Cleaning, Polishing and Restoring Vintage Aluminum Fenders

Having spent hours cleaning and polishing vintage aluminum bicycle fenders, I have wondered if there is a way to improve the efficiency of this process without harming a vintage fender’s finish?   Maybe not, but there are some products that work a bit better than others and are less likely to scratch or damage the fender’s finish.

Custom Meral steel fenders, with original wine cork spacer and attachment reinforcement

Aluminum fenders – hammered, patterned or smooth – are often found on vintage bicycles with 650b wheels.  Steel fenders, painted or chromed, were also used – although not as commonly as their aluminum counterparts. Lightweight chromed steel fenders can be found on some French, British, and Italian randonneuring bikes dating from the 1950’s on.  But, aluminum alloy fenders were generally the material of choice in those days.

Vintage 1950’s fenders with red highlights and a smooth surface

1950’s hammered fenders with dark brown paint highlights.

Vintage aluminum alloy fenders can have painted portions to add color highlights.  Cleaning and polishing these fenders involves a number of steps.  You don’t want to use any product that will dull the color highlights.  So, it’s best to focus on the unpainted portion of the fender for polishing.

As a first step, I remove the fender from the bicycle frame and remove all the mounting hardware.  Then I gently wash it with a mild surfactant, such as Finish Line’s pink bike wash. After that, I continue the cleaning process with a clean rag and some alcohol.

Because the fender is flexible and subject to damage  I place it over an inflated tire of similar width, mounted to a wheel and position this into my truing stand. I prevent the hub from turning by securing the spokes to the stand. This prevents the fender from getting twisted or misshaped while its being polished.

Once the fender is clean it is time to think about the best product to use for polishing.  For aluminum fenders, a wadding polish such as Nevr-Dull seems to work best.  I have tried many other polishes, but have found this product to work most efficiently and with the best results.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t need to reapply this product many times over a heavily tarnished fender.

I have also used MAAS metal polish with excellent results on any steel component.  So it is a good choice for chrome steel fenders (and any other steel component).

My 1973 Jack Taylor’s fenders were seriously tarnished and dull when I acquired the bike.  After polishing the fenders (over many hours), the luster of the metal was restored, as you can see from the photo above.  I used Nevr-Dull to polish the fenders.

The Lefol aluminum fender shown above is from an early 1950’s bicycle.  Cleaning and polishing this fender took some time (as in many hours), but the end result was well worth the effort.  Using a wadding polish for vintage aluminum fenders will yield the best results, as these products will not harm the underlying metal.

A Brief History of Splined Cranks and Spindles

1948 splined crankset, courtesy of The Data Book

My recent overhaul of a Shimano Octalink bottom bracket made me wonder about splined cranksets and whether they had a history that preceded Shimano’s 1996 offering.  I pulled out my copies of The Data Book, Rebour (by Rob Van der Plas), as well as the small collection of Le Cycle and Le Cyclist magazine in my library to review spindle and crankset design through the decades.  I also checked Bicycle Design to see if it contained any chapters on crankset and bottom bracket design, which it did not. As it turned out, the best resource for my research was VeloBase.com.

Rebour drawing of 1950 Gnutti splined crankset, Le Cycle Magazine, 9 Oct 1950.

After learning from the Rebour book and The Data Book that Gnutti had introduced a splined spindle and crankarm by at least 1948 or 1949, I searched VeloBase and found several examples of this design.  From the Rebour drawing above you can see that the splined portion was nice and long, and was also spliced.  I have not observed these splices on later photos of Gnutti splined spindles dating from the early 1950’s.  There are a boatload of splines on this spindle, and the splined area is very long – so it does seem like a robust product, especially when compared to the Shimano Octalink V1 spindle, with its very short splines.

Williams catalogue, courtesy of VeloBase.com

Another component maker to offer a splined spindle and crankarm was Williams, who were more well known for their low end steel cottered cranksets rather than their higher end alloy offerings.  Their AB 77 crank and spindle was introduced in the early 1960’s or late 1950’s and had fewer splines than the Gnutti competitor, but was apparently easier to install and remove.  The blog midlifecycling.blogspot.com has a nice discussion about these cranks and their strengths and shortcomings.

