A New Old Cruiser

November 3, 2013 — 4 Comments

As mentioned earlier, this summer my woodshop became a bikeshop. Now that Fall’s here, I’m in the process of reclaiming my woodshop, though that doesn’t mean the biking will stop. One of my favorite projects from this summer was rebuilding a commuter bike I’ve had for a long time, and I intend to continue riding it through at least part of the winter.

My rebuilt Electra cruiser

This bike, an 1998 Electra Street Rod 7 City (photo of the original bike shown at that link), is significant to me for a couple of reasons. One, it was my primary mode of transport around town for all the years I lived in Portland, Maine. I rode this thing up and down Munjoy Hill almost daily and between between school and “work” (I had a great gig as a movie projectionist at a small arthouse cinema), took it on ferries to Peak’s and other islands in Casco Bay, and tooled around the Greater Portland area on it. I had a car, but around town, I greatly preferred riding my bikes, and I have many fond memories of getting around on the Electra.

But the other thing about this bike is that I purchased it from from Sheldon Brown at Harris Cyclery in West Newton, Massachusetts. The name Sheldon Brown will mean a great deal to anyone who had even a passing interest in bicycles at any point since Al Gore invented the Internet. For those of you not familiar with Sheldon, his stature on the Web and in cycling culture is perhaps best captured in his obituary in the London Times. Basically, he was a bike mechanic who became a legend through the free electronic dissemination of his encyclopedic knowledge of bicycles. For me, he exemplified (and continues to exemplify, even posthumously) everything good about the Intertubes.

The bike served me well for the three years I lived in Maine, then hung from the ceiling in my parents’ garage for a decade while I lived in California. When I moved back to the Chicago area, it was one of the first things I brought to the new house, and it quickly became my around town bike once again. We’re blessed to live in an area in which almost everything one needs is in walking distance; having a bike makes everything that much closer and the kinds of errands you can do a little more substantial.

As I was kitting the family out with cycling stuff earlier this summer, I decided to give this bike some much-needed attention. As is typical with me, what was supposed to be a simple tuneup quickly became a complete overhaul. I stripped the bike of all its components and sent the frame off to get powdercoated. I purchased new and used components from all over the web (including Harris Cyclery) and from local shops, built up some wheels, and when all was said and done, the frame remained the only component from the original bike.

Here are a few more photos of the results:

Rebuilt Electra, non-drive side
Rebuilt Electra, back view
Rebuilt Electra cockpit

I waited a few months before taking these photos–when it came off the stand, it looked like a kind of art object that belonged on a pedestal, and I couldn’t go anywhere without someone commenting on what a nice bike it was. The scratches and dings and dirt it has accumulated in the last half of summer have softened the edges a little bit, and after this winter it should look just about right.

I specifically built up this bike to ride in all sorts of weather–-the 8-speed internal gear hub keeps the drivetrain simple. The front and rear LED lights are powered by a dynamo hub so I’ll have much-needed light in the morning and evening during winter commute hours, which are right around the corner. The Bosco handlebars provide a super-upright riding position. With the sprung Brooks saddle, the big tires which I run soft on hand-built 36-spoke wheels, and the fact that the bike unloaded weighs about 40 lbs, it’s a little like a cross between an old Cadillac and a tank.

Let me just say a few words about rollerbrakes. I love them. I didn’t know what they were until purchasing this bike back in the 1990s, and they are absolutely perfect for this sort of bike. Completely sealed and attached directly to a compatible hub, they feature consistent performance in any condition and need only a squirt of grease every year or so to keep them going. They seem to be much more popular in Europe than they are here–I ordered a bunch of rollerbrakes this summer and more than half of them came from overseas.

The rear wheel lock built into the bike frame lets me park the bike for a quick run into a store. I understand these locks are commonplace on Dutch bikes, and I can see why. I have installed Pitlocks pretty much everywhere on the bike for added peace of mind (note, I do not say security). Anything longer than “the quick run in” gets the full U-lock/cable treatment.

