Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Confirmed: A Severe Case of "Bikeivitus"

There's no such thing as bikeivitus, but if there were, I'd have it. My definition of bikeivitus is an addiction to bikes such that I decide I need another one. Any readers of this blog probably saw it coming.

The Short Story

I've purchased a used 1976 Schwinn Le Tour II as a restoration project, and to try out road cycling.

The Long Story

(At this point you can close your browser or click off to Break or The Onion)

Several weeks ago I came really close to ordering a 2009 Trek Soho. It's got a really cool belt drive and seven speed internally geared hub and disc brakes. It's a really nifty bike. The only trouble is that they haven't shipped yet for 2009. The best estimate I heard from the local Trek shop was May. Lucky me... had it been in the shop, I probably would have bought it.

Another problem I had was justifying acquiring a second commuter bike. I could better justify to myself if I wanted the second bike to be something different, like a road bike or a mountain bike. The Soho, as cool as it is, wouldn't be used for anything different than my daily commuter riding.

Fast forward to yesterday. I saw an ad on my company's bulletin board for a Schwinn Le Tour II for $75. I viewed the bike this morning and the seller and I came to agree upon $65. I think this is a great deal, especially considering the bike is mostly ready to ride. The large frame seems like it will be a good fit for my height. The combination of condition, size, brand, and fair price was too good to pass up.

My plan is to clean up the bike, and possibly upgrade some components. I suppose I need to decide upon the objective of the restoration.

Do I want to:
  • Restore the bike to its original 1976 condition, with all original parts, paint, decals, etc?
  • Restore the bike using whatever's handy, ending up with a cool looking retro styled bike, but without original parts and branding?
I don't know yet. Any ideas?


Determining the Date of Manufacture

A restoration project is supposed to be fun, and so far, it has been, though all I've done is a bit of research. Using "teh Internets," I was able to track down lots of information about the manufacturing process and history of Schwinn bicycles.

Based on the serial number stamped on the left rear axle hanger, and a date code stamped on the Schwinn shield, I was able to determine that the date of manufacture December of a year ending in the number six.

The number stamped on the shield is "3496", which means the 349th day of a year ending in 6.

The serial number starts with "L6", where L = 12th month and the 6 is the year.

One is left to ponder if it's 1976 or 1986, using decals and components as clues. However, there are two other items that cinch this. There's a number stamped on the crank which reads "76.11" and the other crank reads "76.12". I'm almost certain this is another date code.

Finally, on the down tube there's a state licensing sticker from Minnesota. It's validity dates are from 1983 - 1985, totally ruling out the possibility that this Le Tour II was manufactured in 1986. Plus, I think the 1986 versions of this bike had a different style of serial number and were possibly made as 12 speeds.

So there it is; a 33 year old bike made in Japan but "Schwinn Approved." I would have been seven at the time this bike was manufactured. Very likely I drooled over this impossibly large "big boy bike" when I saw something like it in the store selling for $169.95.

What's Wrong With It

As I said, the bike is ready to ride, but there are some things that need attention.
  • The original tires are cracked and splitting in places. Remember, this bike is 33 year old!
  • The cabling should be replaced. The rear brake cable is very sticky.
  • The brake pads aren't as grippy as they should be, and should be replaced.
  • The chain needs to be conditioned, or replaced. It's very dry, but doesn't have any overtly visible flaws.
  • Rust spots on the rims. I'm not sure if these can be cleaned off, or if I should replace the rims.
  • The front wheel is either warped, or needs to be trued. This is really the most serious problem, as the wobble is quite visible, even rubbing against the brake pads.
  • Lots of scratches in the paint and decals, however, no visible dents, cracks or rust.
A Long, Strange Trip

Shopping for a bike on a bike can be troublesome if you make a deal. How do you take the new purchase home?

Fortunately, I work downtown, where I picked up the bike. To get it home, I walked both of my bikes to the bus stop on the corner. I grabbed the first of two buses that pass within either a half mile or a quarter mile of my home. I boarded the first, since there's no way to know if the next bus (the one that gets me closer) will be equipped with a rack.

