Thursday, February 14, 2013

nine lives

A great steel bike should live forever. The frame, at least. Steel is tough, can bend and be bent back, and can be repaired with fire. There's no reason a good steel frame should ever be junked (except possible bad rust case, but you don't keep your bike outside, now do you?).


 My 3Rensho is a prime example of this. I rescued it from the shop basement. It was in a pile of old frames and had a cracked frame end. It was the only one tall enough to fit me. With more than a little help from the resident guru, we had the frame repaired and spray-painted back to serviceable condition. I used that bike as my commuter, winter bike, and first fixed gear. I loved it, rode the shit out of it, and learned all kinds of dangerous things with it. I ended up googling "3rensho" and realized I couldn't keep putting it through Wisconsin winters. I tore it apart, de-road-biked the frame, and painted it AMC "Big Bad Green." I loved it again, took it to Hawaii, rode it down volcanoes  took it to Alleycats and many-a-pubcrawl in Milwaukee. It was a great bar bike: you knew in 20 feet if you were too drunk to ride, laying in the street with the bars jack knifed.

Brakeless on the volcano side
Yeah, that's a lot of colors going on right there. I was even honored in the original bikeforums JA thread. After five years and a lot of paint chips, I started seeing rust and realized the bike was starting to look shabby. I had also moved from the very flat Milwaukee county to hilly, treacherous Wake county in NC. Brakeless wasn't going to be so great for my knees (factor in getting hit by a car, in the knee, sometime during those five years without brakes. Her fault, not mine). If I was going to rebuilt the bike, I had better to do it so I don't have to do it again.

A word of advice on bike restorations: never use automotive paint. It looks great, yes, but it's rather pricey and chips if you look at it wrong. Plus: if you're not skilled with the gun, expect some runs because a bike frame is, you know, only curves and crevices. Either do a backyard Krylon job or pay for powdercoat. Powdercoat is tough. It's really hard to chip. Modern powders offer nearly as many options as paint, including translucent candy, metallic, and reflective.

Spend some time looking at keirin bikes and you'll see a lot of sparkles. They love their sparkles in Japan. 3Rensho was no different; the NOLA bike was particularly wild. I wanted to use a pearl white on the 3Rensho but the local coater didn't carry any. I'd have to pony up for five pounds of powder. A color swatch of "candy orange" caught my eye (I do love my orange) and I chose that. It came out more metallic/sparkle than candy, but I love it. The photos don't do it justice, it's really sparkly in the sunlight.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Before I had the bike powder coated, I had to undo the changes I made while a headstrong youngster in fixie-crazed Madison. I drilled out the brass I filled the rear brake bridge with. I drilled the custom, no-brake track fork I commissioned and I brazed on modern housing stops where the old cable guides had been. The frame was successfully de-hipstered.

When I built it up green'n'mean I wanted to do fully Record pista. But I was a poor student and even shop discounts don't make that bling cheap enough. I was only able to get a Record headset and bottom bracket. Sad to know that the trickest part, the carbon shelled pista BB, was hidden from view. It didn't matter, the bike was still fun and the part I did use were probably more durable. After all, Record pista hubs have no seals. None. They don't expect you to use such fine track equipment on the road.

Now that I have more time, more working bikes, and a bit more expendable cash, I was able to give the bike a proper build. As much Record pista as I could get. I did opted for modern CNC brakes over classic Record dual-pivots because finding silver Record parts (pre ~2009) is hard and they are dear. These brakes are much less expensive, lighter, and have more adjustment. Ditto on the TT levers. I didn't want to spring for the Record carbon levers especially since there is no (visible) carbon on the bike.

And tubulars. Yes, those crazy old tech tires. I had some on the Cinelli and loved the ride and the cornering. Yeah I know everyone else caught on with the 23mm clinchers, but there's no replacement for a truly round tire. Since I have no intentions to race, I went with fat Paris Roubaix tubs, a full 29mm wide. They are like buttah. And were a PITA to mount. Good thing that only happens once, right? I must admit, the fat tires look great on the skinny Escape rims.

1986 3Rensho Super Record Export road
Record Pista crankset, bottom bracket, hubset
Record headset
Velocity Escape tubular rims, Challenge Paris Roubaix tires
MKS Royal Nuevo pedals
Cinelli 1A stem, Nitto Aerodynamic bars
PlanetX CNC brakes, KCNC time trial levers
Centaur seatpost, Concor Supercorsa saddle
Decals from Velocals, Powdercoat from PowdercoatUSA
Thanks to Andy and Tim for the knowledge (education is both painful and expensive -Muzi)
Thanks to Oak City Cycling Project for the tools and glue :)