Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nora is Ready to Go!!

Nora in all her renewed splendor!

Well, the bearings have been repacked, there's new tires, handlebars, chain and wheels, and there's a new coat of paint!  This week Larry and I finished work on my beautiful bicycle! 

I hopped on for my first ride the other night and was amazed at how much easier she was to pedal and how comfortable the ride is with the new handlebars (those big, swooping handles keep me in an upright position).  I still need to replace the seat and plan to eventually replace the whitewalls with cream-colored Schwalbe tires,  but for now what I have on the bike will work.

I rode a couple of miles the other night (and could have gone a lot farther) after work so I think I am ready to tackle the morning commute!  Depending on weather and how well I budget my time in the morning, I may be biking to work tomorrow!!

I had so much fun working on this bike!  Working on old bikes is a hobby my husband and I are both becoming enthusiastic about and we're spending more (fun) time together as a result.  I am now eyeing a 1950s frame a friend recently gave me and considering converting it into a three speed commuter bike. 

More updates soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nora Gets a Makeover!

May is National Bicycle Month. It's funny that I returned to my love of bicycles during a month dedicated to promoting cycling!  Who even knew there was such a month!!

has been a little over two weeks since I bought my bicycle.  I had no idea what I was getting into or the journey this bike would take me on (aside from the little rides around the neighborhood).

Here is a photo of my bike day she came home with me:

My bicycle, Nora, the day I purchased her.
Yes, I named my bike Nora..... long story.
She was a bit rough looking. There was what appeared to be minor rust on the fenders and wheels, the paint job was clumsy and the tires looked to be original (and by some miracle still held air!).  Her frame was sound, solid American steel and the shape and profile were exactly what I was looking for. The man who sold the bike said she was a 1954 Sears bike.

After a week of riding Nora around the neighborhood I decided to shine up the chrome on her fenders and wheels.  The wheel I polished came out pretty good, but the fenders were a nightmare.  What I thought was a weird patina dulling the chrome turned out to be chrome-colored spray paint.  As I polished the fenders they turned from dull metallic to a rusty, pitted mess! 

That's when I decided to give Nora a makeover, including a new paint job, fenders, wheels, etc.  While taking stock of needed replacements, I got curious about a few features I noticed on the frame, like the little fins at the back, the funky shape of the luggage rack and the strange bracket beneath the handle bars.

So I went online and did some research and disovered that my bike is actually a 1963 Sears Spaceliner.  Here is what she looked like in her glory days, very space-agey:

1963 Sears Spaceliner.  I think the light kit inspired the design of
the Starship Enterprise.
So the makeover has begun!  A friend of mine heard I was restoring an old bike and she sent over her old mid-50s Montgomery Ward frame as a parts bike.  I liked the luggage rack on that bike better than the funky Spaceliner rack, so I switched them out. This weekend I sanded all the frame pieces, luggage rack and chain guard.  After the sanding was finished the parts were painted a shiny black.  (Black is a very forgiving color if you goof up.) 
Nora, all sanded and ready for painting.
Fins on the frame!

My husband inspected the bearings on the bottom bracket and headset.  He said they needed to be repacked, so he took care of that detail and I can't believe what a difference a bit of grease has made!  Very smooth!!  I had no idea how stiff the headset was until I tried it out after the bearings got the new grease!

Bracket for headlight assembly.
I've ordered most of my parts from online sources, but recently discovered a local bicycle shop that I'd like to support.  When I went over there to buy a chain breaker and a few other little items I asked about a specialty tire I'd like to buy and either they're not willing to order something that's not on the show floor or he didn't think I was a serious enough customer to be helpful.  We'll see how that relationship turns out. 

Then again, we may not need the local shop.  My husband went out in the garage the other night and welded together a bicycle stand so that we can elevate Nora to eye level when we need to work on her.

Today he built a truing stand for mounting tires and adjusting spokes.  Have I mentioned how amazing my husband is?  That man knows lots of stuff and can build and fix ANYTHING!!

Nora's Fork!
No wrinkles on these stockings!
The frame looks awesome in its new paint, but I am going to save those photos for the grand unveiling.  The rest of the parts we're waiting on will arrive in the next day or two.  So, until then, I will leave you with a teaser - a closeup of the newly painted fork.  I love the quirky design element on this part of the bike.  I am thinking about highlighting  the edges with a white enamel.... but am holding off on artsy accents until I see the bike put  back together with all her new components.

While this was an unexpected project and I am itching to get back on the bike and ride, there's a lot of enjoyment in the makeover.  I'm getting a lot of satisfaction in uncovering the hidden beauty in this wonderful old bike.



Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Remembered Love: The Bicycle

I work in an art center that depends a great deal on the help of volunteers.  The average age of my volunteers is 80 and I am in awe of these folks, not just because they give joyfully of their time.  A lot of these men and women are still very active and in great shape.

Recently, a 94 year old volunteer offered to unplug a lamp I was moving out of the gift shop.  The lamp was plugged in under a table and as I was objecting/worrying about this gentleman getting down on the floor to reach the plug (and not being able to get back up), he quickly squatted down on all fours, stretched under the table and unplugged the lamp.  Then he sprang back to his feet!! My jaw dropped!