After disembarking, I walked the two bikes the final half mile home.

I'm sure I looked like a bike thief leaving the racks at the office with two bikes.

The Riding Experience

I took the bike on a short spin this afternoon. It seems light and fast, but completely different from my hybrid experience. Rather than sitting mostly upright, I am mostly hunched over. My belly feels cramped if I lean all the way over into the dropped bars. Perhaps if I take the seatpost down a bit it would be a little more comfortable. I know a lot of this will simply be getting used to the new style of bike.


This is going to be fun, and hopefully, not too expensive. Watch for updates to the blog. Watch for the bike on the racks and streets of Omaha.

The Resources


Scott Redd said...

I forgot to give thanks to Brady for this wholesome advice on what the bike might be worth, plus creating general enthusiasm on what it might be like to fix up a 30 year old Schwinn. Check out his blog for a couple of restoral project roadmaps and success stories.

Also thanks to Wes J. for not buying the bike before I could see it. :)

RD said...

good now make it a single speed :D
actually you might want to talk to my buddy theunicycleguy he just restored some schwinn... or you can just checkout harris cyclery or any local shops for new brakes and 27 inch wheels

Biker Bob said...

Don't use those brake pads. They will tear up the rim if they are too dry.

If you need any specific parts, give me a should. I've got a decent stash of classic parts that have come off some of my recent SS conversions.

Scott Redd said...

I thought about building it single-speed, Rafal. Yesterday I tried riding my hybrid in to work using a single low gear ratio (38t x 18t = 2.1). For comparison, the Trek Soho S is geared a little higher (44t x 17t = 2.5). How is yours geared?

It was a different kind of ride. I had to stand up on some hills, and going on flats and downhill, all I could do was coast, as the 2.1 ratio was too underpowered.

I could try the next gear up (38t x 16t = 2.4) that would get me a little closer to the Soho to see how that goes.

Maybe I'm too fat and lazy, or this town is too hilly, but I sure like my gears. Maybe if I go SS, quit being lazy, and ride those hills, I wouldn't be so fat.

Thanks for the parts offer, Bob. I'm still not sure yet if I want to keep it all 70s Schwinn, or build it up the way I want without regard to holding any vintage standards. I'm sure it will be fun either way.

I'm certainly going tire, tube and brake pad shopping this weekend. Those are easy and cheap fixes to get it kick started.

RD said...

42x17 3 seasons
42x16 when going in hurry
42x18/19 for winter/gravel riding
it takes some time to get used to it. But you can try it and see what what you think it's pretty cheap especially with those old cassettes and your semi horizontal drops...
that would give you some time to get your other parts together...

Biker Bob said...

I had 39x15 on my Bianchi Roger with cycle cross tires on. That was too steep for knobbies and a full winter backpack load and all the body resistance from clothing layers.

With a lighter load, fewer clothes, and road tires it was too short on the flats.

With a SS you gear for comfortable spinning on the flats, and just accept that you will have to work hard and/or stand up on hills.

SS a great workout, and the simplicity is very addictive.

Sheldon has has a gear calculator that can help you find the "rollout/gear inches". Once you find what works, you can use that calculator to find other chainring/sprocket combos that will be just a smidge easier or harder.

I have 48x18 and 48x17 (two cogs on the back) on the Bianchi Roger now. That is 70.3 and 74.5 gear inches. The 70.3 is enough that I still have a work a bit on the flat keystone ride (for training reasons) but nothing to hard. The 74.5 is for group rides where speeds can get pretty fast with a pace line. You can only spin at 150rpm for so long in a pace line. ;-)

Start with something close to but just under 70. Use the sheldon gear calculator to see what options you have on your current bike and go from there. Keep in mind that a SS road bike will be more efficient and responsive, so you may be able to handle a taller gear on that bike than you can on your current commuter.

Ok...that is a LONG comment.

Biker Bob said...

