Introduction: Refurbishing an Old Bicycle

About: I like to make stuff

My girlfriend had a beat up old beach cruiser that she used to ride around the city when she lived in Philadelphia. It was rusty, had a broken pedal, was missing its kickstand, and just needed a lot of TLC. About a year ago, I decided to fix it up and present it to her for her birthday. The results were fairly stunning, considering the shape it was in to begin with. She thought it was a new bike!

This instructable will show you how to tear down an old bicycle, remove the old paint, clean the frame and various components, repaint, and reassemble. It helps to be familiar with how bicycles work, but not entirely necessary. At the very least, you should be "mechanically inclined". If you have an older bicycle, it will be easier to work on.

At any rate, read on to see how I did it.

Note: This is my first instructable. I've been coming here for years for ideas and inspiration. I figured it was about time I contributed. Unfortunately, when I build things, I get so wrapped up in the process that taking pictures is the last thing on my mind. The only reason I took so many pictures of this project was so that I could show my girlfriend that her new bike was, in fact, just her old bike with a fresh coat of paint and a few new parts. In the future, I'll try and take more pictures as I go so that I can share more of my projects.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

This is the bicycle I used. It's an old beach cruiser with a one-piece crank and a coaster brake. Bikes with a one-piece crank are easier to work on since the arms the pedals connect to are all one solid piece, as opposed to two separate crank arms that are pressed onto an axle.

At this stage, you should decide on how you want to paint the bike. I ended up settling on a red and white color scheme. You should also take this time to decide which parts you're going to replace. A fresh set of tires and tubes can't hurt, and a new seat can make a world of difference. Also consider replacing the handlebar grips if yours are cracked or dry rotted (or outright missing, as they were in my case). Make a list of what you're going to need.

To make stripping and painting as easy as possible, we're going to remove nearly every component from the frame and clean them thoroughly. Unfortunately, when I did this, I neglected to take enough detail photos, so bear with me and I'll try to explain things as best as I can.

Materials Needed:

  • An old bike
  • Spray paint in your color(s) of choice, primer, and clear coat (I recommend Rustoleum)
  • WD-40 or your favorite penetrating oil
  • Lubricating oil, such as 3-in-1
  • Kerosine, diesel, or gasoline in a small, metal container for soaking and cleaning small parts
  • New parts (tires, seat, etc.)

Tools Used:

  • An assortment of wrenches and sockets in various sizes
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Pipe wrench
  • Screwdrivers
  • Allen keys (hex wrenches)
  • Tire levers (if you have them)
  • Pliers
  • Angle grinder with wire wheel and wire cup wheel
  • Brass wire brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Bike pump

Step 2: Disassembly

Begin by removing components. This process can get frustrating, especially with older bikes that have been neglected. Parts can get stuck. If something won't budge, soak it with WD-40, tap it with a wrench a few times, then let it sit for a few minutes before trying again. Perseverance and patience are key. I tend to get frustrated and lose patience very quickly, which led to me exerting too much force when trying to remove one of the pedals, causing one of the crank arms to bend. I was able to bend it back, but it's probably best to avoid this scenario altogether if at all possible.

Make sure you pay attention to what you're doing as you disassemble everything. Try and get a feel for how everything works as you go along so the reassembly process will make more sense.

Fenders and Chain Guard. Each fender is held on by three bolts; one at the top and two at the end of each of the "arms". Simply loosen and remove the bolts and set them aside, taking care not to lose the small nuts. If the fasteners are very rusty or corroded, pop them in your solvent container and let them soak for a while. This won't remove much rust but it will help remove most of the grease and grime. You should also remove the chain guard, which is usually held on by two or three bolts.

Wheels. Pretty simple. Just two nuts on either side of the axle. Some bikes have a quick release that makes this process a breeze. The front wheel just pops straight off. The rear wheel requires a bit more attention. First, you'll notice a small metal arm coming off the opposite side of the axle from the drive sprocket. This arm is clamped to the frame. This is your coaster brake. Remember how it is attached, then remove the small metal strap that holds it in place. Then loosen the axle nuts. At this point you should just be able to slide the wheel out of place and remove the chain from the sprocket. After you've removed the wheels, go ahead and take off the old tires. No need to be gentle here unless you plan on salvaging the tires or tubes. Mine were so dry-rotted they practically crumbled apart as I removed them. If you don't have tire levers, this can be done with a flat-head screwdriver or two. All you need to do is insert the blade of the screwdriver in between the edge of the tire and the rim and pry the bead of the tire up and over the rim. Be careful not to dent or bend the rim. Once you've got the bead raised up a bit, wiggle the screwdriver along the rim to work the tire free, pushing away from you. Be careful, as the screwdriver can bind up and slip out sometimes. Don't stab yourself! If the tire keeps popping back into the rim as you go, insert another screwdriver near the first one and work that one along the rim, keeping the first screwdriver in place to keep the tire from reverting to its original position. Once you've got the tire half off the rim, simply repeat the process to fully remove the tire. The second half of this process is much easier, and you can usually just pull the tire off by hand at this point.