Gnutti splined crank spindle, courtesy of classiccyleus.com

To add to the mystique surrounding splined cranksets, I discovered this intriguing 1967 Jack Taylor custom bicycle built for Jerry Collier, which was created by the Taylor brothers to feature components from earlier decades.  The bike has a 1930’s Osgear derailleur, the earliest known cassette hub by Pallandini, as well as a splined Gnutti crank spindle, shown above.

Gnutti splined crank and spindle, courtesy of VeloBase.com

As is true of most modern cycling “innovations”, what is new was actually invented decades ago.  Index shifting, integrated brake/shifter levers, bar-end shifters, and splined cassettes with freehubs are just a few examples.  We can add splined cranks and spindles to the list.

Hybrid Gearing

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Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub with 6 speed cassette

I became interested in hybrid gearing after acquiring my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist, about 9 years ago.  The bike features a single front chainring, 6 speed cassette and a 2 speed Sachs Orbit internal hub.  That gives it 12 gears overall, with a good range for the kind of riding I do, as the internal hub’s lower gear is about a 33% reduction, which is quite significant. For awhile, I didn’t think much about this interesting arrangement, and instead just enjoyed riding the bike, and being able to do a substantial downshift while sitting still at a stop light.

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Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub with 6 speed cassette.

There are a number of ways to accomplish hybrid gearing.  You can forgo a front derailleur, and use an internal two or three speed hub to take the place of multiple chainrings.  You can also use multiple chainrings with an internal hub, and forgo the cassette/freewheel.  Or, you can be like Sheldon Brown and do both, achieving a 63 speed bicycle – his beloved “O.T.B.”  which used a 3 speed SA hub, a seven speed cassette, and 3 chainrings.  Doing the math:  3 x 7 x 3 = 63.  So with modern technology, let’s calculate the possibilities:  a 14 speed Rohloff hub, paired with an 11 speed cassette, with a triple chainring = 462 gears!  Probably that set up would be a mechanic’s nightmare, so if you really want this many gears, I suggest you purchase a continuously variable NuVinci hub – but be prepared to deal with quite a bit more than a couple of pounds of extra weight.

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Sachs Orbit hub – NOS early 90’s with two optional cassettes

There is really only one source on the internet for information about the Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub, and that of course is the Sheldon Brown site, with additional information and clarifications by bike guru John Allen.  One of the things I worried about with this hub on my Jack Taylor was being able to find replacement parts, given that the hub was so rare.  Fortunately, a while back I found a NOS Sachs Orbit hub, pictured above, which I could use as a replacement in case something went wrong.

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1973 Jack Taylor Tourist Sachs Orbit hybrid hub

Meanwhile, the original hub is working just fine, and needed only occasional lubrication with automotive oil.  I had sent the hub out for a rebuild nine years ago, and it is working perfectly, still.

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Info on the box of the replacement hub seems to indicate this is a 1992 hub

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Very pretty hub logo engraved into the hub shell

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Be careful with these spindles!

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The replacement hub I purchased is quite lovely, and has two different cassette options – for 5 or 6 speeds. The cassette cogs and spacers slip onto the freehub with tabs to line up the rings, except for the final smaller cogs, which screw onto the freehub.  As one pedals, these smaller cogs with screw-on threads will get tighter and tighter.

Because this replacement hub is so nice, I have been thinking about using it to build into an interesting wheel set for a road/commuter bike, rather than keeping it in reserve for spare parts. One of the convenient features of this hub is that it can be operated by pretty much any front derailleur shifter, as there are only two positions on the hub.  And, if something goes wrong with the hub on the Jack Taylor, maybe I will rethink hybrid gearing altogether.

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1973 Jack Taylor Tourist

The bike’s rear wheel was an alteration from its original 1973 build, and whether or not this rear wheel was built by the Taylor brothers is unknown.  However, I have noted that British bikes built in the 60’s through the 80’s sometimes featured hybrid gearing.  This was especially true for the boutique manufacturers of that era.  Sachs internal hub gears are considered on par with Sturmey Archer, and I will say that is true, based on my experience with riding this Jack Taylor. The hub has been totally reliable.

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This early 90’s Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub has 36 holes, so it could work with a number of possible rims.  It needs a bit of lubrication to bring it back to full glory, and if I end up needing to rebuild it, John Allen and Sheldon Brown will come the rescue.