One Less Car on the Road

Committing to Commuting

Whether it was our choice or not to take the leap and make the plunge, it is done.  We have removed one more exhaust spewing, chemical dripping, money pit from the road. 

Like most families that I know we were a two car family, and it made sense for us once upon a time.  My wife and I both worked full time and we lived in an area that did not have public transportation readily available and also was not bike friendly.  So when we moved, we automatically defaulted to the two car situation that we were so accustomed to.

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As time went on and we settled into our new situation we started to reassess the need for multiple cars.  My wife is not working while we are abroad, besides her side hustle, that is (check it out here), and the public transportation and bicycle infrastructure in our area is well established.  The more we looked at it, it was actually my full time work schedule in the same office, at the same time, five days a week that was less demanding of having a car on location than her side hustle was.

I recently completed a bike build as well, where I took an early 2000s Mongoose Wal-Mart bike, stripped it down to its frame and rebuilt it back up into a respectable cruiser style bike (check it out here). Just to add another little nudge, our house is less than one kilometer from a train station.

Still I dragged my feet, the hardest part about making the change would be to change our routines and our convenient, comfortable yet wasteful habits.  As if the powers that be were alerted to my hesitation, the decision was made for us.

My car went from never giving us a problem, not even an inkling that something was amiss, to suddenly broken down on the side of the road and two days later pronounced D.O.A. Dead On Arrival by the garage mechanics.

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We could have ignored all of these ever so subtle hints, ran out and threw a bucket of cash into another convenient conveyance, or we could adopt change and step out of our comfort zone for the betterment of ourselves and the environment.  As if the title didn’t give it away, we chose the latter.

Nevertheless, we still weighed the pro’s and con’s of being a one car family and commuting.

Pros 

  • Commuting is better for the environment, and reduces our carbon footprint. 
  • Bike riding is a healthy form of exercise.
  • Vehicles are a drain on your finances.
  • We could save around $700 a year on car insurance, $1000 a year on fuel and roughly $200-$300 estimated per year on maintenance and that is probably a low estimate.
  • Train commuting is safer than driving, trains don’t often run into other trains because the driver was texting his buddy.
  • Bike commuting is safer than driving, yeah accidents happen involving bicycles but nowhere in the realm of car on car accidents.

Cons

  • If our one car breaks down, then we have no car.  This is bound to happen eventually.
  • Cold, rainy and snowy days are not fun days to ride a bike to work.
  • I would have to get up a little earlier and I would get home a little later.
  • Dependent on the trains running on time. (Who am I kidding, this is Germany the trains are always running on time).
  • I would need to buy a commuter train pass for around $800 for the year.
  • I would not be readily available during work hours in case of an emergency.

So there it was, all laid out on a piece of paper in front of me.  The benefits were clear benefits and there was no disputing them.  I found myself explaining away some of the con’s.  Yes, cars break down and if we only have one then we would have none.  On the rare occasion that this does happen though, you are typically stranded no matter how many cars you own, also a few forced days at home while the mechanic repairs it or while you are on the market for another car doesn’t seem so bad when trains and walking are so readily available.

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The commuter train pass costs $800 a year, but I am saving at least $2000 a year by not having a car, so that is a no brainer.

Not being available in case of an emergency is the only one that really gave me pause.  As I sat back and thought about it though, I couldn’t come up with a single instance when I needed to get somewhere instantly.  I was commuting, I wasn’t stuck, I was just at the mercy of the train schedule, I may not be able to get somewhere as fast as if I had a car, but I wouldn’t be too far behind it.  Between the trains and my bike I could literally get anywhere if I had to.  Also, unless the emergency involved my wife, we did have another car and my wife was likely to be near it.

So it’s settled.  I have committed to commuting.  I will let you know how it goes.

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Bike Build Step #6

Cosmetics, Cockpit & Completion

Hey guess what!  My handlebars have arrived!  So, taking my single speed Frankenstein bike for a cruise, is a real possibility.  I am going to use this beautiful afternoon to apply a couple cosmetic fixes that have been bothering me and get my cockpit set up.

