I have always enjoyed turning a wrench and seeing how things work. When I was a kid, my brother and I would tinker around with our bikes, changing the seat configuration, learning to patch a tube (with a match! Do you remember those patches that you burned in place?), etc. My dad had a very precisely organized and well endowed machine shop. I’m pretty sure we never put one thing back where it was supposed to go, but we had a great time “fixing” our bikes.
A couple of years ago, my partner and I were new to the “empty nest.” Our youngest was away at college, all of the others had fledged, and I was really thinking seriously--for the first time in a LONG time--of getting back into bike commuting. I had heard about Grease Rag, and I was intrigued. (I attended a Winter Skill Share at the YWCA!) I studied the calendar and the shop hours, and I decided I really wanted a dedicated “Project.” So, I went on Craigslist and found the perfect bike to work on, a ‘79 Fuji Gran Tourer. It was listed for sale at $30. I called, arranged a time to look at it, and offered the seller $20. Deal!
The bike was in pretty bad shape. It had a registration badge from Cedar Falls, Iowa. How had it made its way to the Twin Cities? Only the bike knows... It had rust on the bottom bracket, and the previous owner had tried to convert it to a single speed. Luckily for me, he had saved all of the parts and put them in a shoe box, which he included with the sale.
I was so excited! I started dismantling the bike with the tools that I had. My wrench set helped me remove a lot of the parts, but I couldn’t get that crank off! I started perusing video tutorials for certain parts removals, and realized that I would need to purchase some bike-specific tools. I had many parts soaking in solvent and I learned how to clean rust off of chrome with aluminum foil. I salvaged as many parts as I could, and took the frame to Grease Rag for my first shop night. It was at Sunrise, at the old location on Lake Street. Everyone was friendly. Shane was amazingly helpful, and we started doing things like removing the headset and assessing the various parts.
I decided, after I had the frame stripped down, to have it bead blasted and powder coated with a new shade of baked-on goodness. I discovered Anthony Peterson (local powder coat specialist) and picked “almond” as the new color for my old frame. Anthony had my frame for a week, and returned it looking pretty spiffy!
Then began the fun part of re-assembling the “new” bike! I ordered a pretty brown B-17 Brooks seat for it, and bought a set of old 27” Campagnolo wheels, again from Craigslist. At Grease Rag (Sunrise), I learned how to overhaul the hubs with new grease and bearings, and Low showed me how to true the wheels. Jamie helped me reinstall the front and rear derailleurs and install new cables. I decided to get rid of the old “suicide” handbrakes and we put on a set of more modern Tektros on the drops. The old quill stem was replaced with a used--but in better shape--stem from the parts bin at the Hub on Minnehaha. I rebuilt the headset with help from Janne at Grease Rag at Recovery, and fine-tuned a bit at Grease Rag at the Hub on University. Finally, back at Grease Rag Sunrise, Jamie helped me put the finishing touches on by choosing some retro pedals from the parts bin and wrapping the handlebars with some fresh tape! She was done!
I rode the bike a couple of times. My son admired it a lot, and I ended up giving it to him. I have since acquired a number of bikes and have set up my own mini-shop at home to maintain my “fleet” of three. None of the bikes I have purchased since then has been rusted and old like the Fuji, either. However, I am truly grateful for the experience--and the help and camaraderie--that marked the completion of that first bike project. That was my introduction to Grease Rag. I found a wonderful place to learn and grow. I encourage anyone who has the itch to try this! I know you can do it! And you will be very pleased and satisfied with the results!
I love attending Grease Rag shop nights. It’s so fun seeing rad WTFs (women/trans/femme) working on their bikes, networking, and sharing their stories. I am so grateful for the help so many gave to me, and for the safer space that Grease Rag is for us non-cis/het* types.
So, what are you working on?