Twenty Dollars and Six Clif Bars

by Kent Peterson

Christine calls this one "the lost kitten" bike.

Over the years we've tended to pare our lives down to a manageable size in what I guess is called "voluntary simplicity" these days but Christine prefers the phrase "getting rid of crap." I used to own a lot of bikes but over the years they found their way to various other owners and that's worked out fine. As I prepared for the Great Divide Race, I'd taken to riding my Monocog pretty much exclusively and I realized that my final road bike, a titanium Litespeed named Smokey that had survived a garage fire, was still really too fancy for me. So Smokey made his way back to Wayne, his original owner. Since the first of April 2005, I've been a one bike guy.

While I've had a blast on the Monocog riding it everywhere both on and off road, it is somewhat slower in road situations than a road bike (this is what Christine would point out as being one of my profound "well, duh!" observations). And while I'm basically content to tool around a little bit slower on the road, it did mean that I didn't do as much road riding with my pals. I just didn't want to slow them down. But my friend Michael Rasmussen (the bike commuter, not the Rabobank racer) and others predicted that someday I'd get another road bike.

That someday was Sunday, September 11th, 2005. I work at Sammamish Valley Cycle and a guy came into the shop with this early 1990's Trek. As the fellow described things, it was "time for him to get rid of this bike." and he wanted me to examine the bike to see what needed to be fixed on it and to give him an estimate of it's worth.

The bike wasn't in bad shape. Above you can see it pretty much as it came into the store. The old 7-speed Suntour drive train was still basically fine, although hopelessly out of fashion by modern standards. The brakes were OK, the front tire was flat, the wheels need truing and the bearings could use some grease. The most expensive problem was that the headset was shot. I gave the guy the verdict, it'd probably be about $70 or so to fix it up. While it is a decent older bike, there really isn't much of a market for a bike like this. Old bike enthusiasts tend to favor lugged steel over aluminum and the Suntour stuff wasn't nifty and old-school enough to have any collector value. And most bike modern bike buyers would see its lack of integrated shifters and non-carbon fork as quaint remnants of some Pleistocene era before bikes fully evolved. So, unfortunately, this fellow's bike fell into that "too old and too new" category and it's market value was not much.

At this point, when I was recounting this story to Christine, she said "you bought this bike, didn't you?"

I confessed that I did.

"I knew it," she said, "you've been describing it like it was a lost kitten you found on the street."

I gave the bike's owner my honest assessment, I figured the bike needed about $70 worth of work and if he did that, he might find someone who'd give him $50 for the bike. Maybe more but it would take some salesmanship. The fellow nodded, "That's about what I thought," he said. "What places around here take bike donations?"

I couldn't think of a place in Redmond off-hand and I was about to tell him about Bike Works in Seattle but instead I said "I'll give you $20 for it."

"Deal." the fellow said.

Last week I'd put together a bike for my new friend Barry and that had reminded me of how much fun it is to put together a working bike. Even though I repair bikes five days a week, project bikes just seem more fun. It's like I'm learning what the bike wants to be. Or maybe I'm just making the bike more into my idea of what a bike can be.

With this bike, I wanted to see what it could be while still keeping the costs down to a bare minimum. Jim Foreman observed that "A rich man isn't the one with the most, it's the one who needs the least" and that's long been one of my beliefs.

My pal and colleague Chris informed me that he had an old stock Shimano 600 headset that he'd be willing to trade for half a dozen Clif bars, so that solved the headset problem. Pretty much all the other bits came out of what Christine calls "your big piles of junk."

I did some of the work on Monday after we'd finished up the day's real work at the shop and on Tuesday I rode the bus up to the shop and finished the bike transformation on my day off.

I clipped and flipped the drop bars because I prefer cow horn bars to drops. The bar tape is cast-off from a shop customer who was having his Ergo levers rebuilt.

The headlight is a PrincetonTec Impact flashlight.

I'm not wild about Trek's logos and my bikes tend to get dinged up, so I covered parts of the bike with various bits of tape and stickers.

The saddle is an old Specialized Body Geometry.

The saddlebag/rear splash guard are made from an old coroplast sign. See my articles on coroplast fenders, bar bags and tailboxes for more info on various coroplast construction techniques.

Eventually the bike will get more fenders and I'll probably add a speedometer at some point. The bike seems pretty fun and zippy and I'm getting used to riding a multi-speed bike again.

Keep 'em rolling, Kent Peterson, Issaquah WA USA, September 15, 2005