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April 17, 2005

This old Bike

Im sitting here looking at this old bike Im restoring and thinking, What did I get myself into? and There must be an easier way to do this! But there isnt I think. So tonight after work I dug into the restoration project again.
I spent another 2 hours on my front wheel trying to scrub the rust off. So far that makes a total of 4 hours of work on the front wheel alone! It did have a lot of rust on it though. But I think its in a condition now where I cannot do anything more to clean it up. I still have to repack the bearings, but I wanted to get all the rust cleaning done before I did that. Now Im thinking I should repack the bearings tomorrow night, and go to the bike shop on Tuesday with it and make sure the wheel is exactly true before I put the tube and tire on it. I noticed a few loose spokes as I was scrubbing it. The white tires I bought on eBay to fit this old bike have been shipped so I should see them on Wednesday or Thursday. I'm not going to make any more predictions about how long this will take because yesterday I said that it should only take me one more hour to finish that wheel and it took 2 more just to scrub the rest of the rust off. I'll just do the rest to my standards and try to work on it every day or two until it's done.
After I was done with the front wheel, I took off the front fender and started to scrub that with steel wool. I got most of the rust off the outside, and started on the underside where the rust is the thickest. It has nice chrome fenders so I think this bike will really shine when Im done with it. It has a few dents so Ill probably try to push some of those out with my rubber mallet. I spent 30 minutes working on the front fender so far.

Total time invested in this 1960s Armstrong Lightweight:
Front wheel- 4 hours
Front fender 30 minutes

The seat dilemma:
I pulled off the seat to examine it and to try to decide what to do about it. Its definitely a mass-produced, cheap seat that they would have only put on their lower-end bikes. It has heavy steel framing, with tin underbody and two big springs in back, all painted with silver paint. Over the tin seat there is a thick-black-molded piece of plastic. Over the plastic there is a VERY thin piece of foam and then a thin vinyl cover in red and white. The red is now faded to orange. The vinyl is also torn on the back corners and has come loose all along the back topside. The white machine stitching all the way around the bottom edge is almost completely gone and the rivets along the sides to keep the vinyl in position are all rusted. Its a big wide seat and the springs still work well, but I cant imagine this hard seat would be comfortable on any length of ride.
So what do I do about the seat? The way I see it I have three options:
1. Buy an entirely new seat, which would change the look and feel of the original mass-produced cheapo seat.
2. Rebuild this seat, which would take time. Also I dont know if I really have the expertise in me to do this and have it look professional. Maybe I could take it to an upholstery shop and have someone duplicate the red and white cover for a reasonable cost. I could scrub the rust off and repaint the metal parts silver then have them put a new vinyl cover on it, with a little better padding maybe. Maybe I could try it myself and if I dont get it looking right, then take it somewhere or scrap it and buy a Brooks saddle or something. That wouldnt be red and white like the original though, but it would look nice on this red bike.
3. Leave it the way it is and cover it with a black gel seat cover. That would change the look and feel but the original seat would still be under there in the same condition, hiding.

Im not a bike collector, but I am under the impression that those people that do collect bikes like to see all original components where possible and like to see it in the best possible condition without redoing the whole bike. Even re-painting the frame Ive heard can detract from the value of the collectors item because its no longer original equipment. Thankfully the paint on this bike is in really good condition except for a few scratches, which are now rusted. I think Ill get some of that rust inhibitor from the auto parts store and try to find some auto touch-up paint to match the bikes red paint.

To keep this project in perspective, my wife told me today, Its still a funny looking old bike. I think I need to shift gears and move on to the back wheel as soon as possible so I can get that Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub working before I run out of time. I still have some broken cables and dont know if this thing will shift or not. Then once I get that working I could take the rest of the bike apart to finish cleaning it up.

In any case its a lot of work! I have a feeling Ill be working on this until the day I go down to Redwing with it for the ride. But the good news is, it will feel like a new bike when I do. I hope.

Why am I doing this again? To meet some new, interesting people and experience English-Style Bike touring where they purposefully make as many stops as possible. The Bicycling Magazine has a good article about a bike racer that went to Ireland to learn how to slow down. He purposefully did about 30 miles in a day and had beer and food along the way. I think its the same idea as this ride, except they are serious about doing this ride on old British-made 3-speeds or less.
And I do love seeing this old, rusty, dirty, damaged bike shine up and come back into practical use. We are such a wasteful society where so many things, even automobiles, have become disposable. When it no longer looks pretty, or things start to go wrong with it, we get a new one. People dont repair things anymore it seems. I think even people are being treated as disposable, because thats the way we treat our things. And thats progress?

Posted by carl1236 at April 17, 2005 11:37 PM | Bicycle Restoration


Keeps you outta trouble John. I picked up that old Phillips last night. I rode it around the block and it was pure fun. I can see I have some adjustments to make on it, and then it will become the grocery getter. The guy who gave it to me asked that I take it to some British cycling event up in New Brighton this fall. He said he'd let me know more about it later. I'm sure you'll hear about it on your Lake Pepin ride.