At 43 my joints are stiff, I'm carrying around several pounds of excess weight and there is no way I could get up from the floor as quickly as a volunteer who is more than twice my age.  A lot of my volunteers, from age 70 and up, move with a lot more grace and agility than I do and realizing this has convicted me.  If I want to be spry and active when I get to be their age I have to get serious about my health and lifestyle. 

So I've been considering ways to get back into shape.  With the exception of my high school years when I got into doing "Jazzercise" two times a day (Yes, I said Jazzercise. Feel free to snicker. The 80s were an age of great cheese.) and starved myself into a size 6, I've never been one to exercise for the sake of excercising. Going to a gym or an excercise class has never held great appeal to me.... so what kind of excercise would keep me engaged and interested long enough to get me back in shape?

One morning as I got into my car to drive to work and it hit me:  Why am I firing up all this metal and burning expensive gas to drive 1.18 miles to work?  If I walked, it would take me about 20 minutes to get to work and if I biked the distance, I'd be there in about 10 minutes (maybe less).  The roads between home and work are fairly flat and there's only one busy road I'd have to cross.

I haven't been on a bicycle in more than 20 years. Would I even be able to ride a bike now?

When I was a kid, I spent several hours each day on a bicycle.  I got my first bike when I was about 6: A baby blue Schwinn Bantam. 
1970s Schwinn Bantam
I rode that bike all over the neighborhood: To school, around the block, to the park, etc.  When I was on my bike I was my own person: All that existed was me, my bike and the wind in my hair. I was in complete control of my destiny when I was on my bike. Riding that bike was the closest thing to flying. Oh the adventures I had while on my Schwinn!

Eventually, I outgrew the Bantam, it was converted to a boy's bike and passed down to my brothers. That bike was a part of the family for what seemed like forever and I am surprised I couldn't find a photo of my old friend anywhere.  My next bike was a 1950s 3 speed Schwinn Free Spirit (I wish I still had this bike, it was a sweet looking bike) and then in the summer of 1976, at the age of 9, I got my first "grown up" bike.  It was a bright orange 10-speed Schwinn Varsity.

The bike was too tall for me - I couldn't touch the ground when I was on the seat - but that didn't keep me from leaping on the seat from the pedals and soaring along on the pavement.  I was constantly getting my bell bottoms caught in the chain of the bike, causing my wooden-soled Dr. Scholls to go flying and toppling me over, but I loved that bike. I dreamt of one day, with my "grown up" bike going on a biking and camping trip with my dad. Dad had this really cool 12-speed travel bike with all sorts of neat accessories.  He would pack up his bike and ride off and on long "camping" trips.  I thought those trips sounded like a lot of fun.  What's better than enjoying the great outdoors while cruising on your bicycle?
Lanza on her "grown up" bike with a look of determination!
The next bike I had was the travel bike my dad left behind when he moved out. I admired that bike when my dad had it for all of it's cool accessories and ability to handle rugged terrain. That bike was also too big for me when I started riding it, but I was never one to shy away from a bicicular challenge. I literally rode the tires off that bike. One day, as I was riding, bolts started flying off and the thing crumbled into a heap of tangled metal and teenager.

I eventually comandeered my mom's fancy Japanese racing bike.  I took that bike on roads all over the Texas Hill Country when I was a teenager.  On weekends my favorite ride was Highway 27 between Ingram and Mountain Home. My 43 year old self marvels that I ever was able to accomplish such a thing!  Back then, I had youth, an exceptional physique created by Jazzercise and cycling, and a cute guy working at the Mohair Warehouse along the route to motivate me.  After I left for college I gradually gave up my bike rides for other endeavors.
Lanza and her dad's travel bike.
A 12 year old conquers a bike purchased for a 6'4" man!

Through all of those years of riding bikes, even after getting a driver's license and purchasing a car, bike riding never lost its magic.  I always had that light-hearted sense of flying when I was on a bike.  So when I started thinking seriously about getting some exercise and saving gallons of gas, it seemed natural to revisit my old love of cycling.

I've been thinking it over for some time and decided to go low-tech.  An old, sturdy single-speed bicycle would give me a better work out for the 1.18 mile journey to work, would be easy to maintain and is a small investment should this idea turn out to be a bad one.  Besides, the history geek in me loves the look of classic bicycles.  Last night I purchased (for a lot less than a brand-new bike) this beauty:

The bike is a 1950s model made by Sears.  The lines of the bike remind me a lot of the Bantam that I had when I was little (the basket is identical) and I fell in love with it at first sight.  It needs a lot of cosmetic work, but the bike itself is sound.

Immediately after unloading it at home, I hopped on for a ride.  It's true what they say: You never forget how to ride a bike.  After a few initial wobbles I was on my way!  I took this bike around the block and as I progressed with each pedal, there it was:  The sense of flying!
I'm not going to lie, I was winded from a spin around the block and my legs felt like Jello, but the joy of riding is still there!  I was back on the bike this morning and took a slightly longer route than I did yesterday.  It will take me some time to get to the point where I can ride to work, but I have no doubt that I will be riding like a pro (and not winded so quickly) in the very near future!

So Kerrville commuters beware:  There's a new cyclist in town!