by Joe Whitehair
It's early and I'm drinking a cup of coffee scanning the classifieds. First the 'For Sale' section, then I flip over to the back page where the auctions are. Hmmm, police auction at the local fair grounds 15 or 20 miles from where I live. I've never been to one, but it seems like a good place to continue my quest. It's a half hour to auction start, just enough time to get there. I dump some coffee in a travel mug and head out the door.
Intrigued by the concept of a fixed gear bike, I've been searching high and low for a conversion candidate. Classifieds, thrift shops, roadside trash piles. No luck, but I'm cheap and patient. I get to the fairgrounds and the auction has just started. Try to figure out what I need to do, I hit the info table and get a number to bid with and a sheet listing all of the property. Bikes are up first and they have sold a few already. They are all tagged and lined up in rows so the auctioneer pulls one out of line, gets bids, sells it, and moves on to the next one. All very efficient.
Lots of people hovering over the bikes. I scan the current row for prospects, see none, then watch the bidding to see how things are going. Hmmm, not looking good. Wal-Mart dual suspension bikes are going for $75 and up. Crazy. Shiny with shocks must be all these people see. I turn my attention to the rows and rows of bikes and start looking for ones that will suit my needs. Not looking good. I need something older with horizontal or semi-horizontal dropouts. I see an old Cannondale MTB that might work. Some junky old ten-speeds that aren't my size. I mark one or two possibilities on my sheet and I head back to the bidding for a bit. A bike that should be in the dumpster goes for $1. I go back to make a second pass on the remaining bikes and spot the "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" in the bunch.
An old road bike, with a pair of bent up mountain bike bars installed. The bike had been spray painted black while the parts were still attached. Downtube shifters, one ripped off the mount and hanging by a rusty shift cable. Chain hanging on the bottom bracket, one solid mass of rust. But, it has semi-horizontal and it's my size. Lugged tubes hidden beneath the spray paint. Plus, a hidden gem - a pair of REAL brake levers. The levers will likely be worth the cost, even if the bike has to be trashed.
The bike is somewhere in the middle of the queue, so I have to wait a bit. As the auctioneer pulls the bikes for bid, he makes a little pitch to get people interested. "Here's a red beauty built to handle the trails." "This one's great for the kids to take to the park". When my bike rolls out, he fumbles for words, the bike barely looking worthy to push with it's hanging shifter and floor dragging chain. "This bike would be good for... ah, riding around the yard". Bidding starts at $10 with no takers. I get it for $2. I shove it in the shed when I get home until I have time to deal with it.
The following week, I pull it out, thruw it in the work stand and start to tear things down. To my disappointment, the rear wheel has been replaced at some point and contains a cheap, modern freehub. I had hoped for an older threaded freewheel hub that I could spin a fixed cog on.
When the frame is stripped down, it looks like a bumble bee. The original paint was yellow and the black spray has been applied over cables and housings, clamps and parts. I break out the steel wool, rubber gloves and paint thinner and get to work.
Lots of work, but when I'm done, the frame comes out a dull yellow color with half-chrome chain and seat stays and lower fork. A Fuji head badge is revealed. The signature of some long-forgotten racer graces the downtube. I rough the paint up with some sandpaper, tape the chrome off and head to a friend's workshop to use his paint booth for a primer job. With the frame sprayed and hung to dry, I go back to work on the parts.
More steel wool and paint thinner to salvage the usable bits, digging through the spare parts bin for anything else. What with the messed-up rear hub and the 27" front rim, I wind up buying wheels and tires. Other stuff is scavenged, bartered and begged.
I buy a can of Krylon "Sunflower Yellow" and apply several coats to the prepped frame. Overall, a pretty good job, dirt cheap. I install all the parts, apply a Single Speed Outlaw sticker to the headtube and a Drunk Cyclist decal to the handlebars. She's ready to roll.
Pedal, pedal, pedal, don't try to coast because if you do, there's a quick reminder that you can't. Watch for pedal strikes in the corners, feel the flow as you are connected to the bike in way you've never felt before. Listen to the silence of an ever turning drivetrain. Feel the wind in my face and a sense of accomplishment from bringing this heap of metal back from the grave.