Cheap-Oh PEZ: Late Summer Edition
It’s been awhile since our last CheapOh report. We keep hoping that the market will take a sharp turn for the better. Before we start pointing fingers and getting huffy, we offer the Late Summer Edition. Anyway, even in the fat times, a dose of cycling frugality is always a good thing.
Ooh that’s cheap!
You’re actually suggesting string?
Yes, but don’t forget the knots.
For all those cycling tinkerers that are always adjusting saddles, finessing positions, changing between bikes, traveling and so on, I suggest carrying a piece of string with at least two knots in it, instead of carrying around a bulky tape measure. The first knot measures the distance between the top of your pedal and the top of the saddle (with the crank arm in line with the seat tube angle). The second knot indicates the center of the saddle to the center of your handlebars. While these two measurements hardly qualify as advanced fit science, they will get you pretty close to where you need to be. Also this highly specialized tool (the string with knots) packs easily in your saddle bag, costs pretty much nothing (assuming you’ve got some lying around), is super light and terribly effective.
These are the two important measurements, you can also put knots that indicate handlebar height, top of tire to middle of stem.
Dust Cap Valve Converter
Another item that should be in everyone’s saddle bag is a tire tube dust cap with the top cut off – or you can leave it screwed on to the valve. If you happen to find yourself needing to fill up a tire and near a gas/petrol station, this cap works as a presta valve converter for air compressors. I found myself in this exact situation a month ago when my frame pump decided to die on me. Note: don’t throw out your old inner tubes, use the old valve to hold the cap while you cut your Dust Cap Converter with a matt knife. I’ve seen some commercial brass things, but why spend $5 when you can make one for free. Plus weight weenies rejoice, ours is lighter.
You can discard the top of the cap, the bottom part is the thing that works.
Bike Buying Tips
Recently, an acquaintance asked me to find him a nice bike with Ergo/STI shifting. I found one, but have been enjoying it so much that I’m holding on to it for now (it’s a little too good for him). It’s a VITUS Carbone/Kevlar model from the early 90’s with a complete Dura Ace, 8 speed gruppo. Cost: 350 euros.
I hope the PezTech Editor lets this dodgy suggest by the cutting room.
It perfectly highlights some of the principles of Buying CheapOh. Obviously if everyone wants a Colnago with a Super Record gruppo, it will not be cheap. The key is looking for under-appreciated, hence undervalued bikes. Here are eight tips to get you pointed in the right direction:
1. The 90’s Are IT
Bikes from the 90’s are not (yet) collector items. They sit in an awkward position of being too new to be vintage, yet too old to be considered new. This is the perfect CheapOh Zone. Also, nineties bikes represent the last of the Complete Gruppo Era that included hubs which means handmade wheels, which means they were assembled with greater care than today’s factory assembled wares (usually).
2. Aluminum (and in our case, bonded with carbon) Is Un-fashionable
The kings of aluminum are Cannondale and Klein. Though Klein prices are starting to heat up, Cannondales are still cheap. A shop here has a Team Saeco CAAD7 with Dura Ace for 400 euros and prices in the States are even lower. I am quite fond of the CAAD5’s, if they were good enough for Gibo, then they’re good enough for all of us – super cheap too!
3. Unfamiliar Brands
There are many bike companies that made high quality stuff that get little mention. ALAN and TVT made similar bikes to this VITUS that can be had cheap. Cheaper still are the carbon/aluminum things from Giant, called Cadex. Remember, these bikes were raced with great success by pros like Lemond and Hinault and Kelly.
The Vitus headtube stamping even tells you the size.
4. Plenty of Great 90’s Steel
Or take steel, which should be more reliable and more bountiful. Italy ruled the world in terms of bike production. Accordingly, lots of companies like SOMEC or Rossin or Scapin or Basso or Carrera made very nice bikes that are below most buyers’ radars. Or artisans and small shops like Chesini or Berma or Liotto or Damiani produced very fine frames. Searching that online auction site for quality tubesets like Columbus SL or better yet SLX or even EL could turn up other interestingly obscure results.