Oh... and keep in mind that tire size makes a difference. My values are from a 700c wheel with 25c tires. I'm not sure what wheel/tire RD is using.

Scott Redd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Redd said...

Thanks for the notes, Rafal and Bob. Comments are like bike rides -- the longer the better. :)

Here are some questions for you SS guys.

Bob: You mentioned having two cogs on the rear. Do you stop and manually move the chain when you want a different gear ratio? How do you take up the slack with a SS conversion?

Rafal: Is there enough back and forth wiggle room with what you referred to as semi horizontal dropouts? Or do I need some kind of fancy chain tensioner?

By the way, I stopped by the Re-CYCLE Bike Shop just south of downtown this afternoon and got some gum wall tires and tubes, plus some brake pads and a spoke wrench (not that I have any idea how to use a spoke wrench!). If I can get the front wheel turning straight, I might be able to ride it to work some next week mostly as-is.

brady said...

Have you had a chance to check out R&R Powder Coating yet?

You may consider just riding the bike in its current 10 speed version for a season before converting. It's easier on budgets time and short term cash outflow.

Recycle Bike Shop: I picked up a similar pair of gummies for the Nishiki there. Good prices for those tires.

How about that chain? I know for a fact that an 8 spd chain ($20 SRAM w/powerlink at Trek Store) works on my 12 speed Nishiki, but a 10 speed? You may need to inquire about that.

I may be looking to you for advice soon on a SS conversion when it comes time to convert the Nishiki. Take copious notes!

RD said...

There is enough room. Besides gear calculator you should also look into chain calculator for proper chain length. I can meet you for coffee sometimes and explain...(this is way to much typing) I can also tell you that mod, skinny-d,munson and ericj are really good mechanics and from my personal experience mod and skinny-d can answer/explain anything bike related.

p.s.Oh and if you are really want to nerd out and you have
a) gift card to itunes
b) 5 $ burning hole in your pocket
there is gear calculator app
I got it because I'm nerd and I had gift card
p.p.s beware of misaligned chainline it

RD said...

p.p.p.s unless you have truing stand it will be difficult for you to do anything with that wheel

Biker Bob said...

Two rear cogs: my bike has horizontal dropouts. I just loosen the two rear bolts (no quick-release) put the chain on the other cog, then set chain tention and tighten the bolts back up.

Truing stand: the front fork of your bike makes a great trueing stand. Flip the bike upside down, put a zip-tie on one leg, cut it so it has a sharp point and can reach the rim. Then just spin your wheel and star adjusting. Sheldon's site probably has a guide on how to true wheels. It's not too tough, just take your time.

erik said...

some comments;

1)are your rims steel? if so, they need to be replaced for any decent braking (at least of the kind we contemporary cyclists are used to).

2)concerning conversion. I'd consider building new wheels around a rear freewheel hub--5 or 6 speed--if you have any plans of possibly running this as a single speed. either a multi or single speed freewheel will be friendly on such a setup, IRD makes solid freewheels new and you'll get some retrogrouchy points for that. you'll also save money in the long run. you can reuse the original hub (if it's of quality and worth reusing, or not).

3)DON'T LOWER YOUR SEATPOST, EVER. get a higher stem (see the stems offered at for ones that will go plenty high), and if a higher stem doesn't solve your problems it isn't the right size frame. A too low seat is a surefire way to damage some knees quick.

4)same goes for seat for and aft, if the handlebars are too far away they adjust the front. you legs need the right relation to the pedals. bringing the handlebars up has the effect of bringing the handlebars closer as well (as the headtube is canted at approximately 72degrees toward you).

5)SADDLE RELATIONS: handlebars same height or just slightly lower than the saddle is the goal. KOPS sizing is a good start for fore and aft, but comfort is the real guide (anyone who disagrees need only go find a picture of coppi riding with his knees about 6 inches to the rear of the pedal spindle--he did just fine).

