Why you should restore an old bicycle today!

The Dawes Stratos hit the shops in 1992, the same year as Cycling Plus. Dave McLavin has taken his 25-year-old road bike brings it back to life and creates a retro classic. Pictures: Iain MacIntosh

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I got my first road bike in 1978 when I was 13. It was a 10-speed, BSA Tour de France. It had solid steel cranks attached to the axle with cotter pins, and weighed a ton.

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The bike I yearned for was a Dawes Galaxy with a Reynolds 531 frame. I bought one in 1994 from a bike shop in Kettering, which specialised in end of line models and odd sized frames. I tried to convince myself that the Dawes was fine but in the end I had to accept that it was too small for me.

There are plenty of Galaxies available on eBay now but competition has become fierce as people realise the virtues of a classic steel frame. One Sunday afternoon, while I was searching under ‘Reynolds 531’, I came across a Dawes Stratos.

The Stratos dates from 1992. It also has a Reynolds 531 frame and fork combination and was probably one of the first bikes to be fitted with the Shimano 105 groupset. It seemed an ideal substitute for the Galaxy.

I knew from the pictures that it wasn’t in great condition but when it arrived, calling it tatty would have been like calling the Dalai Lama a nice bloke.

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My long-term plan is to use it as my daily transport and rationalise the number of bikes I own. I have two other road bikes, a mountain bike and a tandem. My wife, Fionnuala, said I’d grown as a person when I told her about the plan.

Last winter my local council spread thousands of tonnes of salt on the roads. I decided that if the Stratos was going to be my one and only, summer and winter, road bike I had to do something about all the exposed steel on the frame. A total respray means a strip down and rebuild, which offers possibilities… The options were to rebuild the Stratos to its original spec or go hog-wild and bring it up to date.

Cascade effect

I went down that route with an old tourer I rebuilt for my wife. I upgraded the crankset from two chainrings to three to increase the number of gears available, which meant installing a new bottom bracket with a longer axle, a new derailleur and new gear shifters. The shifters didn’t work on the existing sit-up-and-beg handlebar so I had to fit a flatter bar, which then necessitated new brake levers. And so it went on.

I was £650 poorer and all that was left of the original bike was the frame, front wheel and the brakes. Still, it’s a lovely bike and Fionnuala has now forgiven me.

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Given that the Stratos does what I need it to do, I decided just to get the frame shot-blasted and re-sprayed while replacing any worn out components. With a bike of this age you can pretty much guarantee you’ll have to replace the bottom bracket, chain, cassette and possibly the headset bearings.

There are different options available in terms of getting a bike painted. A local engineering firm quoted £55 for bead blasting and powder coating the frame and fork. I wanted a more professional job, which included replacing the Dawes decals and the all-important Reynolds 531 transfers, so I checked out a number of frame builders online before settling on Ellis Briggs (ellisbriggscycles.co.uk).

The company currently receives about 10 frames a week, evenly split between repairs and repaints. Paul Gibson, from Ellis Briggs says, “The majority of our customers are men over 50. Often they get the same frame re-sprayed every 10 years or so. Some stopped cycling when they got married and have now come back to it.

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“Sometimes we’re refurbishing an existing bike but often we’re working on a vintage one that the customer fancied when they were younger but couldn’t afford. Most customers want their bike restored to how it was, but some want them to look more contemporary.”

The Stratos originally came finished with a white headset fading into a mustard yellow overspray with the down-tube, stays and fork turquoise green. It didn’t look good in 1992 and it looked worse in 2017. Originality is everything for many people but not me. The likes of Ellis Briggs won’t judge your preferences, so I went for Ferrari Red.

Strip off

I’m reasonably mechanically minded so stripping the bike took about four hours. Some companies will dismantle the bike for you but this will add about £230 to the cost of the job. I got a set of bicycle tools from Lidl for £25, which has pretty much everything you need, although they aren’t the best quality and only available for two weeks in the summer! Park Tools does a series of DIY videos on YouTube if you haven’t stripped a bike before (and its tools are always available).

