How I Made a Custom DC Comics Bicycle Wheel of The Flash

As a teen in the 1980s, I collected comic books for a few years, primarily DC Comics. The Flash was my favorite superhero, and I collected the second volume of the series when it started publication in 1987. I loved the artwork, color scheme, and the conflicts that Wally West had to solve. During that same year, I fell in love with cycling. As the years went by, my involvement in cycling grew while comics quickly became a former hobby. Many years later, the superhero universe became prolific, and a new Flash show debuted in 2014. The Flash continued to make increased appearances in films, such as the Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, and then the various Superman, Batman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League films.

At the same time The Flash came back onto the scene, I made a transition from strictly road riding to adding in rails-to-trails mileage. A work colleague gave me an old Diamondback Approach that was sitting in his garage unused when he heard I wanted to start trail riding. It was a bit in rough shape, but I was able to swap out some components to get it trail-worthy. Over the course of a three-year period, I amassed literally thousands of miles on it riding various trails throughout Western Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio and West Virginia. The rear wheel started breaking spokes even after replacing a few, so it was time to get a new one as it was clearly weakened due to its age and use. The old cassette went onto the new wheel hub, but I kept the old wheel as I figured I could upcycle it somehow in the future. Eventually, I completely wore out the drivetrain in 2017 the year after I moved to Lancaster, PA. I removed the worn cassette and reintroduced it back on the original wheel that I kept and decided to upcycle it using The Flash motif.

I cleaned the various parts with a mild degreaser and then let it dry. I purchased a can of primer paint and a can each of red and yellow spray paint. I first sprayed the cassette with primer and, after drying, put on the coat of red paint. I made sure to put painter’s tape on the threads of the cassette lock ring prior to spraying it so that it would be able to easily thread back onto the freehub body.

I masked off the spoke nipples and then sprayed the rim closely. After the rim thoroughly dried, I masked up the rim, including the freehub body and its splines, and sprayed the spokes and hub.

I decided to simply spray it this way and reuse all of the original parts rather than purchasing yellow spokes and spoke nipples and rebuilding the wheel completely. It was simply more economical and quicker. The only new items that I needed to purchase were a 700c yellow tire and a corresponding innertube.

My good friend Bob Knerr told me that he recently purchased a Creality Ender 3D printer. So I asked him if he would be able to print me a Flash logo for the project I was working on. He agreed to it and started to figure out how to design it. He used, a resource for STL files used for 3D printing, and found The Flash logo from designer Chris Footner.

Bob used Tinkercad to design an integrated, threaded bushing. He was able to combine both files to get the final product. By doing this, I could simply screw the logo onto the drive side end of the skewer rather than having to glue or epoxy the plastic directly to the end of the axle.

The final logo was absolutely amazing! Bob stated that it took about 12 hours for the 3D printing, used 86g of gold PLA filament, and only cost approximately $1.50 to produce. It actually cost more to mail it to me! He told me that with having more experience now, he could probably cut down on the time and materials if he did it again.

The finished product was really spectacular and eye catching! I didn’t have to sand or paint the logo. I was able to display it in my office with some of my other Flash collectibles that my awesome colleagues and my children gave to me as birthday and Christmas presents over the past few years. Special thanks to my friend Bob for helping me to put together an awesome Flash-themed bicycle wheel!

The Flash and I at the Steel City Con in Pittsburgh, PA in 2016.

Essential Bicycle Repair Books to Have

As a bicycle mechanic, having a repair book on hand is a necessity. Even the most experienced mechanic will need to refer to a written resource from time to time. While there are nearly an endless variety of bicycles and associated components, general repair principles for all of them are generally in key repair books. Below are five essential bicycle repair books that I recommend.

Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair — 4th Edition

The Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair is essentially the “go to” bicycle repair manual for the industry. This is written by Calvin Jones from the Park Tool Company who is the most recognized thought leader on bicycle repair. This paperback book is comprehensive with 251 glossy pages with full color photos of various bicycle components and how to repair them. An appendix of reference materials, include a tool list, glossary, torque recommendations, bottom bracket tool selection, headset standards, and a bike map. I highly recommend this book for your collection.

Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance: The World’s Best-Selling Guide to Mountain Bike Repair

While the Park Tool “Blue Book” has full color photos of repairs, the Zinn books offer more illustrations and thorough explanations for understanding how the components operate. There is also more troubleshooting information included. The book is paperback with 483 pages. Appendixes include a troubleshooting index, gear development, mountain bike fitting, and a torque table.

Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance: The World’s Best-Selling Bicycle Repair and Maintenance Guide

Similar to the format of the proceeding book, this one strictly covers road bikes. The book is paperback with 465 pages. Appendixes include a troubleshooting index, gear chart, road bike fitting, glossary, and a torque table.

The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair: For Road & Mountain Bikes

Published by Bicycling Magazine (Rodale Press), this book shows step-by-step, black and white photos of each repair. Whereas the Park Tool “Blue Book” shows a few photos for each process, the Bicycle Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair will literally illustrate each step in the repair process with a specific photo. The book is paperback with 416 pages.

Bicycle Repair Manual, Seventh Edition

This is a smaller paperback book with 176 pages and is appropriate for a more basic overview of bicycle repair. Additionally, it is the most inexpensive out of the five recommended here.

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Buyer Beware of Cheap Used Bicycles

Broken bicycles displayed at thrift store

Those looking to purchase an inexpensive used bicycle from a thrift store, yard sale, or flea market need to proceed with caution. While a $50 – $75 bicycle may seem like a bargain, you could be setting yourself up for a larger financial investment after you purchase it and, more concerning, possibly have an unsafe bicycle on your hands. However, there are a few simple strategies you can use when looking to purchase an inexpensive bicycle.

  • SEARCH BICYCLE SHOPS AND CO-OPS FIRST – Various shops will display and sell used bicycles. If a shop has an experienced bike mechanic and is known to be reputable in your area, you can usually trust that used bicycles they are selling are fully functional and safe. Similar to “certified” used automobiles at a car lot, you know that it was fully inspected and repaired. Shops must have insurance to operate and cannot have unrepaired and unsafe bikes rolling out the front door. However, always ask them to make sure that a bike was fully serviced. The price may be more than what you may see at a thrift store or yard sale, but you can be confident that you have a fully operational and safe bicycle. Keep in mind that many shops simply do not sell used bikes as the profit margin is not enough to cover the costs to repair a used bicycle that’s only worth $50 – $125. For this reason, you should also explore options at community non-profit, “co-op” bicycle shops.
  • INSPECT FOR ANY DAMAGED AND / OR MISSING PARTS – It is always a red flag to see a bicycle for sale with damaged and / or missing parts. It is best to steer clear of an obvious broken bike the seller may have. Walk away from anything with noticeable cracks or splits on the frame. Also, do not be convinced by a seller who states that a bike only needs a few small parts or that it will be an easy fix. In most cases, you will need specialty, bicycle repair tools, which can be pricey to purchase. Also, like cars, not all bicycle parts are the same or interchangeable between different types and brands. To illustrate some examples of damage, I went to a local thrift store and took a few photos of a bicycle that was for sale. I did not stage this; I actually went into a random thrift store and took photos of the first bicycle I saw. I’m sure the front desk employees thought it was a bit weird seeing a guy taking random photos of one of their bicycles, but I was on a mission!
Broken left shifter on a mountain bike for sale at a thrift store.

In the above example, you can see that the left grip shifter is completely broken. The front derailleur (i.e., the mechanism that changes the chain on the front chainrings) is unable to operate because of this. The shifter, cable, and cable housing would have to be replaced. Parts and labor at a shop to repair just this breakage alone would be at least $40 for a generic grip shifter of this type. This alone is enough for a hard “No!”

Frayed front derailleur cable on a mountain bike for sale at a thrift store.

Above you can see the obvious frayed cable that attaches to the front derailleur. The fraying is significant and is not safe. All of the strands should be combined into one tightly uniform cable with a crimped end cap. In this particular case, the shifter for this cable is completely broken so the cable would have to be replaced to properly operate the front derailleur. The price tag on this bicycle was $120, which is way too much for one that is damaged like this. For $120, along with a $40 fix (at least!), you could have purchased a brand-new, inexpensive bicycle at a retail store. And that’s just for the left shifter damage. There could be other issues you would not know without test riding the bike. Which leads me to my next point of advice.

  • TEST RIDE THE BIKE – If there are no obvious damaged or missing parts that would make the bike unsafe, you should test ride the bike. This is particularly important if you are planning on purchasing it for yourself. If the seller will not allow it, take your business elsewhere. When testing a bike, please wear a helmet for your own safety. Obviously, you will not be able to test ride a youth bike given its size so you may simply consider buying a new one, or a used one from a reputable bicycle shop, if it is a meant as a gift. By testing a used bicycle, you can run through all of the gears, make sure the brakes are fully functional, and see if there are any issues with pedaling. If you do not test ride a bike, there are various problems that can be hidden to a visible inspection. One example on a bike I repaired is in the photo below.
Worn freewheel sprockets cannot be easily seen from visual inspection alone.

