Ol’ Franky wailin’ on that bicycle; gives me shivers every time, and Freddy Mercury singing about the joys of bicycle freedom; makes me long for two wheels beneath my mobile corpse. I got my first bicycle when I was five, a red and black Murray with a coaster brake. I learned pretty quick how to lock that up on loose gravel and lay skids a mile long, and once those training wheels were off, well hell knew no fury like a freak child on a bike. As I grew up, I learned to work on my bikes, mostly out of necessity (because I only had shit department store tanks), but also out of an innate interest in how derailleurs functioned and what made my bicycle ride faster. I remember the day i figured out how cable tension worked, epiphany for sure.
Well like most kids, I left bikes for awhile in a short affair into automotives, but once my second transmission went out I lost trust in that mistress. My final year of college I decided that my bicycle obsession should become official, so I set about drawing plans for a total construction. I spent hours pouring over books and magazines at the library. I’d skip work to go buy parts, and skip class to repack bearings. One day, I was wondering the shelves of my university library when my attention was drawn to a red bound tome with gold accents, and I knew something magnificent was about to happen.
That book, The Bicycle Builder’s Bible was about to open up my world to everything bicycle occult. Jack Wiley wrote in a manner that made me long for a wrench in my hand, and like a new convert I passed it around to my closest friends. I also found next to that book an even greater treasure, The Custom Bicycle, this book I have up until now never spoken of to any other living human. It holds power beyond recognition, and knowledge so great that the bicycle community feared it may end up in the wrong hands. However, after meeting with the bicycle overlords (and finding the available pdf) we feel it is now time to bring this valuable publication to light. These two books have the combined power to make any being a master mechanic. Once my Schipperke learns to read the written word, she’ll be mounting tires, repacking hubs, and crimping brake cables like a champ. However, the bicycle overlords and I agree, that with great knowledge comes great responsibility, and that is why it is of the utmost importance that you befriend, consult, and enjoy the company of your local naves at your local bike shop. I cannot stress enough how those surly gents and ladies could be the most valuable and loyal friends you may ever know. Some of the kind folks I’ve worked with at LBS’s (Local Bike Shop for those completely out of the know) may present a stern exterior and gruff demeanor, but if you bring them beer, cookies, or the occasional monetary tip, you’ll have a personal mechanic, protector, and riding companion until you die. Seriously, bike shop people are great. Okay, back to the point of all this…
So I researched and then built. As a college student, like so many, I had almost zero dollars to work with, so much of my bicycle was actually constructed from found parts. I started with an old Raleigh frame that had been repurposed as a trainer bike, but was still sturdy, and had been discarded in an LBS dumpster. I repacked Schwinn Approved hubs and laced those to some cheap box rims. My prized piece was a Campagnolo crankset dug from the depths of a grease filled trashcan behind a Chinese restaurant (hey you never know where those parts are hiding). The other odds and ends were harvested from flea markets, and the bicycle graveyards that surrounded my university. Once everything came together it was time for the maiden voyage, in which I learned about pedal strike the hard way (it was a fixed gear), stripped the hub, and snapped the chain. Success! I walked the bike home and plotted its resurrection.
I found a great way to source parts for my bicycle was by working at a bike shop. Sometimes you get them for free, and the worst part is they pay you to work on bikes. I took my first job working at Competitive Gear Bike Shop in Erie, PA after doing some graphic design work for the handsome and always charming Peter ‘Zoltan’ McMaster. It was under his watchful tutelage that I mastered the repair, maintenance, and construction of all bicycle types, and even had several opportunities at restoration and overhaul of several boat anchors.
Since building my first bicycle from the ground up, I have found it is a yearly activity. I have built bikes for myself and friends, forced builds have happened due to incidents with motorists, and I’ve found the best form of catharsis is to wrench out the pain. My current bicycle obsession is based around long road rides with occasional detours through mud, gravel, and grassy terrain, maintenance of my ever shifting fleet of steeds, and plans on total knowledge of steel frame construction.