The wheel stabilizer–a little spring just behind the front wheel–keeps the wheel more steady when the bike is parked and the front rack is loaded. It’s a pretty ingenious device. That little bit of twine on the frame just in front of the spring’s mount is there to prevent the corners of the rack from banging into the frame. It’s perhaps a little over the top, but it’s one of my favorite details on the bike.

I may secure a wire basket or a homemade wooden crate to the front rack next summer. Even with a bungee cargo net, it can be a little odd trying to get things stable on the front rack. That said, I love having a front rack. I’ve used a different kind of front rack to carry lowrider panniers on tours before, but having, say, a few boxes of donuts right in front of you makes for a very nice bike ride. A very full grocery bag on the front rack requires a little more oomph while steering, but it’s not unreasonable.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun breathing new life into a fifteen year old bike. I briefly considered buying a new bike, but I’m really glad I went this route. With some luck, it won’t be stolen and it’ll get enough use to need and deserve another overhaul in fifteen years. And I suppose that’s one of the things I love about bicycles and woodworking.

For posterity’s sake: here are the build details:

Component Detail
Frame & Fork: 1998 Electra Street Rod City
Paint Satin Copper Metallic Powdercoat
Headset Chris King 1“ NoThread Headset with 1/8” stem shim
Stem Velo Orange Threadless Stem 25.4, 6° 90mm length
Handlebars Rivendell Bosco Aluminum 58cm
Grips Miesha Cork Grips from Rivendell
Front Brake Shimano Nexus Roller Brake BR-IM71-F
Rear Brake Shimano Nexus Rear Roller Brake BR-IM45-R
Brake Levers Tektro FL750 Silver
Shifter Shimano Alfine Rapid Fire 8-speed
Crankset FSA Metropolis (chainring removed)
Chainguard Velo Orange Alloy Chainguard 38T
Chainring Surly Stainless Steel Chainring, 38T
Bashguard BBG Cyclocross Silver, 110 BCD, 39T
Bottom Bracket Shimano UN–52
Pedals MKS Grip King
Front Hub Shimano DH–3R35 Generator: 36H, Bolt-On, Roller Brake
Rear Hub Shimano SG–8R36: 36h, 8 Speed
Rims Velocity Dyad, 700c, 36h
Tires Velo Orange
Saddle Brooks B67 Select (from Rivendell w/ copper rivets)
Seatpost Kalloy Uno 26.6x350mm Silver
Front Light Lumotec IQ CYO R-Plus SENSO LED headlight with Standlight
Rear Light Spanninga Pixeo LED
Fenders SKS/ESGE Silver Fenders P50
Front Rack Velo Orange Porteur Rack
Rear Rack Velo Orange Campeur Rack
Security Hub, Seatpost, Headset Pitlocks
AXA Defender Wheel Lock
Seatpost Cable
Accessories German Mirror from Rivendell
Portland Design Works Bar-Ista Coffee Cup Holder
Crane Suzu Chrome Bell
Pletscher Twin-Leg Silver Kickstand w/ Feet
Velo Orange Wheel Stabilizer

4 responses to A New Old Cruiser

  1. If I did this type of riding, I’d have a bike just like this. Nice blend of modern and vintage, without affectation. Nice choice on the cork grips. I love them on my recumbent. I need to start riding again. Thanks for the push.

  2. What a beautiful bike! And extremely practical as well. I knew well before I got to the build details at the end of your post that you, like me, are a Rivendell fan. Velo Orange too. Do you read Bicycle Quarterly? Great magazine. I wish now that I had said hello to you at Woodworking in America, I didn’t know that we had more than woodworking in common :0)

  3. That’s a lovely bike. I have hub brakes on my large dutch cargo bike and I can see why people like them. Personally I find they aren’t that happy on hills, so for that I use a slightly lighter adapted mountainbike with V brakes. Not as pretty but practical.

    I’m glad to find I’m not the only person interested in woodwork and classy bikes…

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