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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The $35 Custom Bicycle

This story starts in another story that is only helps establish a foundation for the story you do want to read. Those who want to skip the foundation and get right to the meat skip the next 6 paragraphs.

Once upon a time I met with a doctor who used words like bypass, open hart, valve replacement and weight loss. I had to loose 50 pounds before surgery. I did. Surgery went well and afterward as part of rehab I worked up to walking 5 miles a day. Life was good.

Then life conspired to trip me up. First my walking track got shut down Second work sent on the road for several months. Third I fell off a ladder and sprained the entire left side of my body. No joke, anything requiring the use of any part of my left side was stiff, painful and awkward. People who saw me thought I was a recovering stroke victim.

The result, a year later I no longer move like a stroke victim. But after months of nothing but sitting at one desk after another and eating road food I am bigger than ever having put on 75 pounds. My muscles sit on the porch in rockers playing remember when, and my left side is still weak.

Time to get back into shape. I started with what worked before, walking. I tried walking in a near by park but the hard uneven paths took to great a toll on my joints. A tread mill was better but my joints would still give up before my muscles really started rebuilding. I was one fat, sore, sad looking puppy.

Then God sent me an angel (I blame him for enough stuff I should give him credit for this) in the form of a casual acquaintance who suggested bike riding. I borrowed my acquaintances bike for a few rides and discovered a new world. A slower paced, gentler world. A world of sights, sounds and places I had not known before. And all the time I was getting stronger and the weight started to fall off. There was only one problem. I had no bike of my own.

I started shopping for a bike. I generally like a problem you can throw money at and it goes away but at that point in my life I was very short on funds. When I discovered that a “make do” bike would cost several hundred dollars while the bike I really needed would be a couple of thousand I was back to being a sad puppy.

Not being one to let a little thing like no money slow me down. I started drawing up the specs of what I needed in a bike on the theory “you can't find it if you don't know what you are looking for”. I consulted the best experts I could find (the internet is great for this) and came up with a custom bike design based on a 80s-90s steel mountain bike frame. Frames of several manufactures and models were specified by the experts. I will not go into all the details of my custom design as it will be different for each person. But the transformation of the design into reality is the real story.

During my research into the design I was introduced to the concept of a bike co-op. A bike co-op is a group of mostly volunteers usually working with a local bike shop and/or a local church who take unloved lonely bikes and rehab them into working bikes for kids and others short on funds at minimal cost or in some cases no cost. I was told I could probably find a bike very close to my specs at a co-op and make the necessary mods to turn it into my dream bike as time and funds permitted. The sad puppy began to wag his tail. I sought out a local bike co-op.

Note: I have visited several bike co-ops over the years across the country and have found all the people to be warm friendly and helpful. Maybe not surprising in organizations made up of mostly voluntaries. The shops themselves vary widely in size and shape but have the same general ambiance. That of a bike shop from bizarro world. Racks floor to ceiling full of bins of bike parts, walls covered with frames, wheels things I still don’t recognize. Several bike stands spaced around the floor with several “bike elf's” around each sand working on a bike. A “bike elf” (my term) is generally half my size, half (or less) my age covered in varying degrees of bike grease and holding at least one bike part and a tool I do not recognize and possessing 1000 times my knowledge of bike construction and maintenance.

I explained my problem to the head “bike elf” who listened intently. At the end of my story he went over to a wall of bike frames studied it for a second then pulled off a small red frame and handed it to me. I was then steered by another “bike elf” to an empty bike stand and shone how to mount my frame. Elf's then started to bring over various bike parts and try them for size and fit. When a match was found I was informed why we had a match shown how to install the part and allowed to do most of the hands on of the assembly myself.

The end result was a bike as close to my specs as I could have expected from a local bike shop. What would have cost me thousands cost me $35 in donations over a three day period. My frame and fork were from the same manufacture (one from the list of my experts) almost all other parts were superior to stock parts on most retail bikes . I only added baskets as an after the fact upgrade. The front one for my puppy and the back ones for general cargo.

The value of the knowledge I gained doing a “frame up” build is incalculable. While I am still far from a “bike elf” I am still far ahead of the average rider. The down side is I feel it necessary to carry more spar parts and tools than the average rider.

I have just started a regular riding schedule and hope time and persistence will provide the results I seek. Future posts will contain some of my better biking adventures and updates on my quest for fitness.   

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