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I found my mom's old road bike from the 70s tucked away in a corner of our attic. It's not in great condition and is pretty rusty. I don't know a lot about bikes from a mechanical or upkeep point of view but would love to use this bike as an opportunity to really understand them and work on my bike mechanics skills.

  • 1
    Brakes, tubes and chain oil should let you try it out. Things like shifting will be horrible (you could treat it as single-speed for the first ride). If the bike doesn't fit you (and road bikes are fussy about fit) there's no point carrying on. But you can assume the brake pads are ruined after a few years, less in a hot attic. If new pads don't stop the bike nicely, cleaning the rims with a solvent (I'd use methylated spirits) might help. – Chris H May 19 '15 at 11:09
  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. Learning material recommendations are off topic for this site. Therefore, I have removed that portion of your question. However, the rest of your question is a good, workable question and you already have a few answers to go with it. Once you gain a bit more reputation, you'll be able to enter our chat room where asking about learning materials would be just fine. – jimchristie May 19 '15 at 12:57
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It's doable although it doesn't make sense from a cost perspective. Only do it if you have an emotional investment in the bike or want a fun project that will teach you a lot about bike mechanics.

To give you an idea, I bought a 1975 Peugeot UO18 Mixte (a woman's road bike, perhaps similar to your mom's) that had been stored in a barn and turned it into my commuter bike. In order to do this, I had to (in order of simple to complex):

  1. Replaced the brake pads which had oxidized.

    • Easy. You just need an adjustable wrench or set of open-ended wrenches (maybe a screw-driver). There are different styles of brake pads, it's best to remove the old ones and bring them to your local bike shop so they can give you the right replacement.
  2. Replace all of the brake lines and derailleur lines, which had seized.

    • Easy-to-moderate. You need to get your brake/shifter housings cut to length which your bike shop will do for you. Replacing brake lines is fairly easy although you need to readjust your brakes after you do this. Rather than cutting the brake line to length (which needs a special tool), you can have the bike shop cut and crimp it after you're done. No special tools needed except screwdrivers, wrenches, and the aforementioned cable-cutter which is optional. Having a brake "third hand" will make your life a bit easier although asking a family member for their physical third hand also works. Replacing derrailleur lines is a little bit more tricky and not recommended until later on as you'll need to readjust the derailleurs after replacing the cable.
  3. Replaced the old steel front and rear wheels (rims, cassettes, sprockets) with 700c rims with a nice modern cassette in the back and a nice dynamo in front. New tires and tubes too, of course, as the old ones had rotted away.

    • I could have kept the rims but they were steel and not very "grippy" in the rain; in addition, the old size limited my tire options. I knew that I wanted a dynohub and so it was just cheaper in the long run to just go straight to buying new wheels front and rear. It also allowed me to go from 5 speeds in the rear to 9 speeds.

    • Easy to moderate. Even if you don't replace the rims, you'll likely need to replace the tires and tubes. Replacing the front tire is fairly easy. You do have to get a new tire on the bead, which will require tire tools (get the Pedro levers). Replacing the rear is also pretty easy, just watch how to snake the chain around the rear sprockets. You'll also need a pump too, of course.

  4. Replaced the chain with a 8/9 compatible chain

    • Moderate. You'll need to get a chain-breaker tool and replacement pins.
  5. Replaced the front stem (the old French AVA stem is prone to snapping) and bars with contemporary Velo Orange components.

    • Easy. Just needed a set of hex wrenches.

These were the "basic" mods. In addition, I also changed out the rear derailleur with a nice Campy one and changed out the shifters to a nicer set of vintage Shimanos. But these are optional.

Now the overall cost for my bike was much more than if I had bought a decent used bike (I estimate more than ~$300 in parts and several hours of labor) but less than what a new, steel-frame commuter might be (~$800). The advantage in my case is that I live in a high-theft city and this commuter doesn't look too fancy but rides like a dream. And I like fixing things.


If you're a beginner, the only real "essentials" would be to make sure that your tires have air, the cranks work, and that you can brake. After that, everything else can be a slow upgrade as you learn more skills as a mechanic.

In terms of resources, I'd recommend Sheldon Brown's site, the Zinn book on maintenance, and the Park "Blue" book. And of course, a lot of hanging around at your local bike shop.

It might also help if you can find someone to mentor you as a fledgling bike mechanic. I know it's hard as a gal who loves to get my hard hands dirty to find any respect, but it's possible to find community. See if there are any community bike clinics offered at your local bike shops or in the area.


