A few weeks back while on vacation with friends the guys went golfing and the ladies out antique shopping. Marte came back with this 1960’s Columbia Thunderbolt.
She’s in some rough shape and so we decided to restore it for Marte and dubbed it “Project Thunderbolt”.
We decided to break things up according to our expertise and skills sets. Marte would do work on the aesthetics while I would handle the mechanical.
- Deconstruction, label parts, assess problem areas
- Plan the restoration. What we wanted it to look like and any upgrades to mechanical or functional parts.
- Clean, remove rust from all parts, strip paint
- Get necessary parts
- Prime and paint frame, fork, wheel guards and back rack
- Reassembly, upgrades and testing
Phase 1 – Deconstruction
Taking the bike apart didn’t take long. Some standard sockets, pliers, screwdrivers, and a must have set of channel locks (for crank and pedal removal) did the job fairly quickly.
It was apparent we’d need to do some major upgrades. The back hub was a very old coaster brake fixed gear.
Many parts were very rusted but luckily most of it was surface rust. We put small pieces like nuts and bolts can sit overnight in a plastic water bottle filled with Apple Cider Vinegar. The difference was amazing!
Larger pieces like the frame, fork, back rack, hand bars and crank required more elbow grease. A light sanding block started the process finished up by a scrubby sponge and Bar Keepers Friend cleaner mixed with a little water to make a thick paste. Again the difference was incredible.
This process also continued for the frame, wheel guards, chain guard and back rack stripping as much as the old paint and rust out as possible to prep them for primer and paint.
Phase 2 – Paint
For paint we choose a spray as it covers better and has better drying time. The higher quality the spray the better. The cheap stuff won’t coat well nor last long. We tapped all the areas we didn’t want or need painted and put the frame on a makeshift bike stand made out of wood and a bent wall hook so we could get it all in one go.
We let the prime dry for a couple hours before putting on the first coat. In hindsight we didn’t wait long enough between coats for reapplication which led to a lot of touch up from scratches and dings. Make sure you let the paint dry between coats a full 24 hours before applying the next, 2-3 coats total.
Marte loves pink so we went with a high gloss bright prink spray and a metal high gloss spray for the wheel guards. They looked really great together.
The final step was to apply 2-3 coats clear coat finish to help protect against scratches, again waiting 24 hours for each coat to fully cure. All in all it was pretty easy and will make the bike look fantastic. After the chain guard and rack were dry Marte added a little decorative flare. Pretty cool!
Phase 3 – Upgrades & New Parts
Next we decided on the the upgrades and replacement parts which included a mix of mechanical fixes, functional upgrades and some extra bells and whistles.
- Front and back side pull brakes
- Replace the fixed gear coaster hub with a 3 speed free wheel
- New seat and handle bar grips
- Fix the back rack
- Front light
- Matching reflectors (some were missing and mismatched)
- Wicker shopping basket for the back rack
Much like were we found the bike, antique stores can be a treasure trove for old bike parts. We were able to grab a brake package, shifter and cables along with a 3 speed rim as well as a seat, old style bells, and reflectors. The chain, basket, headlight and handle bar grips were thanks to Amazon.
As it turns out Columbia made rims in a weird 22.5 inch size so the standard 24 inch size we got at the store wouldn’t work. We’d have to replace both rims and tires, not something we wanted to do nor expense. We opted to take the hub out of the old rim and replace it with the 3 speed hub of the new rim after following some great youtube videos for instructions. The hardest part was ensuring the wheel spins true. It’s a long and tedious process but it wasn’t too difficult and worth the time to save the expense and keep the bike as close to original and period specific parts as possible.
The back rack also had broken welds that would need to be fixed. Metal epoxy didn’t work nor did tack welding (pretty sure it was mismatch of the material and the kind of welder). We ended up drilling holes and using fasteners.
Phase 4 – Reconstruction
With all the parts set and ready to go it was time to rebuild the bike starting with the fork, wheel guards, wheels and kick stand. From there we added the crank pedals and handle bar. We had to re-grease the fork and crank assemblies with heavy duty grease which made them much smoother.
We added the chain and started on the shifter. Some three speeds come with a little pulley you would mount to the frame to run the cable. Columbia and their weird designs got in the way of the pulley and the chain guard to share frame space. To fix this we took the pulley off it’s mount and added it to the chain guard to run the cable. Probably not the way it’s “supposed” to work but it did the job none the less.
The fork had pre-drilled holes making the front brakes easy. The rear of the frame had no mounts for the back brakes so we drilled a hole for them. Even drilling as low as we could the back brakes were too short causing the pads to line up against the tire and not the rim. In the end we cut some metal extensions and bolted them in so it would reach.
Next were the handle bar grips and brake handles. An easy trick to get grips off and on is to use rubbing alcohol. It’ll get them to slide off or slide on and once it evaporates they’ll stay on. A little fine tuning of the shifter assembly and brake lines and all the mechanical pieces were finished and fully functional. We added a bell as well.
Lastly the back rack, basket and seat were installed and adjusted along with the handle bar height to match Marte’s size. The whole project was done over the course of a month working a few hours here and there on the nights and weekends. Here’s a before and after shot.
All in all this was a very fun project and we’re very happy. After a few test rides and tweaks Marte loves it and uses it as her “around town” bike.