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"Le Champion de Hamtramck" (...the tale of a '75 Motobecane...)

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"Le Champion de Hamtramck" (...the tale of a '75 Motobecane...)

Old 12-20-11, 05:47 AM
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"Le Champion de Hamtramck" (...the tale of a '75 Motobecane...)

This is kind of a long story. You see, I have an old pal by the name of Charley. We hung together when we were young and reckless, but apart from being young and reckless, we had very little else in common. Today, we still have little in common, unless you consider the inexorable advance of old age and infirmity. Still, we have remained fast friends all these years, and have weathered the ups and downs of life here in the D.

I still see him often, and he is aware that I have a passing interest in C&V bikes. Consequently, he always keeps an eye out for me, and he has a knack for locating the most horrific gas pipe abominations to be found in the Western Hemisphere.

Recently though, he was scavenging for a used band-saw for himself, when he happened upon another “curly-bar” bike, at a place in Hamtramck, that specializes in selling salvaged equipment from distressed businesses, restaurants, gaming arcades, and the like. He called me to tell me about it. Frankly, I was skeptical after chasing so all those Huffy’s, All-Pro’s and such, but I said I’d stop down there when I had the chance, since I didn’t have any thing in the flipper queue, and could use a project. Then he sent me a photo.



It was a Motobecane! – with a slanted 531 label no less, and a mess of black and blue who-knows-what. – I had been hoping to find a high-end Motobecane, and was very interested, but it was now Saturday night, and all I could do was count the hours until Monday – when I could go and check this thing out.

Monday arrived. I pulled on my hoodie and hopped into my rusty old truck. Did I mention that my truck has more rust holes than metal? - Holes in the fenders, holes in box sides, holes in the floor, and a hole in the muffler that makes it sound incredibly powerful – the deep, rattling rumble of a completely unfettered large displacement V-8. I love my truck. It turns heads almost everywhere I go, but it would blend right in where I was headed that morning.

I knew that old Hamtramck neighborhood well. In case you don’t know, Hamtramck is Detriot’s Polish ethnic enclave – a place where I once worked and played. Those were the days – when we had our “unofficial” Christmas parties at an establishment that was partly owned by a co-worker of mine, where we did shots of krupnik, chased them down with Strohs’, and sang carols (– not so well perhaps).

That was more than 30 years ago now, and how those old digs have changed! Here, we still have blocks of meticulously maintained houses, people sweeping the sidewalks in front of tiny postage stamp lawns, - but there, and all around, a veritable sea of burned out shells – empty factories, and poor wretched little houses with bars over their windows.







By and by, I came upon my destination - a storefront, all crammed with junk. I had no change to feed the parking meter, so I decided to park in the alley a couple of blocks away.



I walked back to the storefront, found the door, and there, dead ahead, was a Moto Le Champion! – Mid seventies I reckoned, and as such, one of a few bikes on my grail list, albeit woefully neglected and significantly modified. Nevertheless, my heart skipped a beat when I saw it. I tried looking as nonchalant as possible, as if browsing, so as not to tip off the shopkeeper, but I suppose it was quite evident that I had no real interest in the freezers, rolling shelves, or arcade games, as my gaze was riveted on the bike the whole while.



The shopkeeper approached me. He was a chubby, jovial-looking old man. “Good morning! – you must be Auchen. I see you’re interested in the racing bike here. Your buddy Charley, he told me you’d come for it.”

Obviously, my good buddy Charley had tipped my cards to the store owner, and negated any prospect of picking this up at a bargain price. “Dammit!” I thought.

The man introduced himself – “I’m Stanislaus – but you can call me Stan. You’re in luck today because we’re giving a pre-holiday free-buffet! – Have a seat and have some lunch. That bike isn’t going to run away – See? - the tires are all flat as pancakes! - He had a goofy laugh, and he laughed long and hard at his own silly joke. (I reckoned he had dived too deeply into the happy-pill jar.)

Anyway, I felt compelled to partake of his hospitality, so as not to seem overly-anxious about the bike, and because I was hungry, and there, partly obscured by rows of funhouse mirrors, machine tools, and gaming consoles, were two long holiday tables, each covered with white linen, and crammed with goodies of every imaginable kind: Home-made breads; several varieties of fresh and smoked kielbasa; potato salad and ham; sauerkraut; boiled potatoes; golumpki; cookies, pastries and much more. Stan’s wife was shuttling back and forth to the kitchen – She was a round, busy woman, with half-framed reading glasses perched on her nose, and a smile as broad as her starched white apron.

