Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
Inspiration is born from history, experimentation and even sculpted from one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. John steps forward to tell the story of his 1974 Raleigh Grand Prix.
As you learn about John and the journey Sliver takes, please consider contributing to Tell Your Story.
Images and Story by John O’Donnell
I started building and riding my own bikes when I was a kid. Like everyone in my neighborhood, we pieced together bikes from trash finds. Some of them were actually pretty cool, as trash goes. (The bikes, I mean, not my friends.) It kept us off the school bus and on the street. It was a cultural and economic reality. You either built a bike or you walked. They didn’t just show up under the Christmas tree.
Fast forward to 2001.
I needed a bike for the NYC Five Borough Tour. My garbage picking days were behind me so I bought a Fuji League 12-speed at the Salvation Army for $75. For comfort and safety, I converted it to a 21-speed with a flat bar and grip shifters, like the bike messengers used. I still ride this bike, making changes as they occur to me. It’s my go bike when riding on hilly or unknown terrain, or with younger, faster riders.
The Five Borough Tour reignited my cycling passion. I was back. But the technology was so new and I was lost. Stuck in a time warp, I would no sooner ride a plastic bicycle with giant lettering on the wheels than wear a multi-colored leotard while doing so. I liked steel classics. I kept building and riding my own creations. I drifted around different forums and found lots of smart people. They were knowledgeable, disciplined, pure. I found The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles where bikes were being done proper and Rat Rod Bikes, where bikes were being done wild. There was the late Sheldon Brown, a wellspring of knowledge and a bellwether of relevance and Bike Forums where my questions were always answered. Each of these emphasized what was special about classic bikes and how to keep them rolling.
Still, I remained the iconoclast.
There is a romance about riding an imperfect, personal creation which simply cannot be bred out of me. This discovery took me back to my roots. Back to the thrill of dumpster diving for lugged steel treasure.
Last year, I rescued a 1974 Raleigh Grand Prix from the trash. (The garbage, that is, not the previous owner.)
The Raleigh was tucked away, as I found it, until the annual Rat Rod Bike Build-Off Nine was announced in 2014. The Grand Prix was a perfect fit for the project.
Bikes have to be named for the build-off, thus Dirty White Boy was born. First, I disassembled and cleaned all the parts, deciding what to keep. The idea was to rehab some Peugeot wheels with high-flange hubs and steel rims and keep as much of the old drivetrain as possible. It would be a fixed gear with the original paint, possibly further distressed. Yet, this is as far as the project went.
2015 arrives, along with the Build-Off Ten. I would enter again and introduce Sliver. The ’74 British Raleigh frame with an ’80s Japanese drivetrain. This is my nod back to hot rod history. Like marrying a Deuce Coupe with a Flathead V-8, then tossing out the left over parts.
I started with the frame, shaving the cable stops and guides, then removing the brake bridge. I stripped the paint with Aircraft Stripper and worked the surface with a wire wheel, sandpaper and WD-40 along with coarse steel wool. The WD-40 would permeate the steel and slow the rusting. The final finish would be Johnson’s Paste Wax.
The half chromed fork with the cast crown was unusually cool and the brazing was strangely artsy as well. No modifications needed here. Just strip and wax.
Assembly came together with a Japanese Sugino RT crank, SingleWorks 20T cog and a KMS nickel plated chain. A Fuji Feather saddle sat atop an SR Laprade seatpost and a Bridgestone front brake with a lever off an old Ross. The bar selected was an SR Randonneur bar, flipped and clipped with wrap made from inner tubes, The pedals were vintage MKS with the points shaved.
Happy with the build, I took the bike on a 25-mile path ride. Afterwards, I felt like Quasimodo when they tied him to that big round thing. All I could do was stagger around saying, “SHE GAVE ME WAW-TAH.”
Twice I got my shoelace caught in the pedal where I trimmed the points off the outer edges, leaving a shoelace hooking gap. More than half the time the pedal was upside down when I put my foot on it. Neither is good on a fixed gear bike.
Back to the drawing board.
I changed the pedals to MKS Sylvan Touring, the bars to ’80s 39cm SR Road Champions and the brake lever to a Dia-Compe. Josh suggested the road drops and he was right. They feel good. In my stash, I had a set of vintage Dia-Compe red brake pads. A quick shot on my bench grinder was enough to correct the contour and expose some fresh rubber. Other additions including the TA bottle cage, held on by Velo Orange clamps.
