What a great way to mark Earth Day, huh? I’ve been working on this for a few weeks. I built new wheels, and replaced the whole drive train (chainring, cranks, chain, and the cassette of gears in the back). Took it for a spin, just now, and yes, it rides like a new bike. The wheels are a lot lighter–I switched to lighter tires, too.
All of this was under the able supervision of Sam Van Dellen: neighbor, Build-a-Bike course leader at West Town Bikes, professional bike mechanic, and personal friend. Sarah Kaplan, who shares all those same qualifications with Sam, was also a big big help. I owe you guys. (Sarah will kill me if I don’t mention that she’s been teaching that class longer than Sam, and is–I think–listed as the main instructor. They teach together. And are SO’s. And live together at the coop. She was just less involved in my bike project.)
Sam found parts. Actually had a lot of them in his bike mechanic cache, which is not small. He knew about a sweet pair of rims available cheap at Working Bikes. He pointed me at references–more on that later–and patiently guided me through the process of building wheels. I checked in with him at critical moments , and he would advise well. I didn’t actually screw up all that much–after finishing the first wheel, anyway. But there were a lot of moments of ‘here’s an easier way to do that.’ And he did step in to help on a few tricky things. We worked together on the last steps–readjusting brakes, changing dÃ©railleur cable, and adjusting the new rear dÃ©railleur.
My old tires were great, but so heavy. The front tire had lasted something like seven years without a single flat. I didn’t realize how much of a burden they were until I got my second bike, Percival, which has much lighter wheels. So I decided to make that tradeoff in a different way, with Schwalbe Marathons.
I also have to mention the immortal Sheldon Brown–his build-a-wheel page makes building your first wheels about as easy as you could. Which is to say, not very easy. But he’s very very helpful. Read it at least three times, carefully, before you start. I didn’t, and I ended up restringing the spokes maybe twice over. It’s tricky–lots of symmetry, lots of times when this looks just like that but isn’t, quite. Your eye will be trained.
So the Bike of Steel is made almost new again. I bought it new nine-and-a-half years ago. I was thinking this would be fitting for a ten-year anniversary, but the freewheel (an older kind of rear gearset) and chain needed replacing, and to convert to a cassette meant a new wheel, and I wanted to build a new set of wheels anyway, and my cranks were bent too, so that precipitated big changes. Not much on the bike is still original: the frame, fork, headset and handlebars, and the bottom bracket. The rest of the bike has been replaced along the way.
I enjoy working in software, don’t get me wrong, but there is something about building stuff in atoms instead of bits. I don’t know if it’s more satisfying, or just a hunger I haven’t satisfied in a long time. I will experiment more.