I filled my plate with various and sundry goodies – many of which I had not tasted for a long, long time - and while I ate, Stan just continued talking. He talked about his childhood “up north” (as we call the northern part of Michigan here), about Hamtramck city politics, about getting his roof fixed, and he talked about getting ready to visit his kids soon, which apparently involved a big road trip for him every Holiday season, since his kids were scattered all over the place.

“It’s a common thing,” I told him, “- that the kids move far away from their parents these days, to find work where they can…Did it myself many years ago, to come here, having grown up back in New Jersey.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know that very well, Auchen” he said. “It’s just that getting around to all my kids at Christmas is getting pretty tough on this old man – but I wouldn’t miss it for the world” he added.

“Yeah” I replied, “I guess not. Holidays are the time to get together. - How many kids do you have, Stan?”

- He abruptly changed the topic and got right down to business: “What’s this racing bike worth to you?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not the one who’s selling it, so I hadn’t really set a price” I countered. – “Plus, it’s been bastardized to the nines – I’m going to have to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on it just to put it half-way right – rehabbing it bit by bit - I’ll be working on this bike for weeks – months - forever!”

“Gee, this must be a pretty valuable bike if you’re willing to go to all that trouble for it” he said.

(Face-palm here.)

I realized my gaffe. Not only had my good ol’ buddy-pal Charley queered my chances of getting it for a bargain price; I had just made matters infinitely worse by running my mouth. . . But I wanted that bike real bad. - Almost as bad as I wanted that new red bike my dad bought me for Christmas long ago, back in 1963.

He continued: “It’s a little rough around the edges, but I think it could clean it up pretty good, and it is a racing bike with curly-bars you know.”

Oh boy. “A racing bike with curly-bars” he said. Here it comes – the coup de grace. (I braced myself for a price that would surely make me reel backward and stagger out of the store teetering on my heels, bikeless, and utterly defeated.)

Then he said, “What do you say to $____?” (-and he named his price.)

“DEAL!” I exclaimed, spontaneously reaching for my wallet.

I couldn’t believe it! – the bike was mine! – with enough money left over for beer!

“It’s going for a good cause, you know.” he said, as he winked at me, and pocketed the cash. There was a twinkle in his eye and that goofy laugh again. – But this time it sounded different – maybe more jolly than goofy, or maybe it was just my mood. After all, I had my grail bike – what better reason to feel jolly too?

I thanked him profusely, and his missus too for lunch, and bidding them both “Dzien dobry”, I walked out of the store with my Le Champion, hardly able to contain myself.

On the way back to my truck, on the corner, I spied two figures - a man and a woman, both dressed up in red Santa suits. I figured they were hawking for the payday advance place on the corner, but they approached me. “Merry Christmas” they said to me in unison.

“Um – Merry Christmas” I said back. – “but it’s not quite Christmas yet” I told them.

The woman in the Santa suit spoke: “Oh, yeah we know that” she said, but we’ve been preparing for months now, and we could not help but notice the curly-bar bike you’re holding. That’s a doozy, Auchen. You must have been VERY GOOD to score that bike from your grail list.”

“Whoa.” I said. “How did you know this bike was on my ‘grail list’? How did you know I HAD a ‘grail list’?”

“We get all the lists” the man interjected. “- But I really don’t believe you were all that friggin’ good, or your Le Champ here would have been in much better shape.”

Hmmm… I knew he was right, but there was something very weird going on here, and I wondered if I was having some kind of flash-back or something.

Then it occurred to me: Did the man in the store say his name was “Stanislaus” – or Santa-Claus?

What happened next removed all doubt: I heard that goofy laugh again, but this time from far above, accompanied by the sound of sleigh bells - a sound I hadn’t heard since 1963.

AFTERWORD:

The Spirit of Christmas isn’t only living in Hamtramck today. It lives on all year in the hearts of good people everywhere, and especially in our friends right here in C&V. The restoration of my Le Champion would prove it, and serve as a testament to their good will and generosity.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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Old 12-20-11, 05:48 AM
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I knew the restoration of my Moto Le Champion would be no cake-walk, having been heavily modified by a previous owner, and then neglected for some 30 years. I began the slow process of removing and cleaning parts from the bike bit by bit, and each one presented some special challenge.












