Schwinn Restoration, Part 4

One of my Facebook friends shared a video recently. In the video she talked extensively about self-change, shame, abuse, and trauma. She spoke of confronting these things head-on and personally changing the world by facing her own feelings about her past and breaking a long-preserved silence and encouraging others to do the same. Her post was inspired. As I have watched her life change and how she has gained confidence over time, I can’t help but be inspired by her. She is remarkable and brave.


Restoring this bicycle makes me mindful of my own journey and seeing others share their experience gives me courage to share portions of my own restoration. For the bike, new tires to support the load and absorb shock much like forgiveness has built a firm foundation and absorbed wrongdoing in my own life. I’m strong, but I am far from perfect. The cleaned scuffs and scratches show years of wear and tear, but reveal a history about how the fork once turned into the frame and left a characteristic deep etch in the paint. Beauty emerges from the miles. Beauty that you cannot cover up with a fresh coat of paint. It tells a story. It is a story that you can’t keep inside forever. The scars and scuff marks are visible, and because they are visible, they must be incorporated to create a final impression.

Clean and Rebuild

Brake Cable
Brake and Shift Cables

The project is coming along nicely. I found replacement brake cable housing. Not vintage as I had hoped, but some ice grey sport housing from Jagwire. It is nice stuff, easy to work with, and a great color for a vintage bike-ice gray. I’m using the original vintage cable ends as they fit into the brake assembly much better. I’ll talk about the brake rebuild later. I’m still in the middle of the shift cable housing replacement, as I had thought originally I could replace the shift cable housing just as easily as the brake cable, and with the same material. I was wrong about that, and now I have the shift cable replacement kit on order.

Much of the outside of the bike is very clean now. The fenders have been cleaned and polished. The frame has been cleaned very thoroughly, and the chrome has been cleaned and I’ve used a very fine steel wool to remove rust from the chrome parts on the fork, the front carrier, and the bicycle rims. As I envisioned, there is still some shine left in this bike after all of these years. But it begs the inevitable question about whether or not you ever complete a restoration, or is it something that you are always approaching the end of- like a mathematical limit.

The Fenders

Polished Rear Fender Stay

The fender brackets are aluminum. They were very oxidized. I tried some natural methods for polishing, including lemon juice and an acid based cleaner. There was just too much pitting on the brackets to get a good result. For some time, I considered a dremel tool or attaching something to a drill, but I finally resorted to steel wool followed up with some aluminum polish. You have a lot of time to think when you are polishing aluminum. It turns out that, as the steel wool gradually removes the oxidization, it is a good time to ponder life. Putting good ole’ elbow grease to work works the mind.

What is your response when life, as it often does, fails to meet your expectations? When I started this project, I imagined an old bike completely refurbished to its original state. My imagination is rarely ever realistic. While the result is not what I expected, it is no less desirable. It likely proves even more so because as a result of my effort, I get a unique opportunity to share the experience with others. Polishing aluminum made me think about how approaching an experience with a willingness to learn can have an impact on your destination. It has in this case. I’m working toward perfection, but it isn’t my ultimate destination.

Function vs. Form

Front Axle
Front Axle Components

When I reattached the front wheel, I noticed some significant play in the axle. So much so that I thought I was going to have to take the front hub apart and lubricate the assembly. I was trying to avoid unnecessary disassembly. I didn’t recall loosening the cone or lock nut when I took off the front wheel and knowing it had been sitting there for a while meant that a clean of the hub was probably a good idea. Well, that became yesterday’s job.

I haven’t taken apart a front hub in nearly three decades, so I was a little nervous about what I might find in there. I figured since it had been sitting in the garage for so long, the grease may have deteriorated and the bearings may have rusted or the hub assembly may have been worn significantly enough to warrant replacement of some of the components. I have been fortunate that I have been able to find so many of the replacement parts so far. I slowly took the hub apart, identified the type of grease necessary for the the reassembly,  and ordered it.

Piece by piece  the parts are gradually coming back together and I am approaching the vision I had for this old two-wheeler. I can’t wait to see how it comes out. I like what this bike is re-becoming.

Endurance and Change

Preservation and restoration both take time. I have endured my fair share of abuse and neglect, but that seems distant now. I was afraid–and maybe still am afraid– of never becoming, or ever being, good enough. As part of the MBA program, my peers and I talked quite extensively about tapping into our strengths. For me, restoration is certainly one of those. Taking something that is broken, and making it new again. Identifying the broken pieces and bringing the components back together to function like they were designed. That brings me joy and it is a joy to share that with you.

Schwinn, Part 3

in the last post I talked about how I’m probably not going to repaint the bike. There are some worn out parts on the bike that necessitate replacement. Obviously, the tires were completely unusable. I ordered the tires from an online bicycle store in New Hampshire. It turns out there are still companies like Kenda who make Schwinn whitewall replacements. This was good news. The rubber rim strip was completely disintegrating, so I found those and some new inner tubes. After a lengthy polish of the spokes and wheels, it was easy enough to replace the tires and I was well on my way through the restore.

New Pads on Schwinn
The front brake assembly with new pads.

I found new retro style brake pads on eBay. Needless to say, the old ones were  fossilized. The 10mm nuts holding them to the brake assembly were fused to the extent that I had to soak hem with WD40 to get them to release. Release they did, though, and now there are brand new orange break pads clamping down on newly polished rims. Here they are, just after they arrived and before I removed the brake assembly and cleaned the tiny pits of rust from the front fork.

Peeling Back the Layers

It is like an archaeological dig site, this bike. As I peel away layers of grime, I discover something older. Cleaning the grime from the chain with vinegar solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water seemed to be the best approach.

Front crankset on Schwinn
The front crankset and chain.

The solution slowly breaks down the grease so that I could start seeing the chain. As the caked on grime melted away it revealed the dynamic blue hue of the outer links of the bicycle chain. The chain’s sharp edges finally peering out beneath the soft mounds of muck. I knew I would need something that would do a little better job going forward.

But it got me thinking about what I should use to oil the chain. So I did a search. It turns out there is a pretty substantial internet debate on the subject of what you should use to oil or grease your chain. In fact, so passionate is the argument, there is a debate about whether you should grease or oil your chain at all. Well, that seems silly and I don’t want to start a religious debate.

I Know About Friction

I know a bit about what friction will do to a bike, and more specifically to a bike chain, over time. When I was younger and got my first used 10-speed that I rode all around town, I pretty much wore away the chain and the cogs on that old bike. I saw what would happen to the cogs on a derailleur over time. The chain will gradually stretch and the pitch in the chain becomes wider and wider. The chain rides higher and higher on the cogs and the teeth will wear down until they are no longer effective and shifting becomes unpredictable or nearly impossible. Chains will break if not cared for properly.

It turns out there is a very effective solution to cleaning and lubing a bicycle chain which involves a clean rag, a cleaner/solvent called White Lightning Clean Streak and a medium-weight drip chain lube called Park C-1. Who comes up with these names for products. Genius. I wonder if this stuff is made from moonshine

Keep in mind, I ride in dry conditions. For this bike restore, I may not ride this bike at all except to make sure that everything is working properly. Here is some food for thought: Working on this bike has encouraged me to take better care of my own bike, a Trek 1100 from the early 90s. Yea, I’m vintage.