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Learning Bike Mechanics on a cheap used bike

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Learning Bike Mechanics on a cheap used bike

Old 05-04-11, 10:01 PM
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Learning Bike Mechanics on a cheap used bike

I've been wanting to learn how to take apart and put bikes back together and the strategy I formed in my head was to

go out and buy a used cheap bike
tinker with it by repairing any parts and what not.
learn to repaint it

but before I do, I'm aware that parts and pieces may or may not go together, and sometimes for certain bikes it's just not worth buying new parts for it.

The bike I bought off craigslist was a used GMC Denali 6061 for $60.
After inspecting the condition, I thought the parts that needed most replacing was the
1. Shifters
2. Breaks
3. Cassette
4. Chain
5. Pedals
6. Handlebar

After a bit of probing on the internet, I found this old thread
https://www.bikeforums.net/archive/in.../t-237231.html
and it seemed like a flame war started upon the quality of the bike and whether the cost was worth the upgrades.

My first question: in other people's opinions, would it be worth investing newer parts for this specific bike, or should I search for a more appropriate bike frame to come along and sell this one off.

Second question: if replacing the parts on the bike is not a huge deal, then I was planning on ordering shimano sora parts to outfit the bike. Are these parts too good for the bike or are they even compatible with it?

Any advise, tips, and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I apologize for taking so long to get to the point, but I have obviously have very little experience in bike products and "etiquette" so to speak.
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Old 05-04-11, 10:10 PM
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Well, the frame is most likely just fine, but do YOU like it? Does it excite you? You can buy that one new for like $150 but as you said you want to learn, so $60 for a frame is a good price.
I put tons of work into bikes no one cares about because I love to do it and the bike means something to me. Stop worrying about what others think. I think the aero alum frame is cool, walmart or not. I am in the process of stripping an aluminium frame and polishing it myself, if you want to go that far you could have real looker on your hands. Just make sure the frame is in good condition (no cracks or bends or dings) and enjoy building!

And holy crap, that thread was insane, 50 pages of arguing over that bike? LOL.

Last edited by Aquakitty; 05-04-11 at 10:17 PM.
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Old 05-04-11, 10:19 PM
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Originally Posted by funtimesKD
I've been wanting to learn how to take apart and put bikes back together and the strategy I formed in my head was to

go out and buy a used cheap bike
tinker with it by repairing any parts and what not.
learn to repaint it

but before I do, I'm aware that parts and pieces may or may not go together, and sometimes for certain bikes it's just not worth buying new parts for it.

The bike I bought off craigslist was a used GMC Denali 6061 for $60.
After inspecting the condition, I thought the parts that needed most replacing was the
1. Shifters
2. Breaks
3. Cassette
4. Chain
5. Pedals
6. Handlebar

After a bit of probing on the internet, I found this old thread
https://www.bikeforums.net/archive/in.../t-237231.html
and it seemed like a flame war started upon the quality of the bike and whether the cost was worth the upgrades.

My first question: in other people's opinions, would it be worth investing newer parts for this specific bike, or should I search for a more appropriate bike frame to come along and sell this one off.

Second question: if replacing the parts on the bike is not a huge deal, then I was planning on ordering shimano sora parts to outfit the bike. Are these parts too good for the bike or are they even compatible with it?

Any advise, tips, and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I apologize for taking so long to get to the point, but I have obviously have very little experience in bike products and "etiquette" so to speak.
Personally, I enjoy wrenching (almost) as much as riding. If you're looking for a fun experience and a chance to learn something new, I think you're headed in the right direction. Do you plan on riding the bike later on, or is this for tinkering only? I started tinkering with a very cheap bike just because it's what was available, and it proved to be a good learning experience. The parts I used were questionable so I wouldn't prefer to ride it, but it worked great as a learning platform.

For your first question: The bike isn't fantastic, but you could definitely do worse. If the reason for your interest is learning to work on bikes, there's no reason to sell off the bike just because it's not "top of the line" - especially if it's there to work on, not for show. I'd reccomend looking for cheap parts on craigslist/ebay if you're just using this as a learning experience. There's no point in spending money on even medium range components if you're just using them for build practice.

