The joy of building or rebuilding my own bicycle.
Spring is nearly here. The warm breeze and the extended sunlight roll in nearly daily. It is that time to get the handy WD40 to clean and lubricate the gears on my environmentally friendly and hassle free ride. I am lucky to be currently living in Perth. It is Australia’s top notch bicycle friendly city. I live close to the river and I follow a well-paved track which yields to a good one-hour, or just a slightly over, ride from my place and back.
Around two years ago when I was in Bangkok at a very familiar Japanese bookshop called Kinukuniya, I bought a book called ‘One Gear’. This book caters for owning and maintaining single-speed or fixed gear bicycles. Although this type of bicycle became a trend in big metropolitan cities like NY, San Fran, London, Tokyo etc., I did not get tempted to own one. Instead, I went on Gumtree and decided to have a crack at building and rebuilding a bicycle of my own choosing that would cater to my particular taste.
My first pre-loved bicycle purchase was a silver rusting Ricardo which I bought for AU$120 from a gentleman who seemed to have done a lot of rounds in the suburbs collecting abandoned bicycles. He was successful in convincing that this bicycle was road worthy. I did not really care much about its appearance, I was determined to strip it down and rebuild it. It was like a rusty nail and I was hell-bent in hammering it. Practically, I was not rebuilding a car so it should be easy. Little did I know, this tiny project took 1 year of sporadic time and monetary investment to fully and painstakingly clean, then to understand, trace or hunt parts and to finally tenderly build together what I really wanted.
As I recall, it was after a month of looking and studying how I will methodically attack this project that I nearly gave up. It was way easier to buy a new and more advanced one and to chuck this old school in the bin. Somehow by sheer good timing, I saw an ad for a similar Ricardo and I bought it on the day it went up for sale. A lady who had it sitting in her shed sold the second Ricardo to me for $180. The bike used to belong to her brother who left it there for more than 25 years ago. It was very old but it was slightly beaten as compared to the first Ricardo I bought. I had the two Ricardos side by side and they looked identical. It was truly amazing and that was my Dr. Frankenstein moment!!!
It was at that time that I decided to consult Google and do research about this Ricardo brand. The more I got into reading some snippets of history about it, the more I was gaining sparks that lit up my imagination. I was gradually being taken back to those magical childhood days of riding or standing on a bike cruising the streets with a dozen of my friends - we were rascals, happy, innocent and free.
Without any more hesitation, I stripped and disassembled both bicycles. To one side, I selected the good parts and the other side the okay parts and another pile for ‘absolutely-throw-away-this-junk’ parts and along with it, I have encountered a lot of frustrations. It took so much of my patience and energy. There were days when I started working on it at 8 in the morning and finishing just before midnight and there were days I could not do anything to it because my back was aching or my hands were badly bruised. Disassembling 30plus-year-old bicycles require a lot of gentle force and tenderness which in turn made me handle the whole process with a keen eye for detail and the ability to grasp the intimacy between the craft and the crafter who built them decades ago.
To further fuel my imagination, I went on Amazon and bought three amazing books; (1) Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance (soft bound), (2) Racing Bicycles – 100 Years of Steel. I definitely learnt a lot from this book because it focused on Australian built bicycles from 1896 to 1991 but the succeeding years to 1996 were all European made, and (3) The Golden Age of Hand built Bicycles - Craftsmanship, Elegance and Function (Hardcover) which one of the most visually awe-inspiring books I have encountered when it comes to velocipedes, which was the original term used in the golden age for what we call now bicycles.
Let’s fast forward time to a year after which included frequent trips to Bunning’s and Bike Force Morley, I had managed to disassemble, clean, reassemble and reborne two working Ricardos with my own two hands. The first one was still an all-original parts which I gave to a young engineer named Tim who was needing a bicycle to ride, one Sunday, for a charitable cause. He mentioned the only issue he had was that the seat bolt was loose and needed retightening but other than that, he managed to finish the race comfortably and without a blown tyre whereas some of his team mates were complaining about their mountain bikes and some with their expensive modern road bikes getting blown tyres. Bear in mind, the bicycle I gave him is as old as mine and at that time he rode it, the bicycle was already 27~29 years old including original shift systems, brakes and gum wall tyres.
The Ricardo that is with me have been upgraded slightly as follows:
Frame and Fork – Ricardo (model needing verification) in silver with blue hand painted pin stripes and 6 Ricardo decals
Serial Number L3T0086 (Australia / original factory fitted)
Handlebar/Stem/ - Kusuki (Japan / original factory fitted)
Headset – Tange (Japan / original factory fitted)
Brake System –Diacompe (Japan / original factory fitted)
Chain – Shimano, Japan (upgraded from Sugino, Japan)
Derailleur system – Shimano 600 Arabesque (upgraded from SunTour, Japan)
Disk and Crank system – Shimano 600 Arabesque, Japan (upgraded from Sugino, Japan)
Cassette – Shimano (Japan / original factory fitted)
Wheel rims - (Can’t distinguish brand, Japan / original factory fitted)
Wheel hubs – Shimano VIA (Japan / original factory fitted)
Tyres – 27-inch gum wall tyres (Can’t distinguish brand, Japan / original factory fitted)
Pedals - KKT – RTSF (Japan / original factory fitted)
Seat post – (Can’t distinguish brand, Japan / original factory fitted)
Saddle – Brooks Leather (upgraded from generic seat)
Bike stand – Koba (Japan / original factory fitted)
Others – added leather handle bar tape and have upgraded to a brass bell that creates a very warm ‘ting’
My Ricardo was handcrafted in 1983. It was made from Cr-Mo (Chromium Molybdenum) hi-tensile steel fitted with standard 12-speed Shimano gear set and SunTour derailleurs. Japan’s SunTour was possibly the best brand in 1970’s beating its European counterpart in terms of innovation and technology but ousted by another Japanese brand Shimano in 1980’s. In addition, Sun Tour is a 6-day race in Victoria inaugurated back in 1952 which is Australia’s equivalent to Le Tour de France here Down Under.
In this journey of rebuilding my Ricardo, I have ended up in forums wherein people were appreciating the brand. The bottom line is, Ricardo were Australian made and the one proudly hanging across my room was from South Australia. Yes, there are loads of bicycles out there but there are only few coming en masse from Australia nowadays. There are big Australian names too still in play, but some of them are now made in Asia to cut on costs and maximise profit. In the case of Ricardo as a business, it was in these forums that I had read it was sold numerous times until finally taken over by Repco and quite possibly was shutdown to eliminate Australian competition. There is also a resurgence of Australian hand-made bicycles and they are fairly new and perhaps way better than my Ricardo except I still think that my ride has so much character and experience since it has survived for more than 30 years and that knowledge alone makes it pleasing to own.
You see there is a sort of non-monetary value in preserving something that could not be reproduced. My Ricardo was an old, rusty, unloved, dented and unkempt piece of Australian craftsmanship but I did not give up on it. Plainly to the eye, it is just another simple bicycle but to me it is now a part of home, my place in this sun-drenched continent. It might not have the racing pedigree but it was borne Australian. I have meticulously rebuilt it with affection and with the hours I spent with it reminds me of the chuckles and giggles, the banters and the friendly races, the bruises and the aches but most especially, the innocence of being carelessly young and of being magically free. As a grown up, I might have outgrown that particular experience but as a man, my joyful memories of myself as a boy, I shall definitely endeavour never to forget.
When was the last time you giggled like a small child? I still giggle whenever I think I am putting joy back in between my legs as the wind caresses my ears. I rebuilt it, I owned the experience of the moment and with it, into the warmth of the sun we slowly ride.