MIKE’S BIKE – or how to build a bike when you’re a Mechanical Luddite

Part 1 – Meet Rolly

I love cycling. Perhaps it’s the freedom or the fitness aspect. Or perhaps it’s the fact I married a Dutch girl…

Regardless, I’ve been a pretty committed cyclist since I lived in London. While over there I bought a great Claude Butler hybrid bike, which pretty much became my main form of transport. I loved that bike so much that when we came back to New Zealand “Claude” came with us. He’s served me well, but general wear and tear as well a year in a tin shed in Lyall Bay has taken it’s toll and he’s not the bike he once was. So I began thinking about a new commuter bike. Claude was a great bike when I was starting to get back into cycling, but it is a very modern looking bike. And by that I mean it looks like a mountain bike with skinny tires.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but living in Europe and my wife’s growing involvement in Frocks on Bikes made me realise there’s more to cycling than “sportiness”. I’ve already got a road bike for that. Commuting bikes can look stylish and cool! Add to that my love of retro stuff and I had a pretty clear idea of the kind of bike I wanted. The wife picked up on this and with my birthday rolling around in a couple of months, she suggested that I should start looking for a new bike, as she wanted me to choose it. So I began looking… And the one thing I realised is, I’m really fussy!

We went to every bike shop in Wellington and I was a bit disappointed. There weren’t that many commuter bikes on offer and most looked just like my current one. When I asked why, I was told that there wasn’t much of a market for these kinds of bikes so they don’t stock them. But not all bikes have to be road or mountain bikes. Even in Wellington! It’s a shame Mamachari are currently building-less as they were really driving change with the bikes they offered.

With no luck in the shops, we started looking online and finally I started to have some success. Velo-Ideale in Christchurch have a great range of classic roadsters and stylish commuters. This is the kind of bike shop Wellington needs. I really liked the bikes but without being able to ride them, I was reluctant to spend a lot of money. (And another thing I realised, cool bikes are expensive)

So I started looking on trademe and this is a great source of bikes. It was here that I spotted something I liked. Old bikes, stripped down and restored. Now these looked cool! I love the idea of turning an old 10 speed into a retro single speed commuter.

Yes I know I’m a hipster wannabe. All I need now are some skinny jeans, geeky glasses and a mustache.

After bidding on a few bikes unsuccessfully I had a brain wave. Why didn’t I get a run down old bike myself and build the bike I wanted! My lovely supportive wife thought this was a great idea. So we started looking for old bikes…

And after searching trademe for just a few days we found one. A 1980’s Raleigh Nova Sport 10 speed. And here it is…

It was an absolute bargain at $52 (bikes in much worse condition have been selling for much more). Apart from a bit of rust and neglect it’s still perfectly ride-able. It’s a little big for me (as the guy at a bike shop pointed out) but I don’t care as I already love it. My first proper school bike was a 10 speed and Rolly, as I will now be calling it, reminds me of this bike. I felt so free as an 11 year old when I could suddenly go everywhere. It was also way too big for me which is probably another reason Rolly reminds me of that bike.

And so onto the restoration.

Here’s what I want to do to Rolly;

– Strip off the gears and make it single speed. I know the idea of a single speed in Wellington sounds ridiculous but from what I’ve heard it’s not that bad, and once you get used to single speed you never look back! (also see my earlier comment about being a hipster wannabe) I’m not sure about fixies though as I do like freewheeling downhill.

– Replace the drop down handle bars with classic ones. I’ve already picked up some Outland Sweep handle bars which should do the trick.

– A new seat. Rolly’s current saddle has hardened with age and now feels like a very uncomfortable thing covered in an uncomfortable lining which has been dipped in uncomfortable sauce. I think a Brooks may be in order.

– New tires/wheels. I’m thinking white tires, thicker than the ones it has. It may also need new wheels as the current ones are a bit rusty. It will also need new brakes.

– And finally paint. I’m probably going to get this done professionally which is why I want to get all the other stuff done first so I don’t scratch up the new paintwork. Any advice on a good (cheap) paint shop would be most appreciated.

At this junction I should point out that I know very little about bike mechanics but I can’t wait to learn. Anyone who has any advice or expertise in this area feel free to contact me with advice about fixing bikes and where to buy parts etc.

It should be a fun journey and I’ll be sure to keep you updated with my progress/mistakes/ridiculousness. The plan is to have the bike mostly finished in time for my birthday at the end of March. I’ll also keep a running tally of how much this thing is costing me. Or should I say the wife, as it is a birthday present after all.
The way I see it, if a complete mechanical Luddite such as myself can build the bike of his dreams then so can anyone.

Current Cost Tally:
Bike $52
Handlebars $35
Handlebar tape (synthetic) $35

Time spent on it:
0’00” (Not counting the couple of hours spent riding it. That was just for fun)


7 thoughts on “MIKE’S BIKE – or how to build a bike when you’re a Mechanical Luddite

  1. Very nice looking steed. Running a single speed in Wellington is lots of fun, I commute on an restored 10 speed I turned into a single speed and added a pannier rack. It is lots of fun.


  2. ilikebike

    Just wanted to add my vote for fixed. I commute on my fixed gear every day and it’s just great for around wellington. If you’re looking to get fit then fixed is the way to go. This includes downhill as well which I find safer than coasting on a single speed as I can’t allow myself to go too fast (since my feet are still turning) or i’d start to lose control.

    Nice frame by the way, but not sure how easy it’ll be to go single/fixed with those dropouts though.


  3. Kirstin

    I’ve been looking to do the same – but a lot of the old bikes on Trade me are huge! While I’m tall for a girl (175cm), they’re still way too big. I’ll keep looking though as I’m really missing riding a single speed (rode one in London, but sold it cos I thought it would be too hilly here).


  4. Pingback: Mike’s Bike Part 2 | Cycling in Wellington

  5. Andrew

    Great post. I brought my commuter (Revolution Nemesis) back with me as well, largely because it was cheap to transport. It served me well until the hub gears fatally choked, and I found out how expensive they were to replace.

    I’m now riding an ex-rental mountain bike, but I’m somewhat inspired by your post. I’ve been fascinated by the single speeds as well (although it could be a bit of a masochistic option going up the Ngaio gorge).


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