Let’s see how the next 25 miles feels.
Everything is good…except leaning that far forward to brake when there is only a front brake feels wrong. Very wrong. Like I’ll need an orthodontist soon, wrong. A fixie requires a fair amount of backpressure on the pedal to feel right stopping quickly.
In another consult with the parts bin, I found a Gran Compe lever with an extension handle (or as some so lovingly put it, a “suicide lever”). I hadn’t used an extension lever before but when adjusted correctly, it works well. I bent the handle so it would be parallel with the bar under pressure then wrapped the bar with used inner tubes and, voila.
Color: Raw steel; Johnson’s wax
Frame Size: 58cm (C-T) & 57cm (C-C) top tube
Frame: Stamped steel
Fork: Stock Raleigh
Drop Bars: SR Road Champions 39cm; Inner tube bar wrap
Headset: Bottom half: Hama; Top half: Raleigh
Saddle: Fuji Feather
Seat Post: SR Laprade
Crankset: Sugino RT, 52t; 170mm
Brake Levers: Dia-Compe Gran Compe with extension levers
Brake Calipers: Bridgestone Self Centering calipers; Red Dia-Compe brake pads
Cable and Housing: Salvaged white housing and cable
Freewheel: Fixed gear SingleWorks 20T 3/32”; BB lock ring
Chain: KMC Z33
Hubs: Sunshine low flange
Wheels: Ukai; 36h
Tires: Kenda K36; 27″ x 1-1/8″; Skinwall
Pedals: MKS Sylvan Touring
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I would love to know more about the waxing process…how much/how often etc…
It’s never as easy as it looks. Which is humorous as it sorta goes against my entire theme.
Thanks for asking. This bike is an artsy sort of statement. It is anti-slick. Every now and then someone sees it as such and wants to know about it. Generally it is ignored, either as mundane or junk. This is pitch perfect for me.
So, I use Aircraft Stripper to strip the frame. It’s nasty stuff, protect your skin, eyes, lungs and do it outdoors, seriously. Use a putty knife to remove most of the paint. I don’t sand blast the frame. I want a living, organic look. Digging down to the original 1974 metal work is archaeology of sorts.
Then, with a wire brush wheel on an air angle grinder I remove all the paint and expose the brazing. I leave it rough looking. Next, with coarse steel wool, I use WD40 to oil the frame making sure it is good and wet with the WD40. I let this dry into the metal for a day or two. Then repeat the WD40 with a rag, good and wet. Let it dry again.
At this point I add the headset, bottom bracket, stem, seatpost, binder bolt and any other part I want to wax. The cranks are kept separate to permit good access to the BB.
I use Johnsons paste wax and lay it on thick with a shoe brush.Then I bake it dry in the sun and buff it with a coarse towel. I do this twice. After a few days more, the wax hardens and I buff it with a soft cloth. The steel continues to patina which I like. It’s reasonably weather proof but, I keep an eye out for rust and wax it locally again if needed.
Further, I use Mother’s Mag and Aluminum polish on the alloy stuff, applied with very fine (000 or finer) steel wool. The filings from the steel wool mix in and darken it a little, keeping it form being too shiny.
There are so many other products throughout the world which would work similarly. I use WD40 because it permeates the steel and displaces moisture. I use Johnson’s Paste Wax because it’s cheap and it works. I don’t ride this bike in bad weather, so I can’t say how well this would work with water and road salt. It will take a rinsing with a garden hose in stride, however.
How is the ride? I have had some work done by a cool community service group called Dream Bikes to get me started off to a safe on my Grand Prix, circa 1972. Other than seat (Wright saddle went missing), Panaracer Pasela tires, and cables, everything is absolutely original–including a very smooth Simplex (I know, I know). It may not be for the 30 deg. hills of E. TN, but he is graceful and lively again.
I hope you’re doing well and I love what you have done to your bike. I also happen to have a 1974 Grand Prix and I am looking to change my crankset but the original BB is threaded to 26tpi which doesn’t give me many options for bottom brackets. I wondered how you approached that situation.
Thank you 🙂
Thanks for the comment and although I would love to answer your question, the truth is, this isn’t my bicycle. This one is owned by John O’Donnell. So, with that being said, this is a call out to Mr. O’Donnell. Any thoughts you can give to Ben on his bottom bracket/crank situation?