Friday, July 17, 2015

Mr. And Mrs. Schwinn

It may or may not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with this blog, but my bike-fixing ventures have become somewhat of a small business.  It is neither big nor official because school is my first priority right now. This started out as me saving bikes from the dump and refurbishing them and in most cases, they were perfectly good frames that just needed a cleaning, lubricant, new cables, chain, and usually tires.  I would then resell them to new owners just so I could get my money back.  I never intended to make much of a profit from this; it just broke my heart seeing so many good 30, 40, 50 year old machines going to waste.  I wanted the old bikes to find a good home and ever since I started doing this roughly 9 months ago, 15 of these bikes have passed through my hands.

I have been posting ads for my bikes on the school's free & for sale site for some time.  Friends or classmates looking to either buy a bike or have one fixed started referring me to their friends.  Often times, I would tie my tool bag to the back of the Raleigh after work and be able to fix their bike on the spot.  I suppose they saw a benefit to working with me because they wouldn't have to be placed in line in a real repair shop and have to wait days or weeks for the bike to be finished. Additionally, maybe more importantly so, I didn't charge very much beyond parts.  I mostly just did (do) this for fun and to keep good bikes on the road.


I have a friend named Jake from high school who shares the hobby of working on old machines.  He drives a 1971 Volkswagon Karmann Ghia that he did a lot of work on and runs this car photo blog here, among other interesting things.  I can't exactly remember how this came to be since this series of events has been a while in the making, but Jake's family hit a vintage bike show in Ann Arbor (which I was unable to visit due to work) and bought a beautiful, blue '71 Schwinn Collegiate for his mom.


They picked it up for a relative bargain and it was in AMAZING shape.  I mean, the paint looked factory-fresh and there was hardly a scratch on the decals.  Although my friend's family does have a thorough knowledge on how to tinker with machines, they "hired" me to give it the once-over so that Mom could use it to commute to the office every day.  I suppose people really do have value in their time and in some cases such as this, would rather pay someone to do something for them.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course. On the other hand, I'm still having trouble figuring out the value of my time because people keep telling me I have to charge more!


This project was almost like working on a new bike, aside from brushing off a few cobwebs.  I replaced the cables and brake pads for good measure, repacked the bearings, cleaned it up, and that was that.  The tires were actually fairly new so those didn't have to be touched.  This happened in late April and Jake's parents have since added a few upgrades such as a basket, white wall tires, and lights.


Just a couple weeks ago, Jake's dad found a '64 Schwinn Racer for an even better bargain on craigslist.  At first look, I thought it was the average 50-year-old bike with its faded paint and cracked tires.  Upon a closer look, though, I realized that it was in spectacular shape.


Even the original decals were mostly, if not completely intact.  This bike was sold in Detroit and I guess it never left the area! I also really like the colored bands on the tubing (shown further above) that the '60s Schwinns had.  They chose a nice set of colors to go with the frame.

Something else I noticed was how well-finished this frame was compared to my '72.  Similar to Raleigh, I guess the quality went down as time went on.  In the '64, the places where the main tubes connected to the head tube were much smoother.  It looked as if it really was formed in one piece.  On my '72, slight ripples and imperfections a couple inches behind the head tube where they were joined are visible up close.


All the shifter needed to operate smoothly was a touch of oil.  It was not even slightly worn and the spring still had all of its tension.  The AW hub was the same way.  I discovered that the bike had seen very few miles throughout its life.  The ball ring came loose with just a couple taps of the hammer and the innards were pristine, the dark, heat-treated surfaces of the parts not even worn off yet.  The clutch spring was noticeably stiffer than any of mine.


It would be reasonable to assume that this bike spent most of its life in a barn or garage, but not completely sealed away.  There are places where the paint has faded but scratches that go through the paint are nearly non-existent.  This bike was completely rust-free. There are some scratches on the rear fender but it looks like a previous owner clear-coated it to preserve the metal.  (Sharp eyes will notice I forgot to put an end cap on the shifter cable before taking the photos)


Naturally, my eye for detail caught something funny.  The script on the brake calipers are different between the front and rear.  I wonder if one was replaced.  Actually, the front wheel was different.  It was a later '70s wheel that had axle-retention washers on it and no center rib.  The washers were installed incorrectly because the early forks apparently did not have provisions for this feature.  I happened to have a good '66 front wheel so with the permission of my friend's dad, I did the usual WD-40/penny treatment to remove the surface rust and put it on the bike.


Aside from tearing down and oiling the hub, I just replaced all three cables, the indicator chain (which was bent), the regular chain, and repacked all the bearings.  Everything was fairly clean since it was a low-mileage bike.  Jake's dad will install the tires that came off the Collegiate and he is also looking for a new saddle. By the way, the previous owner flipped the seat post and cranked the saddle clamp way down to fit just like I do for my Schwinns.  Aside from that, the bike rides and shifts better than any 3-speed I've ever had my hands on.

Also, I couldn't help but see some kind of coincidence here.  My friend's parents were offering to let me put bikes out for sale on their lawn on the weekend of Independence Day since the parade passes their house.  I had to decline because of work and the fact that I had no way of carrying bikes 20+ miles. However, these two bikes with their decals form red, white, and blue.  I guess this is ironic, in a way. Anyway, I am glad to know that Jake's parents will ride and appreciate these nice, old bikes for what they are and it was an honor to be entrusted to work on them.