6)You seem on the right track, definitely change out the chain--never worth risking a break, especially in traffic. Other worthy upgrades would be a new stem, and while you're at it a nitto handlebar (see the noodle or randonneur for good options) will make things more comfy. Aero levers are also more comfortable than non-aero, so think about that too. A new cockpit, maybe a new saddle (brooks all the way), and maybe some new rims/wheels and of course tires. You'll be sitting pretty.

If you need some help, let me know!


erik said...

point 1 should read chromed steel rims (don't work when wet).

also, pledge does a suprisingly excellent job at breathing life back into old paint. Joe Bell, a widely respected painter, recommends it.

I'd also find some J.P. Weigle framesaver and coat the inside of the frame with it, if you want to stop any rust and prevent more from occuring!

Scott Redd said...

RD: Yeah, with those dropouts, I think there would be room to move the axle back and forth a bit without the use of a chain tensioner.

RD/Bob: I did manage to true the front wheel. At least, it seems to spin mostly true and round. It's way better than it was before.

Brady: You're right about the timing of the SS conversion (if any). I bought the bike, new tires, tubes, brake pads, spoke wrench, hub cone wrenches, and grease, and it starts to add up quickly. I think any further restoration/conversion will have to be using mostly parts already on the bike, with the exception of cabling. That needs replacement, I'm fairly certain.

Erik: Wow, that's a lot of information, all of it very useful. Yes, the wheels are chromed steel. I used some steel wool and WD-40 to clean them up and am amazed at the result. I think new rims would be desired if this becomes a commuter bike that might see rainy riding. With all of the upgrades you recommend and that would be in my wish-list, it reminds me of a quote I found somewhere.

"This is my Grandpa's axe. My dad replaced the head, and I replaced the handle. This is my Grandpa's axe."

Despite my typical aversion to leather, I do have to admit a retro styled bike with a Brooks saddle and old fashioned seat bag roll would look pretty sharp.

erik said...

leather is generally no good, but when you buy a saddle that will last you more than a decade and keep your important parts functioning quite properly--in addition to being damn comfortable for hours on end in any sort of clothing--it begins to be justified.

speaking as a vegetarian, who eschews leather for anything short of saddles and hiking boots--both of which seem to be once every decade types of purchases if you get the right pair.

plastic has its fair share of issues too, to be honest.

but yes, if you slowly replace that frame with better components you'll have a great bike--far better than most anything you can find today. frame restoration is never a bad idea, unless the frame is broken, french, or not made of steel.

good luck!

munsoned said...

If you like gears, go ahead and keep em. Some days, I like to putz up hills. Other days, I like to ride fast with a tailwind. I can do all of this without changing a single thing on my bike because I have more than 2 gears.

Sorry to be all evil Munson-ish, but spending a ton of money on a bike that costs $65 does not make sense to me. Read the middle part of this to catch my drift.

Fix the things that are a serious problem and cheap - tires, cables, brakes, and rims if need be. But this is a test bike for you. What happens if you put another $300 into this bike only to find out you don't like road specific bikes? I'm sure most of us will help you out anyway possible to see if this roadie is for you. I'd be happy to lend you a modern handlebar and brake levers so you can replace the current narrow one with cracking foam grips and all metal brakes. Just let me know and I'll even set it up for you.

If you decide to keep up with the roadie, you can easily go for the retro look, but with modern parts Pine through this site to get some ideas. Be prepared to stare a bunch - some of these bikes are tasty. But, be sure that the roadie position is ok for you before dropping mad bank on some sweet classic looking parts.

Let me know if you want those parts or whatever. I'd be more than happy to help!

munsoned said...

After a quick search on the Cyclofiend website, this was found. It looks like all they did was replace bartape and tires. I was thinking your bar was narrow, but perhaps I was wrong. Most bikes of this age have really narrow drop bars. Which, if you have wide shoulders, is very uncomfortable.

If the position is your biggest hurdle, follow Eriks advice and go for a different stem. They should be easy to find for cheap on eBay. You can get them short (reach) and tall. This could put you in a much more upright position.

Biker Bob said...

I have a new set of These that I bought to put on the Colnago that I would part with at a good price. $40 sound reasonable.

