Back in ’92 (a year before I turned 40), I thought it would be neat to buy a nice bike and do a bit of recreational riding to keep my body parts working as they should.
So I made a list of local bike stores and visited a number of them over the course of a few weekends. It turned out that Palo Alto Bicycles had a pretty good selection of better-than-beater bicycles, from racing to touring (and tandeming)… and their salespeople were bike-techies, too, so they would be able to educate me on the things I needed to know about.
They put me on a racing-style bike and sent me off for a test ride. Nope, not for me – the wheelbase was too short so the damn thing was too skittish for me to handle.
They put me on a cruiser-style (think: Schwinn of the late 60’s – mid-70’s) but the balloon tires and laid back posture I couldn’t see working for me in my desire to commute 22 miles (roundtrip) to work.
Ah, how ’bout a nice touring bike from Bridgestone?
Wheelbase was a little longer, so road bumps and thumps were flattened out; the shifters were at the end of the drop-bars so I didn’t have to bend completely over to reach them and at 26 pounds, it was relatively light.
Oh yeah, bay-beee, that’s just right – a Clydesdale-type rider like me could handle it just fine: I’ll take it.
Over the years I put 12,000+ miles on that bike. Rode it to work many, many times. Rode it up the Santa Cruz mountains many times. Rode it on the Los Gatos Creek Trail hundreds – if not thousands – of times. Pre-dawn, early morning, near-freezing rain to 100+ degree summer weather, my RBT and I were all over the place.
That is, until one morning about 5 years ago when I was cruising down the Trail at a fairly good clip when an old lady – skinny as a twig with a full head of blue hair – did a U-turn in front of me without looking back to see if somebody might be coming up behind her. Uh-Oh.
I ran through my options in about 1/2 second:
* Hit the old lady and probably kill her. Seriously, I don’t think she would have survived the impact.
* Head off the trail to the left at a 45 degree angle. The problem with that was due to the very long and steep decline, vegetation and tree trunks, and – finally – the deep creek at the bottom, I wasn’t sure **I** would survive. (seriously)
* Head off the trail to the right and – if I missed the trunks and boulders – end up in the pond and maybe drown.
No option looked appealing so I cranked on the front and rear brakes as hard as I could.
And this is where physics comes in.
Since I had the front wheel turned ever so slightly to the left, when I cranked on the front brakes, it accelerated and deepened the turn to the left until the front wheel was perpendicular to the road (and me). Oh man, this isn’t looking good.
The combination of my speed, weight and the wheel angle actually caused me AND THE BIKE to do 1/2 somersault IN THE AIR and land on the pavement on my side. Still strapped in to my bike pedals… basically welded to the bike.
I lay there for a minute or two while a small group of people asked if I was ok… and the old lady chewed me out for not yelling “On Your Left” as I approached her. (No mention about using the eyes God gave her to look to see if anyone was coming, naturally.)
I limped home and over the next few days checked out the bike for damage. It looked pretty good except it was slightly dimpled / bent in one spot. Dang… that ain’t gonna buff out. After I’d recovered from the thumping the pavement gave me (coupla weeks), I took the bike to a bike shop I trusted to have it rebuilt… rear gears, front chain rings, etc.
When I stopped by a few days later, a mechanic younger than Owen says, “Man, this thing’s bent, I don’t think it’s safe to ride.” I asked him a few questions and each time the answer was basically, “I don’t think it’s safe to ride” (why don’t you just buy a new bike?)
So I took the RB-T home and eventually bought a recumbent bike. But the truth is, the recumbent and I never really settled in. It could be that my ass-to-power ratio is out of whack and a recumbent hurts your knees in that situation… or it could be that it never really fit what I was looking for in a bike.
About this time last year, I started thinking about getting another road bike… whatever today’s generation of RB-T kinda bike was. So I googled RB-T and darned if I didn’t learn that RB-T’s are thought to be some of the best mass-produced touring bikes ever made. In fact, it’s not unusual to find them going for 50% more NOW than when they were originally sold – 15 years later.
Dayaaaam, suddenly that almost-rusting frame with the original junk back in my whitetrash storage area was looking a bit prettier – a LOT prettier.
So I put google to work and discovered a couple of things:
* There was an internet forum dedicated to Bridgestone Bicycles. It’s called “BOB” for “Bridgestone Owners Bunch” (you can learn more about it at http://www.sheldonbrown.com/bridgestone/whatthehellisabob.html)
* The guy (Grant Petersen) that headed marketing for Bridgestone in the US (and wrote the brochures that resonated so strongly with me) had started his own custom-frame bicycle company over in Walnut Creek called Rivendell Bikes (www.rivbike.com).
Visiting riv’s website and reading what Grant had written (this time around), I got sucked into thinking about bicycling just like I did back in ’92 – a low-key, environmentally sound and healthy means of getting exercise and taking the time to breath in my day-to-day life. Except this time, there was a slight change in his tone – or maybe it was just my perception of what he was saying – this time, he emphasized a “back to cycling basics” approach.
Wearing “regular” clothes – pants / trousers / shorts, sandals / regular shoes, standard t-shirt, etc – just get on your bike and go for a ride. Forget lycra. Forget polyester. Forget $400 worth of special shoes and pedals – just get a “regular” / non-racing bike and go for a ride.
What a concept: Get on a bike a just go for a ride… don’t need to race. don’t need to sweat buckets. don’t need to ride in a tight peloton with 1/2″ between the bike in front of you and your bike.
