Restoring a Vintage Dumpster Bike




Introduction: Restoring a Vintage Dumpster Bike

About: love understanding people's needs and coming up with a product or solution to help.

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).

Step 1: 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!

Step 2: Resources

There are a host of resources on bike repair and maintenance out there. 

Here is a description of the parts of a bike, ie what everything is called.

Some of the books are great, and they assist with the differences in detail between different bikes.  Some examples are the bottom bracket, headset and derailleurs which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, bike to bike and with the ebb and flow of technology.

If I could recommend you do these five things, you will be happy and in front with your bicyle project.

1. Read instructibles.  There are some great bike repair and detailed instructions treasured within.
2. Read "the little blue book of bicyle repair" avilable for $17 from certain online bookstores.
3. Read "zinn and the art of road bike maintenance" yours for a fiver from certain online bookstores..
4. Go to a bicycle club, swap meet or maintenance class. These are often free and people are there who are mostly happy to help.
5. Get to know your local bike shop owner or mechanic. 

Step 3: Tools and Equipment


- bicycle repair and maintenance kit.  Should contain a chain whip, cone wrenches, pedal wrench, crank puller, a big *** shifter for headsets and the like. Other tools are useful like a spoke wrench, tire levers etc.
- spanners - spanner set is useful
- cable cutters - useful for cutting brake and gear cables on a bike
- file - filiing off metal ends etc.
- pliers - needle nose and solid are good.
- screwdrivers - stubby and long for leverage are good.
- allen keys - useful for adjusting derailleurs, gear cables, brakes etc.
- hammer - good for a bit of extra leverage (last resort)

- RP7/WD40. This stuff is useful for getting rusted parts moving.  Don't be afraid to spray it, come back the next day spray and try again. 
- Steel wool - for removing dimples in a steel frame
- Wet and Dry sandpaper for sanding smooth a steel frame.  Various grades from 40 to 1200 are good.
- Steel brush - see rust, removal
- grease in a tube  - general purpose bike grease from a bike shop is great and will set you back $5-10.
- paint stripper - toxic fumes and nasty burns can come of this stuff. Make sure you are protected and read the instructions.
- safety gear - make sure you have got good gloves, eye protection and hearing protection. safety first.
- painter's tape - for masking off various sections of the bike prior to spraying
- rattle can paint spray cans- choose hard wearing paint like high-temp engine paint and grey primer.
- kerosene - buy the non-smelly stuff you will feel better.  It is useful for degreasing.  Pop the old crappy part in the kerosene and three days later it will be like new.
- replacement perished items - for an old bike this usually means a set of tires and tubes, bar tape / grip tape, and gear and brake cables, sometimes a saddle.  Keep your eye out on places like craigslist and ebay for some specials if you can wait and are on a budget.

Step 4: Strip Down

One of the first steps is to strip the bike down.  This means breaking down each part of the bike, cleaning all of the rust, black grease and dirt away and restoring each piece to pristine retro condition.

A notebook is useful here, you can draw pictures of which piece goes where and keep a tally of all the bits.

To help remove parts, use WD40/RP7 spray - apply liberally to any stuck parts.  Use your big spanner or shifter and a big wooden slab to 'budge' any stuck parts.  Don't be afraid to repeat the spray-budge-spray-budge process over the course of three or four days.  Eventually it will come loose.  The pedals on this example bike took three days to come loose but eventually loosened off.

Once you have loosened and counted the parts, put them in an individual tray with some kerosene.  A toothbrush is useful here to brush off any grime.  Don't use the toothbrush again :)

Here are some specifics for an old ten-speed bike:


(this is the set of stuff that attaches the fork and handlebar assembly to the frame.  When you steer you use this).

Use the big shifter and RP7 to loosen the threaded nut.  Use an allen key in the neck of the headset stem to loosen the wedge in the headset tube.  remove the bearings and take note of the alignment / orientation of the bearings. Clean up the parts.

Bottom Bracket:

(This is the set of stuff which allows your pedals to go round in the frame)

Remove the pedals.  This is often tricky.  For some reason people overtighten the pedals into the crank.  Once you have removed the pedals, use the crank puller tool in your toolkit to remove the crank arms (see the detail in the photo).  Use the cone wrenches to loosen the nuts around the bottom bracket. Note the orientation of the bearings and nuts in the bottom bracket for later. Clean up the parts.

Wheels and wheel Bearings:

Remove the wheels (and tires), chain and the derailleurs from the frame.  Wash up the small parts in the kerosene bath.  Clean the spokes with aluminium foil by rubbing the foil against the spokes.  This cleans them up really well.   Use the cone wrenches to remove the nuts in each wheel - BE REALLY CAREFUL! the ball bearings will fall out so use a cloth or paper to catch them as you undo the nuts.  Put all of the parts in a seperate kerosene container.


Make a note of the gear and brake cables with your notepaper.  remove the cables and keep them for later to provide a reference length for the new cables. Remove all of the bar tape from the handlebars and wipe all of the tape glue off with kerosene.

By now your bike will look like a frame, fork and a whole lot of bits! don't trip over them...

Step 5: Prepare the Frame

If the frame isn't steel (CrMo, aluminium, carbon fiber) then this instructible won't tackle preparation of the frame.  If your budget extends to it, try sandblasting the frame.  This is much easier to obtain a frame which has the rust removed.