My vintage frame is equipped with a plethora of welded on cable guides that I have since been rendered useless with my rebuild.  It was also designed to carry rim brakes that will no longer be needed, so the welded on mounts for those can be removed as well.

I borrowed a Dremel tool affixed with a metal cutting blade and moved my maintenance rack outside.

I started with the smaller cable routing mounts, and then once I got the hang of it I moved onto the rim brake mounts.  Looking at the front fork, I decided to leave most of the mount and just remove the pegs.  I tried to just unscrew the pegs but for the life of me I couldn’t get them to go.

Exercising patients and a steady hand I methodically removed all of the mounts.  Already I feel the weight of nagging cosmetic nuances lifted from my shoulders.  Switching to a sandpaper attachment on the dremel I go over each location once more and smooth out the remnants.

A quick dusting and I am ready for touch up paint.  Just so happens that the paint job was done recently as you may recall, and I still have my spray cans at the ready.  Using some well placed cardboard and towels I blend the new paint to the old without overspraying any of my new parts.

I let it sit out in the sun to dry, while I get all the pieces to my cockpit together, feeling good about getting those nagging cosmetic issues taken care of.

Handlebars, Grips, Headset Star Nut & Cap

First and foremost, I have a 1” steerer tube that I adapted to a 1 ⅛”, so I needed a 1” starnut to secure the headset cap.  A star nut installation tool is a specialty tool that I don’t see myself using very often, but it’s cheap and I don’t know anyone that has one, so I bit the bullet and bought one.

The installation tool is easy to use and convenient, no guesswork needed.  I hammer the star nut into place.  I didn’t install the headset cap at this point because I may have to adjust the angle of the headset once I attach the handlebars.

I loosen the front of the headset enough to slide my new handlebars in.  I chose handlebars with a little bit of a rise to them for comfort reasons since I plan to use this as a commuter bike and not a trail bike for the most part.  I tighten the bolts down in a cross “X” pattern to keep the pressure even.  I orient the handlebars at zero degrees to start, and will adjust them after a few rides once I get a feel for where I want them.

Eyeing up the orientation with the front wheel, I determine where straight is, make sure all the bolts on the headset are tight, then install the headset cap into my newly installed star nut.

As you know, my simple, minimal design requires no cables or levers.  So the only thing left to install is the grips.

I got a pair of brown leather, ergonomic, lock on grips to match the saddle.  I slide them into place and roughly position them where I think they should be, tighten a couple Allen bolts and I’m done.

Stay tuned for recaps and reviews of my first rides!

Tools Used For This Step:

Dremel with a metal cutting bit and sandpaper bit (borrowed)

Spray Paint (left over)

Star Nut Installation Tool

Hammer

Allen Wrenches

Total Cost For This Step – $121.39 (111.96 Euro):

1” Star Nut – $5.50 (5.07 Euro)

Star Nut Installation Tool – $22.95 (21.17 Euro)

Headset Cap – $16.98 (15.66)

Handlebars – $33.06 (30.49 Euro)

Grips – $42.90 (39.57 Euro)

**All parts are linked to the same or similar parts on Amazon**

Complete Cost of the Bike Build: $560.82 (515.39 Euro)

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Bike Build Step #5

Wheels, Chain, Etc.

It has been a little while since I did a bike build update, and I have added quite a bit since the front forks were installed.  I wanted to wait until I had all of the remaining components but unfortunately, shipping delays have pushed my last two items out a little further.  So my beastly, single speed, hard tail commuter completion is close but no cigar, or no handlebar for that matter.

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When I left off, I had just finished installing the front forks, so picking up from there:

Wheels

My old frame is designed for 26” wheels as is my new front fork, so I am sticking with that.  I ordered and received a Mango 26” Cruiser Bike Wheel Set. I am trying to go as minimal and simple as possible, a dream set up.  Little to no maintenance required, next to no failure points. After all, I am a hygge-list, minimal yet functional design and aesthetically pleasing.  So I opted for the rear wheel to have a coaster brake hub, yes you heard me right, a coaster brake, instant flash back to making skid marks down my parents driveway on my first ever BMX.

