I decided to make my own leather brake hoods. I did a bunch of research online, which mostly consisted of me reading and rereading the two helpful tutorials I found on the subject. I found a fellow named Tim who owns INSERT NAME HERE. He was willing to sell me a little bit of leather, so I took a brake lever and drove out to his place to see what he had. He was very patient and helpful as I explained my project and showed him a couple of examples. He helped me figure out how much leather I would need and he went over some techniques for sewing and burnishing. He also threw in a special needle and some waxed thread for free! I made sure to send him pics of the finished project.
I cut the leather into two equal pieces and did some marking and trimming. I soaked the leather in warm water for a bit before wrapping it around the brake lever (which I had placed back on the handlebars for ease of application). I clamped the excess leather as tightly as I could and allowed it to dry and shrink on the lever overnight.
The next day I removed the leather, trimmed off all of the excess that was left, then I reapplied the hoods and sewed them in place. The top bits were somewhat tricky with the little cable nipples sticking out through the holes, but I got them looking decent after a lot of fiddling around. The second one was much easier to finish than the first, so I have to assume that if I had made several pairs I would have eventually got to something approaching a professional look. As it stands they are imperfect, but they also still get a lot of compliments.


I ended up needing help removing Judi’s bottom bracket. I took her to the Portland Gear Hub where Ainsley was very helpful. My son and I took the two wheels to the Community Bicycle Center in Biddeford. He had learned how to overhaul hubs there before while fixing up an old Raleigh hybrid for his mom, and he wanted to help so we did the work there. Also I needed a freewheel remover and a bench vice for the rear wheel.
Once everything had been cleaned, overhauled, greased & lubed it was simply a matter of reassembling an entire bike. I took my time and referred to the many pictures I had taken along the way. I ended up having to find a couple replacement nuts and bolts that had been missing here and there, but overall the components cleaned up nicely and were in good working order after some scrubbing, WD-40 and some lube.
I still needed a few things, which I acquired over the next few weeks. I got new bar tape, new cables and housing, new tubes, tires, and rim strips. I ended up going for the Kenda gumwall tires as I felt that they would be the least expensive and the most aesthetically pleasing. I was totally right about that, by the way. Once I had the bike mostly back together I had to figure out some sort of solution for the brake hoods…

This is “Dame Judi Dench, the bike, the first”. She is the first bike I ever fixed up, and I spent a whole winter working on her, mostly scrubbing in my living room while binge-watching various shows on Netflix. These are some before pictures. There were some pretty heavy patches of rust, the brake hoods had melted from exposure, there were a few small bits missing. I test rode her before buying, but probably shouldn’t have done so in her condition. Survive and become educated, I guess.
She got the name Judi for a couple reasons. Since the bike came from Japan I asked a friend what is the Japanese word for bicycle, “jitensha”. It sounded a bit like Judi Dench. Plus Judith made sense to me since, when I saw her in that dark Portland basement I kind of lost my head. I paid way too much for her considering the shape she was in and all the work required. But then, I’ve gotten so much joy out of riding her around, and the feel of the handling, the speed that seems to come so easily, I suppose that’s worth the price and then some. After taking a bunch of pics I began the process of disassembling the bike, except for the headset, which I didn’t know came off at the time. Not that I bother with those now for the most part.

More to come…