Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: St Peters, Missouri
Bikes: Rans Rockst (Retro rocket) Rans Enduro Sport (Retro racket) Catrike 559, Merin Bear Valley (beater bike).
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The first thing to do is to sit down, drink something and maybe burn a little incense. You are starting down the road toward becoming a compulsive bike tinkerer. There's no cure for that and no reward either but you'll learn some stuff that's absolutely useless to know and it can be fun.
Now recite this mantra: "You can never change just one part on a bicycle." Everything on a bicycle works together so that, almost everytime you change one thing, you'll find something else that has to be replaced to get it to work. Costs have a way of running out of control.
Now don't take this wrong, but I have to say it. The bike that you have now has no value what-so-ever. Zero. Are you sure this is the bike that you want to spend your time scewing with? If you're not sure, look around until you find something that's closer to what you want to end up with and start with that. If you start with a bike that has 700c wheels, you'll have a much easier time down the road with brakes and the like. That's what I would do.
If you have decided this is the bike you want to experiment with first, that's OK by me too. I'd use it's valueless state as an advantage. Most of the 26" wheels you will find are likely to be 135mm over lucknut dimension. That's more than some people recommend spreading the stays because they worry about stressing the welds at the bridges, but I've done it without problems. If you do crack a weld, it wasn't worth anything before so you really haven't lost anything. After you spread the stays, if you have access to a tablesaw, you can make yourself a gauge from a piece of scrap plywood that has parallel sides 135mm apart. Take a 12 or 15 inch crescent wrench and align your dropouts until they match your plywood gauge.
After you've finished this first step, be sure to post back about what you're doing. I, for one, am a compulsive bike tinkerer and I like thinking through this kind of stuff.