Installed on those coaster brake cruiser wheels are 26” x 2.125” tires with tubes.  The tread is suitable for road and gravel riding, the most common terrain that I will be riding either during my daily commute or out on family rides.

Installing the wheels sets is pretty self-explanatory, there are no disc or rim brakes to worry about, no cables, no levers, no problem.  I attached the front wheel to the fork securely. I attach the rear wheel, but just finger tighten the nuts so that I can adjust the positioning accordingly for when I install the chain.

Headset Stem, Shim & Spacers

If you recall, my frame has a 1” steerer tube, and the front forks that I installed were 1” and threaded.

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I am converting this to a more common 1 ⅛” headset stem.  In order to do this I needed to add a 1” to 1 ⅛” adapter shim.  The threaded steerer tube is already secured in place so all I am looking to do here is add a spacer (1” diameter, the tube is 1” and the shim will bump into the spacer) and the shim to elevate the stem to the end of the steerer tube.  Once I have the desired height worked out, I slide the stem over the shim and tighten down the Allen screws, alternating between the two to keep a constant even pressure to prevent stripping them out. I aligned the stem as straight as I can for now, but will likely have to readjust once I get the handlebar attached.  I have links to the same or similar items that I used at the bottom of this article.

Saddle, Seat post & Clamp

The next and quickest installation is a new seat post, seat and clamp.  I love the look of streamlined, brown leather saddles. I was able to find a great synthetic saddle by Charge Bikes that fit the bill.  I also received my new 27.2 mm diameter seat post that is 350 mm long to allow for plenty of height adjustment options. The seat post clamp adds a little white highlighting to go along with my forks and headset as well, aesthetic bonus.

I attach the saddle to the seat post, install the seat post clamp and slide the seat post into a rough estimate of the height that I will want it at and tighten the clamp down.

Chain

Installing the chain is a big step that I have been looking forward to.  I picked up a ½” x ⅛’ KHE chain with 112 links. It is highlighted with white face plates to match the design that I am going for.

I was a little stressed about being able to get it sized just right to avoid having to install a chain tensioner.  Like I mentioned before, clean and simple, less parts and less points of failure. The drop outs on my frame (the slots that the rear wheel slides into) are not horizontal, but they are not vertical either, so I was optimistic that I could make it work.

After wrapping the chain around the chainrings, I used a small metal hook to hold it in place, you can also shape a paperclip to do the same thing.  I pulled tight and moved the rear wheel around the dropouts to get a perfect size. Marking my target chain link, I used a chain breaker tool from my bike multi-tool to shorten the chain to the proper link, reinstalled a master link, made sure the tension was perfect and tightened the rear wheel in place.

After a couple test spins on the cranks, checking the tension all of the way around the oval chainring I was satisfied.  Perfect fit!

**NOTE**  If you have a narrow / wide crank ring, be sure to align your chain properly to match the narrow then wide teeth to the narrow then wide openings in your chain.  If this is off the chain will stick and bind while you spin the crank. **

Alas, this is where I had to stop.  Upon receipt of my handlebar and headset cap I will install and complete my build.  Which will then be IMMEDIATELY followed by my first test ride, I can hardly wait!

Tools Used For This Step:

Adjustable Wrench

Tire Pump

Allen Wrench

Chain Breaker

Pliers

Flat Head Screwdriver

Total Cost For This Step: $242.86 (222.77 Euro)

Mango 26” Coaster Wheelset with Tires and Tubes – $119.95 (110.03 Euro)

Truvativ 60mm, 1-⅛” Hussefelt Stem – $31.95 (29.31 Euro)

Jili Online Bicycle Stem Shim 1” to 1-⅛” Adapter – $3.99 (3.66 Euro)

1” Alloy Bike Headset Spacer Kit – $9.90 (9.08 Euro)

Charge Spoon Saddle – $29.48 (27.04 Euro)

CYSKY 27.2 mm Seat post – $17.88 (16.40 Euro)

Fouriers MTB Seat Post Clamp – $15.59 (14.30 Euro)

KHE Bicycle Chain – $14.12 (12.95 Euro)

**All parts are linked to the same or similar items on Amazon**

Bike Build Riding Total: $439.43 (403.07 Euro)

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Bamboo Bicycles

A Step Further in the Sustainability Direction

Bicycles are an incredible innovation, a health conscience, Eco friendly alternative to fossil fueled vehicles.  They are universally loved throughout the entire world, from children as young as two, to men and women of every age.

