modifying a 30-something-year-old vintage road bike…

5 Aug

After four different bikes in the last few years…I finally understand what it’s like to have a proper commuting bike.  From mountain bike, to lowrider, to hybrid to cruiser, the final answer is a road bike.  But not just any road bike, one bought used and revamped to make it perfectly awesome for me.

Vancouver is hilly, my first bike here was an adorable vintage Raleigh cruiser…the perfect bike for the beach.  She is a clunker, weighing probably 45lb, going up a steep hill was impossible….even standing, I would eventually come to a slow stop.  How embarrassing…there’s nothing worse than being completely out of breath and then having to take your bike for a walk.

I test road a super expensive Trek bike with a friend one day and it was total bliss riding up hills and passing all the slow cyclists on the seawall.  I’ve never been so overjoyed to say “On your left!” as I passed droves of families cycling down the path.  I couldn’t afford a $1,500+ bike so we went on a hunt on Craiglist for a used one, hopefully finding a frame that fits my puny 5.0′ height.

We found a 33+ year old Sekine road bike that a gal was selling that was in great condition.  Although it was pretty great the way it was, we knew that there were things that we wanted to replace.  Custom bike, here we come!

Find out what we changed to make this bike ultra rad!

First things first, don’t bring your bike into a bike store that sells only new bikes.  Maybe it’s just Vancouver, maybe it’s just bike culture but boy oh boy, was I snubbed by a whack of bike mechanics who basically said my bike was a piece of junk.  Sniff sniff…I’ll show you!

this bike is older than me! evidence that this bike was in some sort of race in 1977- 79!

We headed over to Our Community Bikes instead and was greeted by friendly people who actually wanted to help convert the bike into something better.  A funky and cool place, you can rent time at the back and use their tools and stands to save some money on labour.  People are always floating about if you need a hand too.  Parts alone are much cheaper there, they may not have the variety of other shops but they certainly have buckets of used parts that you can scavenge through.


Well, this was probably the priciest part.  The bike was purchased for $180 and the biggest downfall is that the wheel rims were made out of steel.  They were pretty, shiny and the tires were new but braking in any sort of wetness would be impossible…hello Vancouver, this just won’t do.  We would’ve just changed out the rims only but they were an old vintage size of 26 1 3/8….not readily available. Some 700cc aluminum rims were just the ticket.

Oops…problem #1 with vintage bikes….standard sizes for parts are different now.  Oh well, purchase some 700c rims, match up some road tires and we’re set right?  Murp…not quite….the forks needed a bit of love for them to fit….meaning….grind them down because they were too tight for the wheel to fit in.

700cc rims – $40 each
tubes – $5 each
tires – free!  one yellow kevlar that we already had and one blue tire that was a birthday gift


The brake calipers were pretty old so replacing them was a good idea.  Unfortunately the holes in the frame aren’t big enough to fit the standard brake caliper bolt…aiya…one more thing that needs widening.  Cables were replaced (that fortunately wasn’t an ordeal) and it was pretty obvious that the old brake levers were super stiff and uncomfortable.

brake calipers – $40 a set
brake cables and housing – $20

Brake levers

So…finding brake levers without shifters built in is a little hard to come by.   A trip to Ride-On (a used and new bike shop) was super handy because they had a pair that even included the hoods on them.  Success!  Installing these were super easy and didn’t make me exhausted.  This one simple change made the bike that much comfier and brake a lot easier.

brake levers – $25


Nothing!  This baby comes with old style Shimano levers that are on the frame instead of on the handle bars.  Although I admit that it’s sometimes annoying and I’d sometimes rather have it up by my hands, I like the original Shimano levers and they also work incredibly smooth!

Dressing it up

The funnest part of restoring a bike is dressing it up.  The yellow and blue tires definitely makes my bike unique and mega awesome but the second best thing is choosing your grip tape colour.  I went for a bright blue and Our Community Bikes has the biggest selection of bar tape ever!  Then all the little things happen like mounting the lock holder, putting on a bell, adjusting the seat and all that jazz.

grip tape – $10
bell – $2.50

she came with her own I see rhinestones on that emblem? yes I do!

It’s finished!

Okay…so I realize that I probably could’ve found a newer bike for the $400 that I spent on this one, but building it was the fun part and now that I know the ins and outs of my bike, I feel that I have learned how to fix it if anything ever goes wrong.  There’s something much more personal in having a frankenstein bike that you have lovingly struggled with to make it everything that you want it to be.

It’s amazing how the geometry of a road bike has made my cycling easier…it’s actually a feasible means of commuting now, even in hilly Vancouver.  I am utterly in love with this bike, now I understand why people are obsessed with their bikes!


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