For your second question: Shimano historically has made quality components, even through the Sora line. As I mentioned before, your choice of components should depend upon whether you're using this for wrenching or actual riding. I've got Sora components on a few bikes and while they're not the prettiest, they still work.

There's a good thread going right now about painting bikes (sorry, no link - check the search function) with some helpful hints and tips for rattlecan jobs.

Overall, I say give it a shot. Don't spend a foolish amount of money, and if anything strip the bike down and rebuild with the same parts just for some practice. Have fun!
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Old 05-04-11, 10:40 PM
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Well, you asked for opinions, so:

I wouldn't bother. There are plenty of decent frames pretty darn cheap on eBay or Craigslist. Why put lip stick on a pig, really. If you take the same approach starting with a better foundation and go for a little higher quality part - you'll have a solid bike with some re-sale value or many years of enjoyment. Think like a chef, only use high quality ingredients. If you're patient and resourceful, you can find very cool parts for very little money.

That said, the approach of tearing a bike apart and rebuilding it a great way of cutting your teeth.
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Old 05-04-11, 10:42 PM
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thank you guys so much for the awesome advice! Was kind of hoping to ride it, but as you say, I think I'll start by rebuilding it with its current parts and the work my way up. Hopefully more responses will be as supportive as yours.
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Old 05-04-11, 10:45 PM
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I think its as good starter bike for learning how it all works together but dont expect too much out of it. For instance expect flats and tune ups every week. But since this is your goal thats a good thing, you will learn a lot.
In my opinion the bike is not worth investing in or putting better parts on it, since im an avid buyer/seller. BUT since you are not trying to make money on this by upgrading and selling for more money but strictly for the knowledge go for it. I lost probably $300-$400 building bikes but the knowledge I gained paid off when I worked for a shop later . Keep in mind you will end up with a bike that not a lot of people will pay money for so its a learning experience that will stay with you. Plus you will have some tools in the end too.
I think you got a fair deal on the bike but make sure your frame is going to handle parts failing in the future. Measure the rear wheel spacing and front wheel spacing. Should be 130mm rear spacing and 100mm front. If its different you may have problems finding compatible wheels in the near future. Also that rear derailleur is to put bluntly crap, and I would replace that before the cassette or bars. Check to make sure you have a derailleur hanger (look it up if you dont know what it is) Some frames do not have a hanger and rely on the rear derailleur to just bolt onto the frame which is not good for future upgrades either.
So if you choose to use this bike for your schooling keep in mind that there may be a lot of non standard parts, and you will be learning some non standard things that could hinder your learning or in the least be confusing about bike parts in general.
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Old 05-04-11, 10:51 PM
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Go to Walmart and ride one of them. I did, didn't like it at all.

The shifters are in a terrible location, center of the bars.

If the bike fits you, I would fix what is needed, not up grade
any thing. Learn how to work in it and keep it as a reminder
of your humble beginnings.

I just bought a Trek at a yard sale and spent $100 on it and
have a great bike that people want to buy, but it ain't for
sale at this time.

I am trying to be positive here BTW. Don't spent a lot on
a Wally Wally bike. Tires, tubes, brakes are the main thing
to take care of first. That is normal expenses.
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Old 05-05-11, 02:02 AM
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I really don't know much about the GMC Denali, but I will say I think I've been able to pick up what I would consider better bikes that need about the same amount of maintenance as the Denali for about the same price you paid. Personllay I'd hit up some yard sales and pawn shops and see if you can't find a something that will really be worth upgrading. The paint isn't perfect on my fixerupers, but I may take care of that in time, too.

