I’ve been buffing out Bertha, a bicycle, I bought on craigslist out in Virginia in late October of 2009. The seller, Doug, (who I never met, but who was great to deal with) bought her at a yard sale and fixed her up some – greased up bearings, changed the seat, adjusted the gears, and I don’t know what else. I didn’t really need another bike, but I just loved her lines and get a huge kick out riding her. Despite posting here and asking all around, I still haven’t figured out who made her.
Even with all the tweaking I’ve done, I’ve spent about half what a new bike of similar quality and weight would cost and have something that no one else has. Getting stuff and services at a good price is important to me – especially stuff used repetitively. You may be thinking, “But what about all the time you put into it?” Working with my hands seems to be good for me, and I enjoy dealing with people who do specialty work. That time is not work to me. It was a wonderful winter project. Here’s a rundown on what I’ve done to Bertha, who has helped, and what more I may do.
I bought a front brake from a nice guy named Martin in San Francisco off craigslist. The Foggy Bottom District Hardware and Bike folks sold me a new brake cable, cable cover, pads, and 3 Watt bulb for the dynamo (without a rear light hooked to the dynamo the 2.4 Watt front bulb would probably blow out). The replacement pump came from a CA company off eBay. Ben at The Bike Rack (14th/Q NW) solved a problem in the bottom bracket and stripped the parts off the frame for powder coating.
I traced the decal graphics and scanned the tracing paper. My friend Phyllis cleaned the .jpgs up and sent them to Len at Figure Finishing. Len stripped the paint off, fixed the seat tube, baked on silver powder coat, further cleaned up/painted on the graphics, and then baked on a clear coat of powder. “Painting” Bertha cost more than the purchasing her, but it was worth it.
I bought a correctly-sized seat post (after intentionally destroying the stuck and too-large seat post when removing it) from Bikes@Vienna (while I was looking at Bike Friday Tikits) and installed a seat my girlfriend had left around. I brought the frame and fork back to Ben at The Bike Rack to re-assemble and overhaul the bottom bracket and head set. I re-assembled the rest after having cleaned up the parts while they were removed.
17th Street Hardware helped me with some stainless nuts and bolts to make the fenders fit better. Peter White Cycles in NH sold me a bracket for the dynamo light and a rear light from Busch & Müller; I couldn’t get the rust of the original. Neal in Foggy Bottom District Hardware and Bike wired the lights together and re-installed the 2.4 Watt front bulb. I picked up a handle bar stem bolt at a Mt. Pleasant Bike Swap. I built a steering damper type thing (to keep her from tipping over when on the kickstand and heavily loaded up) with 2 brackets and a spring I bought at 17th Street Hardware. I might refine that with a stronger spring and brackets with smaller holes. Bicycle Pro Shop in Georgetown was a Biria distributer; so Taylor got me some new pedals that turn out to not be as close to the originals as I’d like.
Got some silver zip ties from eBay are to pretty up the wiring running to the rear light. After rummaging around German eBay looking for a key to the spoke lock or a replacement lock, an Austrian seller sent me one. I just installed some of those reflecto-silver side-walled Schwalbe Marathon tires (not pictured). The spring in the ESGE rack broke.The guys (and gal) at BicycleSpaceWDC cut off my broken rear rack springs.
I got a double-railed sprung Lepper saddle on eBay from a Dutch seller. That necessitated getting a pipe-style seat post. The seat post looks more period correct. The saddle and post combo are a little heavier and the saddle's springs squeak when I go over bumps, but I’m thinking I’m going to really like this saddle. The bike weighs less than 31 pounds with all the accessories and tools aboard but without the Jandd Grocery panniers.
There are some little things left to do. I’d like to get a new shift cable and cable cover. If I lighten up on my period-look obsession, I might get some SKS fenders. I think the present steel fenders may have been made by SKS’s predecessor company ESGE. An ESGE double-sided kickstand would be nice for heavy loads.
That’s the story of Bertha to date. I was thinking she’d be Bertha the Beater, but she was too proud to be a beater bike –even if she has no known pedigree. I highly recommend everyone who has helped. Some are quirkier than others, but all are worth it.
More project photos: Bertha on Flickr