Mt. bikes seem to have been given short shrift here on the ol’ Buzz Bomb site. Nearly 9 years and 82 posts and I’ve never mentioned anything about any number of mt. bikes around here. Today it ends with a post about a more recent arrival.
While visiting thedropoutbikeshop.com about 8 months ago Chad had pointed out a Univega mt. bike that had been traded it. It had been updated with a few modern parts while also being “uglied” by its previous owner. The worst sin were a pair of Scott AT-4 mt. bike handlebars. I hated those things in the day and they’d never grown on me. I know form follows function, but honestly, those bars were too ugly to be useful. Because the bike was still pretty clean and also because I couldn’t stand to see it soldier on with those awful bars I decided I was going to buy it up.
I don’t recall having a flood of memories when I first laid eyes on it, but since then it’s caused me to reflect back on my Univega days at College Cyclery. By 1989 we were selling lots of Fishers and thus high-end Univegas were understandably taking a back seat. With so many beautiful Hoo Koo e Koos and ProCalibers in the shop, I don’t think we even stocked Alpina Teams by 1989. Looking at one nearly 30 years later I’m thinking the Alpina Team was a really nice bike for its day, though. It was light, using double-butted Prestige mt. bike tubing, the bike was relatively quick with its trendy straight fork, and finally, it was well appointed with Deore XT throughout. It also cost less than a similarly equipped Fisher.
Sure, the speckled paint job wasn’t the most attractive and today makes the bike look really dated, but even Fisher hadn’t been immune to the look, splatter-painting their Hoo Koo e Koos. I guess I fell for it twice because there’s one of each here.
I keep thinking I’ll take the Alpina Team out into the Sierra mountains just to the west of here. It might be fun to spend some time on a rigid mt. bike for the first time in many years. Then again, I’ve never been great at trail riding and the only thing that’s increased is my waistline. Sad as it sounds, this might be one of those times when nostalgia is better left in the shop.
This poor old Sterling showed up at the Reno Bike Project a couple months back. Raymond Eliot was nice enough to call me to come get it before, well, I’m not sure what would have happened to it. Probably nothing good. (Thanks, Ray!)
As you can see, a fair amount is missing or is wrong; I’d need to hunt down wheels and grips (the existing are incorrect). I’d need tires, saddle, seat post, grips, chain, pedals, parking stand, parking stand clip, rear reflector, some missing bearings, spacers, etc… Also, an original chainguard in matching blue and white with the right amount of patina, the hardest part by far.
I was thinking I’d pass it on to someone who’d be willing to find all the missing parts and put it back together all original-like, but then again, uhhh, isn’t that what I’m supposed to be able to do?
Damn. I guess I’m now working on an old Sterling.
Here it is, all shined up and ready to ride. The Brooks saddle is now dyed a shiny black, new Carlton decals have been installed and the bars have been re-wrapped with original white plastic tape. The bike rides well enough, though the handlebars are a bit narrow for long rides. Still, a pretty bike that was definitely worth the time.
Here’s a new arrival, a one-owner bicycle purchased by the widow’s husband in the late 1960’s. “My husband rode it maybe three times before he decided he was over it,” she stated, “over it” likely meaning the Gitane specifically, since the couple had a pair of Schauff folding bikes that looked well used.
The Gitane, on the other hand, was fresh as a proverbial daisy. That is, except the foil seat tube decal, which had been squashed in a repair stand at some point. When I asked how the decal could have been mauled she said, “He used to have it tuned every so often, just in case.”
A fairly comprehensive search turned up zero decal replacements; no originals, no remakes. …And then the other night I was sitting, watching the scrub jays badger Marmalade, our large tabby when it occurred to me that I might have a few lying around myself. A concerted hunt in the official repair area/cramped half basement and lo and behold, I discovered not only a few various Gitane decals, but indeed a whole shoebox full (I need to get better organized). In the mass was a shiny new seat tube decal, all sassy and red.
So, you might be thinking I titled this write-up because the bike is now so fresh it looks like it came out of a time machine. A little perhaps, but the real impetus was the decal I noticed on its drive-side chainstay, “email luxe polymerise”. Email? Really?
A quick translation turned up “polymerized luxury email” which is obvious nonsense. A little further down the rabbit hole I found a bicycle forum that stated the term referred to the type of paint used. There were also other funny posts about similar Gitanes having the same strange decal.
In the end, I guess I’ll have to believe the paint story for many obvious reasons, not the least of which is, if these bikes had traveled to the future you’d think they would have benefited from it somehow. If anything, 1960’s/70’s French bikes with their heavy tubing, cottered cranks and onerous components were a step backward.
Jeez, if the average number of bikes sold each year is 15, that’s 375 over the course of 25 years. I guess it’s a good thing we have the sale; otherwise we would have been buried underneath a pile of steel years ago.
This nice old Carlton showed up last week. Already pretty clean, the “Before and After” transition won’t be as dramatic as some, but that’s not to say it’s ready to go. It’s missing tires and most of its decals, the grease in the bearings is petrified, and the original Brooks B15 saddle has lost most of its color and suppleness. In other words, it’ll still be in the work stand for 8-10 hours.
Based on workflow I’m guessing it won’t be ready for it’s “After” shots for about a month. If you like Carltons it should be worth checking back, though.
Ahh, my first bike, a second-hand 20″ single-speed with a rattle-can red paint job and dented fenders. It was nothing to look at, but I loved it nevertheless. I rode it everywhere, or at least everywhere a 5-year old could. Pretending it was a top-fuel dragster, I’d purposely high-center the rear wheel between its training wheels and pedal with all my might, executing the dirt equivalent of a burnout. I’d use more or less the same method but creep slowly forward, digging long trenches in our driveway, much more efficient than using my Tonka backhoe.
I understand why folks have a strong connection to their first bikes. Like the beat-up little Schwinn-built B.F. Goodrich girl’s bike that showed up here one day 7 months ago. It wasn’t rare, it wasn’t collectible per se… Heck, it wasn’t even a full-size bike, but rather a diminutive 24″ wheel model. The fact that the customer had kept it for 69 years was no accident, though. …And any attempts to talk her out of a full restoration fell on deaf ears: Sometimes a bike is restored not because it’s rare or valuable, it’s love, pure and simple.
The B.F. Goodrich went into the shop queue and soon enough was underway. I discovered there’s something liberating about restoration without worrying about the cost vs. subsequent value. It’s a good thing because the Goodrich threw the scales off almost immediately and never looked back.
So here it is, all shiny and running like a champ. No garage queen, the owner says the bike still fits her so she’s gonna ride it. Maybe I’ll teach her how to do a burnout when she picks it up.