Picture of Restoring a vintage Dumpster Bike
The old song goes "the best things in life are free".. and the same goes for bikes.
I have had two bikes which I found in the dumpster (rubbish bin here in Australia).

With some time and elbow grease, and sometimes a little bit of money you can restore a bike which was destined for the dump into something that is fast and fun to ride around.

This instructible shows you how to restore a dumpster bike - in this case a 10-speed road/touring bike.  These bikes are commonly thrown out, can be converted into a single speed or easily renovated into a working bike.

I have concentrated mainly on providing the resources and hints, rather than the in-depth detail for each section of the bike.  The reason for this is that no two bikes are the same and if I go into too much detail for one part (eg. the headset).

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Step 1: Getting Started

Picture of Getting Started
Find a bike.

Old bikes that no-one wants are plentiful.  They can be left out with the hard rubbish, or people cleaning out thier shed, garage sales or antique / bric-a-brac shops.  You may be able to barter for a friend's old bike eg. offer to mow their lawn or babysit.

Decide your reasons for doing this project.

This will save you a lot of time and/or heartache in the long run.  Some questions to ask yourself:

Why this bike? Check that the bike you have obtained matches up with how you will ride it.  The frame size should fit you comfortably, and the style of bike and your use should be well matched.  That being said, I have seen a beach cruiser been ridden in a triathlon before! Lots of people restore these bikes so that they have a cheap commuter that is not likely to get stolen compared to their snazzy carbon tri bike for the weekend.  It may be your grandpa's old Cro-Mo racer which you want to restore as a moving heirloom. 

What are my constraints? You may be pushed for time / space / money.  If you would prefer your leisure time spent riding, then you may be better off buying a new bike.  It may be more fun to give the bike to someone once you have finished if you are short on space at home.

What is my budget?   Another important question.  For a clunky commuter bike, you may just want to clean it up and spray it to protect it from rust.  For a vintage pista or road racer, it might be worth spending a little money for a comfortable saddle, clip in pedals and bar grips.  The money may be better spent on a new bike!

What is the condition of the bike? This is really important.  Check the bike to see that it is in repairable condition.  Look for  things like cracks in the frame, broken spokes / misaligned wheel rims, dull sound when you hit the frame (structural rust) missing cogs on the derailleur, bent forks, seized crank or headset.  All of these things can be fixed, but it may be uneconomical to repair them and the bike just won't be the same as if you waited to pour your energy into a dumpster bike that was a little less 'loved'.

Ok, so you have the bike, you have the money and the vision to complete the project.  Let's get started!

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GioGeo9 months ago

Just finishing my 1980 West Germany Constant Rallye and that was very useful ...Thank you! Check out these reflective spoke cards with some great vintage designs i found at . They where also able to make a copy of the bikes logo on reflective sticker. I'll post pictures after the final varnish. Thanks

bo88y10 months ago is also a great resource, and includes a lot of obscure information, explained in an understandable manner.

Dang! Sweet write up. I want to build a Sledgehammer. Can you tell me how to put shocks and pegs on my bike so I can take it over some sweet jumps? Are there decals of ligers on ebay? Can I build a holder for my chapstick?
schkip1973 (author) 1 year ago
thanks everyone for your comments and reviewing this instructible! I've been blessed that 120,000 people have viewed this 'ible.. Thankyou!
soami6y1 year ago
good tip on the notebook. i also found during bicycle repair school that it was very helpful to take pictures of every part as you took it off. it was WAY easier to put it back together and with me and my classmate both with tablets (i had the better one and he had the iproduct ;-) we has so many pictures it would've been impossible to forgot how we got it apart.
sofy5882 years ago
Here's a question for you. The 1970's Schwinn Collegiate that I picked up has a Sturmey Archer 3 speed coaster brake (S3C). Do you think it is worth it to try to repair this is or should I replace it? I wanted to keep the bike with its original parts just to keep it nice and vintage, however, I don't feel too safe riding in traffic with it. Just want to get your input.
schkip1973 (author) 2 years ago
the dark/light colours are mainly due to my poor photography skills :)

The colour comes up pretty uniform with the rattle can as long as you spend a lot of time shaking it before painting. I put about 7 coats on the bike and it has held up so well, except in spots where there are burrs eg. dropouts.

The main issue with the rattlecan paint is to avoid painting too much in one coat so that it drips.

A powdercoat is better and more durable but can be much more expensive. Given it was a dumpster bike I was balling on a budget :)

The partly assembled bike was to retest the component fit and motivate myself to finish the project.

Good luck with your bike restoration!

