Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shop Till You Drop at the VeloSwap


My younger son and I attended the VeloSwap at the National Western Complex today.

VeloSwap is a giant consumer bicycling event part expo of new bicycle technology and part sprawling flea market of used bicycle parts.  Our goal for the day was to buy the parts to construct a good road bike for me.  And this goal supported my longer-term goal of having my son share his expertise with me on how to build and maintain a bicycle.


Doors opened at 9:00 a.m.  We arrived at 7:00 a.m. to get a good place in line.  There was no line.  We went back to the car and took a nap.

At 8:20 a.m.we roused ourselves and went to take our place in line.  About 60 people were in front of us.  During the next 40 minutes I had time to review my wish list of bicycle parts that my son had helped me compile last night.  The list contained all the major parts (e.g., frame, fork, brakes, crank, handlebars) and minor parts (e.g., stem, front hub, seat post, bottom bracket) needed to construct a bicycle.  For each part, we had gone on the Internet and determined compatible sizes for the parts and the price ranges (new and used) for each part.

We had done our homework: we knew what we wanted; we knew what we were willing to pay; and we were ready to haggle.  Caveat venditor!  Let the seller beware!

Promptly at 9:00 a.m. the doors opened and we filed inside with the rest of the eager bicycle enthusiasts.  The stadium was packed with vendors.


There were two immense halls filled with rows of bicycles from local shops, company booths with smiling young women selling bicycle clothing, and a great multitude of tables heaped with used parts.  My objective was to find quality used parts, and I relied on my son to sort out which used parts were junk and which were diamonds in the rough. 


Our first purchase was a pair of caliper brakes that my son found worthy.  The brakes were followed by a drop bar (handlebars).  On and on it went.  In keeping with flea-market practice, every purchase was a cash purchase.

Over the next two hours I checked everything off my list but the frame and the crank set.  Then we spied a used bicycle with an excellent frame made by Gunnar, a company in Wisconsin.  My son suggested that we could buy the bicycle, throw away everything but the frame, and then rebuild the bicycle from the ground up.  However, on closer inspection, it became apparent that all the parts on the bicycle were as good as the parts we had just purchased.  A rebuild had already been done.  Too bad.

Just for curiosity's sake, my son asked the owner what price he wanted.  The owner responded with a price so low that we immediately purchased the bicycle, a 2001 Gunnar Roadie with a substantial number of upgrades.  Here is the gorgeous contraption itself.


Now I was the owner of one complete bicycle and two thirds of the parts for a second bicycle, everything except the frame and crank set.  We decided to press on and buy everything for a second bicycle that we could build together.  After stowing the Gunnar safely in my car, we returned to complete our parts purchases.

We soon found a serviceable crank set.  Now all that was lacking was a frame.  We searched through countless aisles without luck.  The frames were either cheap but unsatisfactory (such as 50-pound Schwinn frames) or satisfactory but too expensive.  Then we stumbled upon an old 1980 Austro Daimler bicycle with a suitable frame.  The frame's height and overall geometry fit me well.

The bicycle's price seemed cheap.  But that didn't stop my son from haggling to get the price down by twenty percent.  Embarrassing perhaps, but that's just how the flea market game is played.  A few crisp bills and a handshake later, the Austro Daimler was mine.

On closer inspection, my son and I found that the Austro Daimler's various components an assortment of French, Belgium, Swiss, and Japanese replacement parts were quite sound in spite of their age.  Now I was the owner of two complete bicycles and another two thirds of a bicycle in parts.  Here is the Austro Daimler Inter 10, an eggplant-colored European beauty with a touch of Japanese.


The purchase of a second bicycle presented an unexpected complication.  I couldn't fit another bicycle in my car trunk.  (Not much thinking ahead here on my part.)  My son solved the problem by graciously offering to ride the Austro Daimler to the nearest light rail station and take the light rail home.

So now what?  I still want to build a bicycle with my son.  At the moment, though, I have misgivings about dismembering the venerable Austro Daimler to extract its frame.  On the other hand, it would be ridiculous to end up with three working bicycles in my garage.  (Or would it?)  The whole business requires further thought.

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