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June 30, 2008 6:30 PM   Subscribe

An old rusty bike: Opportunity for cheap travel, or just junk?

So I'm cleaning out my parents' garage and I run across my old bike from high school. Of course, after years of storage the tires are rotted, and basically every part of it is rusty and nasty. Every part except the frame... I get to looking at the frame and it's pretty much perfect. No rust or anything. I guess the wheels and fork are in okay shape too.

So basically, I have a perfect frame and passable wheels and fork. I currently don't have a bicycle, so would this be a fun project to rebuild, or is this something that is a lot harder than it looks? It seems like I could just order some decent replacement parts and ratchet those suckers on for a relatively cheap riding experience. Of course, I know nothing on the subject, so it could be better to just go buy a new or used functional bike.

Here are my questions, given the circumstances:
Is it worth it to build this thing up with replacement parts, or is it going to be too expensive to justify the effort?
If it seems feasible, what's a good source of how-to guides and technical references so I can get to work?
posted by Willie0248 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you want a project to tinker with, I'd say go for it, but I wouldn't treat it as a deal, you'll likely put more money into it than you'd spend buying a used bike.
posted by santaliqueur at 6:39 PM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: It is very hard to answer, because it depends enormously on your own interest and motivation. However, you should check out various previous threads on buying a used bike, because they have lots of appropriate tips. Here is a good starting point to those threads.

Along with those tips, I'd add that you have a non zero chance of finding permanently siezed components. Try adjusting the seat height, to see if the seat post can move. Also try removing the peddles (remember that peddles are threaded in opposite directions).

Finally, spends lots of time with Sheldon Brown, Park Tool's repair site, and maybe even Mefi's own Bicycle Tutor.
posted by Chuckles at 6:41 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This series of bike repair video tutorials was recently featured on lifehacker. It might come in handy.
posted by phunniemee at 6:42 PM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you lived near Carrboro, NC, you could take it to the Recyclery for some free help. "Mini-mountain of used bicycle parts" has been used to describe this place -- and there are cool volunteers there, too. Awesome institution. I don't know if there's anything else like it, but you could look.
posted by amtho at 6:46 PM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, simply awesome repose, guys. I think I might end up fixing this thing up even if it will be a littel more expensive than just buying a used one. Any suggestions on parts and where to order them?
posted by Willie0248 at 6:46 PM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: Ha, repose should be responses.
posted by Willie0248 at 6:49 PM on June 30, 2008

You can remove most of the light rust on chrome with a brillo pad pretty quickly - Give it a try before spending a fortune on parts. Wash, dry and apply a coat of paste wax to keep it from happening again(Go light on the brake surfaces, and try it out a few times before getting in traffic.).
posted by Orb2069 at 7:13 PM on June 30, 2008

I think every bike I have owned was a rusted out junker that I stripped down to the frame and rebuilt. It's fun, your bike will be unique, and it's a good project. If you know what you want you can get pretty good deals on parts on Ebay.
posted by bradbane at 7:25 PM on June 30, 2008

The economics of replacing a large number of parts on a bike frame don't work out, unless you have access to wholesale prices and are a skilled bike mechanic...

If you want cheap, decent quality transportation head down to a bike shop and, depending on whether you want a mountain or road bike, ask to look at something with a component set matching the SRAM X7/Shimano Deore level, or Shimano 105 for road bikes...
posted by thewalrus at 9:15 PM on June 30, 2008

Can you take some high-res photos of the bike in question from multiple angles and put them up on the web somewhere? I've built about five bikes from the bare frame up, do all my own maintenance and worked as a courier for about 1.5 years. Depending on what it is I should be able to tell you what you need to fix it up.
posted by thewalrus at 9:16 PM on June 30, 2008

OK last feedback... Can you read any labels on the current components of the bike, or provide answers for these questions?

make/model/year of frame? is the frame steel or aluminum?

type of headset and fork used? diameter of fork steerer tube?

tire size? if it's really ancient might be some standard like 27 inch, more likely 700C (standard road) or 26" MTB (559mm). What's the condition of the bearings in the front and rear hubs? Likely rusted solid if it's so old the tires have flaked away. May be cheaper to get a new budget wheelset ($150) rather than rebuild the existing.

type of cassette/gearing used in the rear? rear hub spacing? 130mm, 135mm ?

bottom bracket threading, italian or english? current type of crank installed?

Take a look at for an example of single-unit pricing on budget type componentry, for example, $35 road bars with 31.8mm diameter that are not particularly light, but reasonably stiff and serviceable... or tiagra/105 level shifters, brakes, derailleurs, cassettes etc. If it is not at least 8 speeds in the rear you have an old style of rear hub that restricts easy upgradeability, although 126mm steel road frames can sometimes be spread (by a machine) to 130mm without too much trouble. 8 and 9 speed road and mountain bikes use the same rear hub spacing which will accept any modern 9 speed road cassette (old stock 105, before it changed to 10-speed, or any sram 9s road cassette, or tiagra)

Some other things like the seatpost diameter are not likely to affect the cost, most budget seatposts cost the same no matter what diameter you buy...
posted by thewalrus at 9:34 PM on June 30, 2008

Is it worth it? Well, plenty of people restore classic old bikes. Enough of them that if high school was long enough ago, you might be able to sell it to one of them and buy yourself a basic used bike with the money.

