Friday, July 22, 2011

I submitted this article earlier in the week to Survivalblog and Mr. Rawles chose it for a published post. Woo-hoo!

Here is a copy of the article I sent in:

"Mr. Rawles,
In light of the several articles the last few days on bicycles, I’d like to suggest a few handy tips I have found for those folks looking to get into it for free or very low cost. I pair this consideration with a few choice images of the subway shutdown in New York a few years ago (December 20th 2005). An image of a man painfully perched on his daughter’s pink streamer bike riding to work in his three piece business suit was burned forever in my brain and reinforced the need for having cheap reliable transportation. My article is on how to get into it on the cheap.

Bicycles are a superb mode of transportation, and in an emergency situation they really should be a leveraged option in your survival tool belt—if my article can convince you of this, I believe you’ll realize that it sure beats walking!

My wife and I are big yard sale attendees. Yard sales are the gold mine of bike scrounging. I have been given bicycles by folks who had previously removed and sold a part or two from the bike to another buyer. It is easy to replace those parts with little out-of-pocket expense. One time I acquired a Japanese ‘gas pipe’ bike (a Shogun), named such parlance because the frame is non-buted (buting is where the walls of the bike frame are tapered thinner in the middle and thicker at the ends to save weight and increase strength), and if one were to cut the frame in half, cut a bit of old gas pipe in half, then held them end-to-end, they’d look the same. I got that bike for free because it was missing a seat post—the lady at the yard sale was almost apologetic about the bike when I asked about it and she was happy I saved her a trip to the dump. I spent some time and built it into a single speed rig some eight years ago. It is very low-maintenance, has 3M reflective tape across all the various tubing for night safety, fenders for inclement weather, and about a snowball’s chance of ever getting stolen. I love its simplicity and usefulness. I love that I got it for next to nothing (I did later upgrade parts on it, simply due to preference), and I appreciate its simplicity.

Don’t get me wrong here, the wunderbikes they ride in the pros like you see on the Tour de France are engineering marvels. I choose cruddy bikes instead. I used to own a very nice Specialized S-Works Enduro. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the time I showed up on the doorstep of the house ten years ago with that bike. My Memsahib certainly clarified a few points regarding what constituted proper purchases to my newlywed brain on that day.) That bike had all the bells and whistles, but I sold it. I have since awoken to the fact that I can create something with my hands, on the cheap, that I truly am passionate about. I love cheap bikes.

As I previously mentioned, yard sales are very good for picking up old bikes for next to nothing. Most just need a few parts tightened and oiled, the tubes inflated and they are good to go. I have picked up several Specialized and Trek rigs for under $20 which just needed a good washing (use Simple Green degreaser) and some oil on the chain and derailleurs. I make it a point to always ask about certain things at yard sales, and for some odd reason, old bikes are things folks seem to be ashamed of. I am unsure why this is. Old tools go for a fair bit, and old guns too—bikes go for a song.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Sheldon Brown, the king of Internet bicycle retrofitting. His web site is pretty old school (read: simple early 1990s graphics, et cetera) but it really has a ton of helpful information. Have an old odd duck French bike? He has info on it. is his reference library, and it has helped me with plans several times. It is a great resource.

My friends know I am into fixing up old bikes. I’ve traded odd jobs for bikes and bike parts, I’ve done side jobs repairing bikes for people, and my buddies always tell me when they find a deal. Networking about interests will always lead you some interesting contacts. I also believe that God knows us, and if we’ll talk to Him, he will place opportunities in our path. Ask Him to open your eyes, and when the opportunity comes along, take it, and remember to say a prayer of thanks.

I regularly visit the bike shops in my area and try to send business their way. They are helpful in figuring out stuff I am stumped with, and their advice is always free. I have found that kindness gets me a long way (as a general rule, but especially in bike shops); bicycle mechanics will almost always spend a few moments to chat with you about your project. Methinks they find a kindred soul in someone who refurbishes decrepit bikes. The other nice thing about the shop is they usually have a parts bin (read: used take-offs, parts, mostly nothing new or matching) you can poke around in. I always offer money for any parts bin stuff which I find that fit, but I have yet to pay for any of my scrounging.

Another option, somewhat controversial is dumpster diving. Now, before you write it off as an impossibility, it does work. I realize that some states may have ordinances against finding treasures in the trash pile, but I have buddies who have found entire bikes and some very usable parts checking the trash behind their local bike shops. [JWR Adds: Only dumpster dive with permission, and in accordance with state and local laws.]

Now, as to tools, you can pick up a pretty decent Chinese made repair kit off eBay or Amazon for about $130. I got one for Christmas near a decade ago. True, it isn’t as beautiful as a set of blue handled Park Tools, but I have yet to wear out any of my gear. I got a bottom bracket tool, a crank puller, hex wrenches, cone wrenches, chain whip and freewheel/lockring wrench, spoke wrenches, and a bunch of other bike tool stuff. Some of the specialty tools can be bought separately; the more general tools you may already have. My kit has really only let me down thus far on an old 27” (read: pre 700 CC modern road/29” mountain) wheel set—I did not have the right 3-splined tool to take off the screw on freewheel, and I needed a BMX style freewheel mounted. The old stuff requires older tools; standards back in the day were not necessarily adopted across the various manufacturers like they are today. Sometimes it is worth the shop fixing it for you rather than buying a tool you may not ever use again.

My final suggestion is a bike helmet. I know they are not ‘cool’ or hip. I also know most of us of the prepper mentality would not think of ourselves as either of those descriptions. I can tell you I have crashed several times in the past thirty years and each time I was wearing a brain bucket I was grateful I had head protection. Keep your brain safe!

Now, keep in mind, these tips are for the shade tree bike mechanic. I welcome feedback on this from the fine folks who make a living turning a wrench on bicycles—I am always learning and am passionate about making cruddy old bikes into something beautiful and functional. Hopefully you folks can take something from my thoughts here today and add another option to your survival tool belt. Bikes are not just for kids, nor do they have to just be a survival thing you never use. Google Albert Einstein on a bicycle sometime if you need a smile (the picture always elicits a grin from me). Get a bike, ride with your family—you will not regret it.

God Bless you, Avalanche Lily and the kids, - Jay in Utah"

I haven't written much of anything in the last few months. Wrote this on Wednesday and it felt great to be writing again, even for something as simple as this. As my 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Wallace used to say I "wrote about something I was passionate about".

Enjoy the read, and let me know what you think?