Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wait, what?

If there's one thing I've learned so far in life, it's that things never go as planned.  This applies to everything, including hobbies that you think you have control over.  Now, I've never been terribly interested in classic Schwinn bikes.  Sure, they're gorgeous, they're tough as rocks, and decent ones can be picked up for mere pennies, but they just never really struck a chord with me the same way the old Raleigh 3-speeds did.

What's with the spoke pattern?

I had just been dreaming about building a more practical commuter out of another Raleigh Sports when the opposite, a 1976 Schwinn Varsity, suddenly fell into my hands.  Having read a great article about it on Sheldon Brown's site a while ago, I was already relatively familiar with it.  As Shaddox says on the page, the significance of the Varsity was not that it was a good (read: light & fast) road bike by any means, but that it pretty much single-handedly brought sport cycling as a hobby back to the American adult population.

Roughly two weeks ago (could be more, I'm not sure; time goes by weirdly in college), an old Schwinn appeared, leaning up against a sign post near my apartment.  It was just a few feet out of the way from where I usually walk, so it was close enough that I could tell what it was but too far for me to make detailed observations.  Time passed and I wondered why there were so many irresponsible bike owners on campus, leaving their vehicles in unsafe places for extended periods of time.  As if there weren't enough bikes tied to lampposts around campus with bent wheels.  

My favorite feature of this bike is the appearance of the long shifters

Anyway, two nights ago, I finished studying and walked home at 3 AM when I suddenly decided to take a closer look at the old Schwinn.  This is when I noticed that the chain was off the gears and just hanging loosely, the front tire was beyond flat, and the bike wasn't even locked to the post.  Did somebody take it off the property they were renting and leave it there for dead? I decided that I'd leave it unlocked for the coming week to see if anyone planned to come back for it.  


Bringing the bike in for a quick look-over, I noticed the horrendous overall condition it was in.  The bike was scarred and rusted in almost every visible place.  Its original color was a nice candy apple red, but it had been resprayed in most places in a slightly different shade.  The newer paint had then been worn off again in many places.  After a bit of WD-40, the shifters and brakes worked just fine.  The rear derailleur didn't move before, but revealed its weak springs after the joints were freed.  I used a website to determine that the bike was made in May of 1976 and read another article on the construction methods.  

The head tube is the nicest part of the bike

Despite the excitement over this find, I was never in the market for a Schwinn Varsity and I probably never will be, seeing that I already have a Ross 10-speed and a heavy Raleigh commuter.  I estimated that the amount of work it would take to get this one running smoothly for myself was much more than I'd be willing to put in.  To get it working, though, it would only need new tires, inner tubes, and a rear derailleur.  New cables and housings would improve the ride even further.  I was still unsure if I was willing to drop $40+ for just tires.  Luckily, one of my friends took one look at it and said it looked just like the dream bike he had in mind and was willing to let me get it working for him.  I'm not sure if he'll still want it after he sees it up close, but we'll wait.  The bike could make a nice project.  Seeing that it had been left outside for what seems like all 38 years of its life, I think this poor thing deserves a new lease on life with a good owner.  

EDIT 12-6-14: This has been decided for a while, but my friend saw the bike up close and was still equally eager to own it.  New alloy wheels and gum wall tires have just arrived.  The 27-inch Kenda K35s are the easiest tires I have ever installed.

I should just start a bike shop, haha (I'm not sure I'm being serious here). In all seriousness, though, it's just so exciting to order and receive brand new parts and then put them together for the first time.  Building up a bike for somebody else also eliminates some of the decision-making and cost-cutting that often plagues my own projects; the only choice is simply to order the best part within budget and install it in the best possible way to ensure reliability and safety.  No bolted-together brake cables like the one on my Ross.