The Free Spirit Pinnacle is a 12-speed road bike which I purchased back in 2011 at a Garage Sale for only $20. The person who had the bike before me had the bike sitting in their garage for decades without being ridden, and therefore I decided to breathe new life into the bike. Besides, I always wanted to own a vintage road bike.
Who was Free Spirit?
The Free Spirit Pinnacle was sold by Sears-Roebuck for many decades. So, yes, this bike is a “department store bike.” However, unlike modern “department store bikes”, this Free Spirit has held up well over the years. It’s structurally sound, had fairly decent build quality, and is fairly reliable. It can be akin to a Raleigh or other lower-end bike from that time period: while it was own the lower-end of the spectrum, they still built them well. Free Spirit, much like Raleigh and other manufacturers of that price point, built many different types of bikes – from children bikes to mountain bikes to road bikes.
Huffy was the specific company who made the “Free Spirit” bikes, including this one – or at least to my knowledge. There is little information on the Free Spirit and Pinnacle brand online.
After getting my example home, we cleaned it up and inflated the tires. The bike was fairly ready to ride at that point. The tires were original to the bike – as were the brakes and everything else. The bike had two “Golden Boy” 27×1.25 (27×1 1/4) tires with the original inner tubes.
The fun did not last long. When riding the bike, I hit a rock that punctured the tube on the front tire. The next day, both tubes were changed and the front tire was changed.
Over time, the bike received a tune-up. The chain was permanently lubricated, and the brakes were eventually replaced. The seat was also replaced.
The Tire Problem
These vintage road bikes – specifically the “lower end” models – had a unique problem, New tires have a hook on their bead that mates to a lip cast into the rim. Unfortunately, many of these older bikes lack that lip. (Therefore, you’ll inflate the tire to the recommended pressure on the tire – just to see the tube bulge out followed by a loud ‘bang!’ and being deaf for a week.)
Therefore, it comes to no surprise that this bike has had tube after tube and tire after tire, at least on the rear wheel.
The tire that the local bike shop mounted on the front wheel worked fine without the lip – as it had a lower recommended tire pressure (70 PSI – the original required only 70, as well.) Unfortunately, the rear wheel had serious issues.
The original Golden Boy rear tire decayed to the point where the tube was bulging out in some spots, but the replacement Cheng Shin tires had their own problems. The Cheng Shin tire recommended a pressure of 90 PSI, although the original tire recommended only 75 PSI. Nonetheless, tubes kept blowing if we inflated it to the recommended pressure. Inflating it a lower pressure (to 70 PSI, which was “safe”) resulted in snakebite flats (a type of puncture caused by the rim puncturing the tube due to low pressures.)
With the constant tire problem (countless tubes wasted), I decided to shelve the bike. My uncle donated his newer Huffy Superia to me, which allowed me to somewhat skip around the tire issue.
A couple years ago (2015), I scrapped the Superia because it kept having problems and started to (literally) fall apart. A neighbor was helpful enough to help me get the Pinnacle back on the road with a new rear tire and new tubes. While it got the Pinnacle back up and running and the new tire was good, there was another issue: the brakes. I found this out when I had a “close encounter” with a car.
Since I’ve scrapped the Superia, and I’m at a University where a bike would be beneficial, doing a “micro-restoration” on the Pinnacle has become more of a priority. This “micro-restoration” is a multi-part process by replacing multiple parts.
1. Tires and Rims
Obviously, the old tires didn’t work. Unfortunately, the front tire that worked quite well developed a hole in its sidewall, and eventually a huge nail punctured the tire, developing another hole in the top of the tire – marking the end of it.
I’m hoping to combat the issue with running thorn-resistant tubes, which (although more expensive) are thicker and more resistant to snake-bite flats. Therefore, I can run somewhat lower pressures without having to constantly worry about the snakebite flats.
My neighbor bought a new rear tire and set of tubes for the bike back in 2015. This got me up and running, but not for long – the brakes went out.
I also recently purchased a new front tire, but I’m unsure that it will work for reasons you can read here about.
A more long-term part that is going to need to be replaced on this bike is both rims. As previously mentioned, the original rims from 1981 have a design which isn’t 100% compatible with modern tires. The rear rim has also been slightly bent from an impact, and there is reason to believe that both wheels are out-of-true. New rims will make selecting, installing, and inflating tires less of a hassle, but will help with the appearance of the bike.
Safety is number one priority, and brakes are an important part of your bike. Much like your car, it can be very dangerous if you can’t stop.
As mentioned, the brakes on this bike were worn to the point where they had no stopping power. I had a “close call” with a car while riding it after my neighbor fixed the tire issue. Of course, the Pinnacle returned to the garage. But at least now I know what the next thing to do is.
3. Tune-Up/General Mechanical
Since this bike has sat in our damp garage for many years, this thing is going to need a tune-up. Lubrication, tightening of stuff, making sure everything is up to snuff, etc.
When my neighbor replaced the tire, the bike seemed to run fine for the most part. However, there was a couple issues. The kickstand didn’t want to move good – which is just a matter of lubrication.
The more major issue is that a metal pin holding one of the pedals to the crankshaft has come loose. Hitting the pin with a hammer to either get it back into place, or knock it completely out, has been unsuccessful.
On my University campus, most people take a lot of pride in their bikes – especially others with vintage road bikes. They treat them like cars – polish them, make them gleam, etc. I’m planning on being no different.
When everything is fixed, I plan on cleaning the bike and making it look like it is brand new (minus the period incorrect black-wall tires. This bike would’ve originally came with gum-wall tires, similar to what many other bikes of this period would’ve come with.)
Appearance-wise, the handlebar foam is starting to fall apart. Which, unfortunately, can be expected for nearly 40-year old foam. I may wait until it completely comes off on its own, as the foam is fairly comfortable.
You can find periodical updates on the “micro-restoration” of this bike over on my blog.
Why keep this bike?
As mentioned, the Free Spirit Pinnacle is known as a department-store or low-end bike. To add to the part where it was sold by Sears-Roebuck, they were made by Huffy.
However, the Free Spirit Pinnacle is much more solid than most bikes you can buy today – either from department stores or bike shops. A comparable bike in terms of build quality will set you back hundreds of dollars today.
While the Free Spirit could be replaced by a similar vintage road bike (like a Raleigh, etc.), why not fix the Pinnacle and get it back on the road? Afterall, it is in fairly good condition except for parts here and there, and the tire issue that plagues many of these older bikes.