Toronto-based non-profit organization Friends of 2Wheels takes abandoned bikes and makes them new again. Here’s how they do it.
About a year ago on a bike ride through Toronto’s Black Creek neighbourhood, Mihály Felbert and his wife Fátima spotted a rusty bike at the side of the road. ”Can we do anything about that?” Fátima said aloud.
The abandoned bike gave Felbert an idea: save Toronto’s beat-up bicycles. Launching his idea in the form of a non-profit organization, Friends of 2Wheels, Felbert began accepting donations of old bicycles and upcycling them. Upcycling is the process of repurposing old, discarded items into a new usable product, typically maintaining the original quality and composition of the materials at hand (as opposed to breaking them down like recycling does).
One year and 67 bikes later, the 53-year-old leatherworker and cycling hobbyist gives us a step-by-step guide on how to transform a vintage donation into ridable art.
1. The donation
A banana-seat young girl’s bike, estimated to be from the 1970s. While Felbert typically donates kids bikes and mountain bikes to Darren Duke for the Learning Enrichment Foundation’s Bicycle Assembly and Maintenance classes (the program behind Toronto’s BIXI bike repairs), he upcycles all of the vintage finds himself.
Starting with the basics, Felbert will deconstruct the bike, clean the necessary parts, and remove anything he doesn’t want to include in the revamped model.
“For this bike, I’ll get right down to the bearings, clean them out, and repack it with new bearing grease,” Felbert explains.
3. Remove the rust
To uphold the original vintage parts (and give them a shiny new look), Felbert will strip down the bike’s rusty pieces in preparation for chroming or painting.
How? Strip it with a fine wire wool to polish the body, or use a course grade. Next, Felbert will use a heat gun to lift the enamel, a scraper, blades, and sandpaper for larger parts of the bike, and a dremel tool to get into the details. Felbert prioritizes these approaches to be as green as possible, and avoids using harsh chemicals.
To cover the cost of paint or chroming, this non-profit organization sells their vintage fix-ups for the amount of money that’s put into the upcycling process (the cost of paint, or new parts).
4. The paint job
Felbert aims to maintain qualities of the bike’s original look in his fix-up through the paint job, and detailing like this logo that reads “Universal,” and “made in Poland.”
“If the logo is worth it, this will stay. I’ll remove it, I’ll clean it up, and repaint.”
How to clean up the logo? With a dremel tool to clean up the grooves, and a fine brush for the model, alkyd paints. Although it is more difficult to accomplish, Felbert recommends baking (kiln required) as the proper way to set in the new paint.
For the colour scheme, Felbert plans to feed from the original, predicting he will mostly use black and reds.
5. The pedals
Since Felbert estimates this banana-seat to be from the 1970s, similar pedals would be difficult to come by. Because these are in fairly good condition, Felbert just plans to clean them up.
6. The seat cover
A leatherworker and bag-maker, constructing the bike’s seat cover is Felbert’s specialty. Because the original is already well done, Felbert plans to peruse old upholstery shops for vinyl with a bit of sparkle in it, to complement what’s already there. To replace the cover, Felbert will take off the existing seat, and use the pattern to make a new one.
When creating a final cohesive look for his bikes, Felbert considers adding his own details, such as looking for a basket made by Toronto artisians, and constructing leather straps for it himself.
“Bikes are depreciating too quickly,” Felbert explains. “Vintage bikes have character… If I change the colour, if I have a theme, I can give it a personality, give it some soul.”
Friends of 2Wheels is located in Weston neighbourhood of Toronto, home to the legendary Canada Cycle & Motor Co. (CCM) factory from 1917 to 1983. The community continues to honour CCM today with bicycle-themed lampposts.