Several of the original alloy components were replaced. All of them had been “customized” by anodizing them black or dark blue.







The Campy crankset was history, replaced with a black and blue anodized Sugino Super Mighty Competion, and the Universal 68’s had been replaced with Dura-Ace calipers. I would have preferred the original issues, but the drillium crank was actually a pretty nice substitute, and I happened to have a pair of Uni-68’s in my stash.

I never had to de-anodize anything before, so I decided to experiment first on the Dura-Ace calipers. I submerged them in a degreasing / tile cleaning product called “Greased Lightning” straight up, after disassembling them completely and OA’ing the chromed parts separately. It worked very well, so I was encouraged to do the other parts in like manner.



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Old 12-20-11, 05:48 AM
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The handle bars however -
The handlebars were really – ugh. What a PITA!

I soaked then in Greased Lightning for days, and then tried to polish them. No-go. I soaked them again and again, and practically killed myself trying to buff them out with Mother’s. Sure, the black anodizing was gone, but they still looked dull and grey.



I appealed to Khatfull for advice. It turns out, these Philippe bars had a thick coating of clear anodizing under the black, and his recommended course was a heavy dose of E-Z off oven cleaner. It took several applications, but I was finally able to polish them out, again thanks to Khatfull’s sage advice.

As I stepped back to admire the fruits of my labor, I noticed something: The bars were bent.

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!”

I did not want to deep-six them at this point, so I sought advice from Frank the Welder. He told me that if they were not bent too badly, they might be cold-set, but he cautioned me that in cold-setting, they must provide substantial bending resistance all the way. (I was fortunate that they did.)

Now it was time to wrap them.

Since the color of the bike is lavender-silver, I went with manly black cloth tape. I did however; make one concession to my “feminine side”, with a purely decorative flourish, i.e., an end-treatment color-keyed to the paint color.



Though the lavender wrap serves no functional purpose at all, I think it looks nice, and I might find myself doing this again in the future.

Meanwhile, I had been struggling with cleaning the frame, and removing the previous owner’s blue painted lug-lining with carb cleaner and a butter knife. It was brutal, slow and tedious, but I was finally able get it off and restore the original look with a gold paint pen.



My next challenge was creating a reproduction of the original headbadge. I found a pic of the original badge on Velobase, and after a week of exchanges with rootboy, I was able to make a reasonably accurate forgery.





The frame had a few nasty scrapes, so I had some touch-up to do. “Silver-lavender metallic.” Good luck finding that. I ended up mixing up a reasonably good match using my Dremel and three bottles of Testor’s paint. – By the way, did you know that stuff doesn’t come off easily? (Don’t ask how I know.)





…So now we were ready to dress-up this bike! - Almost.
There was only one original top tube cable guide, and the other was rusted out (just like the pedals and shifters that I replaced and put this project over budget).
- Enter Drillium Dude. He contributed a set of new Campy cable guides to the cause - one very generous “pay it forward” in my estimation, since he could have sold them on eBay in a heartbeat. (I assured him they went for a very “worthy cause”)

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Old 12-20-11, 05:49 AM
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Prior to reinstalling the bottom bracket, I thought it would be nice to distinguish this bike in some way from the dozens of other ’75 Le Champions in my neighborhood. Rootboy came up with a solution: A brass liner for the shell, stamped with a special secret code.





- And here you see it again, peeking through the holes in the shell. (Curiously, a lot of high-end bikes have holes in the bottom bracket shell, but no one really knows why. If they had a good reason, then all bikes would most certainly have them.)

The wheels were becoming a problem. The filthy front Fiamme rim, which I thought was a fair match for the matte-finished Arc en Ciel on the rear, turned out to be brightly polished alloy – and a gross mismatch. I built it up anyway, but found it was a real pretzel, so I decided I could not live with it after all.





At this point Roger M offered me a Montlhery tubular rim for free, but I recommended he cash-in on eBay instead, since I’d already seen the outrageous prices they were commanding there. Still he insisted, relenting only when I told him I had won another tubular Wolber rim in excellent condition for just 15 bucks! What a deal!

