A 1965 Sears 3 Speed

Sears offered many bicycles over the years (all built by other manufacturers), but some of the best ones were those made by Puch/Steyr in Austria.  This 1965 model is very much like the one I rode in my youth over logging roads and along irrigation canals, picking up treasures on my way and loading them into its front basket.

While definitely a copy of the iconic Raleigh Sports bicycle, it also has its own certain charm.  The color scheme, with its black paint and cream accents (probably originally white), surprisingly classy head badge, and “windows” on the head lug make it especially appealing.

This is the bike as it came to me in its unrestored condition, except for a replacement Brooks saddle which I added for these photos.  The original saddle shipped had broken seat rails, and of course I planned to replace the saddle anyway.

This bike has a Sturmey Archer 3 speed AW hub, as opposed to the Puch/Steyr licensed copy found on other models.  You can barely see the “65” date code on the hub in the above photo.

The bike also has Weinmann brake calipers and a proper 3 piece cottered crank.  Other models often featured the cheaper and ugly Ashtabula one piece cranks.

I’ve always been puzzled by the odd “street sign” logo on the top tubes of these bikes.  Is it meant to indicate the way ahead?  The road less travelled? Or??  But, the seat tube logo is very attractive and evocative of the styles of the 1960’s.

The bike’s handlebars are equipped with Weinmann levers and are clamped with a one bolt stem that both tightens the bars and the expander on the steerer tube.

There are nice accents on the fork blades and full color matched fenders, with the rear painted white for visibility.

My biggest worry in restoring the bike is getting the hub in proper working order.  For these photos, and for initial assessment of the hub, I generously oiled it with some light weight lubricant.  Fortunately, the hub spins freely and may only need a flush to clean it, followed by some 30 weight automotive oil to keep it maintained.  The shifter did not perform properly, but these can be fiddly, and with the right cable tension can hopefully be brought back into working order.  If  I need to do a full on overhaul of the hub, I could attempt it myself (if I’m in the right frame of mind), or can send it out to Aaron’s Bicycle Repair in Seattle.  If I decide to do it myself, I’ll watch this video from RJ the Bike Guy, which will undoubtedly convince me to send it out…

I’m looking forward to enlisting this bike as my office errand machine.  It’s bound to offer a comfortable feel, and with the AW hub I should be able to get around on the minor hills in the neighborhood.  I’ll probably add a front basket or rear rack to make it more useful for lunch jaunts and local expeditions. Should be fun!

1968 Sears Catalog

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The arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog in our household inspired an array of emotions and behaviors – excitement, confusion, secrecy, sorrow, but most of all, fascination.  The catalog was huge, and packed with every kind of consumer good that a child (or adult) could imagine – electronics, entertainment, books, toys of all kinds, sports and hunting equipment, power tools, clothing, and of course, bicycles.

I remember especially the reel-to-reel tape recorders, microscopes, portable radios, and cameras.  Oddly, I also remember the amazingly stylish men’s clothing – something of a surprise for stodgy old Sears & Roebuck:

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Nehru collars and fancy scarves…sweetly gay!

So, in a nostalgia moment, I recently acquired a 1968 Sears Christmas catalog on eBay, which was in surprisingly good condition.  I have been enjoying perusing the pages and studying the specifications, as well as noting the pricing on many of the items in the catalog – very high given the wage and price levels of the 1960’s.

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The color TV console pictured above (with awesome NASA spacecraft featured on the screen) is listed at $629.95.  That translates into $4,314 in today’s prices.  Similarly, a desktop Hi-Fi with detachable speakers went for $117.95, which would be $808 in 2015.

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The highest quality bicycles in the catalog are those listed above – “touring” bicycles, made in Austria for Sears by Puch.  The 5 speed bike has a gear ratio of 38 to 88, according to the specifications, and includes caliper brakes, chrome fenders, rims and hubs, a rear rack and headlamp.  The $57.95 price would be $397 in today’s buying power.  That seems quite reasonable, and definitely at odds with the prices of the electronics in the catalog.  Manufacturing efficiencies for bicycles were much more fully realized, having been around for nearly 80 years at this point, even though low wage manufacturers such as Taiwan and China were not serious players at this point in time.

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Accessories included multi-colored tires, proving once again that there is nothing new under the sun, for the most part, when it comes to the world of bicycle manufacturing.  After all, index shifting was first introduced in the 1930’s, and while many components have been perfected and tweaked over the decades, the basic design of many cycling components has remained unchanged.  Derailleurs are a good example of this.

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Sears was not a company to miss out on trends, so these “Spyder” bicycles are prominently featured in this two page spread, and in the photo below.  These were comparatively expensive bicycles – costing more than the top end touring bike, with the highest end model going for $534 in today’s prices (again – not bad).

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With their suspension and rear knobbies, these bicycles seem more ancestral to the mountain bike craze than the Schwinn Excelsior modified by Joe Breeze.  One of the higher-end models was an auto-shifter with 5 speeds and dual rear brakes – wow!  The ten speed model was also built with dual rear brakes, and maybe that’s why us kids thought we should blast down hills as fast as possible – something I did on my own green sparkle model!

Raleigh had its own version – the Chopper, which was designed for popping wheelies, and had smaller front wheel, but also included the ape hanger bars and sissy bar saddle.  The Raleigh version is now highly sought after as a collectible bicycle, whereas the Sears Spyder models are not so much.  However, the Sears-Puch 5 speed touring bike was a decent machine for what it was, and there are still enthusiasts out there who appreciate them.  Here are some color photos on an enthusiast’s Facebook page for your enjoyment.