Just get on a bike and go for a ride. Maybe take some pictures. Maybe chat with other people. Heck, maybe ride alongside your wife and chat with her on her bike instead of a mile ahead waiting for her to catch up.
Hmmm. Maybe I’ll try that.
Now, I don’t know about you, but over the last few years I’d reached the point where I began to think, “Hey, I’ve got enough STUFF cluttering up my life, maybe I should stop buying NEW STUFF and just use some of what I’ve got a bit more.” so when I began thinking about buying a new bright’n’shiny bicycle, I thought to myself, “Apparently I’ve got a pretty good bike in the RB-T, maybe I’ll just refurbish and upgrade that bike and ride it ’til I drop.”
My old-guy bike. Yeah, that’s the ticket. No carbon-fiber, 27-speed electric shift, twitchy thing… just me and my RB-T – back together again.
So I began reading up on what I’d need to do to bring it back to life and usable for my purposes. Turns out the project would be non-trivial, but when I was done, I’d have a classic bike in brand new condition and ready to take me wherever my Clydesdale body could pedal – and since I’d done all the work myself, I’d know the bike top-to-bottom, front-to-back, bolt-by-bolt.
I’m on it.
So last Spring I began thinking through what I’d want the bike to serve me for the years ahead and came up with this short list:
* Use original parts whenever possible.
* Add only parts that made the bike more comfortable for my type of riding – around-town “ambling” or long-distance touring – comfort was a key issue for me.
Because I have a slight issue in my upper spine vertebrae, the more upright I was positioned, the more comfortable I was likely to be as I rode.
I wanted to be able to ride wherever I wanted to ride in my standard “uniform of the day”: shorts, t-shirt and sandals / regular shoes.
Following Grant’s line of thinking, I went from 28MM tires (basically, racing and rock-hard to minimize rolling-resistance) to 35MM tires (mid-pressure / softer and broader tires) which gave me a much more comfortable ride. (I skipped the balloon tires with white walls 😉
* All-weather enabled: Fenders to minimize water / dirt splashing on both the bike and me.
* Pleasing appearance.
Not such a big list, eh?
Then I visited local bike shops to see what they had to make my dream a reality. Big disappointment: They had “off-the-shelf” stuff that you’d see on either big-company bikes or racing bikes. Very little – if any -for my purposes. I bought what I could from local suppliers (Cupertino Bicycles / Vance) for the new headset (steering bearing) / bottom bracket (pedal / crank bearing), rear gear cassettes and from a shop in Sunnyvale, an extendable / variable pitch handlebar stem to accomodate my upper-vertabrae issue.
Next, I located a good powder-coating shop over in Livermore to re-paint the RB-T and then I returned to Riv and began ordering what I needed:
Brooks leather saddle.
Nitto steel rear rack.
And because I wanted a certain look and feel, I also ordered leather bar wrap from Velo Orange on the East Coast. (Their web site is at http://www.velo-orange.com) I also ordered Honjo hammered fenders and Plesher double kickstand from Velo.
And finally, I ordered an Air Zound airhorn from http://www.deltacycle.com/product.php?g=1 to clear the lactating herds off the trail in the mornings and an iHome iPod http://www.ihomeaudio.com/products.asp?product_id=10186&dept_id=1007 for music.
And just about the time I got my newly-painted frame back from Maas Brothers in Livermore, I became ill enough that I couldn’t ride and couldn’t even work on the bike.
About a month after my surgery, I was feeling well enough, so I began re-assembling my new-bike-to-be.
And then Dee became ill and we lost her quickly. I couldn’t breathe for weeks after her death. Staying focused and working on something as intricate as the bike… well, I wasn’t up to it for awhile. But with everyone’s gentle (and not-so-gentle) nudges to get on with my life, combined with Pan’s shop assistant support, I got on with my life and began re-assembling in earnest.
I disassembled, cleaned, lubricated, polished and re-installed the original parts that I’d ridden on for years. I followed directions written in a wonderful book on the how-to for the things I didn’t already know (and there were many). I called Incline Mike, Springfield Al, Velo Orange, Rivendell and Vance of Cupertino Bikes when I hit a wall… and each time, they acted as if no call was trivial or gave me an “how come you don’t know that already?” attitude.
Nope, to a person, every one was very supportive and eventually, the bike came to life and now we’re both back on the road every day… not really counting the miles or the time, but really enjoying the sights and sounds.
So below are a few photos I took about 10 days ago… some of them are slightly fuzzy – sorry about that, I had the setting on “macro” and didn’t realize it, so I’ll need to re-shoot when the weather clears.
As you can see, it’s a pretty good looking bike and, I am pleased to say it rides like a dream… it’s wonderful! (As you can imagine, I could have gotten a new bike for much less but I would have missed the journey this wonderful project has taken me on.)
Enjoy the photos and don’t forget to get out and ride – it’s a great way to see your area and get some exercise. (WARNING: YOU REALLY DO WANT TO CLICK THE PICS TO SEE THE FULL IMAGES – some of the work is really exquisite.)
Thanks to Incline Mike, Springfield Al, Velo Orange, Grant Petersen of Rivendell and Vance of Cupertino Bikes for their patience and guidance.
Special thanks to Joanne for her special support in bringing the Bridgestone back to such a beautiful state 🙂
Ride on, House-dude.
(Oh, and… wait ’til you see what I’m doing with our ’93 Ibis Cousin It (upright) Tandem!