Posted by: Jim at April 18, 2005 7:23 AM

My attitude is to (re)build so that it's what I want. If I were doing this project, I'd probably do the seat myself so that it's functional, in this case comfortable for the tour you'll be doing. Refurbishing a seat isn't hard, at least not if you're not concerned with making it look a very specific way - I did the banana seat on my old Sting-Ray last spring and I'm very happy with how it turned out. No special tools, I just went down to the fabric store and got everything I needed (including black velvet, oh yeah! ;).

I made the bearing "mistake", too. Now I'm planning to order up an assortment from Sheldon so I can redo what I did, plus I'll be set for whatever bike I might find myself working on. Like you, I expect to keep working on refurbishing bikes for years to come.

Have fun with that thing! I spent hours rubbing steel wool on old wheels, too, and I'd do it again. Most certainly will, actually...

Posted by: nathan at April 18, 2005 10:31 AM

I was sufing the web in hopes of finding how to get rid of the rust on a bike i just bought and i came to this site, amazingly enough i'm about to go through the same steps, the rust part is the trickiest and since the bike is so old i need re paint the fenders which have dents, the spokes which are loose, the tires which are old and the seat too old school to imagine, i'm happy that there is one other person in this world going throught the same thing as me

Posted by: polis at May 24, 2005 10:28 PM

A little off-topic but just wanted to say I liked the layout of the site

Posted by: thick black at July 18, 2005 3:05 AM

Thanks! I like it too. Thanks to Shane for fixing up this template!

Posted by: John at July 18, 2005 9:34 PM

Great website!

I have an old 27? frame Raleigh Super Record that I bought new in the ‘80s. No big collectible deal, but it has tons of sentimental value to me and I ride it almost daily. I stand 6’6? and it’s difficult to find frames big enough for me. However, I recently ran across a KHS “Gran Sport? 10-speed in a thrift store (while I was donating kids’ clothes, etc.) that had the same “old school? brazed lug frame as my beloved Raleigh, and it was actually my size! The deraileurs on this “junk bike? still work, and they are Suntour “Honor? mounted on the stem, not all that different than the ones on my Raleigh. The front wheel is a little bent and the front brake cable is disconnected, there are a few scratches on the frame and fork, and the saddle is a cheesy vinyl covered POS. However, the frame seems to be straight and without rust, and the rest of the components are due for replacement anyhow.

I’m thinking of stripping it to the frame, sanding the frame, priming it, and painting. Then putting the original deraileurs back on, but probably replacing the brakes (old Diacompe center-pulls) and putting flat bars and a comfort seat and non-toe clip pedals on it and voila – I’ll have a dandy “café bike? that I can use to get around town, meet my buddies at the pub for a pint, etc. I am fortunate to live in a little town where everything is within biking distance.

Here’s where I need your expert advice:

• The deraileurs make a bunch of clicks when shifted. Is this normal for this type? As I mentioned before, they seem to work fine. I’m asking because the ones on my Raleigh don’t click at all.

• What product do you recommend I use to strip the old paint off the frame – or would I be OK just roughing it up with sandpaper and steel wool and then priming and painting? Bear in mind that this will be a “working bike.?

• What brand of primer and paint do you recommend? My local bike shop owner (a real nice guy and a super source of advice, parts, etc.) recommends using something automotive-grade.

• Finally, is this project something you would even consider? I want to end up with a bike I can ride that’s solid and dependable (and that won’t cause me to cry like a schoolgirl if it gets stolen, like my Raleigh would).

I’m hoping this turns out to be a good thing to do over the winter, and my 9-year-old can get his hands on it as well and learn what makes a bike tick. In these times of $3 a gallon gas, it seems like a good idea to have a reliable bike to get around town. And with modern road bikes going for $500 and up (way up), I figure that an investment of $100 or so in parts and a lot of elbow grease might just pay off nicely.

Thanks for your help!

Warmest Regards,

Kyle Albert
Eagle, Idaho

Posted by: Kyle at July 31, 2006 10:48 AM

Hi Kyle,
Thanks for the message! I'm not an expert but I am working on my own painting project right now. I'm building a single-speed fixed-gear bike from the frame up. I'm hand painting it. Here's what others have told me:

Don't strip it all the way down to the metal or it'll rust out faster (because we can't stop the oxydation from starting with our primitive tools) Just remove all the decals and rough it up with steel wool so the primer adheres well. Then paint several coats in the color of your choice, lightly sanding all the streeks and runs. Then add highlighting around the lugs and other custom painting, like I'm painting a sunflower on the front of mine as a badge, and some others on the frame as decoration. Then add a coat of automotive clear coat spray. I'm not sure how it'll go yet, because my project has been sitting in the prep stage for a couple of months while I tend to other things. (like riding, running and swimming)
I have seen several hand painted bikes and they look awesome. Even one that a guy painted with industrial gray paint like you see in a factory or plant. He put red pin striping on it and it looks great. Good luck with your project! I'd love to see it when it's done.
Oh and definately go for it. A customized bike you build yourself just adds to the fun of it all! It's like riding a piece of art! And you created it.

