How to turn an old bike into a commuter

Bikewagon Community College

Many of us have old bikes lying around in the garage, gathering dust and not getting too much use. Well, now is a great time to clean off that old bike and start using it again.

This guide will walk you through the process of taking your old bike, cleaning out the old junky components, and getting it prepared for use as a commuter bike -- perfect for getting groceries, riding to and from work, and leisurely afternoon rides on the weekends.

Step 1: Let's see what you've got.

The first thing you want to do is pull your bike out of the garage, wipe off all the cobwebs and take a look at what you got. Are the wheels crumbling? You're going to need new ones. Tubes flat? Grab a set of those. Gears rusted? They may need replacing, if a good cleaning won't do the job.

old-bike-1

You also want to take a look at the brake pads, the seat and the chain -- if any of these look like they need maintenance or replacement, go ahead and purchase those parts now.

If your bike has any other more serious problems, like wheels that won't turn properly, you will need to seek the assistance of a professional or a knowledgeable friend. If your garage bike is truly a wreck, you may have to get a new one; luckily, garage sales, community bike shops and thrift stores tend to have all the old bikes you could want. Shop around to find the best deals.

Wheels that are slightly wobbly can be fixed using a spoke wrench to true the wheel -- this process is a bit complex and can be performed by a mechanic.

Remember that any money and time you spend now will be paid back many times over in the future. A good commuter bike will serve you well for many years, provide unlimited fun and exercise, and keep some gas money in your wallet -- and who knows, if you really get into riding you could even give up a car for good.

If the frame of the bike has any substantial dents or rusting, you may want to take it to a bike shop for a professional mechanic to take a look. If the structural integrity of the frame is compromised, you will need a new one.

Step 2: Clean it up

degreaser

Now that you've got a good idea of what you are looking at with your bike, let's get it cleaned off. Rust can be dealt with in a few different ways. Sprinkle salt and lime juice on the affected areas, let it sit for 2-3 hours, then scrub the area with the rind of the lime. Using baking soda and water along with a toothbrush has also been effective for some people.

For cleaning the gears of the bike, use stiff brushes, a degreaser and a few rags to get as much gunk and old grease off the gears and chain as you can manage. Replace the chain if necessary.

It also can't hurt to wipe down all of the surfaces on your bike with a damp rag, including the wheels and the braking surfaces. Stubborn grease and dirt can be taken off with mild soaps or rubbing alcohol.

Step 3: Tighten and tune up

Brake cables

Now is the time to make sure the ride is safe. Make sure the handlebars, crankarms, seatpost, fork, and wheels are firmly attached and won't shift around when you ride.

You also want to take the time now to lubricate the chain and the gears with a little bit of bike lube. Wipe down the parts with a rag when you are done, and make sure to repeat this process every few months to keep everything in tip top shape -- this will keep off rust and extend the life of your moving parts by many, many times.

Now is also the right moment to check the gear shifting and the brake cables of your bike. Over time, these cables stretch and need to be replaced. This process costs very little money but is best performed by an experienced mechanic. The same is true for derailleur adjustments -- a few simple adjustments can make an old, rickety bike feel new again, but mistakes can be made easily.

Step 4: Accessorize

Rear rack

Now that your bike is ready to hit the road, you want to make sure that you have the accessories and equipment you need to make your riding as safe and as effective as possible. The first thing you want to make sure you have is a helmet -- here is one place where new gear is more important than saving money on used equipment. Old helmets may have been involved in crashes and been compromised.

You also may want to use a rack or basket to carry groceries or other bags. These can often be found for just a few dollars, especially at used bike shops.

If you plan on riding in the evening or morning, you should grab a couple of bike lights.