My opinion, look online and/or hit some bike shops up and find some models that you would want to purchase. Then do a little research on Bikepedia.com to see if these are long-running models that you can find out there with a bit of age on them. Or just bone up on better brand names and if and when you see something at a yard sale or pawn shop or Craigslist that looks like a configuration that you want, just make sure you can tell the Wally-world bikes from the LBS bikes.
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Old 05-05-11, 05:14 AM
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That approach could get complicated and frustrating. The question that comes to mid is `While you`re learning - how will you be able to access the situation and decide whats broke and what isn`t?.

Suggest you would be further ahead doing the maintenaince on a bike already in good condition. Including practicing on a complete teardown and rebuild. At least then if something doesn`t work properly you`ll know it was just a case of incorrect disassembly.

A good example might be the guy that posted asking for a second opinion after his pedals were notchy after cleaning the bearings in varsol. Sounds like he has no idea how to evaluate the condition of races and bearings. Which means now he`ll have to do another disassembly.

Better to limit the unknowns you have to deal with. Also recommend you pick up some repair manuals. Parks BBB is a decent reference.
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Old 05-05-11, 05:21 AM
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The biggest problem in learning on a cheap department store type of bike, is that there is only a limited ammount of knowlage you can take to a higher end bike. Very low end bikes will have a different BB set up, headset, parts which only require general tools and general poor quality parts.

most current bikes will have external BB's, Aheadsets, and parts which require more specialist tools to work on, like the torque requirements for Carbon Fiber
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Old 05-05-11, 10:04 AM
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I'd suggest ripping apart the bike and putting it back together but not investing much (if anything) in parts just to see how things go together. Then go buy a better quality bike and go at it. There are deals out there if you look. Last month, I bought an '80s Centurion road bike that needed very little work and only a few $ in parts for $25 and the month before a mid-'90s Diamond Back MTB for $20 that just needed routine maintenance.
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Old 05-05-11, 10:23 AM
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I would do the tear down, clean and re-grease everything. Replace the cables and housing with something of good quality and then ride it. Dollars invested would be small and you would learn a lot.

If the tires are in need of replacement, shop around for something nice. I have found that the tires make a huge difference in ride quality.
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Old 05-05-11, 10:30 AM
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I say why not work on this one while you have it. The only problem I've ever seen with Walmart bikes in general is a lack of maintenance. They aren't awful bikes, but they need a heck of a lot more work to keep them working smoothly. It'll probably need some parts here and there, but really that can be a good thing. It'll give you some experience diagnosing problems. If you're going to have to work on it as much as I think you'll have to, you should probably invest in a decent quality work stand. Probably one of the Park folding home ones. Then start building up a collection of tools. Some won't carry over, but a lot will. A good set of metric wrenches and a y-wrench (4,5,6 allens) is probably 80% of what I use on a daily basis on everything from walmart y-frames to high end road bikes. This will never be as smooth as a more expensive bike, but that doesn't mean it's just junk. Use it as a starting point. Oh, and an illustrated book would be good idea, it's nice to know what a worn out bearing race looks like.
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Old 05-05-11, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by jimc101
The biggest problem in learning on a cheap department store type of bike, is that there is only a limited ammount of knowlage you can take to a higher end bike. Very low end bikes will have a different BB set up, headset, parts which only require general tools and general poor quality parts.

most current bikes will have external BB's, Aheadsets, and parts which require more specialist tools to work on, like the torque requirements for Carbon Fiber
Are you kidding? Ya he's gonna go from being a total noob to working on carbon fiber. There is NO difference between this bike and a bike shop bike except for the quality of components, which he wants to change changing. It is a fine thing to learn on and the frame is just an aluminium frame.

I see no difference in going this route from buying a frame from bikes direct or someone's used frame off a $500 bike.

A good example might be the guy that posted asking for a second opinion after his pedals were notchy after cleaning the bearings in varsol. Sounds like he has no idea how to evaluate the condition of races and bearings. Which means now he`ll have to do another disassembly.
That's pretty rude to call that guy out, this forum is for learning and that's what he was trying to do by asking. You can dilute grease by using varsol so it was a natural question... how else do you learn but by making a few mistakes? So what if he must do something twice, yeesh.


