Thursday, July 26, 2012

Budget Bicycle Makeover.

When a Flower Child friend made a split second decision to buy a bike from ebay (The auction had less than a minute to go!) Ginger Man and I were excited at the thought of social bike adventures. The bicycle was an old steel beach cruiser being sold 'as is' and seemed like an okay deal for the low price. Somewhat ironically, the seller lived on the outskirts of Perth, nowhere near a beach - so Ginger and Hippie friend took a ute drive out to collect. It was almost satisfactory from a mechanical point of view (though some things wanted tightening) but on the style front it had definitely seen better days. The seat was old and split with rusted springs, there was no chain guard and it was sporting two completely different tyres. Sadly, our friend did not have money to spare on such trivial things as aesthetics. It was rideable and that was all that mattered. To everyone except Ginger, who was secretly longing for a project. Very soon after acquiring her bicycle, Hippie friend had to travel interstate and while she was gone, Ginger hatched a diabolical plan to bikenap and improve the cruiser.

The very hefty cruiser in bought condition. I'd love to know how old it is, it weighs a tonne.
Note mismatched tyres which were also pretty wrecked from going over gumnuts.

The trouble was, we didn't have much money to throw around either - having bought our own bicycles of late. Ginger prioritised basic maintenance jobs and upgrades according to what we could afford. Firstly, the handlebars were not secure; the thread holding them in place had been stripped and they would slowly collapse downwards when in motion. Thankfully, Dads of a certain age with many bits of advice and tools were available as a resource. We took the cruiser to my parent's house, on top of a hill. The driveway became an outdoor, non-literal crash-course in bicycle maintenance. My Father, relishing the challenge of the handlebars, fabricated something to secure them inside the head tube - I wish I could be more specific but I missed that part of proceedings. I can guarantee it was a slightly insane yet workable solution and with my Father, it's often better not to ask. Especially as when I walked past during the problem solving phase, I heard him wishing he had an empty aluminium soft drink can. This is a man who built his own tone generating oscillator for fun and spends his days 'improving' various household objects that are in fact doing just fine sans improvements. Ginger set to work adjusting the brakes (which had been knocked out of alignment sometime in the past) under the guidance of my Father, learning as he went. They then took turns testing them downhill. Fortunately, they worked. The bicycle returned to our house where Ginger washed and polished every part of it he could, cleaning and lubing the chain.

The cruiser actually came with these caps. A quick way to personalise your bicycle!
I found a whole page of novelty valve caps here. They average $6 a pair.

With the mechanics out of the way it was time to look at other elements. We decided that if nothing else, we should put matching tyres on it and try to find a chain guard. This seemed like an impossible task, chain guards are not generally sold separately and casually in bicycle shops. At least not in Australia. Fortunately, we knew of a likely place in bicycle workshop/retail outlet Pal & Panther. They specialise in selling reconditioned Indi 500 bicycles and offer powder coating to order along with other bits and pieces. A singularity in Roadie-saturated Perth. Though their clients are all cool suburban types chasing nostalgia, the men of Pal & Panther are the antithesis of hipster. Just a couple of guys tinkering with bikes because they enjoy it and have done so for years. Not an ironic facial hair between them. The man in charge told us he had bought the business from the original owner who had hired him in his youth. Pal & Panther also deal with motorcycles (albeit in an adjoining building with different employees), probably carrying the financial load during the bicycle deficit of the late 20th Century. As Perth boomed and the suburb transformed into hot property, the hipsters arrived, opening gourmet taco shops and boutiques around the little bike shop. Suddenly, their work was in demand. (Although I've been told they've since moved to a place with more parking, sort of ending an era.)

The cruiser was crying out for some whitewall balloon tyres so we bought some. Sadly, the Hippie-friendly hibiscus tread pattern tyres we saw online were out of reach but Pal & Panther had a set with a wavy tread pattern and whitewall balloons of any kind look great on a cruiser, with the added advantage that they cushion the bumps. They cost $36 each (Not the pair!), the most expensive item in our budget makeover. We asked if they sold chain guards, not expecting an affirmative but we were in luck! Although we were told we'd probably have trouble attaching it. Ginger figured we could rig something up with cable ties if we got desperate. The chain guard was actually quite pretty, not the utilitarian item I had expected. Certainly excellent for about $15. We ended up attaching it with silver-toned metal cable ties to match, neatly finished and filed. The prop you can see at the front actually came with the guard. Otherwise it was a neat method of attachment.

Note the groove detailing. Also shown, new tyres!

We bought one more item from Pal & Panther, a bog-standard black metal rear basket for about $25. Ugly but very functional and tough. The cruiser was old enough that the back rack was a solid metal platform with no way of attaching modern quick release baskets. The black metal one we purchased came with bolts and plates to attach it semi-permanently underneath without drilling holes. Our bike shop budget was just about blown but we still needed a new seat, a light and of course, a bell. We headed to K-Mart because we knew they had a bicycle section. There we managed to pick up a completely boring but functional Schwinn comfort saddle for $20. We also bought a bottle cage and battery powered light for approximately $4 each and a bell for about $2.

Bell, Light, Weed.

The bicycle had evolved almost as far as we could take it. Except the ugly basket was bothering me. We made one last trip to a craft shop and I dug through the bargain ribbon, picking up dollar rolls, a couple of metres of some patterned stuff, a bit of piping and even a fake flower although I had no idea what I was going to do with it. All I had was a fair idea of my Hippie friend's aesthetic and a lot of superglue. Then I sat down with the ugly (and it turned out, not entirely symmetrical) basket and started weaving and gluing and weaving some more until my fingers were crusted with adhesive. The results were so:

Terrible photography…

because at this point…
I was pretty high on superglue, to be honest.

At last, we put it all together. We bolted the basket onto the rack as far back as we could, allowing for butt-space behind the low positioned saddle (I measured with my own fat bottom to ensure clearance) and throwing the flower into it because I'm not the hippie in this equation. For a total of about $140, it was now both functional and cheerful. More importantly, our friend loved it and we went for some pleasant trips together. Without fancy tread whitewalls, we could have had tyres at half the price or less, so a budget bicycle makeover is a lot closer than you think. Something to consider if you're feeling disheartened by your own bike. It might be as simple as a set of novelty valve caps.


  1. Many thanks for sharing these budget-friendly bike makeover tips! Bicycling can be more fun when you have one fine vintage bike!

  2. Who says makeovers need to be pricey and heavy on the pocket? Well, your "new" bike is a testament that craftsmanship should not be a matter of "how much?" but of "how can?" You know what makes it stand out from the others? The "I love my bike" tag! You're a proud biker, indeed! :)