My Dad’s 1965 Schwinn American

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I don’t know exactly when my Dad acquired this bike, but in 1965 he would have been in his mid-thirties.  At this time, I would have paid little attention to any bike that didn’t have at least 3 speeds and even less attention to anything my parents were doing. But, I actually think he acquired this machine sometime in the 1970’s.  He wasn’t too much of a cyclist back then, but later in life he would ride around on the flat country roads near his home, mainly to please his physician.

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It is a 1965 Schwinn American with a 2 speed kick back Bendix hub, chrome fenders, and is all original as far as I can tell.  When he gave it to me about 10 years ago, he was about to haul it away to Goodwill, but I managed to intervene.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any “before” photos, but the bike was heavily rusted and the rear hub would barely turn.  I had no idea what I was getting into.

Bendix Kickback

Back then, I had never attempted to rebuild an internal hub, and had never worked on a bike with a coaster brake.  Since both were new to me, I studied specs and repair manuals, which fortunately are easy to find.  After two weeks, and lot of lost brain cells, I managed to get the hub rebuilt and reassembled, with no mysterious leftover parts.  After that, I started in on the cleaning of the frame, rims, and other chrome parts, which went surprisingly well.

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Riding the bike is really odd for anyone not used to a coaster brake.  But the kick-back shifter on the hub was a lot of fun.  After a few minutes, I started practicing burn-outs – a perfect way to master coaster brake technique.  The bike is nicely brazed, and shows little wear.  It was built to be bomb-proof, and it has really held up well.  It’s not a bike that is suited to Portland riding, but would be a perfect machine in a slow-paced and relatively flat area.  I’ve been threatening to ride it some year on a Worst Day of the Year Ride, but have always been lured by a different and speedier machine.  Maybe this year, I’ll go for it!

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A Wee Jaunt to Tadpole Pond

Tadpole Pond, Oaks BottomI wasn’t feeling up to snuff today, but I could hardly not go on a ride – the weather was finally better, feeling positively balmy at 55 degrees.  There was only a light mist, and even though I donned knickers for the ride, I actually had to remove my gloves once I was underway because I got too hot!  I decided to take the funky winter bike as its slower speeds would match my sluggish cadence.  I started out on my usual perfunctory route out to Sellwood, through Oaks Bottom and back into town – about a 16 mile round trip from my house.  As I rode, I started to feel better and my spirits lifted.

Christmas trainOn Springwater Trail at the Oaks Park junction I was treated to a crowd awaiting passage on a bedecked Christmas train – the Holiday Express.  I had to walk the bike through the crowds, then re-mount to proceed back toward town.  As I approached the gully that hides the hiking trail turn-off I decided to take a side trip.  At first I was planning on parking the bike and walking toward the wetlands to view the wintering birds.  But as I was riding I spotted an area I hadn’t explored before – Tadpole Pond.

Tadpole PondLittle did I know that this tiny pond was restored to help bring back the Pacific Chorus Frog.  As I dismounted and parked the bike I quieted myself to see if I could hear anything resembling frogs calling.  Well, it didn’t take long before the frogs started in, with occasional bird calls to accompany them.  I made an audio clip which you can listen to here: 

Tadpole PondIt was an absolute treat to feel so close to nature after such a short ride, and to sense the vibrancy of these little frogs calling to each other.  There are apparently also red-legged frogs and long-toed salamanders that share habitat with the Pacific Chorus frog.  I didn’t spot any, though.  Maybe next time – I plan to return again.

Goodbye, Little ALAN

1980's ALAN Cyclocross

I have enjoyed riding around on this tiny ALAN cyclocross bike.  I originally purchased it several years ago for a family member who is about 5′ tall on a good day.  She had been riding a small framed newer Trek with 700c wheels, and while the Trek has nice components, the geometry is pretty awful.  But, many shorter riders have never experienced anything different, because the cycling industry has not met their needs.

Enter the ALAN.  It was designed around 24 ” wheels, with a 48 x 48 cm frame.  When I spotted it on eBay it looked like this:

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Those are 170 mm Dura Ace cranks – on a bike with a 24 cm bottom bracket height.  Needless to say, there is no way that you would pedal through corners on this configuration.  So, I began the process of modifying the bike,  and at first I tried this configuration:

I changed out the crankset for a single 152 mm 52T vintage crank.  Unfortunately, this just did not provide the right gearing for the bike.  So, I reconsidered the whole build.  The deep drop Cinelli bars made no sense for a small rider with short arms.  The downtube shifters were also a bit of a reach.  That made me think that a city-type build might be best for this bike.  So, I came up with this set-up using a double 152 mm 50/39 Sugino crankset.  I replaced the rear Dura Ace derailleur with a Shimano Deore XT long cage, but kept the Dura Ace front derailleur, Dura Ace headset, and Dura Ace bottom bracket.  I used some vintage upright bars with a Shimano 7 speed index system.

ALAN in city mode

And this is how I rode around on this bike for the last 2 years (test riding is very time-consuming).  Finally though, my thoroughly enjoyable test riding has come to an end.  So, I needed to really rethink how the new rider would use this bike, as well as how her small size would effect the choices I made.  Since she is used to a road bike configuration, I decided to replace the city bars and shifters with a narrow SR Randonneur bar, bar end shifters (for an easy reach), and these beautiful Modelo drilled levers, which have very small hoods and a short reach to the levers.

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I kept the rest of the bike pretty much the same – here are some photos of its features:

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Dura Ace calipers

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ALAN logo

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Beautiful engraving on the ALAN head lugs, Dura Ace headset

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Shimano Deore XT rear derailleur

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American Classic 25mm seatpost

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Sugino 50/39 crankset with 152 mm arms

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Dura Ace front derailleur

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Shimano 600 tri-color front and rear hubs on Mavic 24″ Open 4 CD rims

If you haven’t ridden an ALAN before, you are in for a treat.  The frame is very comfortable, and hill climbing is a breeze.  The aluminum tubes are screwed and glued into beautiful stainless steel lugs.  This little bike weighs in at 19 lbs!  I used this bike often for my daily Pdx commutes – what a joy.  The tiny wheels make for quick acceleration.  It has been one of the best city bikes I have ridden.

There were some challenges in setting up the bike.  The very short chainstays mean that it is not possible to select certain gearing configurations – namely the biggest ring on the biggest cog and vice versa.  But that is a normal limitation on many bikes.  Also, while I agree with most of the frame geometry decisions on this bike, I am puzzled by the amount of bottom bracket drop selected.  It would have been easy to build the bike with less drop, and that would make it more feasible to use a longer crankset without worrying about pedal strikes while cornering.

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Here is the bike now, ready for its transport to Central Oregon where I hope it will be well-loved and well-ridden.  The seat post and stem height are still set up for my size, showing how small this bike really is, given that I am 5’4″.  I’ll be test-riding it for a few more weeks to make sure everything is just right, and then it will be time to say good-bye to this wonderful machine.  It is a rare bike, and a great testament to the ALAN company’s frame building skills.  Thank you for building this little bike – it is a treasure.

1980's ALAN Cyclocross