It's been a year since I moved back downtown, and while I appreciated that the move was a big change for me, I also was excited about being back in my old neighborhood. One of the first things I did, too, was to buy myself a new townie bike - I justified it as a car substitute, little knowing that it would inspire me to bigger and better things than I ever imagined!
The bike was an old Sears three speed I'd found on Craigslist. It was $75 and had old oxidized spokes, and a completely disconnected Sachs Torpedo Dreigang, basically a German copy of the venerable Sturmey-Archer three speed, and as I rode it home, I told myself that I was sure to ride it enough to justify the asking price.
At the same time, I also was working on a big project for work, and shortly after I acquired the Sears, I was given a bonus of an Amazon gift card, which after a little research, I discovered could be used to purchase parts to fix up my Sears.
So began the changes - first with some new cheap wheels and baskets, but then growing to a set of Brooks grips, a Brooks saddle, dyno powered lights, and eventually my discovery of the wonderful company called Velo Orange - too late for their saddles, but I did get some great hammered fenders, and oodles of ideas on how I could do things differently.
Changes aside, the most significant thing I noticed about the Sears was how much I loved to ride it. I rode in rain, snow, sleet, and sun. I looked forward to riding it, and could ride in jeans and a nice warm peacoat or whatever comfortable clothes the weather permitted. While I started by thinking I'd ride to restaurants or the park, soon I was riding to the grocery store and running the dogs with it, too. The Sears, while undoubtedly the cheapest bike I've owned, had grown into my go-to bike that I looked forward to riding.
The funny part is that I did already love cycling. I'd had ten years of mountain bike racing and twelve years of bicycle commuting behind me, and was an avid cyclist whatever the environment. I'd worked in bike shops, and spent years building my own bikes and keeping them tuned. My saddle on any of my other bikes actually cost more than I paid for the whole bike. From what I'd been lead to believe, my cheap, old, decrepit Sears had one foot in the grave and should have been a chore, not a joy, to ride.
Riding the Sears also prompted me to explore a bit more, and soon I started volunteering at the Bike Depot, wrenching on lots of vintage (and many department store) bikes, and as I did so, more and more I found that many of the bikes that are out there as vintage can be not only serviceable, but unique, and competitive with many of the new, China-made bikes that were billed as city bikes, comfort bikes, commuters, or even cyclocross bikes.
Thus, the passion I have for cycling and the thrill of refurbishing and customizing the Sears combined to spark an idea. What if I could do what I did with my city bike for other people? I could advocate for cycling as transportation, I could have fun building bikes and apply the knowledge I've gained in the various upgrades, so that I could create bikes that are affordable, unique, and, effectively, recycled rather than being abandoned.
To start, I had a few other bikes I worked on restoring, to see if I enjoyed it, and to see if I was good at it. I tried to clean them up and keep them original where the original parts worked, upgrading things tastefully, but also functionally. My first was a 1974 Legnano Gran Premio. While I was working at the Bike Depot, that lime green beauty hung seductively from a hook in the shop, drawing me over to ogle her lugs and her unique seat tube junction. Soon, I'd brought her home, and added some red cloth bar tape, some neo classic water bottle holders on the handlebars, and a nice Velo Orange saddle. She was a great vintage ride and lots of fun, but also a little too small for me - and I also found that after years and years of clipless pedals, I just wasn't confident going back to the old clip and strap setup!
So, the Legnano got sold and went to someone who appreciates her. And I went on to get a Bridgestone 400, with the idea of trying out some bike touring. I set it up as an urban runabout for a while - I added Suntour thumb shifters and a French style city bar, thinking that it'd also be a good setup for a long day in the saddle, but when I used it on my commute to the office, it was so uncomfortable as to not even fit me for a commuter. It was a gorgeous bike, but it just didn't fit right. That, and discovering that panniers wouldn't fit well meant that this bike, too, was a learning experience and, on top of that, I was eager to start work on my next project...
And so it went - I discovered that I was pretty good at this - it was easy to get the bikes tuned and running smoothly, and from there, I had a knack for picking out the goodies to make the bike really shine so that it would find a happy home.
From there, it was only a short leap to opening up a shop of my own to build these kind of bikes and to make all the things I loved so much about my city bikes accessible to lots more people. I'm not there yet, but I have gotten some additional bikes, to be posted soon, and I've gotten most of the groundwork done to make my shop more than just a dream. As it stands, I've got to get a website up and running, and set up accounts with my distributors, and then get the word out that I've opened my doors!
Holy cow! I'm a bike shop owner!!