Seat. The seat is easy to remove. Just one bolt, or in my case a quick release. If you're going to be replacing the seat as I did, you also need to remove the seat post from the underside of the seat itself. This is also held on by one bolt. Simply loosen it a bit and the post should pull right out. Note also that as you loosen this bolt, you can adjust the angle of the clamp. Remember this, as when you install the new seat you may need to adjust this angle for optimal comfort.

Handlebars. On older bikes, they're usually held on by one bolt going straight down through the top of the stem. Simply loosen this bolt and pull up. They should come right out. If you want, you can remove the handlebars from the stem at this point as well. My bike didn't have grips left on the handlebars, but if yours does, you can either try and pull them off by hand, or just (CAREFULLY) cut them off with a utility knife.

Chain. If you don't know how to do this, check out this article. It goes over the various types of chains and tools required. Most older bikes simply use a master link to hold the chain together. This is a link that is essentially held on by a spring steel clip. It looks different from the rest of the links. You merely have to remove this clip (I usually just use a pair of needle-nose pliers, being careful not to damage the link), then you can remove the master link, leaving you with one long length of chain. Go ahead and toss the chain in your solvent bucket, taking care not to lose the master link. Make note of the way the chain starts outside the frame, then passes through the back on its way to the rear sprocket.

Pedals. IMPORTANT - Each pedal threads on opposite the other. This is to keep the pedals from coming loose as you pedal. There are a few ways to remember which side is which. The easiest method is "right side = right-hand thread; left side = left-hand thread". For example, the right pedal, the one on the same side as the chain and sprockets, is threaded in a standard, right-hand thread, meaning you turn the pedal clockwise to tighten, counter-clockwise to loosen. The left side is opposite. The pedals simply screw straight into the crank arms. You'll notice the pedals have two flattened edges opposite each other on the axle close to the crank arms. You should be able to get an adjustable or standard wrench in on the pedal axle and turn it. You have to support the other side to keep the crank from spinning. Try and use a wrench with a long handle, as you're probably going to need to apply quite a bit of torque to get old pedals to budge. Use WD-40 liberally here. One of my pedals was broken, leaving nothing but a bit of plastic around the axle. Whatever happened to damage this pedal also made it very difficult to remove. I ended up having to use a pipe wrench to grip and turn it because the wrench kept slipping off the axle.

Crank. You can see from the photo that I got a little ahead of myself and started to remove paint before removing the crank. I didn't decide to remove it until this point. You may not even be able to remove this, as some bikes require special tools for removing the crank. It's not necessary to remove the crank, as you can always just mask it before painting. I decided to remove it because I wanted to paint it a different color and inspect the bearings. If you have a one-piece crank, you're in luck, as these are very simple to remove and require only an adjustable wrench and flat head screwdriver. Be careful if you do decide to remove it, as there are two sets of bearings inside. The bearings are usually housed in metal collars that hold them together in a circle. Don't lose these. All you have to do to remove the crank is first loosen and remove the locknut on the left side of the crank. Remove the washer underneath, then unscrew and remove the cone, which holes the bearings in place. They usually have a notch that you can insert a flat head screwdriver in to help you turn it. They generally aren't screwed in very tightly. This is to allow the bearings to roll freely. Next remove the bearings from the left side, then you can pull the whole thing through from the right side, being careful not to damage the other set of bearings. Go slow and take note of how everything went together. Wipe any old grease and dirt off of the crank axle and bearings.

Everything else. Reflectors, baskets, racks, etc. Whatever else you have attached to your frame, remove it. You should be able to figure out how everything comes off. Take pictures with your phone as you go so you'll have references to look back on when you're reassembling. Take care not to lose anything, and keep all fasteners with their respective components so you don't mix anything up.