5. Don’t Forget TIG
Another 90’s advance was the TIG welded steel frame, also shunned by collectors. These frames can be found at reasonable prices. Tip: if you can find a Pinarello Dyna or Radius, it was most likely made by Dario Pegoretti.
6. Shimano Deals
Shimano gruppos are generally less desirable (read: cheaper) than Campagnolo, especially if one searches for 600 or 105 equipped bikes. It should be noted that by the late 80’s, the engineers from Japan had blown away the Italians with superior performance in braking, shifting and weight (though not style). Also look for 9 speeds, these seem to be under appreciated, even the Campy stuff.
Even these early Shimano STI levers work great.
7. Condition Is King
A one owner bike in original condition is the best possible option. Warning: aluminum becomes brittle with age and carbon can fail in disastrous ways. These bikes are 20 years old, so carefully examine the frame for ANY sign of damage. A test ride with hands off the handlebar is a quick way to identify trouble, the bike should track perfectly straight. Fresh grease, a headset that doesn’t rattle or grind (test: pick up the front of the bike 7cm and drop it, also rock the handlebars to and fro), cranks that spin smoothly and true wheels all point to good maintenance. I found this VITUS sitting in the back of a local bike shop where it had been bought and regularly serviced for the past 20 years. This is a very good sign.
8. Get The “Right One”
Lastly, choosing the right bike is a matter of expectations and usage. I weigh 62kg and have a light, round pedalatta and about a third of my riding is in the mountains. Accordingly this agile, compliant and great braking VITUS fits me quite well (and is the primary reason why I can’t let go of it), a strong/masher rider should look elsewhere.
La Gazzetta dello Sport
This famed pink newspaper is by far the best wind protector to put inside your shirt for those challenging Dolomite descents. I’ve tried others, like the Herald Tribune or Il Corriere, but they simply lack the panache and consequently the effectiveness of that sports rag that also sponsors a race around Italy. Also, La Gazzetta is the only acceptable paper to wrap your spare tubular tire that is attached to the saddle rails with an old, leather toe strap (for maximum style points). When I need some wind protectors or tire wraps, the public library is the best source for free old issues. Now, for those without access to free/stolen newspapers, we make the following offer: the first person that writes an email stating how much they appreciate Mr. CheapOh’s wisdom will receive a free paper (please include your address).
The best, free wind protector around.
Clear Plastic Wrap
Spring weather, where rides start in the cold and finish warm are the perfect time for these super cheapo shoe covers. Wrap the front of your shoes a few times (the toes are the crucial area), pushing aside the wrap that covers the cleats and your feet stay comfy and warm.
As the temperatures rise, the wrap can be easily ripped off. This year’s winter was pretty mild here in northern Italy, so I kept my shoes wrapped the whole season. A roll of this stuff is a couple of euros and it is also pretty useful in the kitchen!
Comfy feet, cheap!
Leaning my bike against things like walls and trees often leaves scrape marks on the saddle or outside of the handlebar tape. One solution I’ve found is to super glue on some bottle caps over the bar plugs. The metal cap extends over the tape and makes for scrape resistant bike leaning (assuming you CAREFULLY lean your bike against the metal caps). In addition, choosing interesting bottle caps gives you the opportunity to express yourself. It’s a conversation starter or grounds for ridicule on your next ride. And the caps are pretty much free, if you drink things in bottles.
Have I mentioned that I’m from Texas?
Refinish that Saddle
Over time saddles can get pretty ratty, faded, droopy. A fresh tanning changes everything. As long as there are no rips in the leather (your saddle must be leather), they can be refinished. I brought my old Sella Italia Turbo, which fits like a dream, to the neighborhood cobbler. For $25, he pulled off the brass trim, refinished the hide, polished it up and put the trim back on. I was told that dark shades like black and brown work best. The CheapOh investigator in me tried to find out what solution he applied to the leather, but the cobbler wouldn’t spill it. I think it’s some kind of spray dye, if any reader out there knows, then feel free to share. I think it’s gotta be cheaper than $25.
