Vintage Bikes are amazing, they carry the beauty and cultural heritage of the past that has to be preserved. Cycling has always been a really good form of exercise, you get to intake fresh air and explore new places, nothing beats that.
With that being said, getting a really good bike today is an expensive endeavor, the prices have gone up since the pandemic, as a lot of people are ditching their rides for the pleasure of bikes! If you love bikes and want to do something really special then this guide is for you, we will show you how to restore a vintage bicycle.
Vintage Bike Restoration- What Do You Get From It?
You must be wondering, what do I really get from restoring a vintage bike? Well, there is no fixed answer for that! A vintage bicycle is like an old painting, sure there is a lot of value in it but in order to understand it more, you have to restore it, bring it back to its original shape!
When you restore an old bike, you get to enjoy the following things:
- You save a lot of money
- You understand your bike better, and your techniques
- You can personalize the bike
- The motivation is off the charts
These are only a few reasons why bike restorations are so much fun, and you should definitely give them a try. You should pay your local bike shop a visit and look out for vintage bikes, the ones from the 1980s and 1990s would do the trick!
Being a bike guy will make you go here and there, even if you have to scrounge every local bike shop in the vicinity, you do that. This is a tough kind of bike repair so you better be prepared!
What You Should Look Out For?
When it comes to an old bike, there are plenty of things that you have to look out for. There are bikes of different kinds, different makes, there even would be some models that you can’t restore properly so that is where you have to be careful.
The bare metal is something that you can penetrate and fix, although when it comes to the other components, that is where things get difficult. Research properly before starting and you will never have to face any obstacle, and it is advised that you take a friend along for the project.
The most challenging thing that I had to face was to find a replacement for the brake pads, and that was a nightmare. Getting the kind of brake pads that would work perfectly with old bikes is very rare. We hope that these vintage bike restoration tips come in handy.
Remember, this is unlike any bike repair that you have done before, so precaution is advised.
Tools Needed For Restoration
You cannot restore a vintage bike without the proper tools, there is just no chance at that. You will need a lot of products to help you with your project, and that is why we made this list for you.
- Lots of pliers and side cutters
- Different types of hammers
- A Hex Allen key
- Different screwdrivers
- A chemical paint remover (NitroMors)
- Toothbrush or paintbrush
- Dried and wet rags
- Spray Paint (Different Colors)
- Masking tape
- Protective mask
- An Anti-rust primer
- Wire brush
- Lubricating fluid
- A wrench set
- A spanner set
- Bike stand
- Chain-link tool
- Crank-pulling tool
- Some wet wipes
- New wheels
- Gear cables
- Brake cables
- Handlebar tape
- Bike’s original decals
- Brake pads
- Rim tape
- Inner tubes
These are a lot of things, we know that, but all of them are necessary. This is just an overlay for you, and these tools can change depending on the project. If it is something simple as a single-speed bike, things will change from time to time, and should be ready for that.
There would be some challenging obstacles, for example, no one can easily remove surface rust from these old bikes, that is why it is always recommended that you have a friend with you, to help you around.
Start With Getting A Bike
The first step is getting an old bike to reconstruct, of course, you can’t start the whole process if you don’t even have a bike. You can go for any kind of vintage bike, the type and make really doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is that you can bring it back to life fully.
A helpful tip here is to go for the bikes that fit you the most, you don’t want to ride a bike that you don’t actually like. You can decide where you are going to get your “Frankenstein” from, how much budget you have, and all other kinds of relevant information.
Build Up Slowly
I would personally suggest that you start with a leisure bike like beach cruisers, they are easy to restore and you would have fun using them as well. Look around for garage sales in the neighborhood, you will definitely find something worthwhile there. We got an old racing bike, but I suggest that you go with the cruisers, they will be easier!
Your best tools for this restoration process are going to be time and patience, you will need a lot of them.
Disassemble Your Vintage Bike
Now that you have gotten an amazing bike for yourself, you need to disassemble it properly so that the restoration can begin. When the bike is fully disassembled, you can start inspecting it, check each individual part thoroughly and this also comes in handy when you have to re-paint the bike.
The time that will be required for assembly depends on your skill set and if you have a friend with you. I recommended during the start of this guide that things will be made easier if you work with a friend. The removal process is pretty straightforward, you just need to unscrew some bolts and the part would come out.
Keep a Record of Everything
An advice that I would like to give here is that keep a record of everything that you do, taking pictures is highly recommended here. This will help you out if you get stuck or want to do other future restoration projects.