- The only problem was, it wasn’t tubular.

Rootboy caught wind of my little faux pas, and offered me a matched set of Fiamme Ergals. (BTW - Many consider Ergals the ne plus ultra of vintage tubular rims, and at 285 grams, they are a preferred option for upgrading Raleigh Pro’s and De Rosas.) I told rootboy that offering those rims to a C&V guy was like offering crack to a crack head, but that did not deter him one iota. I resisted with all my will, but he kept pushing and pushing them.

By the time I caved, they were already in the mail.

As soon as the rims showed up, I laced them to my hubs and installed a new pair of Vittoria Rally tires that I got from bikemanbob (at a super price). It was my first time mounting tubulars, but I managed to get it done.

Now I pray I don’t get a flat, but rather than relying exclusively on Divine Providence, I decided to mitigate that risk by investing in some Rootboy-brand tires scrapers. Flats are a real risk riding where I do, but these scrapers give me the confidence to go anywhere. I would add that if you don’t have Rootboy brand tire scrapers on your bike, you’re really taunting fate. (Besides, they add a touch of class that so many of us otherwise lack, so everyone should order theirs today!)



The Le Champ is complete now. As you might suspect, it is a fine ride, and (truly) a grail bike for me. I’d like to thank all my C&V pals who made it possible, and Rootboy in particular.
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Old 12-20-11, 05:50 AM
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Old 12-20-11, 05:50 AM
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As built:

1975 Motobecane Le Champion
Silver-Lavender
Reynolds 531 butted tubes, fork and stays.
Rear DR – Campagnolo NR, 1974
Frt DR – Campagnolo NR
Shifters – Campagnolo NR
Crank set – Sugino Super Mighty Competition (53/42)
Bb cups & spindle - Campagnolo
Chain – KMC
FW – Suntour Winner (13/21)
Pedals – MKS Sylvan touring
Stem – Phillipe (with a Carlton clamp nut!)
Bars – Phillipe Professional
Tape – Tressostar
Bar ends - Campania
Cable guides – Campagnolo
Headset - Campagnolo
Calipers – Universal 68’s
Levers – Shimano Dura Ace
Hoods – Dia Compe
Saddle – Ideale 80
Seatpost – Campagnolo 2-bolt
Rims – Fiamme Ergal
Hubs – Mystery 36h
Skewers – Sunshine rear, Campagnolo NR front
Tires – Vittoria Rally
Reynolds decals - Velocals
Tire scrapers – Rootboy
Bottle cage - Generic
Bell – Suzue-Crane alloy
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Old 12-20-11, 06:11 AM
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Nice work on the Motobecane. How did you make the headbadge?
My wife is from Warsaw Street in Toledo, so I know all of the foods you were talking about. We'll be at her mom's on Saturday, but not in the old neighborhood. It looks about the same as your pictures.
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Old 12-20-11, 06:12 AM
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Great Story, Fantastic looking bike.
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Old 12-20-11, 06:31 AM
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Once again, Auchen, you have proved yourself far and away the best raconteur on BF. Loved the story -- and the bike!! Thanks for getting my day off to a great start.
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Old 12-20-11, 06:45 AM
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Again, great story, and just as nice of a bike.
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Old 12-20-11, 06:56 AM
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Great bike and great post! I love Hamtramck. A buddy lived there in the mid-90s. We walked into a bar on a snowy night in '95 and ? and the Mysterians (of "96 Tears" fame) were playing. Great night.