A client purchased a Mongoose mountain bike for $40 at a yard sale and wanted me to tune it up. When I test rode the bike myself, the chain would continually slip under the load of pedaling when the chain was shifted into the fourth sprocket. By using a specialty gauge to confirm that the chain was still in good condition, I knew then that the sprocket itself was so worn that its teeth were not fully engaging the chain. The entire freewheel seen above had to be replaced. This repair alone ended up being more than the $40 he paid for the entire bike. Even experienced bicycle mechanics will not necessarily know if a chain will slip on sprockets by visual inspection alone. This is just one reason why it is important to test ride any used bike that you are considering buying.

  • LOOK FOR MIXED MATCHED PARTS – While this may be slightly more challenging, look for components that do not seem appropriate for the bike they are on. I have seen used bikes that sellers threw old incompatible parts on to simply get rid of it. One crucial thing to look for is to see if the shifters match the rear sprockets and the front chainrings they are attached to. The click of each shifter should match the number of corresponding sprockets or chainrings. The right front shifter operates the rear gears, and the left front operates the front gears. The total gear combination is the “speed” of a bike (i.e., 10 speed, 12 speed, 18 speed, 21 speed, etc.) You multiply the number of front chainrings by the number of rear sprockets to determine the speed. For example, if there are three chainrings in the front and seven sprockets in the back, you have a 21-speed bicycle (i.e., 3 front chainrings x 7 rear sprockets = 21 speed). In this case, the right shifter should have seven click / shift options and the left shifter should have three click / shift options. These are typically marked on the shifters like illustrated in the photo below.
21-speed shifters

If you see a shifting system that does not match correctly, do not purchase the bike. I serviced a used bicycle that had a six-speed shifter attached to a rear freewheel with seven sprockets. With this incorrect shifter, the rider was not able to shift into all seven rear sprockets. This required the installation of a new 7-speed shifter along with a tune-up. Keep in mind that shifters come in various types of configurations (i.e., grip shifters, thumb trigger shifters, integrated road bike shifters with brake levers, etc.) with different speed combinations. Just make sure that everything matches up: the left shifter matches the front chainrings, and the right shifter matches the rear sprockets. Of special note, bicycles that only have one chainring in the front, like most beach-style bicycles, will not have a front shifter. This is completely normal. Additionally, older, vintage style bicycles that are 25+ years old may have “friction” shifters, which may not necessarily click for each gear shift like modern ones do. Unless you are a bicycle repair hobbyist, my recommendation is that it is best to stay away from purchasing vintage type bicycles given they may need a complete overhaul if not already completed by a bicycle shop.

While there are many intricacies with bicycle parts and how they work together, you do not have to be an experienced bicycle mechanic to rule out problematic used bicycles. Use common sense, and do your best to follow the advice I outlined above. As always, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That is not to say all used bicycle sellers are attempting to scam you. They may be simply selling a broken bicycle that they do not know how to fix, no longer want, and simply want it out of their garage. Just don’t become the new owner of that problem bike.

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Bicycle Repair in Lancaster, PA

Hello everyone! My name is Scott M. Helfrich, and I am the owner operator of Helfrich Bicycles here in Lancaster County, PA (specifically located in Mountville). I started this as a part-time business in October 2021 due to my love of bicycling and desire to help others fully enjoy riding their bicycles with their family and friends. My goal is to bring joy to families and couples through bicycle repair.

I am proud to have a home-based, bicycle repair shop here in the Lancaster, PA area. My focus is repairing bicycles that most individuals and families own. While many shops cater to elite road and mountain bike cyclists, there needs to be more economical and family-friendly, bicycle repair services available. I can offer inexpensive, bike repair services because I do not have to pay a staff, I have no need for a brick-and-mortar storefront, nor do I have to maintain a large inventory like many shops are required to by their corporate bicycle supplier.

*Please note: I do not repair e-bikes.

Here are some of the service features I offer my clients:

  • Bicycle pick up and delivery is free within a 10-mile radius from my shop (e.g., Lancaster, Marietta, Pequea, Willow Street, Wrightsville, etc.) I can transport two bicycles at a time.
  • Flexible scheduling, including evenings and weekends
  • Free advice, education, and suggestions so you can enjoy your bicycling experience in a safe and economical manner
  • Pricing based upon the project / repair and not the time involved
  • Electronic payments can be taken via PayPal and Venmo.
  • Cash and check are also accepted.
Free pick-up and return service area

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