Posted by: John at July 31, 2006 9:52 PM

Can anyone help how do i remove rust from a kids bike i.e handle bars,wheels as my daughters bike has been kept outside and rusted.Any help would be great.

Posted by: sarah at October 8, 2006 9:17 AM

I used steel wool and a lot of hard rubbing. And it worked pretty well. I also bought a brass brush for my drill and that works pretty well also. After using the steel wool, you can polish with a chrome polish and it will help protect it and make it shine better. Good luck on the rust removal! If it's good chrome (thick enough) it should shine up nicely.

Posted by: John at October 8, 2006 9:44 PM

Hey I read this and it made me want to reabuild a bike of my own, but im worried i will put the time and work and probably money towards a project such as this and not be able to finish. Any Suggestions?

Posted by: Josh at November 28, 2006 6:00 PM

Find a partner to go through it with. Want to rebuild a bike together? Where are you located?

Posted by: John at November 28, 2006 8:26 PM

Its not that i need a partener to do this its a matter of do I want, I want to be a mecanic when i get older and i think that this could be the thing to help me get there, I really dont no how to build a bike but im sure i can rebuild one, and i need opinions on whether its a good idea, i wanna here from those who have done this and no from experiance, i want them to tell me what it is like?

Posted by: Josh at November 30, 2006 2:55 PM

Is it worth it? In the strictest sense of a dollar amount related to time involved, and depending on how 'new' you want your restoration, it can hardly be worth it it. I did it for the experience and to have a piece of history in 'like-new' condition in order to ride on a british 3-speed ride. I really enjoyed the process of tearing down every removable piece, cleaning it and putting it all back together again. There is nothing special about it, except that that a piece of junk turns into something beautiful and workable after 50 plus years of abuse. That's kind of special. It took me several + hours just to scrub the rust off one wheel with steel wool. I did that to every bolt, metal and chrome piece.
You can do it, if you enjoy that kind of meticulous work.
Otherwise, the shortcut is do what's necessary to get it running. ie. regrease the bearings in the wheels, bottom bracket, headset. True the wheels or replace them with modern ones. clean the bike. Make sure all the cables work, and possibly replace them. Maybe even put new handlebars on. Still seems like a lot of work, but still fun. It's not expensive to fix a bike if you do it all yourself. Usually you can find experts to help you with problems you run into.

Posted by: John at December 2, 2006 9:04 AM

See this is what i needed to hear, what im looking to rebuild is a dirt bike between 1990 and 2005, i dont want it totally beat up but i still want a challenge, I think that im going to put some more thought into this but you really helped me and i thank you,

well if there is anything you want to add then lets here it?

Posted by: josh at December 3, 2006 9:58 PM

Hey I'm 16 years old and I live in Maine and the winters get fairly long if you can't go snowboarding every day so I decided to restore a old red KHS Gransport I got for free from my friends dad. I've probably put a good 20+ hours into taking off the oxidation and rust and lubing up every moving part. The most helpful tool you will have is steel wool and a pile of rags. I used this Blue Magic auto rim polisher to remove oxidation and polish up the chrome. I've replaced the tires, tubes and seat so far. I still need a chain, cables, pedal straps, handlebar tape and brake pads. It will probably end up costing me around $200 total for a "new" bike which is ridiculous. It's been a lot of fun and I've learned a lot so far.

Posted by: Lukas Brewington at March 27, 2007 2:28 PM

very cool. I'd love to see a picture when you are done!

Posted by: John at March 27, 2007 10:18 PM

I can relate...been there quite a few times myself. It's worth it in the end. Show us some pix!

Posted by: Dirt Bike Pro at April 11, 2007 6:33 AM

Hi there. This is great! Oh how I love the internet! I have been wanting an old school style bike for months, planning on saving $2K for a customised brand new one handmade from Italy (?!) when the other night I walked past a very similar model on someone's junk pile! I tentatively knocked on the junk pile owner's door and they said "oh that old thing- please! Take it!" So I wheeled her all the way home (tires flat of course), grinning all the way. Now I am completely inspired to restore her to her former glory but the rust is pretty bad. Im about to wheel her to the local bike shop and ask if she's past it :0! I hope not!! Thanks for the tips and site anyhow. Great to see I'm not alone.

Posted by: lucy at May 9, 2007 11:15 PM

Thanks for the comments Lucy!
For the most part, Bike shops are not equipped to deal with old used junk (someone elses treasure). mainly because of the time required to restore it to 'like-new' condition. It's not economical to have a shop do the work. The best bet is dig in and repair it yourself. Where are you located? Find yourself a do-it-yourself, recycle-a-bicycle-type-place for local assistance. Also check Sheldon Brown's website, it's full of information on old bikes.
A lot of rubbing with steel wool on the chrome. If you are in the Twin Cities, St. Paul, Minneapolis I can show you what you need to do to this thing. None of it is too technically difficult, just time consuming.

Posted by: John at May 13, 2007 9:57 PM