Thursday, May 14, 2009

This Old Bike

Thom is the creator of the "Old Bike Blog". Thom shares tips for buying and fixing vintage bikes, the successes and the challenges. Reading through his posts, it is obvious that Thom has a deep love of bikes and the life that comes with them. More importantly, Thom shows us, through humor and thoughtfulness, how empowering it is to take charge of a machine and fix it with your own two hands. Thom kindly accepted my request to tell us about how this all came about and sent this post, along with pictures. Enjoy!

Thom the Man!
Three years ago, my old mountain bike was stolen. At that point, I'd had the bike for about ten years. It was fancy when I bought it in high school, and I logged a lot of miles, both on and off-road with that thing. I didn't know a thing about bicycles besides how to ride them like a maniac, and the mechanical aspects seemed beyond me. Especially with the seemingly-complicated setup on the mountain bike, I never was particularly interested in messing with it.

So anyway, the mountain bike gets stolen, and I still need a bike, so I figure since I'm teaching college now, I should have a nice, gentlemanly, scholarly bicycle. I found a three-speed 1971 Columbia Sports III for cheap on Craigslist, and started riding the short commute to work. The paint was faded and the gears didn't seem to work, but it suited my needs. I tinkered around with it a bit for about a year, then we moved it to Southern California with us. I was no longer working, so I figured I would use a bit of my spare time and really figure this thing out. I decided that if I was going to use it for transportation, I should probably know how it worked, and know how to fix it, which is something I now believe very strongly.

A finished Columbia grocery bike!

I started the Old Bike Blog to chronicle my progress on restoring the Columbia, and within about five months, I was done. I had absolutely zero previous experience, just a few tools, and a healthy dose of concern that I would never be able to get the thing put back together correctly. But in the end, I successfully dismantled, cleaned, sanded, painted, re-greased, and reassembled my bike. Today, it is my grocery bike, and has been joined by several other old bikes, all of which I've restored or refurbished. My learning curve has been (and still is) extraordinarily steep, and I discovered not only a passion for the work of restoration, but also the absolute importance of really *knowing* your bicycle, inside and out, front and back. It's something everyone *can* do, and I believe very passionately in the democratizing potential of do-it-yourself bicycle mechanics.

That's how riding (and working on) bicycles has changed my life, and will continue to do so for many years.


  1. Woot! That's me!

    Thanks very much, great blog, keep it up!

  2. Enjoy the 15 seconds of fame we can give you : )

    Thanks so much for writing this up for us! This way, everyone can see how easy it is to change through something fun!

  3. I cycle commuted to work before cycle commuting was cool on a Nishiki Olympic 12 I bought in 1984. We simply couldn't afford a second car.

    Eventually we got more prosperous and bought that second car and the Oly 12 spent about 20 years hanging from hooks in various garages we owned.

    In February 2008, I got a new job that was closer to home and decided to start riding the ol' bike to work again. The second time out I wrecked, cracking a helmet and tragically bending the frame on the Nishiki. That event was similar to the theft of your mountain bike.

    The plan was to get myself a new bike for my birthday in the fall (the Nishiki was still rideable, but looked dangerous), but before that happened I acquired the first of several older bikes ranging in age from 15 to 43 years old. I will be running time trials Sunday on a 1973 Schwinn Varsity. How cool is that?

  4. Now I'm really itching to get my hands on an old beater to restore. Not that I have the time or tools, but why should that stop me?

  5. @Doohickie- pictures, please!!!!! Especially pictures of you riding it!!! I love old bikes!

    @Workbike- do it! It is addicting. I had been thinking of trying something like this for a long time, but finding Thom's blog is what really gave me the push (this was a change for him that changes others which is AWESOME). I am looking for and old bike to fix up for myself, now : )

  6. Do it folks there are bikes setting in garages and sheds and ending up in the trash on garbage day . What a waste , rescue those babies .It's good for our heritage and our enviroment .

    Random Ray