Many vintage bikes will have a steel frame. Old bikes will most likely have a rusty frame.

This slide will show you how to prep the frame to remove all of the rust and get the frame ready for painting.

1. Safety Gear.  Don your gloves, eye protection and long sleeves to avoid any paint stripper burns.
2. Paint stripper.  paint the frame with paint stripper, wait a couple of hours then scrape it off.
3. Rust removal.  Use a wire brush to remove the large rust spots.
4. Surface finish.  Use the wet&dry sandpaper starting with 80-grit then working down to 1200-grit paper.  remove the surface irregularities and rust etc. until the frame looks shiny and smooth.

This step is an absolute pain.  It will take you four to five hours at a minimum and it may be better to spend a little more and get someone to sandblast and powdercoat the frame.

Step 6: Paint or Powdercoat the Frame

If you have the budget, it is better to sandblast and powdercoat the frame.  An auto body shop will be able to put you in the right direction.  The cost in Sydney, Australia is about $400 for a sandblast and powdercoat which is prohibitive for most ghetto frames.
Sandblast and powdercoat can cost you as little as $70 and worth considering in your budget.

If you decide to paint your frame, then ooop.. here it is!

Prepare the frame by laying down lots of paper, and filling the bearing entrances with newspaper (eg bottom bearing, headset, set tube)

Grab the rattle can with primer and shake.  Spray in short stripes, make sure you don't spray too long so that it drips.  FOr a good finish spray at least 4 coats of primer, waiting an hour or so between coats.  Clean up any drips with 240-grit sandpaper. Don't forget to turn the can upside down and spray the rest out to clear the nozzle when finished for each coat.

Then grab the colour coat and spray a number of coats.

Step 7: Re-assemble and Check (1)

Now that all of the parts have been resting in kerosene, they should be pretty clean. 

Using your notes and the books, one by one start re-assembling the parts and re-lubing them with grease.

Trial and error is ok with this step.  Some suggestions:

Start with the headset, it is easiest.

Next add in the bottom bracket bearing, followed by the chainring and cranks.

Follow on with the back wheel, cassette and chain.  Then the front wheel, handlebar and finally the derailleurs and gear cables.

Step 8: Re-assemble and Check (2)

using the old cables as a guide, cut the newgear cables to length and attach to the derailleurs.
For the brakes, fit the hoods and run the cables back to the brakes.
Fit the new handlebar tape by starting at the bar ends and keep the tension on the tape. 

Make sure the hoods are attached tightly to the handlebars as you will be putting some weight on them when you ride.

Step 9: Tune Up and Test Ride

You can get the final tune-ups done at the local bike shop, or reading the reference material at the start of this 'ible.

One of the important things to do is a couple of laps of a safe track while you test the bike out.  When I first test rode my restored bike the axle had slipped in the frame and it was really slow after a lap or two!

Check and correct all parts of the bike before you start riding on the street or at speed. Some examples are the chain, the brakes, gear shift and wheel alignment.

Step 10: Add the Finishing Touches

Once the tough stuff is done, then it's time to add some bling!

Decals are cheap on ebay, and new saddles and bar tape don't cost a lot, especially if you are a patient buyer.

Other options include use of fluoro paint, spoke lights, cards in the spokes or streamers in the wheels.

The sky is the limit!

Happy Building!

1 Person Made This Project!


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Question 4 years ago on Step 10

Hey Mate, what sort of paint should I use on the frame! Thanks in advance mate!



4 years ago

Holly cows! Now that's a hammer!

Kinda reminds me of the old Crocodile Dundee movie. "That's not a hammer, now this is a hammer!" As he pulls out big o' hammer.

Nice write up here. I'd like to suggest concentrating alot on cleaning the bearings and races up. Little more elbow grease there will provide good returns.


5 years ago

I have come across a 1900-1910 steel frame bike that needs a lot of TLC, it has plent of rust on the bars, chain and crankset. Id like to keep it as original as possible but not sure if the chain etc are salvagable.

Any suggestions?



6 years ago

how to remove brake levers from handlbars


Reply 5 years ago

You take off black cable then the side levers from the breaks then press the breaks and you'll see a bolt in the middle unscrew that and their you go


6 years ago

This Instructable and its author rock! I've lugged around my now 18 yr old mountain bike for the past 4 years unable to part with it after it went swimming for a few days in the Brisbane 2011 floods. ( This bike kept me sane during my years of teen angst and back problems so its sentimental value is pretty high). I actually almost bought a second hand bike last week but it felt too much like a betrayal. I've just started working on ol' faithful and have hit a bump with brake cables so came looking for info.. and found this! Awesome resource and I'm ridonkously chuffed.


Reply 6 years ago

Thanks very much! good to hear it has helped you on your journey.
My new project is to restore an old "dumpster" two-stroke motorbike but it is taking a lot longer than the pushy...


7 years ago on Step 10

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


7 years ago on Step 2 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?


thanks everyone for your comments and reviewing this instructible! I've been blessed that 120,000 people have viewed this 'ible.. Thankyou!


8 years ago on Step 4

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.


9 years ago on Introduction

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.


9 years ago on Step 7

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!



9 years ago on Step 7

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.


9 years ago on Step 10

I could be mistaken, but I think you assembled the rear brake on the wrong side of the frame.
Otherwise: nice job. :-)


9 years ago on Introduction

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


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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 :)


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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