Customizing a bike — when you know nothing about bikes.

I bought this bike on Craigslist a couple weeks ago.  It was a total whim; I had just sold my beloved 1959 Schwinn Traveler and had about $200 lying around.

When I was riding up to campus, I had a really light road bike with 27 speeds (of which I probably only used three), but after I discovered the joy and ease of step through frames, I sold that bike and acquired a couple vintage Schwinns (1969 red Racer and the 1959 blue Traveler, respectively), then eventually my two other current bikes, a vintage Dutch Sparta bike and a modern Bianchi Milano.  I had no intention to go back to road bikes.  I didn’t find them comfortable and I couldn’t carry even a small bag of groceries without substantially affecting the steering.

So I still don’t know what attracted me to this 1983 Trek 620, but the little information I read about it was that it was a touring model, so probably a little more comfortable than road bikes with more racy geometry (still not sure what that physically means), and I like the classic details of a lugged frame.  The photos from the seller were awful; I think they were taken in the evening with flash, which amplified the numerous scratches to the otherwise lovely metallic pewter paint and made the black taped handlebars and tires look dusty and old.  But it was my size, which is a little harder to find with road bikes, so I checked it out and brought it home with the idea in mind to fix it up for very casual touring or commuting.

The main idea I wanted to try was to switch out the drop handlebars (which are very nice engraved Sakae Custom Road Champion) to swept back upright [North Roads] handlebars ($10 for steel on Amazon, but I spent $20 extra and got the alloy ones).  I originally got these handlebars to make the Bianchi Milano (a little too modern looking for my tastes) more aesthetically pleasing to me, but I decided not to mess with a perfectly perfect bike at this point.  Putting upright handlebars would probably be considered sacrilegious by some vintage Trek enthusiasts, but I’m not trying to restore to original, but adapt to what I like at the moment.  Maybe some day in the future, I’ll become more comfortable with drop handlebars and put them back.

So here’s the point where I knew absolutely next to nothing about road bikes to having to process a lot very simple facts (and lots of reading of the ubiquitous Sheldon Brown) and use almost all of the sizes on my Allen key.  After changing the handlebars, I had to change the brake levers (with a 22.2 mm clamp diameter as opposed to the 23.8 mm for drop bars).  Some new Velo Orange city brake levers are in the mail and when they arrive, I’ll learn how to maybe change and adjust brake cables.  I upgraded the 27″ wheels to 700c and mounted white 28 mm wheels and was lucky that the brake pads can be lowered just  enough to grip the rims.  I didn’t realize that a variety of tire widths can fit onto the 700c rims (that have a width of 15 mm) because when I was thinking about changing the tires on the Schwinn, I discovered that vintage Schwinn rims have very specific measurements and typical 26 x 1 3/8 tires won’t fit due to a different bead seat diameter.  Luckily, the Dutch bike has the more common 26 x 1 3/8 tires, so my cream Delta Schwalbe tires didn’t go to waste.  The Sparta, which is by far my most favorite bike to ride, also got a saddle upgrade during which I learned about vintage saddles with clamps for old seatposts versus the modern seat that just have rails that can be mounted.  I know there are some adapters out there, but a cheap leather Brooks knockoff came up on Craigslist that already had the old fashioned clamp on it, so that made it really easy.  Just a couple hours after getting home from buying the rims, a neat Selle San Marco brown leather saddle also popped up on Craigslist near my apartment, so I bought that up too and put it on the Trek.

What else have I learned in the couple weeks that I’ve gotten the Trek?  I learned that putting an internal hub on a road bike is possible, but I’d have to get the rear dropouts spread a few millimeters and I don’t really think the bike is worth it.  I considered an internal hub only because I thought about adding a chainguard, most of which only work without front derailleurs.  This also led to the idea of removing the front derailleur and having a single gear in the front and seven in the back, then I’d also have to get something to prevent the chain from falling off.  I learned about different parts of a bike (bottom bracket, crankset, sprockets, cassette, front and rear derailleurs, difference between caliper and cantilever brakes) and that I don’t think I really want to fully build up my own bike!

Looking at the cost of individual parts (including top of the line groupsets and lightweight parts that are probably only applicable to cyclists concerned about performance) really makes me appreciate/understand prices of new bikes.  That being said, it doesn’t really take a lot to buy a cheap decent bike with a good frame that rides well (or pay for a tune-up), then add some things to your liking, like a new saddle and new tires.  It’s fun and kind of satisfying.  “After” shots to come soon!

Currently, I am debating what to do about the scratched up frame.  I bought a closely matched nail polish, but it turned out to be a couple shades too dark.  I don’t want to pay to have the whole thing repainted, which could cost a couple hundred dollars, when there are just a couple sections of scratches.  Tom and I went to the auto store to buy touch up paint for the blue Traveler, and although the results from that were also spots a little darker than the original paint, I thought it worked pretty nicely.  Plus, it’s fun to get all obsessive with a tiny paintbrush.  Gray/silver is a much more common auto color, so maybe I’ll have more luck finding a touch up paint that matches better.  After I’m satisfied with touch ups, I’ll order some decals from VeloCals which should at least preserve some of the original vintage aesthetic.  I’m considering fenders, but it’s not an immediate concern in nearly always sunny Los Angeles.  I got cork grips that were originally for the Sparta, but the Trek is in more dire need of grips with its new handlebars.  The cork might better match the marbled leather texture of the Selle San Marco saddle, too, and darken up nicely with a couple coats of shellac.

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About ireneenroute

This is a blog full of photos taken by a cell phone.
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