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There are more than 100 million bicycles manufactured every year and there are well over 1 billion bicycles currently present in the world already.  The largest accumulation of bikes is estimated to reside in China with nearly 500 million plus found there alone.

Those able to forego fossil fueled vehicles for a bicycle to complete their daily commute have an incredible positive impact on the environment and their own health.  It’s hard to look at a bicycle with anything but positivity in correlation with the economic impacts. But what are bicycles?

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Bicycles are hunks of metal, rubber, plastic, carbon fiber and grease.  Now, many of them are also equipped with batteries, but that’s another story for another post.  Bicycles don’t seem so enchanting when you think of them like that, but I’m not here to bash on bikes.  They are still a thousand times better than the alternative…automobiles. There is another, even more eco-friendly and sustainable option out there though – Bamboo Bicycles.

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Multiple companies have sprouted up with high quality, well made bamboo bicycles.  These companies are taking an already incredibly eco-friendly product and making it even more sustainable.  Bamboo is arguably the most sustainable material in the world. It’s regenerative qualities are unrivaled, when harvested it can regrow up to four feet in a single day.  It can absorb five times more carbon dioxide and create a third more oxygen than a similar sized grove of trees.

While most bamboo bikes still do typically contain some metal or carbon fiber at the joining joints, the longer stretches of material are replaced by bamboo stalks.  Not only does this decrease the carbon footprint of bicycle manufacturing, it also serves as a highly capable material. Bamboo is very lightweight and has a high tensile strength, it also has a higher shock absorbency than carbon fiber.  On top of that, it’s a cheaper building material than steel, aluminum and carbon fiber. A good company will pass that savings on to you!

If you are interested in a bamboo bicycle, there are quite a few established companies out there already, here is a handful:

BooomersYes, the three O’s is the correct spelling.  Booomers also uses there bike sales for additional socio-economic impact as well which you can read about by clicking on their company name. Additionally, the joints of a Booomers bicycle is created with a plant based fiber and epoxy which is somewhat unique in this industry.

My Boo – Is an impressive company based out of Ghana and Kiel, Germany, My Boo bamboo bikes offers handmade city, sport and electric bicycles.  The joints on these bikes are formed with glued and polished hemp rope adding to the sustainability of their product.

Ewabi – Established in 2016, Ewabi uses locally sourced bamboo from Bali, aluminum joints wrapped with natural fibers, resin and hardeners. Unique in its addition of bamboo mud guards.

Pedal Forward – These sustainable bikes are built with steel joints and Pedal Forward uses a portion of every sale to reinvest back into developing the transportation needs of developing communities.  They only have a few models at the moment, but offer them at a cheaper price point than most.

Bamboocycles – This company, based in Mexico manufactures bamboo bicycles with carbon fiber joints and offers a plethora of frame styles and designs.

In-Bo – A French company, specializing in bamboo products such as bicycles, skateboards and eyeglasses.

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Shimano Component Blowouts XT,XTR, Saint, SLX, & Zee. Static Jpeg

Bike Build Step #4

Front Fork Paint and Installation

My single speed monster is ready for some new front forks.  Being an older model frame, it was outfitted for a 1” steering tube and originally had internal cup bearings.  I plan on reusing the internal cup bearings and am sticking to a threaded tube for installation purposes.

Shimano Component Blowouts XT,XTR, Saint, SLX, & Zee. Static Jpeg

Finding a new front fork with these spec’s cut down on my options quite a bit, but I managed to find a decent pair with good enough reviews for a commuter ride.  They were only available in silver, so I planned on changing the color. They arrived decal free which was a pleasant surprise and made sanding them down for paint really easy.

After a good scrub down, I used tin foil and masking tape to protect the uppers and steering tube.  I decided on white for the forks, and will match that to the headset and seat post clamp. I hung the forks outside and painted them the same way that I did the frame.

