Our apartment building had a problem: abandoned bikes. Deep in the basement carpark there were loads of them, all flat tyres and thickly layered dust. The miserable things, long since forgotten by their owners, clogged up the bike racks and spilled into the access way.
They had to go. But where? When we humans have nothing left to offer we retire or become an ACT Party MP. Bikes, well, it’s less obvious.
The solution for a number of our unwanted bikes, the ones that needed only some air in their tyres, was adoption. They got new owners. Four more required more attention. For them, the future was Loop Groop.
Loop Groop (yes, that’s how they spell it) is a co-op that reanimates unloved bikes and other casualties of our consumer culture. It operates out of cheerfully chaotic digs in Minnie Street, Eden Terrace, and every so often it offers a Build Your Own Bike workshop for anyone who wants to learn how to resurrect a bike from the co-op’s cache of used parts. It runs on five consecutive Saturday afternoons, it requires no mechanical skills whatsoever, and you get to keep your newly restored ride. I signed up and volunteered our four wounded bikes; this is the story of the return to glory of one of them.
Day one. We gather, a gaggle of 20-somethings and, well, myself, and meet Loop Groop’s Carl Naus and Dylan Pyle. The modus operandi, Carl explains, is learning by doing. We are to each pick a bike, strip it down, and rebuild it. Bikes are, after all, simple machines; with the right tools and the help of Carl and Dylan, both self-taught mechanics, we will be surprised at what we can accomplish.
Most people pick steel frames. From my four rescue bikes I choose what we agree is, under all the grime, a very sweet machine: a mid-90’s Klein. It has an alloy frame, one of the very earliest of its type, Carl suggests. Intriguingly, it has Shimano derailleurs and Campagnolo brakes. The front wheel is missing but everything else is there. There is no rust. With a bit of luck, it will quickly be restored.
I pop the Klein up on a stand, drop the back wheel, unbolt the derailleurs and brakes, and remove the seat post, handlebars, stem and cranks. So far, so easy. Then, the bottom bracket.
It is here that the Klein offers a reminder that bicycles, as simple as they are, can also be stubborn. The Klein has a square taper spindle, a technology that disappeared around about the same time as Duran Duran. We conclude that, in the absence of a lock ring, the obvious thing to do is tap the wee beastie out. So I tap, at first meekly and then with rather more vigour. The spindle doesn’t budge. Out comes a mallet. Still no movement. I drench the wretched thing in CRC and wack at it some more. Nada. I try bad language. Carl squints at the spindle. Dylan squints too. We consult the Internet. The Internet fails us.
A pox, then, on the Klein and its evil spindle. I whip them up the road to T White’s Bikes and make the spindle their problem.
Day two is rained out.
Day three. Hallelujah! T. Whites, which knows a thing or two about old-school bike tech, has removed the bottom bracket. They marinated the thing in acetone and then wacked it with something solid, and out it came.
Up on the stand goes the Klein. Off comes the fork. The frame gets a good clean. We dig around in a pile of old wheels until we find one that fits. The next job is to pull the hubs apart and rebuild them. This requires lashings of turps to clean out the bearings and their contact surfaces, and then gobs of fresh grease. Putting hubs back together is somewhere between an art and a science; there’s a magic moment when the tension is locked in just right and the wheels spin over like new. The bottom bracket is forgiven.
The other bikes are coming along nicely. Everyone is on a journey and the milestones are discoveries. That’s what stops a fork from falling out! That’s how a cable attaches to a brake lever!
There are moments of mirth, too. Pedals with an unusual alignment, for example:
Then, the bottom bracket again. The sealed bearings, it turns out, are sluggish. Borderline at best. They are sealed bearings, not serviceable, and Loop Groop doesn’t have anything that will do the job. Nor does T. White’s. I need to source replacements, and that’s a job for the following week.
Next: Day four of the revenge of the Klein.