Stealth Bike

For a couple of years, I’ve been trying to find a new bike. My 1996 Gary Fisher Aquila was fine for about 14 years, until I realized just how my riding on flat ground was limited by my mountain gears. (“Whoa! Did *that* person really pass me?”) But I didn’t really know where to start. Salespeople at bike shops pegged me as a “hybrid” shopper, and I test rode a few of those bikes. But the idea of buying a brand new bike kind of bothered me. What bothered me most was the horrible welds between the tubes of the frame, which looked like a bathtub caulking job gone awry. Having taken a welding class about 10 years ago, I never really mastered the clean, smooth, minimal waste weld. I spent most of my time in class grinding down the hideous, lumpy welds that I had created.┬áIt’s not that these welds were unsafe. Just sloppy. So, when I saw that almost all new bikes under $1000 had ugly welds, I started to wonder if I should be either: paying over $1000 for a bike, or finding a well-crafted older bike and fixing it up. Being highly in favor of reviving old technology, I chose the latter option. But I knew almost nothing about how to identify used bikes that had potential.

My first stop was Bikeworks, which offered a 6 week basic maintenance class that I just finished last week. Throughout the summer I had been scouring the Craigslist ads for old steel bikes with potential. One day I came across a Novara from the 80s that was cloaked in an ad so general that most people would never click on it. (“Novara Bike, $150”) After finding out the general size, I took immediate action to give it a test ride in Tukwila. It was in decent, but sorry-looking shape. I bought it for $120. This is a rare bike that REI produced back when it was just a single store on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. What caught my eye was the red hue, thin tubes, and ornamental lugs. The standover height was kinda close, but the frame was definitely within range of comfort, provided that a few things could be adjusted.

  • The handebar drops were too dramatic for me, so I would need to swap those out.
  • The stem would need to be changed to a longer one with less forward distance. (I like a more upright position)
  • The tires would need to be replaced with something a bit wider than the 23mm, bare rubber ones currently on there.
  • The rear gear cluster was too high a ratio for Seattle hill riding.
  • The pedals were completely impractical for a person like me who doesn’t like their shoes to be locked into the pedal.

It’s currently undergoing those changes at Aaron’s Bike Repair, and I’m excited to see the results later today!

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