Or you might just have a beat up old bike. If it seems interesting to you to fix it up, go for it.
posted by yohko at 12:15 AM on July 1, 2008

You could always turn it into an electricity generator!
posted by hatmandu at 1:25 AM on July 1, 2008

The economics of replacing a large number of parts on a bike frame don't work out, unless you have access to wholesale prices and are a skilled bike mechanic...

This is my experience too - I brought my bike used, in ready-to-ride condition, for £20 ($40)*. It would not be possible to buy all the constituent parts for that little. Hell, you can spend more than that getting a helmet, a lock, a set of lights and a set of mudguards.

If you want to rebuild the bike for a bit of fun and to learn about bikes, go for it. If you want to rebuild the bike to acquire a working bike at low cost, get onto ebay/craigslist/whatever and buy a cheap but working second hand bike.

* I wanted a bike where I wouldn't be bothered if someone stole it. Three years later, not a single theft attempt.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:35 AM on July 1, 2008

My thoughts, it depends on the frame. Is it worth the effort? Is it aluminum, and not 40lbs of cheap steel. If the wheels are in decent shape, it's often that purchasing new tires isn't a bad idea anyway. New chain, sprockets are probably still fine, but do remember a new chain can slip on old sprockets if those are worn, so it's a good time to replace those as well, if but only if necessary. As others have mentioned, the cost of new parts can quickly outweigh the cost of a new bike. On the other hand, the quality of bike obtained for hundred bucks or so, if you happen to have a decent frame, it may be more worthwhile to spend the cash and only replace what needs done. Typically that will be the chain, maybe some cables, new tires if as you've said the old ones are essentially trash, get some new tubes at the some time. Besides, there's some satisfaction I find in getting my hands dirty, and being well-familiar with your bike helps when you're in the middle of nowhere. Best of luck in whatever you choose.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:31 AM on July 1, 2008

I used to work in a community bike workshop and we would build up bikes from parts to raise a little money. The economics of it depended on having a stock of free second hand parts to work with and it could take a few bikes to get enough parts for one decent one -- we would strip donated parts of any usable bits (we we also used for repairs) and then scrapped the frames unless they were bikes that were easily fixable. We lived in dread of people bringing us they had had hanging around -- we would only have been a way station on the way to the scrap heap.Dealing with anything that wasn't was a recipe for frustration and scrapped knuckles so we had a strict policy on what we would let through the front door.

I wouldn't let this put you off, but, depending on the condition, and quality of the frame, it would see its primary value in learning in how to fix bikes, rather than any end product. It will be easier if you have any similar type of workshop -- if only for access to specialized tools -- and be sure for check for seized parts before laying out much cash, it's not so hard to render a frame unusable trying to clear them -- hell we manged to snap a frame doing it.
posted by tallus at 5:05 AM on July 1, 2008

There is a bicycle co-op in my area that will teach you to fix a bike, lend you the tools you need, and charge a small amount for replacement parts, workshop supplies, etc. You may want to see if there is something similar in your area.
posted by oblique red at 7:54 AM on July 1, 2008

i rode my brand new bike 3,600 miles last season before I had to retire it and buy another. Why? Because it was not worth it to maintain the old bike anymore !

The amount of money you spend on parts quickly outweighs the cost of a new bike ... sometimes even with a 2-3 year warranty added on!

so , dont bother with it. If you are serious about going biking .. you will be much more inclined to jump on the bike when it is nice , new , shiney, and DOESNT GIVE YOU PROBLEMS.

Which your rusty project bike will continue to until you replace EVERY part.
posted by Ryaske at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2008

If it were me, I'd bring it to my local bike shop and ask them how much it would for an overhaul and what it would entail. Then I'd make my decision as to 1. can I do it myself, and 2. is it really worth my time and frustration when I can just pay these people $xx to do it for me. I'm pretty handy with tools, but something tells me I'd go with #2.

Also, my LBS has a bike repair guy rental service. Basically, you pay for x hours and you get a guy that you can pick his brain high and low about how to do anything related to maintaining your bicycle.
posted by hipersons at 11:12 AM on July 2, 2008

One thing I'd like to point out, is that every replacement personally has been an upgrade. I'm by no means one to want the latest and greatest gear, it would be nice, but it gets very expensive. Usually when something fails, it's a good time to upgrade, or at least get something which is high enough quality not to fail again until you've got some good use out of it. If it failed in the first place, it was either cheap Chinese crap (no offense to anyone Chinese) or defective in some way. I had a cheap CNN at one point, one of the crank parts failed during a ride, The pedal threads stripped I believe. My dad is a mechanical engineer, and was able to put it through some metallurgy tests where he was working. I got a new crank-arm fairly quickly after that :)
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:44 AM on July 3, 2008

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