Removing The Parts Like A Professional
If you want everything to go smoothly then you will need to remove the crank arms of the bike. A crank-puller is the perfect tool for this job and we have mentioned that under the “Tools” section.
As we mentioned before, these tools and their usage is going to vary upon the model and type of bike, sometimes you will need a lot of tools while sometimes fewer tools will be needed. You will also need a large spanner to help you get the crankarms off the axle, just apply some force and all will be good.
If you are having trouble removing any part of the bike, then I would suggest watching some tutorial videos on YouTube, they help a lot!
You could have problems with the stem of the bike, this is the component that connects the front forks of the bike with the handlebars. The majority of the old bikes have problems when it comes to the stem, but that can be fixed easily, again, YouTube videos would help out a lot here. Bike restoration is not easy, but it isn’t that hard either, you just got to have patience.
Prime and Paint The Vintage Beauty
Now that you have disassembled the bike, and thoroughly inspected it, it is time for the most amazing part of the process- Priming and Painting! This step will require a lot of patience from you but the satisfaction that it gives you is definitely unmatched.
The toughest part here is removing the old paint off the bike, you will need a primer for that. The primer will be directly applied to the bare metal for quality adhesion, we want the bike to feel very smooth when we are finished. Going through this bike restoration will definitely make you feel like an archaeologist, I for sure felt like one.
What Works Against The Old Paint?
For this bike repair, if you want to remove paint effectively then you will need two items:
- Chemical Paint Strippers
One of the best examples of bike paints I have ever seen is from Bike Co Op, they do an amazing job and we would want something like that. People make a common mistake here, they go with wet and dry paper, which does not work for long.
The best thing that works, in this case, is the Aluminium Oxide Paper, once you use it, you won’t need to use anything else. A coarse grade of the Al Ox paper is recommended, which will make the work a whole lot easier. Removing the paint will take some time but there is no other option here, go through this process with patience.
Take things slowly, although if you rush then you could end up damaging the bike’s frame and we definitely don’t want that.
When it comes to a chemical paint stripper, I suggest that you use NitroMors, they are well reputed and will help you remove the paint in no time.
Remove The Rust Next
Rust is something that you will see a lot of in the old bicycles, you have to eliminate that with extreme prejudice. Most of the rust that you will see in your old bike is easily removable, you don’t need to sell the bike off when you see that much rust.
Use the wet and dry paper to remove all the rust that you can, it will take some time but you need to be patient. This process would go a lot quicker if the paper is shallow. Work the rust all over the frame and then go from there, leave no place where there is still rust.
There are going to be some areas on the bike that will be hard to reach and eliminating rust from that area will be even more difficult, that is where we will use Hammerite Kurust. If you can’t get that then there are pretty good alternatives to that, you just need to hit the local bike shop.
The liquid is not that much complicated, it is actually like milk and works really well against the rust. When the Kurust has done its work, the area will turn black, that is when we know that the agent worked.
Time To Prime The Metalwork
The paint stripping and rust removal are processes that take a lot of time, although you would be pleased to know that the metalwork does not take that much time. Depending on the model of the bike and the condition this would be done in a zap!
It is recommended that you work on a sunny day or at least windless if you want to finish this project quickly and without any kind of problems. You have to suspend the bike’s frame and forks using wires from a tree or a large stand, my personal recommendation is that you use the tree’s branches.
You have to remove the parts where you don’t want the primer or the paint, remove them properly, and put them aside. While using gloves, you need to clean the frame and forks of the bike with paper dipped in white spirits. This will remove any kind of grease and dust so that you can paint it later on!
When the spirits have been evaporated that is when you need to use the primer, make sure to shake the can before using. When the coating has been done, put some sheets over the frame and the forks and move them to the garage. Don’t remove the sheets just yet, this is where the excitement kicks in but you have to be careful, give them 2 days, and then you can remove the sheets.
Time To Paint The Vintage
Now that the primer is ready to go, that is the perfect time to paint the bike’s frame and fork. I find it to be the most exciting part of the whole process. You need to hang the frame and forks from a location, and before the painting starts, make sure that you have the gloves on!
The first goal is to moisten the frame and forks so that you can easily spray paint over them. For that, we will be using good quality wet and dry paper. Use the paper gently, we don’t want the primer to get off. A paper towel would then be needed to remove the dust that has accumulated over the past few days.