Bar Tape Melter
I like to finish my bartape with electrical tape, a nice thin band is better looking than the fat stuff that comes with the bartape. The problem is that over time the electrical tape ends come undone. A friend of mine wraps a few layers of clear scotch tape over the electrical, which works great, but I’m not into the shiny-ness of it. Also, removing it is a sticky mess. A more elegant solution: stick a needle into an old wine bottle cork, heat the needle up with a lighter and then melt the tape ends. Just make sure this is hidden underneath the bar.
A reader recently asked if there was any CheapOh solution to carrying a bunch of water, obviously more than two bottle cages worth. Even though it’s nearly impossible to ride more than 10km in Italy without finding a town with a fountain, many riders here use small backpacks. Mountains and all the necessary kit to deal with inclement weather, longer distances, more prepared cyclists, lots of food or whatever the reason, backpacks are pretty convenient. On longer trips or mountain rides, I always use one. Though there are packs marketed for cyclists, as all loyal readers know: never buy this sh*t. Go to the hiking section, a similar pack will usually cost substantially less. My favorite packs are the ones that sit off one’s back with some kind of internal, rigid structure. Also aim for the smallest and lightest one.
Here’s my trusty pack; small, light and handy.
Fancy massage oils and skin care products, especially the ones meant for cyclists, aren’t really necessary. Olive oil works great. It really does. I’ve been using it for years. It’s relatively inexpensive and best of all you can even cook with it. I will admit that the commercial stuff has a minty or perfumy niceness while olive oil leaves one smelling a bit like an Italian grandmother. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a mental thing. Embrace your inner cheapness and ignore your outer smell. They will balance each other out, trust me.
The lighter stuff is less intense and maybe better for massages, but not as good for salads.
This is an old Italian trick I was told about and finally got around to trying: used pasta water as a degreaser/cleaning solution where the flour residue acts as the active ingredient. The only issue is that pasta water has salt in it, which shouldn’t be used to clean bike parts. So I made a batch of pasta without the salt (note: the pasta is still edible, but needs a very salty sauce to correct). Also try to keep the water to pasta ratio as low as possible.
I put the used water in a spray bottle. The test: it actually works, though spraying water on anything and then rubbing it down usually cleans things, I believe or would like to believe that the slimy, milky solution renders it more effective, though I’m still undecided on this one. The pasta water does clean, but needs a bit of elbow grease and then a quick wipe with a damp rag afterwards. I like that it’s simple and cheap and it’s gotta be more friendly to the environment than most commercial products. Give it a try and if it fouls up your stuff, complain to my editor.
While we’re still in the kitchen, here is a Bonus Tip to get rid of garlic or other strong smells on your hands: rub them VERY carefully over the back of the blade of your knife under running water. A safer option is to rub them over the metal faucet. This amazingly gets rid of the stink. I’m guessing that it’s something to do with steel and the oil of one’s hand oxidizing. Or maybe it’s voodoo. In any case, try it and be astounded.
White Lithium Grease
I buy my grease at the hardware store because grease is grease, pretty much. The problem is that most grease is a dark, greenish black, and the stuff that comes with Campagnolo stuff is a creamy, yellowish white. Dig a little deeper at the hardware store and you should find White Lithium Grease, it’s the right color and seems to work just as well. It might even be the same stuff without the cool Campagnolo logo. Anyhow, I’ve been using it for the past two years without problems. The Campy stuff costs as much as caviar, the hardware store stuff is about 2.50 euros here for a tube.
This works pretty well, too…
As always, follow this advice at your own risk. Being CheapOh comes without guarantees. Use common sense (it’s free, assuming you’ve got it). Be diligent. Trial and error. And enjoy the compromises and joys involved in taking the path more economically traveled.