When you're finished, you should be left with a bare frame with only the forks attached. You can remove the forks as well if you want, but I won't go into detail here as to how to do that, as this step is already pretty long-winded. I didn't remove them. If you want to, there are plenty of articles on the internet walking you through the process.

Step 3: Stripping

Now for the fun* part. You can use many different methods for removing paint, from sandpaper and elbow grease to chemical strippers. I used a grinder with a wire wheel and wire cup wheel because I'm not a very patient person. On older, steel-framed bikes this is a perfectly acceptable method, but if your bike has an aluminum frame, I would be careful with this method, as aluminum is softer than steel. Anyway, if you do decide to use a grinder, just take your time, as the wire wheel can bind up and jump sometimes. WEAR GLOVES. Thick leather gloves. Also safety glasses (or a face shield if you have one), long pants, and long sleeve shirt. It probably wouldn't hurt to wear a dust mask either, as I'm sure breathing in old paint and rust dust isn't very good for you. I didn't wear any of these, because I always want to look cool when I'm grinding things**. Unfortunately, this inevitably leads to grinding off a layer of skin on my fingers. A wire wheel spinning at a few thousand RPMs hurts like hell. Also, through general wear, the wire wheel will occasionally throw off a piece of wire here and there, which have a tendency to embed themselves in your skin. This doesn't really hurt that much, but wearing the proper clothing will help deflect almost all of these. Anyway, just grind away until you've stripped the frame down to bare metal. It's ok if you can't get all the paint off. You can also use a wire brush and sandpaper to help reach in tight areas. I also used the wire wheel to clean the rust off of the fenders, handlebars, chain guard and crank.

When you've removed all of the paint and rust, give the frame a light sanding with a fine grit sandpaper to smooth out any roughness caused by the wire wheel, then thoroughly wipe down the frame with a clean rag to remove all dust and dirt.

*more like time-consuming, annoying, frustrating

**I'm stupid and lazy

Step 4: Priming

Now you should have all your parts cleaned and ready to paint. Hopefully you've already decided on a color scheme. I decided to paint the frame a bright red and the fenders, crank, and chain guard white. I left the handlebars and wheels unfinished. In retrospect, I should have covered them with at least a few coats of clear coat, as they're already starting to collect rust again, since I left the metal bare, so keep that in mind if you decide not to paint any of the parts.

Ideally, you should hang the parts somewhere out of the wind. I used wire coat hangers to hang them from the ceiling of my shed. I also draped some old blankets to catch some of the overspray. Wherever you decide to do this is up to you, but make sure you have adequate ventilation and you're mindful of your surroundings.

First, mask off the hole in the frame where the crank goes through. You need to keep this area clean, as this is where your crank bearings go back in. Mask off any other areas you don't want paint to get in, such as the top of the forks.

Start by applying a few coats of primer to everything you're going to paint. Remember, many light coats are better than a few thick coats. Take your time and follow the directions on the can. A solid primer base will inhibit future rust and help your new paint to adhere to the metal.

Step 5: Painting

Since I was using two different colors, I would paint one color, then remove the piece and hang it outside on my clothes line so I didn't get any white overspray on my fresh red paint, or vice versa. Again, take your time and apply many light coats. It really pays to be patient when spray painting, as applying paint too thick can cause ugly drips. Apply enough coats so that you can't see any more primer underneath, or until you're satisfied with the results. Again, follow the directions on the can as regards drying times and time between coats. Once you've let your final coats of paint dry sufficiently, it's time to apply a few coats of clear coat to seal in the color and add a nice glossy (or matte, whichever you prefer) finish. Once you're finished, make sure you let everything cure for at least a day, or whatever the can recommends. If the paint isn't fully dry underneath, it can tear or peel off when you go to reassemble your bike.

Step 6: Almost Forgot About the Wheels!

While waiting for the paint to dry, I decided to tackle the wheels. These wheels were almost completely covered in rust. I used my grinder to clean the rust off the side of the rims, then went to town with a wire brush in between the spokes. This can be time consuming, depending on how corroded your rims are. It's a pain, but the end result is worth it. You can clean the spokes with sandpaper.