I agree with the "buy a bike stand" sentiments, it is very necessary (or make one).
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Old 05-05-11, 12:33 PM
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Chiming in on also the "tear down to build up" but not invest in new parts yet. with luck some min-wager built up that denali and it will need a complete repack of hubs and headset and bottom brackets. putting sora stuff on a bike is okay... but really, if given the choice between sora and older 'vintage' 105 or suntour stuff I'd rather go w/ the older stuff since they just work better and are not designed to be be throwaways...

yeah also get a bike stand... its the best $$$ I've ever spent on bike repair
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Old 05-05-11, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by instructions
..putting sora stuff on a bike is okay... but really, if given the choice between sora and older 'vintage' 105 or suntour stuff I'd rather go w/ the older stuff since they just work better and are not designed to be be throwaways...
Hey now, sora isn't designed to be thrown away either, you're thinking of the no-name shimano stuff. Sora is pretty darn good for what it costs. It'll have the same life any older component set will have, but getting it first hand means you know exactly what's been done to it. That said, if you can find some older parts they'll be a great deal too.
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Old 05-05-11, 01:55 PM
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Originally Posted by jediphobic
Hey now, sora isn't designed to be thrown away either, you're thinking of the no-name shimano stuff. Sora is pretty darn good for what it costs. It'll have the same life any older component set will have, but getting it first hand means you know exactly what's been done to it. That said, if you can find some older parts they'll be a great deal too.
hmm maybe I only run into soras when it's almost broken and I'm asked to 'fix it'...
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Old 05-05-11, 02:47 PM
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Originally Posted by instructions
hmm maybe I only run into soras when it's almost broken and I'm asked to 'fix it'...
More often, I think owners of Sora-equipped bikes tend to ignore maintenance (more than those who have more invested in their bikes) and help the components to an early grave. The Sora on my commuter has given me many years of service with just basic maintenance and still works great.
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Old 05-05-11, 03:56 PM
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1) As far as buying a beater / junk bike to learn on-- thats a tactic I endorse. Free is better, of course but not all of us live in any semblance what could be called a municipality, so there's slim pickins.

2) The Denali. I have one. And.. it works ok in its default configuration. But the minute you start messing with the drive train, you're asking for trouble. Seriously.

Firstly, it's 135mm rear spacing, not 130.
Secondly,The brake bridges are not sized for recessed nuts.
Thirdly, You might could run a road double, but not a triple,
Fourthly, it runs a 7 sp freewheel. On a 135 spacing, that's asking for eventual trouble. If the rear axle isn't bent, I'd be shocked. Replacing the freehub means replacing the entire rear wheel.
Fifthly, the default rims are 622 x 19mm. If you ever wan to be able to remove the tires without deflating he tubes first, the smallest tire you can run is 700x28C.
Sixthly, I was upgrading an old bike and the take offs of that bike added to the Denali dropped it's curb weight by 5.5 lbs.

Last edited by dwellman; 05-05-11 at 04:08 PM.
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Old 05-05-11, 08:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Aquakitty
Are you kidding? Ya he's gonna go from being a total noob to working on carbon fiber. There is NO difference between this bike and a bike shop bike except for the quality of components, which he wants to change changing. It is a fine thing to learn on and the frame is just an aluminium frame.

I see no difference in going this route from buying a frame from bikes direct or someone's used frame off a $500 bike.

That's pretty rude to call that guy out, this forum is for learning and that's what he was trying to do by asking. You can dilute grease by using varsol so it was a natural question... how else do you learn but by making a few mistakes? So what if he must do something twice, yeesh.


I agree with the "buy a bike stand" sentiments, it is very necessary (or make one).
If you found that comment rude I guess it was because you wanted to. No one was `called out` and I personally have no issues with using Varsol as a solvent.

I do have personal issues with wasting my own time or doing things the hard way so have found that clinics, co-ops and professional training are a lot more effective than learning through trial and error.