Beautiful bike.
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Old 12-20-11, 07:28 AM
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OH man. The Silver-Lilac Le Champion, brought back to life with skill and aplomb. Gorgeous Auchen. Seeing this bike progress has caused me a serious lilac Le Champ lust. Seeing it all finished is like showing crack to a junkie. Very nice.
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Old 12-20-11, 07:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Pompiere
Nice work on the Motobecane. How did you make the headbadge?....
I ultimately hand-copied the photo shown on Velobase, much larger than life, scanned the image, resized it and pasted it multiple times into a Word document.
This I printed onto some high-gloss CD-label stock (so I ended up with one not intersected by a kiss cut). Then, using an exacto blade, I cut out the "M" and stuck it to a sheet of Auto parts store faux chrome. Once applied to the bike, I sealed the surface with clear nail polish. Simple!
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Old 12-20-11, 07:36 AM
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Originally Posted by rootboy
OH man. The Silver-Lilac Le Champion, brought back to life with skill and aplomb. Gorgeous Auchen. Seeing this bike progress has caused me a serious lilac Le Champ lust. Seeing it all finished is like showing crack to a junkie. Very nice.
Thank you, rootboy - There wouldn't have been any post here today without your help.
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Old 12-20-11, 07:38 AM
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Originally Posted by strock
Once again, Auchen, you have proved yourself far and away the best raconteur on BF. Loved the story -- and the bike!! Thanks for getting my day off to a great start.
And thank you strock, for such a high compliment - I am very flattered .
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Old 12-20-11, 07:39 AM
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Michael Angelo, curbtender, bibliobob, Thank you all.
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Old 12-20-11, 07:50 AM
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Thanks for the neat story about how you acquired the Motobecane. I have no doubt that "Stanislaus" was misheard and it was the slight Polish accent that disguised Santa Claus. First you make me drool with the pictures and then hungry with the Polish food you named (Yummmmm) and finally grinning at your finale. The descriptions of your restoration were very informative, I learned a great deal about cleaning and anodization removal. I have rootboy's tire savers on my 97 R500 Cannondale and my wife's Trek 7300, they make a delightful accent to a bike's finish.

Great Thread Auchencrow!!! Merry Christmas
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Old 12-20-11, 08:06 AM
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Thanks Auchen for a fantastic write-up! The best I've read yet! One might suspect that you spent as long writing the thread as you did in rebuilding the bike. Also, I appreciate the well documented progress. As I said intially, this bike will make great before and after pictures, and you did not disappoint. Very Well Done!

Boldog Karacsonyi (which translated from Hungarian, Merry Christmas).
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Old 12-20-11, 08:21 AM
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Beautiful bike, beautiful story. Cockles officially warmed.
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Old 12-20-11, 08:47 AM
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Looks great Auchen, and a nice story. The 1980's were really the anodized decade for bikes. Some look ok, but yours was overdone a bit. Chris
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Old 12-20-11, 09:49 AM
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Originally Posted by qcpmsame
Thanks for the neat story about how you acquired the Motobecane. I have no doubt that "Stanislaus" was misheard and it was the slight Polish accent that disguised Santa Claus. First you make me drool with the pictures and then hungry with the Polish food you named (Yummmmm) and finally grinning at your finale. The descriptions of your restoration were very informative, I learned a great deal about cleaning and anodization removal. I have rootboy's tire savers on my 97 R500 Cannondale and my wife's Trek 7300, they make a delightful accent to a bike's finish.

Great Thread Auchencrow!!! Merry Christmas
Bill

Thanks Bill, and Merry Christmas to you too.
There is another product I hadn't tried, but that was recommended by Drillium Dude subsequently - "Jestco" I think it was called. If you have occasion to de-anodize anything it would be worth a try. (He's pretty knowledgeable about these things.)

The tire savers are indeed a great accent for your bike - (Did I mention that they make terrific tree ornaments and earrings as well?)
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Old 12-20-11, 09:52 AM
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Originally Posted by TireLever-07
Looks great Auchen, and a nice story. The 1980's were really the anodized decade for bikes. Some look ok, but yours was overdone a bit. Chris
Thanks Tirelever - You're not kidding mine was a little overdone! They even black anodized the cage on the rear DR. I had to take it completely apart and had a heck of a time figuring out how to put it back together.
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Old 12-20-11, 09:53 AM
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Thank you Bikeman and BigPolishJimmy!
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Old 12-20-11, 10:23 AM
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Wow, THAT was inspiring! Another great reason to inhabit the C&V forum right here. My favorite threads are those like Auchen's here, which detail in words and pictures how it is not merely possible, but expected that with the right tools, knowledge and dedicated effort, that a fine bicycle one step from the junkheap can and should be brought back to high-end glamor.

Auchen, you did a fabulous job! Thank you for sharing. And thank you for setting the bar high. Expectations are raised by members like you.

Two questions: what did you use for the lilac or lavender bar tape accent? and what is a "kiss cut" and how does it occur?
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Old 12-20-11, 10:41 AM
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I love these threads that combine a story, a bike and photos (which I can't see from work).
Auchen, wonderful story, truly heartwarming.

marty
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