Unless the inside of the rims are caked with rust, I wouldn't really worry about cleaning them. I unfortunately had to clean mine. If you look in there, you'll notice a thin strip of rubber running inside the groove. This is to protect the inner tube from being punctured by the spokes. If you're going to clean rust out of here, you'll need to remove this strip of rubber. Hopefully it's intact and you can reuse it, but if not, you'll need to pick up a new one when you head to the bike shop for new parts (next step!).

Again, I neglected to coat the rims with clear coat, and they're starting to rust a bit again. So unless you're going to paint the rims, cover them with a few coats of clear coat. Just make sure you mask off the axles/sprocket first.

Step 7: New Parts!

While your paint is drying, now would be a good time to visit your local bike shop and pick up some new parts. The sky's the limit at this point. I tried to stick to only the essentials and buy cheaper parts, but go with whatever you're comfortable with. I ended up getting new tires ($10 ea.) and tubes ($2 ea.), a new seat ($15), new pedals ($5), kickstand (actually salvaged this from another beater bike), and new handlebar grips ($10). I ended up spending a little over $50. You could also pick up a new chain (make sure you count the links in your old chain first), rack, basket, horn, etc. Most shops also have a catalog you can flip through if you can't find something you like in stock. I ended up having to order a set of whitewall tires since they didn't have any in stock. Feel free to chat with the people who work there, let them know what you're doing. They can offer advice and help you out if you run into any trouble along the way. The smaller shops are usually the friendliest, in my experience.

Step 8: Reassembly

This is the fun* part. Remove and wipe dry any parts you had soaking in your solvent bucket. All your parts should be clean and dry at this point. Gather everything together. Plan out the reassembly process to make things easier on yourself. I put the handlebars and seat back on first so I could stand the bike upside down. Next went the crank and bearings (pack some grease into those bearings first). Then the fenders, kickstand, and chain. When reinstalling the crank, you may need to adjust the tension of the cone, the first piece you screw in on the left side that holds the bearings in against the frame. Too tight and the pedals will be hard to turn. Too loose, and the pedals will wobble. Make fine adjustments until you're happy with the way the crank spins in the frame, then lock the cone in place with the lock washer and locknut. Double check and make sure the crank still spins freely, as things can shift sometimes as you're tightening.

Now you should mount your new tires on your cleaned or painted rims. If you painted them, you need to be a lot more careful not to mar your fresh paint job as you install the tires. Start by putting just enough air in the tube so that it holds its shape but is still slightly floppy. Stuff the tube into the tire, then begin pressing the tire onto the rim, one bead at a time, making sure you line up and pull the valve stem through the hole in the rim first. Tires go on pretty much opposite of the way they came off. If you're using screwdrivers, be very careful not to puncture or pinch the new tube. Even if you're using tire levers, you still need to take care not to pinch the tube. Once you've got the tire fully seated on the rim, make sure the beads are sitting below the edge of the rim, repeat with the other wheel. Then pump the tires up to the recommended pressure, stamped on the sidewall of the tire. Once you're tires are good to go, mount your wheels back on the frame. Make sure you replace the chain and check the chain tension before tightening the axle nuts, then reattach the coaster brake to the frame. With the chain on and the rear wheel in place, you should be able to deflect the chain up or down no more than 3/16" or so. Any more play and the chain is too loose and might pop off; any less and your chain is too tight and will cause premature wear of the chain, sprockets, and wheel/crank bearings.

At this point you can flip the bike back over onto its wheels and attach your new pedals, reflectors, handlebar grips and any other goodies you bought. Also check to make sure the tires aren't rubbing against any part of the fenders. Fenders bend easily and can become misaligned. If they're rubbing, sometimes you can loosen some of the bolts holding the fender on and adjust it, or carefully bend the fender out of the path of the tire.

Make sure you double check everything and make sure all nuts and bolts are tight and your wheels are straight. Add a few drops of oil to the chain and rear sprocket to lubricate them. Purists will tell you to only use specialized chain oil, but I just use 3-in-1. Whatever you use, do not use WD-40. WD-40 is a terrible lubricant, as it attracts dirt and grime. WD-40 is best used for cleaning and freeing stuck parts. If you spray it on your chain, it will become covered with dirt and gunk within days and need to be cleaned again. I literally cringe every time I see or hear about somebody doing this.

*actual fun

Step 9: Finished!

And that's it! You've taken an old beater bike that looked like it was headed for a scrapyard and turned it into a beautiful custom bike. Hopefully along the way you've gained an understanding of how bicycles work. Take good care of it and it will last for years!

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