These would let you run the brake cables under the bar tape for a cleaner look. They come with new cables and housing.

I also have a new Dimensions rear flip/flop hub if you get adventurous and want to try your hand a lacing up a new rear wheel as a SS. Assuming you go SS (cool man's way) instead of geared (lazy man's way). ;-)

Biker Bob said...

I forgot to mention. Stop by an autoparts store and you can get some chip repair paint to match the paint on this bike. It's pretty cheap and works well.

Scott Redd said...

I'm just totally jazzed that this thread just keeps growing. There is so much good information here from lots of different perspectives.

Like Brady and Munson suggest, I probably won't drop a lot of money on components for this bike, unless the frame ends up being super comfortable.

Munson is right about the handlebar... it is super narrow, and probably should be replaced with something that comes up and back just a tad. I'd still like to keep a road look to the bike, so some kind of drop bar is probably in order.

Most likely, I will replace the chain (for safety) and the cables and housings (for safety and looks). I'll just clean up the shifters, brake levers, chain rings, and cogs.

I've already cleaned up the front rim and spokes with steel wool and WD40 (it shines!) and put on a new tube and tire. I replaced the brake pads and trued the front wheel and disassembled the front hub, cleaned up the BBs, cup and cone, and repacked with new grease. The axle is bent ever so slightly, but after repacking and truing, the wheel will spin for several minutes on the fork. I'm learning so much and having a great time.

I've been riding SSS (simulated single speed) for a few days. With a 2.4 ratio, I can handle the hills on my normal commute and a 16 mile RT to Whole Foods on Sundays. If I vary off those routes and try to tackle longer, steeper hills, I sometimes have to switch down a little. (I guess that means a third bike for SS in the future! :) )

Thanks for the link to that Le Tour III. It looks much like my bike, and the addition of a rack and fenders might be where I am going with this if I want to commute with it.

Thanks again to all who have been contributing.

RD said...

be careful bike collecting is addicting and most people (i.e. people who live with you) look down upon mountains of bike/tubes/tires/wheels

erik said...

singlespeed is an easy way to save money, it also saves a degree of psychological self-questioning.

if you indeed to get serious about cycling, I wouldn't cut corners now. getting a good stem/handlebar/brake lever combo would cost under 100 dollars if you play it right, and even if you hate that bike you'll be able to move it over to a better frame. It can also likely make the difference between feeling comfortable on a given frame, or not.

For instance, I started riding a track bike last year and though I wasn't into that geometry the majority of the components moved over to my quickbeam (whose 1000 frame cost I could have only afforded later in life and with the relative savings of having some parts stored up).

Nitto parts not only will last for quite some time (your life), they are worth a good deal second hand and the money is rarely significantly lost. , grant peterson knows and though he's polarizing it's hard to find somebody with more informed opinions about steel frames and "vintage"* cycling.

*whatever the hell vintage even means.

erik said...

i did something similar for my partner, emily, when she needed a snow bike this year.

here's a brief link;

we got the bike for 150, and spent about 450 dollars on parts (including studded tires)

the only original parts were the nothing-better wide profile shimano xt cantis (first generation), the seatpost, and the wheels (which were spaced for singlespeed). what counts is that it's one of the most legendary 26" mtb frames around, is steel, and will last as long as we hit it with framesaver every few years. it's also a new bike in disguise, should she tire of the given geometry--a new frame and she's got another stellar ride.

i digress.

erik said...

scott, by "if you intend to get serious about cycling" i intended road cycling or whatever the equivalent application might be in the case of starting to seriously ride that cycle more.

i came back to reread the thread, and noticed that was an instance where my poor diction led to a statement i wasn't hoping to construe. so, sorry about that, i never would mean to imply that you aren't quite serious indeed.



Scott Redd said...

Hi Erik:

The intention was clear enough. Not to worry.

The good news is that I will attempt commuting on this bike tomorrow. I just moved the lights over to it and dug out an old backpack to carry my work clothes.

I'll pack a wrench and pliers, too, just in case something falls off. :)