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On old bikes the things that are likely to cause problems are the bottom bracket, the cassette and possibly the seatpost. Where alloy components come into contact with steel ones they can corrode together. In 99 per cent of cases, nuts and bolts undo anti-clockwise, but there are a couple of exceptions. The bearing cup on the drivetrain side undoes clockwise, as does the pedal on the other side. WD-40 is great for loosening corroded components but the professionals use a spray called Metaflux.

You can check the bottom bracket for wear by holding the ends of the cranks and pushing them in and out against the axle. If there’s play you need to replace it.

The bottom bracket on the Stratos was shot. Fortunately it came out quite easily. The locking ring showed evidence of a close encounter with a hammer and chisel, so a previous owner had made some efforts at maintaining the bike, even if they were a bit misguided.

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The chainrings were pretty worn but were serviceable. I decided to replace the whole crankset though, chiefly for aesthetic reasons. It would have looked wrong to have a perfect frame and tatty cranks. I managed to source an NOS (new old stock) 105 crankset online. The key thing to look for is the part number stamped on the inside of the crank, in this case FC-1055.

Thankfully the seatpost came straight out. On my wife’s bike I’d had to put the saddle in a vice and rotate the frame around it to free the seatpost.

I put the individual assemblies together in glass jars and taped the gear shifters up so that I would get all the washers and components in the right order when rebuilding the Stratos.

My local Evans kindly gave me a bike box, which I cut down to fit the Royal Mail size limits for parcels. I had a nasty moment at the Post Office when the guy behind the counter measured every dimension of the giant cardboard box twice, before the frame and fork could get on their way to Ellis Briggs.

Out with the old

The first step in the process is to shot blast the frame and fork to remove all the old paint and any corrosion. An undercoat is then applied. If the customer wants a translucent or pearlescent finish a coat of silver paint is put on over the undercoat, otherwise the main colour is applied. Next any panels or contrasts that the customer wants are done before the frame is baked to harden the paint. After this it’s lacquered before going back into the oven. The transfers are put on before a further coat of lacquer. The process is finished with a final visit to the oven. From start to finish it takes about five weeks. I was like a kid at Christmas unwrapping the frame and fork when Ellis Briggs sent them back. 

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While the frame and fork were away I cleaned the brakes and derailleurs. Everything was in good condition and the work mostly consisted of using some WD-40 and a rag to remove the accumulated road dirt. Occasionally I resorted to a wire brush to shift some surface corrosion.

Rebuilding the bike took the better part of a day because I was being careful not to scratch anything, and making sure the bearings were properly greased. I fitted new gear and brake cables – a proper cable cutter, rather than pliers, is vital to make a neat job of this.

The original Turbo saddle has been replaced with a tasteful Brooks B17 (I’m reasonably sure the Spanish Inquisition designed the Turbo), and I live on the west coast of Scotland so I’m also fitting mudguards. For me, the finished article
is magnificent and versatile. It’s essentially a new bike, albeit built with 25-year-old technology. How does it compare to a modern bike? I can’t say, I’ve never ridden one, but it gives me everything I need.

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HOW MUCH?

Restoring a bike isn’t cheap. A lot of the work needed to be done through simple wear and tear but some of it was down to me wanting the bike to look nice. The respray was the main cost, and I added a few extras to my job:

Remove and refit head badge £10.42; Dawes transfers £25.00; 531 transfers £8.33; Fit transfers £11.25; Shot blast and paint frame and fork £87.50; Return postage and packing £20.83; VAT £32.67. (£196.00)

Bottom bracket £20.00; Clarks seven-speed chain £8.00; Shimano seven-speed 12-28t cassette £14.99; Brooks B17 saddle £82.00; Brake and gear cables  and guides £14.00; Crankset £53.00

Total £387.99

I didn’t need to change the crankset and the Brooks B17 saddle was a bit of an indulgence. I could’ve bought it for about £20 less online but I liked the colour of the one I saw in my local bike shop. The final result is essentially a brand new bike!

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