GRAVEL BIKE ON A DUST BOWL BUDGET: PART ONE
The past year has seen Michael Stenning contemplating (in a purely hypothetical, day-dreamy sense) a 700c, drop bar, hub gear, four seasons build, complete with full length guards, dynamo, rack mounts and similar practicalities … 4130 cro-moly, Reynolds 525, 631, maybe …
Along came his old friend, Paul Vincent, with a frameset that seemed the perfect platform. However, it also sounded a brilliant starting point, for a gravel bike project…
There were two major rules; (a) said project had to cost nothing. Well, not literally - there was some leeway.
Aside from plundering the spares bin, I could trade/swap components, or use monies, recouped from auction site sales of unwanted kit but no “new” money.
(b) Reclaiming space was another must. No building could commence before a seriously good purge of old/unwanted equipment. Well stocked, orderly spares stashes = good, hoarding = problem.
The frameset in question, was a 19-inch, fillet brazed Reynolds 631 Dawes mountain bike originating from the early 1990s. It had been modified to accommodate 700c wheels and apparently, raced as a cyclo cross team bike. Despite holding tremendous sentimental value, it needed a new, loving home.
I approached Lee Cooper about installing disc mounts (approximately £70 apiece). Certainly economic, given the frameset’s calibre but after some deliberation decided against this, since it would hold up the build, while introducing costs and complication. I’d earmarked a Shimano 105-rivalling Sun Race groupset and, without “travel agent” style gizmos, the brifters wouldn’t be compatible with a mechanical disc setup.
Built for cantilevers, the Dawes also sports 130mm rear spacing, two sets of bottle bosses, mudguard and four-point carrier mounts. Brilliantly adaptable, although my intention, is to run it as a pared to the essentials, drop bar race rocket.
Structurally sound, the existing grey finish was looking a little weary in places and had been re-touched with single pack acrylic aerosol paint. Characterful from one perspective, NOW was the time for a makeover, rather than building it into a complete bike, only to strip it bare and have the frameset repainted a few months later. That would really irritate me.
Older frames, and life generally, can present a few challenges. The Dawes has a one-inch steerer. Aside from a brief revival back in 2008/9, decent headsets are relatively scarce/expensive. Thankfully, Paul supplied it with a needle roller unit, which was in reasonably good, serviceable shape.
Stage 1 Makeover
Trevor at Maldon Shot Blasting gave my project the nod (Especially since I was looking towards a more exotic finish). A few days later, I was at their door, frame in hand. I wasn’t completely sure of the existing paint’s heritage and feared it might be powder coat
Not a major problem but would mean the frame and forks, marinating in their methyl chloride tank, first. Graham performed a quick scratch 'n’ sniff test, which confirmed it was, wet spray two-pack. Ordinarily, I give steel framesets a precautionary, dare we say, liberal helping of Waxoyl.
However, this too, would need to be removed, via methyl chloride tank marinade and any traces purged, with industrial alcohol.
Always tell your sprayer, or frame builder if you’ve (or suspect) preserves have been used internally before they commence work. Otherwise, these will turn molten and race from the frame’s drillings, scalding them or contaminating other work, when heat’s introduced.
When the frameset was purely an abstract discussion, I toyed with the idea of having it resprayed a weird shade of yellow and dubbed “The Pus Rocket."
Why? Well, I was battling an excruciatingly painful and potentially wallet stripping dental abscess. Infection dismissed, financial crisis averted and sanity restored, it was a choice between a metallic red, celeste, “Kawasaki” green, or teal…
That established, Graham masked and plugged the frame, before heading straight, to the iron oxide blast cabinet.
Credit where due, the 2K finish had been lovingly (and generously) applied, so it took Graham 20 minutes to remove every, last trace. All paint, and a faint freckling of corrosion stripped, time to inspect the frame …
Perfect. No call for fillers or other light, correctional work. I noted the frame number, so I could identify the model and specification.
Next came the primer. Graham prefers zinc-rich epoxy, because of its flow-rate which provides the ideal surface for subsequent colour coats.
Curing at 150 degrees also ensures a very faintly tacky surface, which ensures better adhesion. This is baked for 15 minutes and then; we’re on to the base/undercoat.
This is a chrome effect powder coat, which serves to provide the candy sparkle to the topcoat. Chrome effect has been around for a good few years now, and has a lot in its favour.
Not least, the gleaming, seductive allure of electroplating but without the cost implication, or nasty, caustic chemicals. If you wanted to recreate the 80’s paint with chrome chain/seat-stay effects, these areas of “faux electroplate” could be masked and a wet spray, or powder coat paint applied atop.
Graham weaves nimbly around the tubes and within a few minutes, the frame and forks are done. Being an electro-static process (where metals are earthed and the powder magnetically attracted) it’s much easier to achieve uniform coverage and correct mistakes before they arise.
Stray powder can also be reclaimed, keeping costs proportionately lower than wet spray stove enamels, or two-pack paints. Graham spots a couple of very minor inconsistencies, so adds a quick, corrective touch up. Then, it’s back in the oven, for another 15 minutes.
Finally, the teal is loaded into the gun. All paints and colours have unique qualities, requiring subtly different techniques. Graham explains that the teal needs to be applied with particular care. Too little, or too much powder will tell in the final finish.
Traditionally, and with the primary colours, this meant a dimpled, “orange peel” effect. However, in this context, inconsistencies will result in light/dark patches.
Worse-case scenario, frame and fork could be two different shades.
Graham disappears in a cloud of teal, starting with the forks before moving to the frame. Again, within a matter of minutes, he has finished but returns to add a quick shot of powder to the seat tube and bottom bracket shell. Another tour de curing oven and the 25 year old frameset, is given a new lease of life.
Last but not least, Graham removes the masking, while the tape’s solvent backing is still soft, so lifts easily and residual goo isn’t left clinging to the bottom bracket shell. A guide price for this sort of finish and no further, remedial work is £135. However, filling of dents and similar prep will naturally incur further costs. Money easily justified on a frame of this calibre.
Next Time ... Michael sources components ….
PUBLISHED JUNE 2018