Two big revelations today: 1) I actually have a bike with three speeds now, instead of a three-speed bike that doesn't work right; and 2) I am dramatically out of shape.
Both of these came to me today while taking my bike for its first test ride. Let's focus on the first one. After much adjusting and fidgeting and swearing, I finally got the shifter cable adjusted properly (see Sheldon Brown's how-to section on 3-speed cable adjustment--it's about half-way down on the linked page.) The real bugger was getting it adjusted so that it wouldn't freewheel in the middle gear. I now thoroughly understand how to make such adjustments in the future. Thoroughly.
For the first year that I had the bike, I never noticed much difference in the three gears, and now I know that I probably wasn't even moving through the gears when I moved the trigger. Having all new parts (cable, trigger shifter, and indicator spindle) makes a huge difference, and knowing how they should be properly adjusted is essential. It's really a joy to ride now, especially with everything greased and oiled. I was hoping to notice a dramatic difference in the way it rode, but I had no idea it would be this dramatic! I wish I had done this as soon as I got it.
I've got a few more little adjustments to make on the brakes and a loose nut to tighten on the rear fender, then I'll polish it up with another coat of Turtle Wax and take some "after" pictures. I've also assembled an album of "before" pictures that didn't get posted. An "after" album will go up soon as well.
PS--check out my Google map to the right for the route of my test ride today.