As you may or may not know about me, I have been building bicycles since I was a kid. Wrenching these things was gifted to me by my grandfather who bought me my own toolbox and a 1956 NSU motorcycle, and then taught me how to rebuild a Bing single-slide carburetor. He was an aficionado of fine vintage automobiles and motorcycles, and enlisted me in the process of test driving the motorcycles he restored. My interest in bicycles grew naturally, starting in around 6th grade, and my prized possession was a blue Schwinn Sting-Ray, which was stolen from a friends back yard. Although crushed by the lost, I spent the bulk of my 7th grade year setting aside quarters until I’d amassed enough money to get a Gazelle Tour de l’avenir (Basically a knock off of the Raleigh Gran Prix)… This was a bike I rode constantly, and constantly upgrading.
It wasn’t until after I finished grad school and was into a career, and when my interest in running was temporarily waning that a friend, Peter, introduced me to the sport of mountain biking. It was love at first sight. The bikes were big, sophisticated klunkers designed to be both light and strong, and withstand the rigors of riding over rocks and fallen trees and all manner of stupidity. They reminded me very much of the leggy motorcycles of the early 1900’s I’d grown up riding in the fields of South Bend Indiana.
For many years I bought frames and built some nicely spec’d out rigs for the trails. I began collecting bikes by mistake, with a family to take camping there was always a need for a new bike. But like all things after a time they pass, and so I sold off all but one of the mountain bikes (keeping a Dean Titanium single-speed, which found new life as an urban commuter bike, running 700c wheels), and a old style titanium newspaper boy bike which was lovingly dubbed ‘Frankenbike’ by my mountain biking buddies, and which was always a favorite at festivals. More about these bikes in a follow up post, I promise.
In my always too long winded way, I have come to the point of telling the intended story. I have for the last 2 years gotten back into building really gorgeous bikes. Not your everyday kind of bike, but like, bicycles that are 1/2 art and 1/2 functional mechanical thingies! And that leads me to this tale, which honestly is one of my favorite of all tales.
It’s one of my favorites because it combines three elements I love about life:
1. Being in a creative space where I excel (that is envisioning a thing and being able to bring it to fruition using my own two hands)
2. Unconditional giving.
When my oldest son Bryan had his bike stolen off his back porch at Occidental College in LA, I decided I’d gift him my Dean Ti SS, but modify it. When he relocated to Blacksburg VA to teach full time there, I modified the Dean into an everyday commuter with a 1×10 drive-train. Nice project. But recently he had expressed a desire to hook up his girlfriend with a bike. We discussed this and it had the feel of a ‘perfect journey’ to me, and took it on.
As I researched frames, styles, trends, and history, I had my ‘A ha!’ moment recalling how I had once bought a Bianchi Milano for my then wife. It was the coolest little whip. Light, agile, easy, and a bunch of super cool features – it was kind of ahead of it’s time. Sadly, it was never ridden, and I chose to sell it during the great purge of 2009. So now, I tossed a search for a Bianchi Milano into the mix. The Bianchi line has evolved a great deal over time, and I think is a bit ahead of it’s time, so I altered my search for the years around the time I owned one, as I saw it as a kind of perfect bike for Bryan and Debra: Campus cruiser, grocery store and farmers market commuter, and still a great all around sport bike for getting out and spinning.
There were VERY few old Milanos out there, but on E-Bay I found one that was very lightly used, and looked to have been kept indoors. I ended up buying it, but the woman selling it was freaking out about shipping the bike. She had completely underestimated the cost of having the bike boxed and shipped. I offered intuitively to ‘find someone’ to simply come get the bike, and then arrange for shipping.
She was okay with that. I then asked Bryan if he retained any contacts in the area (Marina Del Ray, not too far from Highland Park) and reached out to 3 friends I have in the area. Bryan had no contacts he thought would be willing to do this. Of my 3 friends, one sort of spaced on me doing the thing where they’re too nice to say no, but then just forget to ever get back to you until much later… The second immediately said YES, but would have to do it on a weekend, because Solana Beach is a couple hours away. The third friend lives on a sailboat in… Marina Del Ray… yep.
When I met him, he had no car and was completely reliant upon his single speed bike for all of his transportation. I met him while visiting Omkar 108. He was teaching Ashtanga Yoga, and was such a nice guy, that he asked us to post yoga juice… I mean how cool is he already. (Morgan is also a nurse, and author of this blog: Ashtanga Nurse)
Here’s the best part. Morgan explains to me that when he moved from Miami to LA, he did so in advance of having his bike. He had to reach out and found a person in Miami who get this… would have to pick up the bike, then do the work needed to get it boxed up and shipped west. As it turns out, all of this was done as a courtesy, and he ended up paying nothing to get his bike to LA.
Not only was Morgan local, he actually saw a dharma / karma moment unfolding. And his high level of awareness meant that he needed to do this to complete a circle. We sort of laughed at how completely amazing synchronicity can get at times. Being of a like mind, once he had picked up the bike, he located a previously used bike shipping box, and then packaged it up. A few days later it was at my home. I attempted to compensate Morgan a few times, but he refused, as he felt doing so interrupted the cycle of completion.
I unboxed the bike, placed it on the stand, did a thorough inspection, and then stripped it down. I cleaned and repacked the bearings. I got rid of the old dry rotted Kenda Kwest tires, and found a handlebar that was much more like the original stock bar. Even the Bianchi seat with built in tail light was in tact.
I spent a few days removing oxide from aluminum parts, and cleaning and waxing the frame. I placed a pair of 26×1.75 Fairweather tires I had hanging around, replace the cables, housings, brake pads, and sprockets. I reinstalled the Nexus 7 speed internal geared hub and adjusted the settings and brakes, and used sew-on leather grips left over from another project. I ended up with a very slightly modified vintage Bianchi Milano that is in better than new conditions.
The final part of this story happens in August when Bryan and Debra get back from Europe. She’s taken a job at a small liberal arts college in upstate NY. So, the bike will get as far as Blacksburg under my power, and Bryan can take it from there.
This may be my favorite bike project of all time. I will update with a final photo when I decide on pedals. What do you think, a red pedal or a shiny silver one? Or a gray rubber one like they had originally?