On this Friday evening, with the gentle cool breeze blowing across my summer garden, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorite photos of my bicycle restorations from the 1920’s through the 1950’s:
In 1974 I was a high school senior, soon to graduate. I often rode to classes on my 5 speed derailleur bicycle, and that involved a number of steep hills, some of which I dismounted to ascend. The bike I rode seemed incredibly incompetent, heavy, and badly geared. At that time, I knew nothing about lightweight steel tubing, expertly brazed and filed lugs, and quality components. I was riding the bike my parents purchased for me, after much goading on my part. I can’t even remember if my 5 speed was a Sears or a Schwinn, but I think it was the former. All I knew then was that I loved to ride bicycles, and wanted to be on my bike whenever possible. My parents did their best to accommodate this odd request coming from their middle child – a daughter no less.
Upon graduation, my parents presented me with a beautiful blue Volkscycle. I was in heaven, as this was the nicest bike I had ever ridden. After riding this bike in my college days in the late 70’s, I took a hiatus from school, and moved to the Oregon coast. That was when my cycling energy surged. Every Sunday I mounted my blue Volkscycle and rode inland up Yaquina Bay, to Toledo, and back. I rode this bicycle whenever I could, leaving my funky Datsun 510 truck in the carport most of the time.
After a while, I began to realize that the Volkscycle might not be the best bicycle out there for me. There was no internet at this time, so my knowledge came word of mouth talking to other cyclists, some of whom were part of the 1976 BikeCentennial.
Later, I acquired my 1976 Centurion Pro-Tour – a bike which really defined my cycling experience. The frame was “too big” for me, and yet I toured all over the Pacific Northwest on this amazing bicycle. I crashed it back in 1999, and that is what prompted a life long search for an equal partner.
But that never happened. Instead, I ride on several bicycles regularly. I have never found my one true love – the bicycle of my youth which comported me over miles of challenging terrain. I don’t know what to think about why that is – but the upside is that I now enjoy riding a number of wonderful and interesting machines.
I recently cycled home from work on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist. The bike had been sitting at my office for a while. One of the reasons I haven’t ridden it with greater frequency is that the full chain guard (“gearcase” for those who speak British) and the drive side crank arm contact each other with an annoying noise with each pedal stroke. Previously, I had tried to solve this problem by mashing various parts of the gearcase with my hands to see if I could force it into a different position that would provide clearance for the crank arm.
As I was noisily making my way up Clinton Street, I came upon a rider on a Mercian. We chatted for a while and I learned he was riding an early 80’s model that a friend had given him as a frame (nice gift!), which he then built up. That’s only the 2nd Mercian I have spotted in Pdx, aside from my own. Interestingly, because my Raleigh is geared so high, I ended up surging past him in my big (but lowest) 52 gear inch as we began to climb the steeper hills, and so we parted company.
When I arrived home, sans heart attack, I put the bike into the shop stand, determined to solve the gearcase/crank arm clearance problem. The first thing I did was to mark the position of the axle in the dropout and the adjuster on the shifter cable. This way, I could restore the wheel and cable back to their current position – something which took a while to perfect so that the hub shifts correctly.
One thing I’ve gotten questions about before is how to get the gearcase off the bike. There are two pieces at the back of the gearcase which can be removed by unscrewing the bolts which attach them to the main part of the gearcase. After that, there is a bracket which attaches the gearcase to the chainstay, plus a bolt which holds the front part of the gearcase, and attaches near the bottom bracket. Once those are removed, then it’s a matter of re-positioning the gearcase and sliding the opening at the back through the narrowest part of the drop out. The photos above show how this is done.
Once I had the gearcase off, I took my mallet to it and tried straightening it out a bit. Then, I tried various methods of altering the position of the gearcase once I re-mounted it to the frame, but nothing worked.
Finally, I took my files and filed away a small section of the metal on the inside of the crank arm, to provide more clearance. I didn’t want to take a lot of material off. But with these solid steel crank arms, I probably have nothing to worry about. Ultimately, I was successful in adjusting the gearcase cover to eliminate any contact with the crank arm.
Since I had the pedals off, I thought it might be time to overhaul them. Their last overhaul was 8 years ago. Sure enough, the grease was pretty dirty. Fortunately, the brilliant design of the cone and lock washer made the process incredibly quick and easy. The tabs on the back of the cone make it simple to adjust the cone to perfection. Once adjusted, the cone’s tabs lock into position with the grooves on the lock washer. If your adjustment needs a tweak or two, just loosen the nut and move the cone one notch at a time. If only all pedals were designed this way!
I headed out on the bike today and thoroughly enjoyed not only the new, silent drive train, but the amazing ride quality of this bike. The steel frame and steel wheels absorb road shock very well, so that even the upright riding position does not transmit pain waves to your spine. With the inertia of the heavy steel wheels, the bike really rolls once it gets going. In my high gear, I have even passed a carbon fiber bicycle or two, much to their riders’ surprise. The components, the paint, and the attention to detail in every aspect of how this bike was manufactured puts modern quality control to shame.
The bike responds to pedal strokes and never feels mushy or bogged down. The geometry is perfect for the type of bike it is, and it does not wobble at slow speeds and provides for fun descents and excellent cornering at high speeds. In fact, the ride quality of this bike is a sharp contrast to another 45 lb. machine I recently rode – the SoBi bicycles which are part of Pdx’s new Biketown bike share program. Those bikes are made with large diameter aluminum tubing, and also feature an upright riding position, although much more extreme than that of the Raleigh. The stiff aluminum frames, bad geometry and questionable component quality provide for a really unpleasant riding experience.
It would be fun to see a bike share program which used quality vintage bicycles and de-emphasized modern technology (which serves as a barrier to those who cannot afford the latest internet device) as a way to introduce new riders to urban commuting. There are so many quality vintage bicycles out there. Find one and ride it!