the bearings, it's actually a pretty responsive bike and much more fun to ride than my previous attempt or a lot of contemporary non-racing bikes.

I also plan to put better fenders on it and a rack with collapsible wire baskets so that I don't have to carry my groceries in my messenger bag when I use it to go shopping.  I survive those trips, but my bread sometimes ends up a little oddly shaped.  It'll also be cool to be able to throw my stuff in one of the baskets when I commute.


The last picture is the front end from my previous commuter.  That bike was, unfortunately, too old to bring up to a level of reliability that would have been acceptable to me.  Also unfortunately it took until after I'd already replaced the front end, which was quite an adventure, to break the part that made me reach that conclusion.  I've already stripped the frame and dumped it in the recycle can the other day, and I'm probably going to cut the rims off the hubs on the original wheels and send them out soon too.  The hubs I'll hold onto; they're okay hubs and could be rebuilt and used in wheels for another ten-speed.

As built the day that I broke the crank, the bike was actually pretty cool and I was really enjoying it.  The new front end came about because the stem was frozen into the fork in a position that was much too low for me, so I removed it destructively.  That meant I needed a new fork and stem.  When I saw the 700C disc fork above at Recycled Cycles, I had to have it.  I found the front wheel, which is a 26" wheel, there, as well as the tire and the disc caliper.  The disc brake was for a mountain bike, so I needed new brake levers, to pull the appropriate amount of cable.  I also picked up new shifters, to go on the ends of the handlebars, since the previous shifters had been mounted on the stem that I'd cut in half.  The end product of all this work was an odd little grey bike with a 650A rear wheel (590mm for those keeping score at home) a 700C (622mm) disc fork, and a 26" (559mm) front wheel.  Because the front wheel was smaller than the original wheel, it made up for the new fork being taller and the bike handled only a little faster, which was fine with me because it was a bit sluggish before.  The larger front tire gave it a really aggressive look, which was fun, and the whole rig got a lot of compliments for as long as it lasted.

Still, the one I got to replace it is much faster and lighter, and so far it's much more reliable as well.  Score one for bikes that were built to last.

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