Sent by WhitneyEditor: Whitney, we're so happy to hear that you're ditching the driving and hopping on a bike! We just took on a bike beautification and repurposing project (1970s road bike into a commuter/grocery-getter), and learned some good lessons that we're happy to pass on to you.
You can take this to any level--there's the basic clean-and-get-a-basket level...and then there's the complete renovation level. Choose the steps that you're comfortable with, and pop over to a local bike shop to find a friendly mechanic who will give you tips without talking you into buying a new bike.
In any case, the first step is to give your bike a good cleaning. If it's rusty in places, take a rust brush to it. If it needs a little extra help, you can remove it by sprinkling a little salt on the rust, then squeezing a lime over the salt until it's soaked through. Add tequila...just kidding. Leave the salt and lime mixture on for a couple of hours, and use the lime rind to scrub it off. Or, you can purchase a non-toxic rust remover like biodegradable Evapo-Rust or Rust Doctor.
You can find cleaning kits at most big-box stores, or head to a bike shop for a more narrow search. At the shop, ask the mechanics where you can score some gently-used parts to spruce up your ride. Generally, they're happy to help a fellow cyclist and might even have used parts on hand!
The chains can also be cleaned, which will make the bike easier to ride and easier on the eyes (not to mention, better for storing in the living room). Sheldon Brown's website is a great resource for general bicycle maintenance, especially for beginners.
Once the bike is clean, the beautification is in your hands. You can remove the wheels and cover up all moving parts, and paint the frame with a metal-safe, non-toxic/low-VOC paint. You can choose a high gloss or matte finish--both will look great on a bike frame and will seriously bump up the eye candy value. Check out snazzy bikes online for some inspiration. (Just for kicks, here's one of our favorites...)
Since you've got a road bike, your pedals may have clips. We'd recommend swapping those out for some used platform pedals, because if you've got to stop frequently and you've got a grocery-laden cycle, it'll be easier to catch your balance.
You'll probably want to replace the tubes in your tires with brand-new ones--but don't throw the old ones out. You can use your old tubes to update your grips by wrapping them around your handlebars. Just tape the ends down with black electrical tape, and be sure to go under, not over, the brake cables.
For the groceries, you can install a removable basket on your handlebars, or a rear rack for saddlebags (or a recycled milk crate). Scour Craigslist and secondhand bike shops for these common items before looking to buy them new. Think outside of the wire baskets, too: look at thrift or antique shops for an old wicker basket that can be secured to the front for added charm and eco-friendliness.
Add a vintage bell or horn for a nice little neighborhood affect! And of course, make sure you've got adequate reflectors and lights. With a headlight like this, you can power your own lights by pedaling, and avoid battery-powered LEDs altogether.
Finally, look for a nonprofit in your area that can help you with some basic bike mechanics. In Austin, for instance, there's a volunteer-based program called The Austin Yellow Bike Project. You can learn all about bikes, as well as purchase (or earn with volunteer hours) used parts--and learn how to shape them up. You may be able to find something like this through your city's website, or ask those ever-helpful bike shop people.
Hope this helps! Good luck with your bike, and be sure to let us know how the project goes.
(Image: Obfuscated. Originally published 2010-04-15)