New Bike Day

I’d been waiting all day for the phone call that was supposed to come around 12:30. It was almost 12:45 and I’d taken to looking at the time every 3-4 minutes. Finally, the phone rang. I was practically in the elevator before I even thought to answer it. She was done with her meeting. It was time to walk the 4 blocks to our designated rendezvous point.

I had to contain myself as I made the hike. Somehow it seemed that, right then, everyone on the sidewalk was hell bent on walking directly in front of me… slowly. I made it to the address. She was supposed to be standing outside. Oh god… I don’t even know what she looks like.

But then I spotted it…

Headtube badge. Motobecane Super MirageYup. This was me the day I met with the seller of my new (but vintage) bicycle. It was only later that afternoon that I realized how silly my reaction may have been. It really did feel almost like a first date. But in this case, I was picking up a vintage Motobecane from a seller I had never met that was selling it on craigslist.

Generally speaking I do not – ever – buy bicycles off of craigslist. For me the risk of getting a stolen bike is just too great. In this case, however, the woman selling the bike had also posted to a particular local Facebook cycling group I belong to. This provided a face, and a personality, to the ad that made me feel a lot more comfortable about buying from her. Having an actual identity that I could connect the ad to definitely improved my confidence that this was a legit sale. I was reasonably comfortable the bike wasn’t stolen. But there was still a lot of mystery about this bike to heighten the excitement.

However, there are a ton of other things that can go amiss with a new bike purchase. Maybe it doesn’t fit you. Maybe the left brake lever barely works. Maybe there have been “creative repairs” that barely look like they are holding together. Hmmm…. that sounds a bit like a first date too…

In this particular case, the price I was paying was within the range of what I would have paid for anything relatively ridable. (Hopefully that sounds nothing like your first dates.) So with that, some inspection that all the appropriate parts were there and functional left me ready to hand over the cash without even taking the bike for a test drive. (Remember, handing over cash for your first date is illegal unless you are in specific areas of Nevada.)

Weinmann 610 brake caliperA little pro tip though. If you buy a bike, and you decided to ride it away having never ridden it before, busy San Francisco traffic in the Financial District is probably NOT the best place. It was in traffic that I learned that I’ve become really spoiled by my newer bikes with modern brakes.

This Motobecane seems to be mid 70s. I haven’t yet been able to identify the exact year. So that means I headed out into busy traffic on a bike that 1) I’d never ridden before, 2) had a saddle that was just slightly too high for me, 3) had brake levers that normally require a good deal more force then I’m used to applying, 4) had a rear brake out of adjustment to the point of being useless, and 5) had brake pads that were smooth as finely polished granite. Luckily, the surge of adrenaline when I realized I wasn’t stopping gave me the extra grip strength to slow myself down. But Damn!

If this had been a first date, this would have been me surprising her with oyster shooters, only to find out she was Jewish. Lesson learned.

After some careful inspection I discovered that there were in fact a whole slew of things working against the brakes. The rear brake was not only badly out of adjustment cable-wise, the pads were only hitting half of the braking surface. Part of the brake pad appeared to have been shaved away to avoid rubbing on the tires. But the pads were adjusted all the way to the bottom of the brake arms. It didn’t take long to surmise that – given the vintage of the bike – this was originally a 27″ setup. Not the 700c wheels it was rolling on now. In addition, the bike had been converted to single speed, which pretty much locked the position of the rear wheel front-to-back without also dropping a link from the chain.

But none of this killed my joy. I had a new vintage bike. Now I had a choice to face: keep it true to original vintage, or make it what I wanted, history be damned. What I really wanted was a touring bike capable of riding on gravel roads. I’ve slowly been letting go of one vintage part after another. After all, this isn’t an especially significant, rare, or interesting bike. I’m not really wrecking some museum worthy whip here.

So that is where this is heading. I swapped out the 700 x 25c Gatorskins for some 700 x 32c Ritchey Speedmax knobby tiers. I (re)acquired my Tubus Cosmo rear rack for the back (more on that later) and put a Tubus Nova front lowrider rack on the short list of future purchases. I’ve already got an order in at my local bike shop to swap out the Weinmann 610 brakes for something a little more modern (with a little more leverage) to help slow down all the weight I’m hoping to drape over those racks.

I’ve wanted a touring bike for some time. I’ve wanted a gravel bike for some time. I found a good foundation to build both, and I’m loving every minute of it. It also ties in well with my recent efforts to explore all aspects of the cycling lifestyle – not just those that involve lycra and racing geometry frames. It will serve as a great daily commuter that can carry my lunch, laptop and clothes. And it will fill in the middle of the spectrum between my converted Xtracycle cargo bike and my Cannondale CAAD 10.

You see… that is the part that can make a new bike day even better than a first date. You actually can tailor your new bike to meet your exact expectations.

But of course, keeping with tradition I had to come up with a name for her: Eloise. She’s French.