How to Turn A Budget Bike Into a ‘Super’ Bike

October 5, 2020

Like most cyclists, I spend a lot of time looking at other (more expensive) bikes that I can’t afford. It’s an unhealthy obsession, yes, but it’s one that thousands of like-minded cyclists are guilty of. And this obsession is all-inclusive in the cycling world – roadie, MTB, Cx – whatever your chosen ride, there is always time to swoon over new bikes.

Unfortunately, my bicycle dreams and bank balance are in different leagues. So, I decided to take my entry-level road bike and give it a new lease of life. That way I get all of the ‘New Bike Day ‘ feelings without spending all the money.

Original Bike

The bike in question is my old Mekk Pinerolo Al 1.5. I too hadn’t heard of the brand Mekk until I bought the bike in 2016 straight out of University, but after a lot of research, it turned out to be the most bike I could get for my budget at the time: aluminium alloy frame with smooth welds, carbon forks, Sora groupset, and all for just over £500.

For a budget bike, it rides and looks great. The geometry of the frame is racy and sexy -thanks to the Italian design – yet it’s comfortable enough to ride big days without too much pain!

The catalyst for change was when one of the limiter screws on the front mech broke during indexing, meaning that I could no longer adjust the gears. Rather than just replace the broken component, I started looking at complete groupsets and here we are. In for a penny, in for a pound!

Upgrades

The key upgrades to the bike are new groupset and new paint job. One modification for performance, one strictly for aesthetics.

The groupset I chose for the build was the Shimano 105. Hours and hours of research led me to believe the Shimano 105 groupset is the best you can buy for the money. Sometimes named the poor mans Durace, the 105 components are super reliable and high performing but with a bit more weight. Either way, it was going to be a huge improvement on the budget Sora gearing on the old bike.

For the spray job, I chose to use Spray.bike after seeing a few other people on Instagram using the paint. There are hundreds of colour combinations to choose from but I went for an understated forest green colour, hoping to change the look for the Mekk from racy flash boy to subtle and classy. More about the paint later!

Having never undertaken a bike build project like this, I was a complete newbie to a lot of the processes. But, after a bit of research, and watching Youtube tutorials, it was time to get started.

Strip Down

The first job was to strip the bike down completely. First, I removed all the components, taking note of how they came apart. To remove the crank arms I had to buy a special tool (Shimano TL-FC16 Hollowtech 2 Crank Cap Tensioning Installation Tool) to unscrew the plastic cap on the non-drive side crank. I then had to take the frame to my local bike shop to remove the bottom bracket. Without the correct tool, this isn’t a job I could do at home and I didn’t think it was worth buying the expensive tool for a one off.

I made sure to keep all the old components safely in a box so as not to lose anything.

Sanding

Once the frame and the forks were free from all components, it was time to sand the existing paint back to prepare it for the new coat. Spray.Bike say that you don’t actually need to sand your frame down before application but I decided to take as much of the existing paint off as possible, partly for a better finish and partly for weight saving – big gains!

I started with a 60 grit sandpaper and finished with 240 grit to get a really smooth finish. The sanding stage of the preparation took quite a long time but I do think it’s worth spending the extra time.

Spray time!

Once you’re happy with your stripped frame and fork, it’s time for the fun part! Before starting, mask off any areas you don’t want to paint – bottom bracket, cable stays, internal routing etc. I then wiped the frame and forks down with some turps (white spirit) to free the surfaces from dust and grease. Try not to touch the frame too much after wiping it as the grease from your hands may stop the paint sticking.

I then hung the bike up from the rafters in the garage, out of the wind and rain. Behind the frame, I hung a dust sheet to stop any residual spray landing on anything else. There’s plenty of useful info here on how to spray your bike so I won’t go into too much detail, but you want to spray from a distance of 5-12cm from the frame. I sprayed too far away on the first coat and the paint dried too much before hitting the frame, creating a very rough and uneven finish.

I decided to give the frame and forks 2 coats even though Spray.Bike say one coat is enough. I’m glad I chose to give it two coats though as my first coat was quite thin and patchy! Amazingly, the paint is touch dry in just 20 minutes so you can apply your top coat and finishing lacquer straight away.

Re-build

After 24 hours of curing, your freshly painted frame is ready to be built back up into a beautiful bike!

The only part of the re-build that caused me some issues was threading the internally routed cables. Normally when changing cables you would leave a cable in to guide you but this wasn’t possible. I used magnets, thread, and a hoover to help, and finally managed to thread all cables.

With all the new components installed and the gears indexed, it was time to take the new (old) bike for a spin!

Final Thoughts

Apart from looking like a totally new bike, it actually feels like a new bike. Having upgraded the groupset, the shifting, braking and drive train feels so much better than it did. In addition, when I re-routed the cables through the frame, I added some bubble wrap in the bottom bracket to dampen any rattling of the cables which I experienced on the old bike. I also shortened the cable on show around the handlebars for a tidier finish.

I’m so happy with the finish that I’m already planning the next project on an old mountain bike for the winter!

Watch this space!


No Comments

Leave a Reply