How can a beginner restore a vintage bike?
September 8, 2008 4:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm learning to ride a bike and have a vintage Raleigh Caprice. How do I ensure it's roadworthy and get it all ship-shape?

I bought the bike second-hand and from what I can see it just has a few spots of rust, some inside the oval bit between the back wheel hub and the frame). I tried scooting along on it and everything turns fine. But is there something I need to do to ensure things run smoothly? It feels like the perfect height and shape for me (previously I was trying to learn on a diamond-frame which was too high for me and felt really awkward) and is gorgeous (the picture linked to is not my bike, by the way - mine is blue).

I'd also like to touch up the scratches on it but it's a kind of metallic turquoise-y blue which would be hard to match. I remember my dad used to get these little paints to match cars - can you still get these, preferably online or somewhere easily accessible in the UK?
posted by mippy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Bicycles are fairly simple mechanically. As long as the brakes work smoothly and make solid contact with the rims (or the coaster brake engages effortlessly) you're probably okay.

Still, if you're unfamiliar with examining bicycles please have a professional inspect it. Any good shop will glance over the bike for free or for a minimal charge. If the bike needs serious adjustment then it's probably best to pay for a standard tune up which should include new cables, cable housing, etc.

As for touching up the paint - and old trick is to use nail polish. You can find it in just about any color and it'll work okay for a temporary fix.
posted by wfrgms at 5:11 AM on September 8, 2008

Oh, and if you're really interested in doing your own maintenance... this is one of the better basic (very basic) books I've seen.
posted by wfrgms at 5:14 AM on September 8, 2008

Brakes are certainly of primary importance, as wfrgms says. However, you also want to ensure a few other things are in order:

- Have the chain replaced if it's rusty or more than a year or so old; otherwise, clean and lubricate the chain.

- Have the hubs cleaned and repacked, replacing any worn out bearings.

- Have the headset lubricated if it's been more than ~6-8 months since it was last tuned up.

- Ensure that the wheels are in true and that none of the spokes are broken or bent.

Most of that you can do at home. The trickiest part of this sort of thing is the tools, as most of them are very expensive and specific to bike repair. If you're not planning to make a hobby out of it, you'll likely want to just bring the bike to your Local Bike Shop for a complete tune-up.

Incidentally, another great resource is Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, one of the most widely respected books on bicycle repair and maintenance. It covers everything listed above and quite a bit more.
posted by ellF at 5:25 AM on September 8, 2008

Seconding Zinn. I finally got the book (after "borrowing" it by reading pertinent sections at my local bike shop as needed) as a wedding present, and it's fantastic.

To clean up anything chrome, blast off all traces of grease with an enzyme cleaner (here in the States I'd say Simple Green) and buff with steel wool.

If there's any cracking on the sidewalls, or god forbid the tread, of the tires, replace them, and the tubes. Keep the tire pressure up where it should be, and your flat frequency will stay low.
posted by notsnot at 5:32 AM on September 8, 2008

I'd replace the brake pads, even if they look ok. Rubber hardens with age, causing the surface to be slick. They may work fine at low to moderate speeds, but as you gain confidence and start riding faster, the last thing you want is to realize that your brakes aren't stopping you fast enough.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:34 AM on September 8, 2008

I teach myself using google, there's lots of sites giving bike maintenance information, but you do have to learn what the parts of the bike are called, but luckily there are also sites that tell you that. But I'm pretty practically minded. For instance, yesterday I found some nice handle bar grips in the sale, but when I got home I had no idea how to get the old ones off and the new ones on, Google came up with loads of suggestions, but I used furniture polish because I had that. Now, I have nice new grips.

