I’ll take the beast, please.

Previous commuter:

Current commuter:

Ride quality: Shocking close.

Total savings: $900

Final thoughts: Yes.

One day, I was having a long, loving look at my utility bike – a custom Surly Cross Check, SRAM spec’d, fully belled and whistled – but at the same time, I was looking, too, out the corner of my eye, at the old 90′s-era Haro mountain bike I’d had slumped over in the corner of the dark garage for quite some many moons – just sitting there, rusting and dusting. And while I had been looking back and forth between that odd couple pair of steeds for as long as the last year, wondering what kind of conclusions could drawn, what kind of plans could take them, I finally stumbled on the right spark of an idea, which would, before the week was done, work to finally summon life once again into that Haro, long stalled on the simmering burner: Would it be possible to build up that old bike, dug from a trash heap, and build it to such heights of satisfaction that it could possibly, just maybe, come to fully replace my over-$1,000, black-shining, Surly stallion?

Could you take an old, workable frame, like the Haro, and turn it into a totally fun, totally ridable, and totally dependable commuter for, say, less than $300?

Well, of course, I think the answer can always be yes – someone can do it, or come darn close to doing it, given reasonable requirements.

In my case, happiness hinged on a bike that would turn out:

- Just about as fast as the Cross Check;

- Just about as light as the Cross Check;

- And certainly, as tough as the Cross Check.

And I was starting with:

- A 26″ 4130 chromoly mountain frame;

- Stock components on a 20 year-old mountain bike, many requiring repair or replacement.

I brainstormed a parts list, turned up the burner, and set out to see what couldn’t be done.

In order of revelation, here’s what I learned about building up an oldie:

- It’ll take longer than you expect.

- Much will be rigged.

- Everything a mechanic tells you is right.

- Everything a mechanic tells you is wrong.

- It was the best bike idea ever.

Garage-bound 26er Turned Urban Assulat 1×8


- Haro Vector frameset

- Old road triple crankset, which would permit chainstay clearance for a larger ring

- 46T chainring

- Schwalbe Big Apple Tires (26 x 2.15 front, 26 x 1.9 rear)

- Shimano Acera v-brakes

- Shimano Alivio shifter, Acera derailleur

- Value Series 2 front and rear wheels with Alex DC19 rims,  11-28T 8 speed cassette

- Ergon GP3 grips


-Big Apples rule. Honestly, I wouldn’t have gone forward with this build without them. Smooth, fast. On the 26” frame, they expand your tire diameter like nobody’s business, and they instantly create a more momentum-focused ride – less spinning, longer rolling, and, I think, higher top speeds. They’ll bring you surprsingly close to the feel of a 700c, with surprisingly little added friction.

-V-brakes rule. Okay, disc brakes will stop you harder, but not for this cheap, and not with such simplicity.

-1 x 8 rules. This is a mountain frame running road 1x gearing – pretty rigged 1x gearing. The chainline turned out funky, but whatever. I get a full seven gears without cross chaining problems, and for Michigan road riding – flats interrupted by occasional, rolling hills – that is more than enough. Full acceleration potential going down, no spinouts; full ease on the uphills, no knee blowouts.

-Ergon grips rule. The GP3 includes side holds, which are fully adjustable – upward, forward, downward. They multiplty hand position possibilities, and help increase the interest of a flat bar.

-Value series wheels rule – Those Alex DC19 rims are double-walled, eyeleted, and kinda swanky with that U-profile. At $50, I think that’s reasonable.

-And Shimano pretty much rules – Together, that derailleur and shifter cost $50. Talking super real, the shifting – so far – is proving to be about a tenth of a breath less snappy than the Apex kit was delivering on my Cross Check build. I am not displeased.

“Ride quality: Shocking close.”

I lied. The beast has taken the cake.

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