With the forks freshly painted, I set to cleaning up and repacking my original bearings with grease.  Generously greased, I also greased up the internal cups and set everything in place.  

Installing the lower bearing raceway, I used a flat screwdriver and a small hammer to ensure that no gap remained between the steering tube and the top of the fork bracket as you can see in the photo.

Sliding the forks into place I threaded down to the upper bearing raceway into place, making sure to check and recheck the tension for the smoothest rotation. Front fork installation complete.

This small but important addition really changes the look of the bike and is starting to give this beast a little personality.  Just a few more steps and it will be able to be moved from the maintenance stand to the streets at last.

Tools used for this step:

Standard Screw Driver

Hammer

Grease

Tin Foil

Masking Tape

Spray Paint

Twine

Total cost for this step: $92.57 (85.26 Euro)

Muc-off Grease – Already paid for and calculated in Step #3

Spray Paint – $7.58 (6.98 Euro)

Lowrider 26″ Suspension Fork $84.99 (78.28 Euro)

*Each component description is linked to the same or a similar component to the one I used. Prices may vary.

Bike Build Rolling Total: $196.57 (181.05 Euro)

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Bike Build Step #3

Bottom Bracket and Crank Set

The next step for my single speed mountain bike beast build is to get the bottom bracket and crank set installed.  I have received all the components necessary and will begin with the bottom bracket.

Bottom Bracket

I am converting the bottom bracket from the 1 piece crank set that it came with, to a 3 piece square tapered bottom bracket.  This will improve the ability to customize and update these components in the future if/when I decide to do so. Using the bracket adapter pictured, I am able to reuse the previously existing cups, that I left in the bottom bracket.  The old cups cleaned up nicely and did not have any dings or scratches that would inhibit smooth rotation of well greased bearings.

I begin by greasing the inside of the cups, and packing the bearings.  Do not be stingy here, you will want to roll grease between each of the ball bearings and make sure that there is plenty of grease.  The last thing you want is to have to pull everything back apart and re-grease it again.

Installing the shaft of the bottom bracket, you will notice that there is a rib on the interior of the threads on only one side (pictured).  This is the non-gear side, and the nut on this side will be installed completely to that rib. **Note** When installing the nuts be sure to check and recheck the smooth rotation of the bracket, do not over tighten or leave the nuts too loose, you need to find that sweet spot right in the middle.

On the non-gear side, only the one bracket nut is used.  On the gear side, a washer with a guide notch (pictured) is installed, followed by another nut (pictured).  Once you install the additional washer and nut, recheck the smooth rotation again. Bottom bracket installation complete.

Crank set

The next step is the crank set/chain ring.  As I mentioned this beast is going to be a single speed.  So there is only 1 chain ring being installed, no derailleur, no shifting gears…simple, minimal and just right.  In order to take full advantage I went with a 34 tooth oval chain ring.

There are a multitude of reasons on why I chose this style of chain ring and I will be writing a separate post explaining the science behind oval chain rings soon, so be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss it.

First, I installed the chain ring onto the crank, if you notice in the picture of this particular chain ring you will see a triangle/arrow printed on one side of the ring, this is the direction that the crank is installed.  If you get a brand that does not have this guide, you just need to know that the widest part of the ring should be vertical when the crank is horizontal. The reason for this will be explained in my oval chain ring post, so you will just have to take my word for it for now.

Attached the cranks onto the square tapered bottom bracket and secure them with the nut that was provided with the bottom bracket.  Rinse and repeat with the non-crank side. Crank set installation complete.

Pedals

What good is a crank set and bottom bracket without some way to power them…The last step for this assembly is to install the pedals.  Most pedals are labeled as to which side they belong on, but in the case that they are not you just need to make sure that they thread in by spinning them towards the front of the bike.  Right side threads in clockwise, and the left threads in counter-clockwise. The pedals can be tightened by either using an open ended wrench on the pedal side, or an allen wrench on the inside of the crank arm.  Make sure these are nice and tight. Pedal installation complete.