Here is the bill of materials / notes from my repair notebook:

Front wheel
700c  vuelta rim  622x18
Stainless steel spokes 36h
Sanyo 6vac hub dynamo NH27

Rear wheel
SRAM PG950 9-speed Cassette  SR-PG950-34      11X34 $18.39
2012.11.21  Dimension Road Rear Wheel 700c 36h Shimano 2200 Silver / Freedom Ryder 23 (622-17)Black 

Front sprocket (original), crankset original, pedals original
52-38

Rear Sprocket 
SRAM PG950 9-speed Cassette  SR-PG950-34 (was 14-26) 382g
11-13-15-17-20-23-26-30-34

Derailleur
Campagnolo Mirage (used/vintage)
Chain wrap  = (52-38) + (34-11) = 14 + 23 = 37

Stem and bars
Velo Orange Threadless Stem Adapter ST-0001 $16
VO Porteur Handlebar $32

Upgrade Schedule
2012.09.26: Front Suntour derailler. Put new chain on (7.96mm outside width)
2012.10.09: Replaced front wheel with Dynohub + 700c 622x18 (36h) $85
2012.10.09:  Continental Gator Hardshell Urban Bicycle Tire with Duraskin (700x28, Wire Beaded) $48.79                  
2012.10.18: Rear Campagnolo (8-9) derailler  
2012.10.24: All new brake lines and derailleur lines (Jagwire L3)
2012.10.24: 15.6kg w rack and dynohub and lights, front sun tour derailleur, rear campy derailleur.
2012.11.28 sks mud guards     
2012.11.21  SRAM PG950 9-speed Cassette  SR-PG950-34      11X34 $18.39
2012.11.21  Dimension Road Rear Wheel 700c 36h Shimano 2200 Silver / Freedom Ryder 23 (622-17)Black
2012.12.01  Rear wheel => Continental Gatorskin ($49.99) 
  • 3
    There's nothing like the voice of experience :-) – andy256 May 19 '15 at 3:45
  • Minor tweaks: For a beginner, replacing the brake pads may be easy for caliper brakes, but not so easy for cantilevers -- especially older ones. Also, be sure to get the right tubes for your wheels' stem hole size - Presta stems will be too small for Schrader holes, and Schrader tubes will be too big for Presta holes. – digijim May 19 '15 at 22:11
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    @digijim cantilever brakes are not at all common on women's road bikes from the 1970a (slight understatement), which is the case of the OP. – RoboKaren May 20 '15 at 3:58
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This is not really an answer, but it's too long for comments.

@Daniel has given some good starting points.

For a bike of the vintage, Richard's Bicycle Book by Richard Ballantine would be a good bet, and is available second hand.

When you say rusty, do you mean the frame, or wheels, handlebars, brakes, pedals, etc? The way to approach such a project depends somewhat on the quality of the original machine, and whether you want to restore or fix it.

Does it have derailleur gears? Or internal hub gears (IGH).

Does it have rim brakes, or hub brakes? Are they operated by hands or feet? In the case of hand levers, the cables have probably frozen and need replacing.

Are the rims steel?

So yes, it's a non-trivial project. Know what you want to achieve, take it slowly, and ask lots of specific questions.

(The questions I've asked are for you to look into, not for you to answer here)

4

You've chosen a non-trivial project.

If the bike has been unmaintained since the 70s it's got several things wrong with it from the git-go:

  • The tires are rotten
  • The brake blocks have hardened into concrete
  • The grease in the bearings has dried up

Further, finding parts for a bike of this age can be a challenge.

But if you really want to learn how to maintain a bike and you don't mind getting your hands dirty, you don't have much to lose. (Well, maybe $50-100 for the tools, parts and supplies you will need.)

You will need, however, to find a good (and preferably old) book on bike maintenance. You might start by looking at your local library, since they might have something sufficiently old.

  • Yes, and I would add any cables are likely rotted or frozen. – andy256 May 19 '15 at 2:59
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You choose a non-trivial project. Lots of good tips have been given, but I must warn you: restoring an old bike is not a to-do list like I have seen here. It's not like maintaining a new one. There are all sorts of difficulties with old, seized components, that will be a pain to unmount, and which will require a careful evaluation before rebuilding.

If you feel lost among all the information, and don't want to read an entire book, the head mechanic of park tool (famous bike tools company) did a project a while ago where he described a step-by-step project similar to yours, on restoring an old bike, with very detailed information on each step.

Some of the components/difficulties he had to deal with are certainly different from yours, but his detailed instructions and videos are a really good place for you to start, you will learn a lot by watching them, and they are really easy to follow. You can find it here.

Doing this should be a lot of fun with your friends and a few beers, so enjoy the process and good luck!

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It depends on your objective. Are you doing it to save money, or because you want to ride this bike? You can do it, but unless you are attached to the bike there may be a better option. My wife and I got back into riding last year, dusted off our late 70's ten speeds (2 by 5, not 10 at the rear), got a tuneup from the local bike shop including new brake pads, put new tires (we used road tubulars, a bit hard to find) on, and were good to go. I thought about replacing the wheels to use modern clinchers but decided it wasn't worth it. The shifters, deraillers and chains worked fine with a little lube. This was preparing for a ten day tour where the operator supplied modern bikes. We came home and bought new ones.

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I may have missed it in this thread but what kind of bicycle is it? If it's something like a Raleigh or a Peugeot or the like, it may be worth it in terms of both riding and getting the mechanical experience. If it's the 70's equivalent of a Huffy I'd pass mostly because that quality of a bike is virtually impossible to ever get adjusted properly and mechanically speaking, it's likely that you will become frustrated.

Assuming that it's a decent bike, I say go for it! I've worked on and restored older bicycles and it's very rewarding. The initial investment of buying essential tools will absolutely make it worth it if you plan on doing more. The parts will likely be more expensive than the value of the bike, but again, gained experience and the satisfaction that comes from doing it is well worth it.

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