Why Restore a Bicycle?
Bicycles capture the imagination because of their timeless grace and efficiency. Steel-framed bicycles from one hundred years ago are not too different from steel-framed bicycles today. In fact, the enduring nature of the two-triangle design with a front fork implies a design pinnacle that may never be surpassed. If you find yourself nodding your head, then perhaps there is a vintage bicycle in your future.
Tony Tom, the founder of A Bicycle Odyssey, shares your love of vintage bikes and devotes much of his energy to turning “vintage” into “beautiful and functional”. One can always find an eBay bargain for a 1961 Cinelli racing bike that makes great wall art, but restoring the bike to its original beauty and function takes passion, pragmatism, and a deep working knowledge of the bicycle industry and its history… which is why ABO offers its vintage restoration services to enthusiasts who would like to ride a piece of beautiful, functional history.
Restoration Blog: 1973 Bob Jackson (pictured above)
Tony and the expert mechanics at A Bicycle Odyssey can guide you down the path from idea to reality. Please note, however, that restoring a vintage bike can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year. In addition, the end result may be something whose restored market value is less than the sum of time and money you invest in it. If the end value of the bike is less of a concern than the inherent emotional or collectible value, then read on! Here are some questions to help you get started, and each question has an example answer from the 2019 restoration of a 1973 Bob Jackson English racing bicycle whose owner lives in San Anselmo California. Want to skip straight to the punchline and see the cost breakdown? Click here.
How was this bike chosen for restoration?
Simply put, the Bob Jackson became a legend in my house as soon as it appeared and events since then have only added to its meaning. My father purchased the Bob Jackson from a bicycle shop on Canal Street in New Orleans sometime in 1973. The bike was custom-built for a wealthy New Orleans businessman named Gus who actually flew to Leeds in the UK for the bespoke frame fitting. Gus chose a paint-and-decal scheme to match the colors of his alma mater, Louisiana State University. On Gus’s second ride, a careless driver ran him off the road and in a fit of anger he brought the bike back to the bike shop. They put the bike in the front window with a for-sale sign on it, offering it for a small fraction of its original purchase price. My father, a bicycling enthusiast originally from southern California, saw the bike in the window and immediately knew it was something special – Reynolds 531 tubing, beautiful lugged steel frame, Phil Wood hubs, Ideale saddle, Dura-Ace cranks, and perhaps most importantly the Bob Jackson was the right size for him.
Three hundred dollars was a lot of money for a bike in 1973, especially on a teacher’s salary. A few years ago I showed one of my sisters a $250 eBay listing of a single Phil Wood hub from that era and the auction price merely confirmed to her the existence of a world of folks who are not rational when it comes to bicycles.
Over the years as the family moved around (more than twelve locations before I went off to college), the Bob Jackson was perhaps the one physical item of value that remained in our possession. During one move, the trailer with our family belongings became unhitched and our clothing decorated the interstate between California and Indiana. The Bob Jackson survived that accident unscathed, contributing to its status as an unlikely family totem.
In 1949 at the age of eighteen my father enlisted in the Marine Corps and was immediately sent to front lines of the Korean War. He became one of the Chosin Few within three days of hitting the ground, suffering major injuries, in particular to his back. He was a natural athlete and gifted high school basketball player before he enlisted; after the injury, bicycling provided a mobility and fluidity that he had thought was lost forever. As he got older, however, regular bicycling became more difficult and eventually the Bob Jackson was permanently retired. We were never allowed to ride the bike growing up but in retrospect it kept us (and the bike) safe, especially in the days before helmets and community bicycle advocacy.
Thus the legend of the bicycle grew as it shifted from usable art to wall art to garage art. After permanent relocation to California and a full immersion in the incredible bicycle culture of Marin County, I realized that the Bob Jackson represented more than just the sum of its physical parts. It was a metaphor for my own life and family, and restoring it seemed to give me a link to the past as well as something meaningful, functional, and valuable to pass on to my own children.
How often and where do you ride?
Recreational rider who rides about 5,000 miles a year. My favorite rides are 50 to 70 mile hilly bike rides in Marin or Sonoma counties.
Are you more interested in speed and efficiency or stability and comfort?
Prefer a balance between speed+efficiency vs stability+comfort
How old are you? Any age or physical restrictions?
52 years old, no physical or medical restrictions
Can you do an on-site fitting?
Did an on-site fitting with Tony Tom (for this and a few prior bikes). The original Bob Jackson's frame size is close enough to what is needed to make the restored bike fit my height and leg length well.
Do you have any specific time period or geography or builder or model in mind?
See above for builder, time period, reasoning.
Do you want an old frame with modern parts or a full vintage restoration?
Originally a full vintage restoration was desired, but because the bike was orginally designed for riding in very flat country, at the very least different gearing was needed. Also, the wheels needed to be rebuilt on new rims, so a modern polished rim was chosen for aesthetic and functional reasons. See the complete build breakdown for what parts were chosen for the restoration, as well as the reasoning behind the choices made. Oh, and it had to be qualified as an Eroica-ready machine... riding the 82 mile route in the 2019 Eroica California was an incredible and moving experience, and proved to me that the bike was indeed a thoroughbred, again. It will definitely see action in the 2020 event, and eventually the Eroica Dolomiti.
Frame and fork painted to match original colors and decals, including pinstriped lugs. Rust and pitting cleaned up and filled in, frame straightened.
$1,800 to vendor Joe Bell out of San Diego (filling in pitting and repairing rust damage prior to painting cost an extra $800; pinstriping added another $200)
Wheels and Tires
Rebuild wheels on original Phil Wood hubs with new DT double butted spokes and allow nipples. Replace old rims with new Velocity Quill 36-hole polished rims. Challenge Strada Bianca 30c tan sidewall tires with Vittoria latex tubes. Clean and polish original skewers.
$460 for parts (spokes, nipples, rims, tires and tubes) and $275 labor (building wheels, mounting tires, cleaning hubs and skewers).
Polish original Dura-Ace cranks and chainrings. Replace Suntour derailleurs front and rear with Campagnolo Nuovo Record. Replace freewheel with new-in-box 14-32 5 speed freewheel from eBay (picture shown is original freewheel). Add SOMA Nuovo Super Long Cage to rear derailleur. Install new Izumi chain, new IRD bottom bracket w square spindle and low q-factor. Add Silver bar-end shifters and Sunrace cable stops.
$614 for parts and $350 labor for cleaning and installation.