Now it is time to apply the spray paint, go slowly, we don’t want you to make the mistake that other people make. Painting quickly leaves a lot of room for error, the paint does not settle in that much, and in the end, you have to apply the paint again.
How Many Coatings Are Enough?
There are going to be many coatings and between each coating, there will be a waiting time of 15 minutes, we want the paint to settle in nicely. In most cases, 4-5 coatings are more than enough, when they have been done, move the frame and forks to the garage and wait two weeks.
Two weeks is best for the paint to be absorbed fully, you really don’t want to repeat the whole process again. Spray paints are amazing, they give you phenomenal results, you just have to be really careful with them and do the painting slowly.
Cleaning and Repeating Other Components
The bike’s frame and fork are not the only components that need to be cleaned, greased, and re-painted again, there are going to be a lot of other components that you need to take care of. Take out all of those components and repeat what we did.
The first process would be to remove their paint, wash them, grease them, and in the end, paint them. Using warm water to wash the components is a really good idea. Use a kitchen sponge if necessary, we want the components to be shiny when we are done with them.
If you are having trouble removing the paint off the bike then it is recommended that you use NitroMors, it will come in extremely handy.
Get New Parts If Necessary
Sometimes it happens that you have to replace some of the bike parts completely, and that is a good thing actually. Bike parts catch rust and get damaged over the course of years so it is actually recommended that you get new parts that you would replace.
Plus, it is very fun unpacking all the new parts for the very first time!
Cranks and Bottom Bracket- Out With The Old In With The New
The cranks and bottom bracket are the most vulnerable parts of a bike and they can easily get damaged. If they do get damaged, then it is wise to get them replaced instead of repairing them because that rarely works out!
In the case that cranks and the bottom bracket are not damaged, you have to clean them and re-attach them on the bike. You will need a toothbrush and some spirit to start the initial cleanse, make sure that all the parts like bearings and axles are covered in spirits, this will eliminate the old grease.
Some people make the mistake of applying fewer spirits, go all out, the excess won’t hurt and it will cleanse every kind of part that is dirty.
When all the components have been cleaned, it is time to lubricate them, do that properly, and let them sit there for a while.
Re-Installing The Bike’s Chain
As we’re nearing the end of the whole project, there are only a few things left to do. One of them is installing the chain back on, you need to make sure that the bike’s sprockets and both the derailleurs are installed properly.
The chain that you will purchase will obviously come fully lubricated so that makes the whole process easier. What you need to do here is fit the chain around the sprocket, you can check the length of the chain but there will be a need to cut it short.
For this, you will need a chain tool that can be purchased from any bike shop. With this tool, you can easily remove the link by pushing the pin against the chain’s pin. We recommend having a friend over for this process as it could become a bit difficult if done solo. If there is extra grease on the chain, make sure that you remove the extra and then re-install!
Take Care Of The Brakes and Cables
In the final part of the process, you have to replace the brakes and cables, if your vintage bike has been taken care of really good then there is no need for that. As the brake pads will need to be replaced, find the type and size that go well with your bike, you don’t want to make rounds to shops over and over again.
Make sure that you have a friend with you, with them being present, you will be done with this process really quickly. When it comes to the brake cables, don’t make loops that are too large, that could become buggy and you won’t even look well.
You will need to adjust the position of the brakes, especially through the brake calipers but that is needed. Make sure that the brakes are actually at a good point and then work from there. When it comes to the brake cable’s color, always go with black because that works with every bike.
In the next part, we will install the gear cables and that is truly a piece of cake. If you have seen how old bikes work then you know what is “Index-Less” Shifting, this is a case of that. Here, gear levers are actually held in different positions because of friction.
For the final touches, you will have to calibrate the derailleurs, you need to make sure that you can access all the gears and that everything is working properly.
For the last step, you need to apply handlebar tape and customize the bike visually! This is extremely fun and would be over in a zap!
You can easily get a handlebar tape in sorts of design and color, although try them out before purchasing. Foamy tapes allow for the best grip possible, that much I have experienced. The tape has to be applied in a specific way so I recommend watching YouTube for that.
As for the decals and customization, you can do that according to your needs and preferences! There you go, your new bike is ready to be enjoyed!
Restoring a vintage bike is fun, there is going to be sweat and tears but the end product will be very satisfactory. You just need to have the right tools and a lot of time and patience, the rest you can figure out easily.
With this guide, we hope that you can easily restore old bikes and have fun riding them! Happy Cycling!