Tools used for this step:

Allen wrench set

Adjustable wrench

Grease

Total cost for this step: $94.03 (84.76 Euro)

Muc-Off Bio Grease – $13.30 (11.99 Euro)

3 piece bottom bracket adaptor kit – $17.75 (16.00 Euro)

34 Tooth oval chainring crankset – $42.99 (38.75 Euro)

RockBros pedals – $19.99 (18.02 Euro)

*Each component description is linked to the same or a similar component to the one I used, prices may vary.

Bike Build Rolling Total – $104 (93.75 Euro)

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Bike Build Step #2

Refinishing

My Frankenstein bike is stripped down to the frame and its original chrome frame is mocking me every time I walk past it.  I can hardly stand it anymore, after a quick check on this afternoon’s weather I decide, today’s the day.  

We have some sandpaper left from my wife’s last furniture refinishing project.  I deface my mountain bike frame with vigor, sparing no nook or cranny. A thorough sanding and wipe down and this monster is almost ready for some paint.  I mask off the internal cups in the headset and bottom bracket and set out to get the paint.

A moment of deep thought and contemplation in the spray paint aisle at the hardware store and a decision is made.  I go with a darker shade matte green, not unlike the shade you would see on the old military style Jeeps.

I hang my frame up from the swing set in the backyard with some twine, and go at it with the spray paint.  

Happy Accident – The slight breeze causes the frame to rotate slightly allowing me to look over the frame from all angles while I paint.

Multiple coats later I am satisfied that I have covered all areas with a smooth even finish.  I leave the frame hanging for a couple hours to ensure it is dry, then lock it back into the maintenance stand to await the next step.  

Coming soon – Reassembly.

Tools used for this step:

Sandpaper

Masking Tape

Twine

Spray Paint

Total cost so far: 8.99 Euro.

Bike Build Step #1

The Breakdown

I started with the easy stuff.  Front and back wheels off. I search the chain for a master link but don’t see one, no worries.  I am turning this sucker into a single speed anyway, I will just remove the front and back derailleurs with the chain still looped through them…wait.

I will be getting a new half-link chain in an effort to match the magic length of a single speed chain without the use of a tensioner.  Since I am not worried about reusing this one, I just take a screwdriver and a pair of pliers and snap a link in half to remove it.

Next, I fish all of the brake and derailleur cables out of the cable guides and remove them.  The front forks and the cockpit are in dire need of a replacement, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to the twist grip gear selector but in all honesty, I don’t really know how to remove them.  So I don’t, I take the entire handlebar assembly off as a whole, and just leave the forks and headset.

I unscrew each piece of the headset allowing the forks to fall right out.  I reassemble the headset as it was for reference when it comes to buying the new forks and new headset.  I leave the internal cups for now, I hope to maybe be able to reuse them.

I remove the rear rim brake assembly and the pedals with the help of a cowboy and bedhead riddled little man.  Tip – both pedals unscrew towards the rear of the bike so the right side unscrews counter clockwise, and the left side unscrews clockwise.

For the bottom bracket I employ a plumbers wrench, another tip – on the non-gear side the nut unscrews clockwise.  I remove the bracket and reassemble this as well for future reference. I leave the internal cups in here as well for possible reuse.

Oddly enough, the old kickstand is the hardest piece for me to remove because I don’t have a big enough allen wrench, I remove the stand itself with its spring but have to leave the bracket on for now.

Last thing left to do is clean it up a bit…

Tools used for this step:

Phillips screwdriver

Pliers

Adjustable wrench

Open ended ⅝” wrench

Plumbers wrench

Flat head screwdriver

Allen wrench set

Total Cost so far: $0.00

I will be giving the frame a light sanding and will repaint it next, then reassembly will begin – stay tuned.

Let the Games Begin

I present to you my winter project.  All decals have been removed in order to preserve the victims anonymity.  Extra doughnuts to anyone that can accurately name the make of this beast by frame geometry alone.  

I will now begin to transform this out of date, run down, dry rotted, squeaky, creaky, mass of rubber and aluminum into a single speed, trail ready, stylish, beast of a mountain bike.

My goal is to have this trail ready by the Spring and I will be documenting each step along the way.  Step 1, break it down. Here. We. Go…