Always check your downtubes

Novara Strada, before I knew.

I was all excited about the Bikeworks BYOB (Bring Your Own Bike) day today. I knew exactly what I wanted to work on: A vintage Novara Strada road bike that I had acquired on a whim as a companion to my Novara Trionfo. What attracted me to this bike was the more touring-oriented frame, and the fact that it was about 1-2cm smaller than the Trionfo, which is at the high end of my size range. I also thought this would be the perfect beater bike to build experience on.

The night before the class, I decided to double check the frame’s integrity. When I ran my finger along the underside of the downtube, near the head tube lug, I did a double-take. The tube was obviously bulging, indicating a front end collision sometime in its history. This was exactly what Tom of Pie Cycles had told me to always check before buying a used bike. Somehow I had forgotten to check this one time. I would definitely not have bought this bike if I’d known.

What would I work on at Bikeworks, if this bike was a lost cause? Right before drifting off to sleep, I had visions of finding a frame from a similar era at Bikeworks, stripping the Novara of its parts, and transferring them over to the new frame. It felt like a highly ambitious project for the 3 hour BYOB, but I was very motivated.

Sure enough, the next morning when I showed the Novara to Donald at Bikeworks, he agreed that the frame was not worth keeping. He even pointed out some accompanying fork damage, and a crack in the headset cup! Not good. Still, I was ready to put it all behind me, because the idea of shopping for frames was thrilling.

At this point I headed off to the Bikeworks shop backyard where they have all kinds of frames just hanging there like blank canvases. They didn’t have too many road bike frames in small sizes, but I did spot this Yellow & Black Apollo Gran Sport that looked promising. Just $25! Just one small problem. The door had automatically locked behind me, and I appeared to be trapped in the fenced in backyard. Uh oh. I knocked on the door, but no one was within earshot. So I called 411 to get connected to Bikeworks’ phone line. It would have been funny to talk to Steve or Homer and say “Hey, I’m trapped in your backyard!” But I didn’t have to, because Steve poked his head through the door, coincidentally on an errand to the backyard, whew!

Back at the warehouse, Davey verified that this was indeed a good find. He also prepared me for some possible upcoming stumbling blocks. First, I made sure the hub spacing was comparable by placing the Novara’s wheels inside the Apollo’s dropouts. That worked! No need to re-space dropouts by banging on the bike with a 2×4. Then, I tested the brake distances from the rims. This bike’s touring geometry meant that I’d need to find caliper brakes with longer reach. No problem, as Bikeworks keeps tons of what I needed in crates in the warehouse.

Then, Davey noted that the new bike didn’t have a derailleur hanger, and that I could find just what I needed by rummaging through the warehouse bins. I found what I needed without too much trouble. Then came the slightly more scary parts, like the headset and bottom bracket, both of which involved tiny metal balls falling all over the floor. At this point, I took it upon myself to switch out the loose bearings for caged bearings. Again, the warehouse bins proved their worth. My next challenge was finding the right size seat post for the seat tube. This took a while, because the only small seat post lacked the integrated seat rail clampy thingy, so I needed further clampy bits to make it all work. I just love these warehouse treasures!

So, in about 4 hours, I got the bike to a point where it looks like a bike. Next up: Brake cables, shifter cables, and adjusting the bottom bracket. Can’t wait to figure it all out!

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