I have never toiled in a bike shop. In some ways, because of my job, saying that feels like a confession. But the real confession here is that I enjoy working on bikes, however ham-handedly. In the last two years, I have tinkered my way through a succession of Craigslist finds, fixing up each of them, riding them around town and then selling them to move on to another project. I liked to think that each one was a keeper as my dedicated commuter, but I’m admitting that none of them are. Their lives with me are destined to be short but sweet, during which they’ll be well-loved and regularly ridden. Friends roll their eyes at me.
I always have a ready excuse for why a bike needs to go: this one was too big, that one didn’t have rack and fender mounts. Those reasons have so far all been true, but were (and are) secondary to the enjoyment of getting to experience another relic of cycling’s past and give it a little love while we are together. I also enjoy passing off a refurbished, beautiful bicycle to its next owner.
My itch to tinker with bicycles started in my early twenties, when I spent two months riding coast-to-coast. I had to learn about taking care of chains, cables and brake pads. I re-wrapped handlebars for the first time (which made me feel fancy). I also learned the absolute havoc that can be wreaked when you’re riding 80 miles a day, six days a week, and you make minuscule adjustments to your saddle position.
Shortly after returning from the trip, I lived with my parents for a few months. In the garage was my mom’s 1983 Gitane Super Challenge, untouched for over a decade. I sensed an opportunity. With zero bike-specific tools in my possession and a true cluelessness, I set about disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the bike as a singlespeed.
It was a joyous project that thoroughly engaged my mind and hands in tandem. At that point, after completing a highly focused run through the education system where my hands were primarily used to write, type and highlight things, I was rediscovering what Legos and art classes had been trying to teach me all along: I love doing manual work with my hands.
The Gitane was pretty sweet, but I was living in a suburban environment where it was functionally useless, so I drove to Austin one weekend and sold it at a citywide bike swap for $150. I recently found an old blog entry where I wrote about the experience:
The Gitane was one of the most popular bikes at the swap meet, aided by my decision to remove the white tape and polish the handlebars to a blinding shine … I finally sold it to a young woman seeking a new commuter. My table was the first she approached. Even as her boyfriend wandered around, she didn’t leave the bike’s side, touching it, riding it, and talking about what she was going to add to it. Later in the day, as I was packing up to leave, I saw the couple purchasing toe straps, lights, fenders and other extras for the Gitane. I was pleased to see that the bike had gone to a loving home and was going to be ridden.
The aesthete in me stirred pridefully. I thought back to how I was not allowed to take shop class in middle school so I joined the yearbook staff, instead, which I blame for setting me on this path to journalism. The Gitane taught me that working on bicycles provides a one-to-one correlation between effort and result, something I don’t get to enjoy on a daily basis in my professional position. Though minor, that project granted me entrance to another world in which I could think both creatively and mechanically.
My foray into vintage mountain bikes began about two years ago with a white Bridgestone MB-4 that I regretted parting with almost immediately after doing so. Since it got me started, it cemented my affinity for Bridgestones; there is no other reason.
I purchased the MB-4 for $75 because I wanted something to put on the front of a bus and use for commuting that I wouldn’t worry about being stolen or marred. But, of course, I fell for it and spruced it up. I bought that bike new silver handlebars, a rear rack and a leather saddle. Since selling it, I had half an eye on the lookout for another one in my size and price range, and recently stumbled on something special: a NOS (new old stock) 1991 Bridgestone MB-3.
My new-to-me bike has a Ritchey Logic lugged steel frame and is painted a dazzling sparkle purple. The bike had lived in the owner’s basement since the 90s with “maybe 5 miles of riding on it” and I find it simply stunning.
I already swapped in a shorter stem, favorite saddle and tires with a lower rolling resistance. My plan is to convert the Bridgestone to a drop-bar touring machine with good racks and hang onto it until the weather warms so I can take it camping. The bike was all original when I got it, including intact Ritchey Megabite tires, but original restorations have never been my aim. While gorgeous on certain rare machines, faithful resto jobs are generally far too expensive for my modest budget and lack creativity, for my tastes.
Who knows? This may be “the one.” Or it may not be.