Did you have a problem getting a thorough coat of red paint on this bike ?? In this step, of the red bike partly assembled with leaves on the ground, there are zebra stripes of bright red and dark red all over this bike.
Ceddy172 years ago
I could be mistaken, but I think you assembled the rear brake on the wrong side of the frame.
Otherwise: nice job. :-)
onemoroni12 years ago
Here in So Cal you don't see many junk bikes except in thrift stores, that's where I get mine. I picked up a 26" Mongoose mountain bike recently ($45 usd) and converting it more to a road bike. Skinnier tires, different handle bars, to ride easier. I disassemble clean and re-grease all bearings, thourghly clean the cluster and chain with brake cleaner. I made a trailer (instructable posted) for my old bike and am going to rework it for the Mongoose. The frame was all chrome and cleaned up well with cleaner spray wax. With the bike trailer combo I collect CRV and found items. Thanks for sharing your instructable. Peace
schkip1973 (author)  onemoroni12 years ago
I love mongoose bikes! My work commuter bike for two years I found in the hard rubbish and it was a mongoose frame. It rode really well and only needed a few things to tidy up. After I had too many bikes I gave it to a friend and she rides around on it to the shops etc. thanks for your post I wish you well for riding in the future. Peace for you :)
Now a little time has past I'll update my ride. It is working very well as I have continued to tweak and adjust the shifters, brakes, and seat height to where I really enjoy the ride. I especially appreciate the dual suspension. On the new bike trail they don't design for a smooth ride as the concrete has little whoops at each expansion joint approximately every 2 feet. So with the suspension I don't get this constant bump, bump, bump. Peace
(removed by author or community request)
schkip1973 (author)  DELETED_isaacwilk2 years ago
Hi, I would take it to the local metal shop or local bike shop they can advise. Welding or brazing is the usual method but I haven't tried these before on bike I must admit. Happy restoring, cheers
Tim Temple2 years ago
You missed one reason for overhauling trash bikes -- having a skill set and tool kit for bikes when they are the main means of transportation. Of the dozen trash bikes I picked up and repaired, I gave five of them to the homeless for free. I still have five awaiting repair. I have two of them I use.

As for painting them, I have rust-colored Rustoleum paint. I've added duct tape to one of the welded joints to let people suspect it is cracked. In bike oriented countries theft is a major problem. It will be here, too.
schkip1973 (author)  Tim Temple2 years ago
Hi Tim, you have a noble goal for restoring bikes, it's lovely to see. The bicycle is a great way to emancipate people and allow them to travel and explore while on a limited budget. Thanks for the post, cheers Steve
sofy5882 years ago
Hi there,
I am really glad I came across your post. I picked up an old Schwinn that was on a sidewalk w/ a sign that said FREE. I did some simple upgrades like tires and seats but the bike needs a little more TLC to really enjoy a ride. I had been thinking about doing a complete restoration and after reading your post I am more inclined to do so!
schkip1973 (author)  sofy5882 years ago
Thanks a lot! I'm glad that you were able to find it useful. And a Schwinn bike too!! They are pretty nice. Happy riding, Steve
schkip1973 (author) 3 years ago
Hi Everyone! Thanks for the comments, please keep them coming!
he he he.. my grandma's middle name is Bianchi..

In Australia we call the 'adjustable wrench' a 'shifter'. I suppose because it can help 'shift' things that are stuck. The one I bought from bunnings has a tapered handle about 30cm long and can handle a nut up to about 45mm. It's great because you just need a little 'tap' with a piece of wood after WD40 and the nut should come loose.

I like the ides Lynxsys, it would have saved me a lot of elbow grease!

nice bike too Mr. Sanchez..

I think that shifter is short for shifting spanner, and that its called a shifting spanner because it is adjustable, but I am not entirely sure. Nice instructable by the way :D
Mr.Sanchez3 years ago
Check my before and after bike...I love Dumpster Bikes Too.
WOW! Great job. Did you have that sandblasted and powdercoated or was that all spray paint and elbow grease?
schkip1973 (author)  cyberguy913 years ago

I stripped and painted it by hand with the rattlecan spray paint and primer. I would have liked to have it sandblasted and powdercoated but the only prices I could get were $300AUD upward in Sydney! In Adelaide it can be done for cheaper about $60-70AUD.

If you want to save money on the powdercoat, and you aren't in a hurry, you can ask the shop to paint your bike whatever colour they next set up with. This saves on the setup cost for you and the shop.

Wow, $60-70. Do you know which place in Adelaide that is?
Wow. Nice work. I'll keep that in mind. I just finished repainting a 2000's Roadmaster bike that I had left out in the weather for a couple years. I just sanded all i could down and then put on about 2 coats of charcoal/black hammered Rustoleum paint. I'm thinking that when it gets warmer I might use steel wool on it and primer and recoat it with a few more coats as there are a couple spots that didn't stick and are rusting again. I haven't checked on exact prices for sandblasting and powdercoating here in Idaho, but I've heard that they are a little pricey as well, not to mention that I won the bike in a drawing and it's not a very expensive bike to begin with.