Have a look for local bike maintenance courses, and even adult bike ridding classes. If you're in London, your local branch of the London Cycling Campaign might be able to help (my local branch in Hackney run a twice monthly maintenance drop-in session). I'm sure there are similar groups around the country.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:38 AM on September 8, 2008

If you're worried about the frame, kinks, dents and signs of impact damage are much worse than surface rust. On a bike of that age it'd be amazing if there weren't a bit of corrosion.
For maintenance, let me recommend you Bicycle Tutor.
Now, then, that said, that pictured cycle is a good lookin' bike. Hell, if I rode a cycle like that, I'd want to put on a shirt and tie every ride.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:39 AM on September 8, 2008

I have a local bike shop and, not too far away, there;s a shop in Notting Hill which is good with old bikes. Raleighs are quite popular though so I should be ok going local. The bike cost me £30 so I think I can afford to get a tune-up if needed. Though I am a bit worried about the cost of the helmet I'm looking at, and gloves/lights/lock/bell (and that's all before I think about getting a nice basket for the front or a bag for the back!)
posted by mippy at 5:44 AM on September 8, 2008

Mippy: forget the rest, pay whatever you need to to get a helmet that fits you well and that you will feel happy wearing. Don't get a second hand one, and replace it regularly.
My helmets have saved me from a lot of concussions and worse. Get yourself a good helmet.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:49 AM on September 8, 2008

If you are in right part of London you might find the Hackney Cyclists bike maintenance workshop a handy resource.
posted by tallus at 5:50 AM on September 8, 2008

Lights and a rear red reflector are legal requirements in the UK if you are cycling on roads at night, a bell is very useful for London's dozy pedestrians, and I just bought myself padded bike gloves and they are great. So, yes, pay what you need for a helmet, but don't forget the rest. Also, right now a couple of the chain bike shops in London have sales on.
posted by Helga-woo at 6:09 AM on September 8, 2008

I just bought myself padded bike gloves and they are great.

Often neglected, but they make all the difference in the world for comfort, give you a better grip, and will help protect your hands in a spill.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:27 AM on September 8, 2008

I want, preferably, a helmet that doesn't make me look like a tit, and the one I like the look of is £35. Looks quite solid, though. I tend to get an achey head if I go out in winter without a hat so something solid is good.

I have poor grip and eczema so gloves look like a very good idea. I wear gloves continuously for about three months a year so it would be nice to keep my hands comfy.

My bike has a rear red reflector, although not sure when I'll be graduating to road cycling. I live in Ealing which seems a lot quieter than the roads in town.
posted by mippy at 6:50 AM on September 8, 2008

Check out the Park Tool website. They have very nice step-by-step instructions for any repair job.

Tires: check that they aren't cracked, that there aren't holes in them, flat spots, and threads showing.

Wheels: spin each wheel and watch it pass between the brake calipers looking for wobbles. Inspect the spokes for loose or broken spokes.

Brakes: check that the pads, when activated, land squarely on the rim surface -- not half on the tire. Inspect the pads for wear. Check the rim surface for wear or imperfections that could hinder braking. Tighten any loose bolts.

Drive train: check chain for wear. Park tool has a great way to do this. Get a 12-inch ruler and place it in the center of a link pin -- the round part where the chain flexes -- and then measure out to the 12-inch point. A new chain will be 12-inches long. A worn chain will be longer. Clean and oil chain. Use a household degreaser, and get chain oil from a bike shop. Inspect the cogs. They should be sharp and not excessively rounded off. Pick up the back wheel and pedal the bike with your hand while watching the drive train. Look for wobbling and bent things.

Cables: check the cables for rust or signs of excessive age -- i.e., oxidation, a white coating.

Frame: Looks welded and is probably steel. Check joints for signs of stress or failure.

Handlebars: turn them while watching the cable housing for signs that the housing is too short. Make sure the stem is tight.

Check the pedals to make sure they're not loose. Check over all bolts and nuts and tighten them as needed. If it passes this inspection, it should be ready to go.
posted by luckypozzo at 11:20 AM on September 8, 2008

Brakes: check that the pads, when activated, land squarely on the rim surface

Correction: depending upon the rim and the brake this isn't always the case - particularly on older bicycles where it was common practice to "toe-in" the brake pads so that the leading edge clamps first. It helps with squealing and general brake fade. Not so much of a issue nowadays with alloy rims and fancy brake pads, but common practice back in the day.
posted by wfrgms at 1:08 AM on September 11, 2008

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