Rebuilding a bike - tips, experiences?

I need a bike to ride to work every day, one that’s just like the one I have now but a little bit bigger. The only requirements I have are that it needs to be quick and reliable and unattractive to thieves.

I have found a beautiful old frame that’s perfect for what I need. It is a Raleigh racing bike and it’s pretty and blue and not rusty at all. The chain, however, is rather rusty and if I can’t get that moving again I’m going to give the whole thing away (because replacing the chain etc is beyond my abilities) but if I can, I am going to make it a project to get her up and running.

Other than the chain, she’s missing a pedal (which I can get replaced at the bike shop) and brake and gear cables (which I can replace myself). Because of the current state of her I can’t really figure out what else is working, other than the rear derailleur which seems to move just fine.

So my questions:

Given that it’s mostly a hobby, and I am not going to be entering any races with her, do you think it’s worth rebuilding this bike? Is it likely to be a money pit that sucks all my time and money and never works as well as one I could get for $100 somewhere else? or if I’m going to do it, would I be better off starting with a better frame?

If it is worthwhile, any particular tips on how to make her fast and reliable at as low cost as possible? Since I am saving the cost of a new bike I don’t mind dropping a bit of money if there’s something really worthwhile (for example, I am thinking I will buy some proper wheel rims).

(Note I also have a couple of dead bikes lying around that I can scavenge for parts.)

Any other tips/lessons learned? I have never done this before and if there’s anything to learn the hard way, I’d rather learn it through someone else’s bitter experience!


Cables, pedals, some oil for the chain. No sweat.

Raleigh made nice old steel bikes.

Where are the shifters? Bar ends? Down tube?

Replacing a chain is easy, but if it’s an old 10 or 12 speed, it might not be easy to find the right size. But, “breaking” a chain is easy to do. You need the right tool, but all you do is push the pin out with the tool, then push it back in. You might want to take the chaine off to soak it in oil, but if you just oil the heck out of it on the bike, it might be OK.

Yep, she’s pretty. The one I’ve got already (an “Empire”) is something of an antique, bike shop folks are impressed by it. This one is very similar in every particular (except the “new” one doesn’t have Spiderman handgrips … the dropped handlebars are a selling point for me, but I will have to give up my cool handgrips. sigh.)

On the handlebars, near the middle.

Last time I had a rusted out chain the bike shop guy told me if I replaced the chain I’d have to replace all the chain rings too. It sounded a bit sketchy to me but I’ve never been able to confirm or deny it, because I’ve always managed to repair the chain before it got that far.

Thanks for the tips. I feel pleasantly greasy already and she’s not even in my possession yet!

Some say that they sort of “wear together”. . .the chain and the rings. So, if you just replace a chain, the new one might not fit right into a worn ring.

Also, chains and chain rings are different widths. They’ve been able to make narrower chains these leading leading to 10-speed and 11-speed bikes (in this case, that is the number of rings in the back. In reality, it’s a 20 or 22 speed).

If your bike is an old 6-speed, you might not want to just replace the chain, but everything.

But, I bet with enough oil you can get that going again. Just get it up and running. If you like it, and the chain is giving you problems, then replace it.

It sounds like a good plan to me. Any bike you get for $100 is likely to have problems, unless you’re really lucky. You don’t give specifics on the frame, so I don’t know what it’s worth. A chain is considered a maintenance part that needs to be replaced periodically, so I wouldn’t ditch the whole bike just for that.

What’s wrong with the rims that you think they need to be replaced? That’s one of the last things I’d worry about unless they’re actually defective.

The chain may be fixable by taking it off, breaking loose the rust (just keep wiggling each piece around until it’s loose) and oiling it up good (keep wiggling the pieces around while you oil, too). You can do this without removing the chain, but it’s more difficult to get to all the pieces. Just pop the chain loose of the rings and work on it, then put it back.

If the chain is just rusted and not worn out, you can replace just the chain with no problem. They’re about $15 for the chain alone (no labor). Take the bike into the shop so they can help you get the right chain. You do need a special tool to replace the chain, but it only takes a couple minutes - have the shop do it while they’re fixing the pedal.

You can have problems from putting a new chain onto worn rings, but it doesn’t make the bike unrideable. I’ve done it. The chain may skip a bit or something, it’s annoying but ignorable. However, if it drives you nuts and you decide to replace the rings & cogs, you’ll have to get another new chain at that time. Here is some info on all that, or you can just Google for instructions to replace a bicycle chain.

This is why the bikeshop guy didn’t want to just change your chain - too many people swap just the chain and then get mad because the bike doesn’t ride perfectly. If you tell him you know it’ll still be sketchy but that’s all you want to do now, he should be willing to go along.

Ask the shop if they have old parts that will fit your bike. A lot of shops have a box of “antique” parts that don’t fit new bicycles, and will sell them fairly cheap to get rid of them. You may be able to get a whole drivetrain at a decent price.

If you want to learn to do your own bicycle work, get this book. Everything you ever wanted to know, and then some.

Good luck and happy cycling!

One of the spokes is bent, for starters. But mostly rims have always been my biggest source of trouble on my beaters: spokes bend, rims get warped, they’re heavy and my brakes don’t work very well in the rain. I am assuming that good rims will increase the performance of my bike by a lot. am I wrong?

I’ll check the wear on the gears. The whole thing seems reasonably unused, it was just left out in the weather for far too long so everything rusted.

Thanks for that reassurance! If my other experiences with bike shop guys are any indication, he was trying to appeal to my ignorance to sell me a more expensive repair job.

(Question on the side: does this happen to men too? Happens to me all the time. It’s the main reason why I learned to fix her myself, I got sick of the condescending BS.)

thanks! It’s been recommended to me before, I think I’m going to go out and buy it right now.

What happens is the chain stretches, and then it doesn’t quite fit the sprockets (rear) and chainring (on the crankset). This beats up the teeth on both sprocket and chainring.

And then if you only replace the chain, the no-longer-fitting-right sprockets increase the friction and wear on the new chain. It’s a huge issue on motorcycles.

BTW, while “stretch” is the vernacular term for the increase in chain length, it is due to wear on the pins and rollers, not elongation of the side plates.