Drive My Bike


My Latest Project: Rebuilding a Tired Old Bike
October 7, 2008, 11:03 am
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I really didn’t go looking for another project. Really. I went looking for a “beater” mountain bike that I could turn into my winter commuter bike. I found one.

Bike Tools On Floor

Yes, those are bike guts all over the floor. Will the patient live? A better question might be… “Should we admit the patient is really, really dead and move on with our lives?” Allow me to bring you up to speed…

For a few months I’ve been on the lookout for a couple of bikes. I would like to get something a bit more “serious” for my daily good weather commuting, and I would like to get a mountain bike that I can outfit for winter commuting. Winter is almost upon us here in Utah, and it won’t be long before the roads are snowy and icy, so a winter commuting bike is becoming an urgency if I’m going to keep riding. Last Saturday I thought I found what I was looking for… a used Trek Antelope 830 for $65. I called the seller, immediately drove over to take a look, took the bike for a 30 second ride up the block, had a pleasant 10 minute conversation about how he fixes up bikes and resells them, paid for the bike, and drove home with a big victory smile on my face. I then picked up a rack and a fender from a local bike shop (LBS), figured out how I was going to adjust things to get them installed, and then smiled proudly once again as I set eyes upon my new prize. I decided that I should probably lube the chain since it looked a bit tired… and that was when the fun really began. Here’s a picture of my new prize:

Trek Antelope 830

No, this picture is not upside down… the bike is upside down. That is the current state of its existence while I perform major surgery. When I started to lube the chain I noticed that it seemed to weave back and forth as I moved the pedals. Oh wow! The front chainrings were bent! (When I was a kid we called the things the chain went on “sprockets”… but somewhere in the last 30 years they have become “chainrings”… so in the interest of biker correctness I will henceforth use chainrings to refer to the poky metal circles that drive the chain.) Upon closer inspection, I saw that both the front and back chainrings were hammered! (Yes, I now also know that the rear chainrings are called a “cassette”, but we’ll get to that in a bit…) Teeth were worn and bent, and the chain itself was worn and had stretched so that it was not making proper contact. In my buyer’s exuberance over the “deal” that I had found, I had neglected to take a good look at the drivetrain components, and now I realized I had a tired old bike that needed some major surgery before it was going to be of much use to me.

Well, at this point I had to make a decision. I guess I could have tried to take it back to the seller, but he was a nice fellow and I really don’t think he was maliciously trying to sell me a bad bike, so I didn’t feel like it was his fault. I could have given the bike away, but that would mean that I just completely wasted my $65, and I still wouldn’t have a winter commuter. So I decided to go for door number three, which meant that I was going to learn to rebuild this thing and make it work. Oh, what a journey that has been over the last few days…!

When I was a kid (in the 1970’s… yeah, I guess I’m actually that old now) I used to work on my bikes all the time. I had a couple of bikes back then. I had a JCPenney special that I had completely stripped down and repainted black so that it looked cool, and I rode that like it was a BMX bike until I cracked the frame and rims trying to jump things that I had no business jumping. Then I saved up my lawn mowing money all summer and I got a “real” BMX bike, (for those that might remember… Webco frame, Webco chromoly forks, Astabula cranks, Oakley grips… oh yeah it was sweet) and I rode that thing every day for a few years. Those bikes were easy to work on, and I had no fear, so I did all the maintenance on them.

Fast forward to today. Now we have things called chainrings, cassettes, sealed bearings, bottom brackets, drivetrains, rapidfire shifters, downtubes, clipless pedals, and the list goes on. What used to be simple now sometimes seems so complex.

In spite of all of this “new” stuff, I decided to go for it with the repairs, and I dove headfirst into learning what I needed to know to get this done. I started reading everything that Google could find about bike repair, and watching lots of videos on YouTube and other places. (BicycleTutor.com is definitely your best friend) In the last few days I feel like I have learned more about modern bikes and bike repair than I thought was possible. I learned that this model of the Trek Antelope 830 was originally sold in 1992, and was only a mediocre bike back then. I now know that my Trek originally came with funky chainrings that Shimano introduced that are actually elliptical, not round, as a way to try to get more power on the entire stroke circle as you pedal, and these chainrings are not readily available today. I now know the difference between a freewheel and a cassette, and yes, the Trek has a cassette. I now know how to remove all of the drivetrain components on my Trek, and have actually done so. I now know the local bike shop owner on a first name basis, and he definitely knows me. I now also know that I did not save any money by buying that used Trek, in fact I’m not going to tell you how much I have spent at this point on parts and tools. (You can ask my wife, because she gets this nice smile on her face now whenever I come home from my latest trip to the bike shop. “But honey, the tools don’t count because they are an investment for the future.” At least that makes me feel a bit better when I say it.)

So… did I really blow it with this purchase? Well, I’m going to be positive and look beyond the financial part, and say that I think the experience I’m getting, and even the fun that I’m having (yes, I think I’m actually enjoying this) has made this whole thing worth it.

The bike is not ready yet. (Prepare for bike technical jargon) At this point I am in need of new chainrings that will fit the existing crank arms. I bought a complete crankset, but it will not work because the bottom bracket spindle on this old bike is longer than modern ones, so the front chainrings would be out of alignment. I’ve decided I’m going to use the existing crank arms and just get new chainrings. I’ve determined I need 5 arm 110/74 BCD front chainrings, and am currently deciding where I’ll get them. I replaced the cassette, and have a new chain waiting in the wings. I think I can get away without replacing any of the shifter or brake linkage, and I think my derailleurs are salvageable. I went ahead and bought a new saddle also, because I figured I was already in it this deep, so why not have a comfortable butt.

So that’s the lowdown on my latest project. I’m still choosing to be optimistic at this point, and I’m looking forward to riding this thing once I get it done. I’ll keep you posted as the adventure continues.

UPDATE: This story has a happy ending… take a look here.