Little Cat “B” (aka son Lewis) has recently shown interest in learning the family trade. We thus decided to pick a bike to work on together, a wonderful Norman Rockwell father-son moment, if you will. Among the choices; a Motobecane Gran Jubile’, a Univega Gran Turismo, and any of the different Raleigh or Schwinn 3-speeds that had been littering the place as of late. There were also a couple ‘high-enders”, a beautiful C-Record equipped Scapin and the blog aforementioned Gios, but honestly, who’d let a newbie 16-year old boy with a crescent wrench near one of those?
Lewis was fine with any choice, as long as it wasn’t the “President”, a real heaper of a bike. It had been donated and even then I’d nearly turned it away as it was representative of a low point in bicycle manufacturing. Its redeeming qualities were, in order, uhhh…
Ok, so it didn’t have any. It weighed a ton, was poorly equipped and even more poorly constructed. For instance, rather than being spot on parallel with the top tube, the slot at the top of the seat tube was a full 20% off center. That’s a lot. Whoever had welded in the tube had either been blind as a bat or drunk as a skunk. And speaking of frame tubes, the President’s were hollow, but just barely, more akin to gas pipe.
What the bike lacked in desirability or performance it did make up for in expendability. If the President ended up becoming an actual running bike, well then great. If, however, it ended up falling prey to teenage overconfidence or any under-developed skills, no biggie. It was the perfect bike to bounce wrenches off. Though Lewis was less than thrilled by the choice he gamely agreed to give it a go. Good on him because he well knew it was the least palatable choice.
Right off the bat I started second-guessing my decision. The President was going to need more work and more parts than I’d initially figured (big shock). Worse, I found myself making excuses for the semi-functionality of all the subpar components (“Yep, that’s about as true as those rims can be”, or, “You really can’t make these brakes work any better.”) Was there anything to be learned from working on a bike that really wouldn’t improve much, even under the tutorship of a supposed old hand? Would this whole deal be rewarding to Lewis, or was it going to be an exercise in futility? …On his first bike, no less? Maybe he’d end up deciding bicycles were a gigantic pain in the ass and settle on a dull life like in, say, accounting. You know, like his mother.
Through all the many subsequent hours of toil the President sat there, much like the real President during these Covid times; it wasn’t helping out and it didn’t much care, either. Together, Lewis and I took parts off, cleaned and shined them up and then re-installed them in the hope that they’d work, a least a little.
We agreed to work a hour a day but I found myself putting in many more hours in the shop on my own, trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of my own choosing. Lewis started taking Rocket (his beloved cat) for backyard walks during our daily work time and I’d never seen him take such an interest in the less apparent going’s on of nature in general. He’d stare at the little songbirds at the thistle feeder, watch the winter clouds as they wandered over us, and the bathroom breaks were getting longer and longer. I couldn’t blame him as the bike really was a “Shop-Vac” in that it both sucked and blowed.
New saddle, new tires, new tubes. We threw out the lame 5-speed drivetrain in favor of a period-correct 3-speed setup. New grips, new chain, new handlebars. We scrubbed surface rust from chrome as much as we could, trying to make the bike appealing, at least aesthetically. We put on new fenders because the old ones were deemed unworthy of more effort. We replaced bearings, cables, housing, brake pads and did our level best to make the “bike” an actual bike.
On Day-2 we exceeded the original retail price of the President, on Day-5 we surpassed what any sane person would actually ever pay for it. By Day-8 the total invested was upside down by a factor of 3, possibly 4. The goal was never to recoup every cent, but it was getting ridiculous. It was no longer a bike project, more in line with one of Roosevelt’s New Deal projects.
..And still the bike just looked and functioned ok. OK was not going to cut it, but that’s the best we could hope for. Hoover Dam may have cost a bunch but it really did work quite well. Not so the President.
Coincidentally, we finished the President this morning, the same day our new president was sworn into office. I’d usually attempt some clever comparisons or heady remarks, but I’m tired and just want to put it behind me. The end result of the “Bike New Deal”? It surprisingly looks ok, kinda nice, even. Especially at dusk, though closer to actual nighttime. Lewis test rode it this morning and his take was, “It actually rides ok, Dad. It’s not too bad at all.” High praise indeed.
When I was 13 years old my parents took me to Carson City to buy my first road bike. The bike shop we went to, the only one within 40 miles, was a Nishiki dealer. After perusing the lineup I settled on a Nishiki Sport, a decent enough bike. Lots of my friends either rode hand-me-downs or department store junk – for example, Fluff’s parents bought her a Coast King – so I considered myself lucky, sort of. Was the bike suited to my riding aptitude and ability? You bet. Was it what I actually wanted? No way. I wanted an International.
First off, the name. My Lord, what could one do with a bicycle so worldly? If the Sport was the town constable, the International was James Bond. I had no real idea what made the International so, you know, international, but I knew there had to be a big difference. Maybe it came with a martini shaker.
As far as curb appeal went, they both came in a rich burgundy color, but that was were the similarities ended. My Sport was spec’ed with a host of chrome-plated steel parts. You know, steel; what they make cars and battleships with? The International was outfitted with aluminum components, all matte finished and purposeful looking as hell.
The International also weighed nothing comparatively. Not that I was allowed to heft it, mind you. 13 year old boys were not permitted to pull Excalibur from the stone. I only knew it to be nearly weightless because the catalog said so. If not properly ballasted with a water bottle and CyclePro handlebar bag, well, the thing might just up and float away.
My Sport never left the ground except for maybe once or twice when I imprudently jumped a curb with it (I quickly learned it wasn’t a BMX bike). Also, the time I crashed riding down Muller Lane after a long day pulling weeds at the Jubilee Ranch. I lost concentration for a moment and down I went. It was a magnificent pile-in of the first order and I shudder to think what would have happened If I’d actually been on an International that day. The Sport, on the other hand, took the tremendous crash with aplomb. That day its battleship components did right by me.
The Sport stayed with me throughout my middle and high school years with nary an issue. I rode it in the snow, I rode it through the 4″ of water that the town irrigated Minden Park with every week, and I rode it up and down Kingsbury Grade countless times. It would shake and shudder a bit above 40 mph, but it never hinted at pitching me into a guardrail and it always stopped at the bottom.
My parents eventually bought me a fancier bike for my high school graduation. I settled on a Nishiki Olympic 12 after discovering I’d have to wait an extra 2 months for an International. The Olympic was a great bike, but I always wished I’d had enough patience to wait for Excalibur.
The pictured International recently turned up on ebay, and for under $175 shipped I decided I’d waited long enough. The bike had seen some coastal living with rust apparent on some of its steel parts (yes, even the International had a few ferrous pieces). The frame, however, was rust free and the bike was pretty much original so it seemed as good a place to start as any.
I’ll try to post more photos of the bike after I start refurbishing it.