Thanks for your help. =)
No Sandblast ,no powdercoat but a LOT of elbow Grease. So funny"we went ina Triatholon too !!!
kroolzero3 years ago
Love this restore !!!!
JACKBASSHAM3 years ago
Hahaha beach cruiser in a triatholon... I put drop bars, a road bike saddle, and an anti theft paint job on my beach cruiser just for a ride for school, now I ride it everywhere!
lbrouse3 years ago
I bought a 30-year-old Schwinn Varsity 10-speed road bike at a thrift store for $5. With about $15 in new parts, the bike is in very good condition and is routinely ridden all around our southern California town. I love to see people recycling well-built machines and putting them back into service. Keep up the good work and in spreading the word.
Isn't the rear brake on the wrong side of the bridge? I have never seen a road bike with the break on that side except for in aero tri / TT bikes... cheers.
schkip1973 (author)  firefletcher3 years ago

The rear brake wasn't salvageable as there were no current brake pads that fit it.. The original frame has the geometry set up for touring rather than racing so it had long reach calipers. Even with the 'long reach' calipers I bought they weren't long enough unless I filed into the slots and put the read brake on that side of the bridge.

Very observant of you! The only other person who noticed that was a mate of mine who has been fixing bikes since he was a youngster :)
marcward863 years ago
Nice work!

A few things I'd add:
Some parts are reverse threaded, like the bottom bracket and the pedals.

Some local bike shops will give you old parts from their scrap piles. They LOVE bicycles and are super helpful, don't be afraid to ask

If you do buy new parts online, make sure you're getting the right size. Old french bikes have funny sizes and new parts won't fit.

The sheldon brown website has a ton of info about parts and sizing of older bikes (since these are the types you'll find in the dumpster).

I have a 87 centurion and 80 univega mixte that I rescued, and they are both so much fun to ride, because I restored them myself!
An easy rule to remember for the pedals: the RIGHT hand side pedal has a RIGHT hand thread, the LEFT hand side pedal has a LEFT hand thread.

And just so there's no confusion, the RHS pedal is the one you'd place your right foot on to ride :)
Is that a Peugot Madison you have restored? Looks a lot like my old one - which has chrome rims and hit and hope brakes..

BTW - To put this another way, the direction the pedal turns when you are going forward should tighten the bottom bracket! (for obvious reasons)
pixie03 years ago
Don't "bling" your bike too much, you'll get it stolen :-)
You mean like, don't decorate it with precious jewels?
BtheBike3 years ago
nice work Schkip . Done about a dozen myself last year while on unemployment . I like to clearcoat the original beat up paint scheme and buff /wax it to a shine . Always looked much better than any rattle can job. And retro . I've done it right over stickers too
lakurfiss3 years ago
Isn't it incredible that we throw such valuable things away? A few years ago I started buying old ten speeds from thrift stores, never paying more than $20. Most of them were quite easy to clean up and make roadworthy again, and I sold them to students at local colleges for a good return on investment. At one time I had 37 bikes in my basement. I got a bit carried away.
LynxSys3 years ago
An excellent primer on bike rescue. Short enough that it almost makes the task seem quick and easy enough to convince more folks to do it!

A question: When you list a "shifter" amongst the requisite tools, do you mean what an American would refer to as an "adjustable wrench," like the one in the attached image (borrowed from Wikimedia)?

And a suggestion: To save yourself some elbow grease (and to avoid removing more metal than necessary), you might consider electrolytic rust removal. Have a glance at ToolNut's excellent Instructable on the topic:

To work this solution you might need to borrow a kiddie-pool, but it's so darn elegant! It's also the only way that I know of to remove all of the rust from the inside of a bike's frame. I commented on ToolNut's Instructable with a fairly detailed suggestion as to how to do that, and I've reproduced most of that comment below. I hope that it's helpful to someone!

You can de-rust the inside of a bike frame by putting a metal anode in the tubes, surrounded by a perforated insulator to prevent direct contact with the cathode (bike frame).

For the seat-post tube you can use something like a piece of rebar inside a piece of PVC pipe with a lot of holes drilled in the pipe. For tubes like the top tube that are harder to get something into, you'll need something more flexible. An old chunk of steel cable or the jacketing from metal coated electrical cable can work, provided you can find something that's not stainless or galvanized. Then you just need to put your flexible anode inside some old hose with a whole lot of holes cut in it and feed it into the hard-to-reach spots.

I'd also suggest not de-rusting the inside of a frame at the same time as the outside. With the anodes inside the tubes, they're very close to the cathode, and so will slow down the rust-removal from parts that are farther away from their corresponding anodes, like the outside of the frame.
A shifter is a Shifter in Australia mate, the word 'Adjustable Wrench' is too long in the Australian language for it to be tolerated, hence it's renamed shifter.
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