Many people who live in other parts of the country are surprised when a New Yorker tells them that their main form of transportation is a bicycle, but once you start commuting by bike it feels like the only way to travel.
I bought a Univega Viva Sport off Craigslist back in 2008. It was my first bicycle as an adult (my previous bike was a mountain bike that I had owned since I was a early teen). The bike wasn’t quite a beater(but the paint was chipping in some places), and had a well worn yellow Turbo saddle. Over the years I had a couple accidents (I was doored twice in Long Island City, Queens), and rear ended by a car service taxi on the Upper East Side while stopped at a red light in the bike line.
Some friends had made comments about bike problems because my bicycle was old, but in actuality the only part of it that was old was the frame…everything else had been replaced (new fork, Brooks Saddle, new bottom bracket, new chain, new wheels/tires, new gear cassette, scrapped the drop handle bars for bull horns, and even replaced the pedals twice). The real reason that I had bike issues fairly often was because most weeks I rode 60+ miles.
It turns out that getting rear ended last year on the Upper East Side was probably the beginning of the end for my Viva Sport. At the time it was only my rear wheel that was destroyed, but in reality the impact probably damaged the structural integrity of the frame. I had been hearing a popping for a couple weeks around the middle of last month, and was afraid I had already killed another bottom bracket but a trip to the bike shop proved that was not the case. While riding on Avenue B I started to feel some resistance, my back wheel was rubbing up against the frame, and ended walking my bike the rest of the way to meet some friends. I regularly snapped rear axels in the past, and figured that happened again…but Brady took a look and saw this:
I had snapped the entire back corner of the frame off the bike. Luckily this didn’t happen ten minutes earlier on the Williamsburg Bridge.
When commuting daily, getting regular tune ups, and having a bike shop you trust (Silk Road in Greenpoint is by far the best I’ve found) you don’t really think about replacing your bike…you only consider upgrading down the road. How do you begin to replace it? Do you buy another frame? What are the economical options? If you get another frame how much can I do myself, and how much do I need to pay a bike shop to do? Fun Fact: Silk Road said they’ve never seen a Univega frame break, and they had never seen any frame break like this.
I knew that I didn’t have the funds to straight up buy a Surly Cross Check, which is what I would want if I bought something new, so I started looking for another 70s-80s steel road bike frame.
I didn’t consider myself attached to the brand Univega, but after a little research I decide it was a company I wanted to stick with. Univega was founded by Ben Lawee. Lawee was born in Baghdad, went to American University in Beirut, Lebanon, and immigrated to the US. Lawee worked at bicycle shops in New York while at Columbia University, and bought Jones Bicycles in Long Beach, California in 1959. In the 1960s Lawee began importing Bianchi, and became the national distributor for Raleigh and Motobeacan. In the 1970s he founded Italivega and Univega. Italivega bicyles are still loved by classic road bike collectors and were produced in Italy, but Lawee’s commercial success came from the Japanese produced Univegas which were manufactured by Miyata to Lawee’s specifications. Univega road bikes are known for it’s high quality steel frames, and eye for color combinations. The Viva Sport that I owned was one of the Lawee Signature designs. Univega’s name continued to live on past the 80s as the first company to commercially push the mountain bike (interesting fact, but unfortunately that is not my style). It seems that Lawee lived out the American dream working in every aspect of the bicycle industry, and had an eye for making attractive well constructed bikes at reasonable prices. I know there are many great bicycles out there, but the bit of reading I did got me to seek out another Univega frame.
I discovered Sheldon Brown, the much missed cycling guru, and started reading. Sheldon documented in detail his bicycle knowedge, and has been my go to reading as of late. He is a saving grace to those who want to learn more about their bike, how to fix it, and any changes that could possibly be made. Sheldon’s strong argument for fixed-gear riding was what convinced me to build a fixed gear machine, along with the fact that there is much less that can go wrong on a fixed or single speed machine. Also, this allowed me to do most of the work on my new bike and put my funds into buying parts.
After looking for almost a week on Craigslist my friends, Krystle and Alex, passed along Andrew’s phone number. Andrew is an extremely nice man that loves bicycles. He buys bikes, fixes them up, and sells them on Craigslist. He can size you for a bicycle just by looking at you, and makes appointments to meet up down in Brooklyn Heights. I texted Andrew letting him know what I was looking for, and he told me that he had two bikes that would work for me, and that he had a Univega frame that would need to be restored. I ended up meeting him a couple days later, and purchased the Univega Arrow Speed frame that needed some work. I think that he thought that I was going to fix it up, and flip it but that wasn’t the case. If you are looking for a used road bike check out what Andrew’s selction on craigslist. He might have what you need.
Next up will are my thoughts on tearing down a broken bicycle, and building up a new one.