My luck changed in a big way thanks to MBL. A Bike Lover was selling a project bike that she had not gotten around to finishing. The bike slaked my vintage Trek thirst, fit my in-seam, and it was a wicked good deal, so I ended up acquiring a 1985 Trek 400. The 400 was an entry-level bike, and this one was missing a few pieces, but it's a Wisconsin lugged steel frame and the paint was in good shape, and the wheels were salvageable, so I snapped it up.
The last thing in the world I need is another bike, but this one seemed to be too good to pass up. Still, I wondered what the f*ck I was going to do with this one (I am in that "one in, one out mode with bikes at the moment). Then inspiration hit - I have a co-worker that borrowed some slick MTB tires from me last summer for a duathalon that she was competing in on her mountain bike, which only had knobbies.
I mentioned my recent acquisition to her and inquired if she might be interested in taking this bike off my hands. I proposed a scenario where I would re-build it to her specification at cost. This was a win-win because I would get to pour over the bike for a few weeks and get the Trek lust out of my system, and hone my skills at home wrenching, and she would end up with a better ride than what she was chugging around on currently and be able to control the cost and final product. She jumped at the opportunity, which made us both happy.
As-is, the bike needed derailleurs, brake calipers, shifters, a chain, tires and a complete set of cables and housing. This must have been an aborted fixed-gear conversion bike before I picked it up (keep your left over parts, you damn hipsters, they might come in handy some day). The crank set had the large chain ring removed, but luckily it was found and included in the deal. Between my spare-parts bin and a helping hand from a friend with A LOT of bike parts, I was able to get period-correct front and rear derailleurs, calipers, and a set of downtube shifters on the cheap. The rest of the stuff was retail at the LBS.
Thankfully, the bike had decent, re-useable wheels that only needed truing and overhauls on the hubs. The seat post was stuck when I brought it home, but after several days of work with penetrating oil, and eventually ammonia, I beat that problem into submission and applied the Phil grease to prevent that from happening again. The bottom bracket and headset received complete overhauls, as did the hubs. Chain, cable and caliper installations were completed and my co-worker was able to come over and help out with some finishing touches, like crisp white bar tape and a white bottle cage. We gave it a final once-over and test ride two weeks ago and she took it home.
She loves the bike and can't wait until spring to ride it, and she's now on a classic road bike with a fresh overhaul for less than the price of the average piece of shit "vintage" bikes that get listed on Craig's List. If she likes the ride, we may upgrade to more modern parts, but for now the retro friction shifting set up was almost free and works like a charm.
Like a moron, I didn't shoot a good "after" picture, but here's a nearly finished photo of the bike:
This was a really good project because I learned a lot about fixing up bikes on-the-cheap and made a substantial deposit in the karma bank in the process. I made my co-worker promise that if she ever wanted to get rid of this bike, she'd offer to sell it back to me first, so this may just come back to me in other ways as well...