Thursday, January 3, 2013

A note to new 10 speed refurbishers

After refurbishing 14 bike boom era 10/12 speeds over the last 18 months I have learned a few things about the process-mostly by messing up! So in the hopes that even one prospective bike refurbisher can learn from my mistakes/experience/pain/tears I thought I would put together a list of guidelines:  Working on old 10 speeds for the beginner.  This comes with a big dose of IMHO and is by no means complete but as this time of year is reflective I have been giving this some thought for a few days and wanted to get it down on (virtual) paper:

  1. Read up before you wrench.  One thing I did a decent job of was doing alot or reading before I ever started taking an old 10 speed apart. With the internet there is an enormous wealth of knowledge out there; excellent links, blogs, video,  exploded diagrams etc.  You can use my blog and links lists as a starting point but I would advise googling away and see what you find.  Its also good to have a flesh and blood resource like your local bike shop (LBS) or a friend with skills and tools.  Finally good old paper is nice to have, I use a well thumbed copy of Zinn and the art of Road bike Maintenance, people also rave about Parks tools Big blue book , and I have found that you can pick up 70s era bike maintenance books for pennies via Such as; The Complete book of bicycling -Sloane, Richards Bicycle Book -Ballantine, and Anybody's bike book -Cuthebertson to name a few.
  2. Be Picky.  There were literally Millions of 10 speeds built in the bike boom era so don't feel like you have to jump at the first bike you come across, as you develop a network of places to look ( that's a post for another time) you will start to realize there are plenty of bikes out there so if bike you find doesn't speak to you and or isn't dirt cheap and/or free then walk on by.  A few of my rules are;
    1. Is it lugged?  Have I mentioned I love lugs?  Based on my experience selling refurbished 10 speeds lots of other people do to.  They are just classy and usually mean at least a bit of craftsmanship went into the bike.
    2. Is it a bike I would want for myself?  Its my hope that if the bike speaks to me it will speak even louder to prospective buyers after I am finished giving it a huge does of TLC.
    3. Is it an "average" size?  Now I am a pretty averaged sized guy at just shy of 6 feet so I am biased here but mostly I look at this from the prospective pool of buyers.  There are alot more folks out there in the 52cm to 62cm frame size then there are at the extremes.
    4. Is the price right?  This is going to depend on whether you buying a bike to build for yourself versus buying one to rebuild.  The bikes I have spent the most on were ones I intended to keep so I wasn't as worried about turning a profit but the less you pay up front the more room you have for profit.  More on pricing when I write about finding bikes in a future post.
    5. Does it have an obvious problems? I will talk more about this below but try to put aside your lust for beautiful lugged bikes for a minute and look at this prospective project bike critically is there a bent wheel or a missing part or wait a sec is the fork bent? 
  3. Give it a critical eye.  Remember these bike are 30 plus years old and they may an issue or two, you want to discover a deal breaker or issue up front not after you get the bike home, it may also help you bargain with the seller.   Some common issues to look for;
    1. Damage to the frame or fork, a small ding in the tubes is one thing a major bend or crack is a red flag.  Randy at MyTenSpeeds has a great article about this.
    2. Bent or badly out of true wheels.  Give the wheels a spin do spin freely or do they rub on the brakes?  If the bike wobbles like a drunk frat boy that might mean it needs more than just a bit of truing.  Do you have the skills to tackle that?
    3. Stuck stem or seat post?  If you can bring some allen wrenches and box end open end wrenches with you so can loosen the seat post collar and stem bolt and see if both them move freely up and down, if they do no worries and if not you might have just found a big PIA.  Don't forget to snug up the bolts after you do this check.  While stuck stems and seat posts are not insurmountable problems they can add a lot of work and time to a refurb and may also indicate a level of neglect (lack of grease on these parts) that may extend to other parts of the bike 
    4. Rust?  These are Steel bikes so rust isn't uncommon but there is a little rust here and there in paint scratches and there is systematic left-outside-by-the-seashore-for-decades rust.  If you have a bike with a good deal of rust, and probably not good paint, then you may be looking at sanding down and repainting the bike.  Again not an insurmountable problem but it does add considerable time and expense to the project and once you take off original paint and decals etc your bike loses some of its "collectable" value if that matters to you.
  4. A few things to avoid.  At least until you get some projects under your belt, I ignored all three of these guidelines and learned alot but also had some major frustration along the way:
    • Bikes with cottered cranks due to potential issues with removing cotters without special tools or other methods.  Look for my upcoming post on the 74 Raleigh Grand Prix where I had this issue.
    • French bikes before 1982 due to proprietary threading and sizing.  Again more info on this in future posts.
    • Department store bikes (Sears, JC Penny's, Wards etc) nothing wrong with them but most are cheaply built and with so many great bikes out there from England, Japan, France (see above), Italy etc you have a number of better bikes to choose from, this gets back to being picky.  See my recent post on the Sears Free Spirit.
  5. Have Fun! I mean otherwise why do it?  The whole process of finding a bike is kind of like a treasure hunt and and the end of the line you have hopefully found a diamond in the rough that you can bring back to life for your own enjoyment or someone else's. 


  1. I had no idea that you did that much work on old steel! You're a pro! That tip about "is it a bike I want for myself" hit home. That is the only bikes I consider. Sometimes I see a nice offering in a step-through or a bike not my size and I pass it by. Right now, I am not in a position to spec buy but I could get into it; it would be nice to have the spare parts and I would LOVE to make a little money; problem is I have a bad habit of just giving things away to people rather than cashing in. I could probably be cured of that, though.


    1. Thanks Tim Joe, I wouldn't go with Pro status I am an experienced Amateur kind of like a AA minor leaguer. I am not super handy and the nice thing about 10 speeds is that they are mechanically simple enough for me to work on. I find when I am working on a bike I would be happy owning its fun to do the work and I enjoy it, when its something like a puke brown Sears Step thru its a bit more of a chore ;-)

  2. Great post Ryan,
    If it is ok, I would like to mention just one thing though. I agree with TJ that step-through frame bikes are not very desirable. However they can be a wonderful and cheap source for quality salvaged components. Before you automatically walk past a step through (ladies) bike.. Take a good look at the wheels, brakes, derailleurs, stem, bars etc. etc. You might be walking past a gold mine of vintage quality components. Cheers

    1. Excellent Point Hugh, actually one of my favorite Raleigh Rebuilds (coming soon) was a Marathon Step through with beautiful lugs and detailing.

  3. Sooo... I picked up a Sears bike... It was a curb find, so it was free. :)

    Didn't know what it was but it looked special so I grabbed it. Turns out it's a bike made in Austria (by Puch maybe?) with Weinmann brakes, Campy derailleurs, etc. so what was something to slap some tires on and ride to work has become a bit of a restoration project.

    I know I can find books about rebuilding components, but where can I find info about the little things, like cleaning rust?

    1. Jim congrats on your pickup. You got the good end of the Sears Spectrum with a Puch. One you tube channel I would recommend to you is bike man 4 u at For rust on components I usually go with super fine steel wool or a brass wire brush, for rust on the frame I would either use naval jelly if its really bad - but be careful very toxic or for a spot here or there I would use my dremel with a brass wire brush and then cover the cleaned up spot with either touch up paint or some clear nail polish to prevent rust coming back. Hope that helps out. Take your time and have fun.

  4. Thanks for the tips, I'll check them out. I was thinking of using Simichrome or something like Mequiar's NXT All Metal.

    I also have Raleigh English roadster 3-speed I should restore...

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  6. Anybody's Bike Book was great. Sometimes it had a cook book approach and other times it was more philosophical. I can see it still applying to bikes made thru 1985.