So I agree that this is a forum and plan on encouraging people to ask questions BEFORE the fact - not after the damage is done and they need help picking up the pieces. You may not agree with that approach and thats your perogative. I work in some of the most professional shops in the city and some of the very expensive mistakes brought in by `home mechanics` that we get asked to `correct` are entirely avoidable. But for every right way to do something there are about a dozen wrong ways and trial and error can get pretty expensive if thats the approach you want to encourage.
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Old 05-05-11, 08:37 PM
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My advice on a first bike to learn on is to pick up something cheap at a thrift store or garage sale. Find a really bottom end older bike, nothing special for sure (hey if you find something better, great, but don't sweat it either way). Perhaps a MTB, or whatever, in the $10 to $20 range. Take it apart, clean it really well, keep your parts spending to a bare minimum, and donate it back to the thrift store of your choice. Do this a few times.

My first rehab was a garage sale bike, picked it up for $10, cleaned it up, replaced one tube, installed new cables, and sold it. That funded several tools, and also the next project. Older road bikes are simpler mechanically, particularly the shifting mechanisms, than the modern stuff. Avoid the modern Walmart stuff, in general, their suppliers had to cut so many corners to fit the Walmart price, that the bikes have issues mechanically.

The older bikes in general required few specialized tools (until you dig into them pretty far). There are plenty of exceptions: anything French, oddball freewheel tools, etc. But early on, you can get a shop to do some of the specialized tool stuff for you at a minimal charge, and you do the rest.

Eventually, you will probably find something a little more decent this way, either keep it, or resell it to pay for some tools. Do this a few times, and you will have some nice tools, and a nicer bike for yourself as well.

I would avoid the Denali for all of the reasons mentioned.

Don't buy a lot of parts, and don't upgrade a bike at this point. Focus more on getting it functional: cables, adjusting brake calipers, patching or replacing a tube or two, cleaning a freewheel, bearings and grease.

I buy replacement bearings for about 2 cents each. So I do not bother trying to clean them, I just replace them, clean up the cups and cones, and new grease.

Co-ops, classes, etc., are great. There are none of those where I live, so I learned on cheap, old bikes, and worked my way up in skills, tools, and bikes.

Last edited by wrk101; 05-05-11 at 08:44 PM.
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Old 05-06-11, 01:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Aquakitty
Are you kidding?
There is a difference in working with Campagnolo to Shimano set ups, let alone departmant store bikes to quality bikes (see dwellman's post). The very basics are the same, but there will be a lot of knowlage still to be learned when moving onto a better bike.

What the OP never said was what he will be working on in the future, road or mtb, as again both of these have unique parts to be worked on.
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Old 05-06-11, 01:12 PM
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Skills you can learn on the Denali:
  • Pedal installation and removal
  • Front derailleur (31.8) clamp-on installation and adjustment (caveat: uses 9mm nuts instead of 5mm allen).
  • Rear derailleur adjustment (less a B screw)
  • Square taper crank install and remove (still a useful skill even if being specified with lessening frequency)
  • Threaded headset overhaul
  • Quill stem installation/removal and adjustment
  • Nutted single pivot sidepull brake adjustment (no quick release)
  • Adjustable cup bottom bracket maintenance.
  • Pillar seat post adjustment
  • Shimano RevoShift installation and adjustment (cables in-- easy. Cables out-- meh. But no funky loop like some GripShift)
  • Freewheel removal and installation.
  • 'Cup and cone' hub maintenance
  • standard chain removal (no master link/pin)
  • wheel truing

*I don't know if he chainrings are riveted or bolted. . . its a Prowheel 4 arm deal. Ithink Ill go check now.
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Old 05-06-11, 01:48 PM
  #24  
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2. Breaks
yea stuff on cheap BSO do that ... I'd suggest a used but decent bike , UJB ..
when you are done it will be more worth the effort, have something that is ...decent.
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Old 05-06-11, 02:40 PM
  #25  
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Riveted. The front of the rivets have a hex stamp, but the thing is pretty much all one piece. . . so no chance to learn chainring installation / removal.
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