This 1929 Griffon is the oldest bike I have restored. It is in fantastic condition for its age, but even so, there are some elements of older technology on this bike that kind of gave me the willies today as I set out to take the bike on its first test ride.
The bike has Westwood style steel rims, color matched to the frame along the spoke bed area, and with chrome for the braking surface. Let’s talk a bit about that surface. Westwood rims are usually found on bikes which use rod brakes. Those brakes pull up on the brake pads to strike the rim on the surface near the spoke bed area, rather than on the narrow, rounder sidewall area. This Griffon, however, has caliper brakes which push the pads horizontally toward the rim. The original pads, shown above, feature a “pillow top” design which sort of grips the rounded edge of the chrome rim surface. Sort of. Even after sanding the pads using a small round file, I knew from testing the brakes on the stand that they would not be effective at stopping the bike, at least not very quickly. I thought of installing some orange Kool Stop pads for today’s adventure, but the ear piercing squeals emitted from the front rim on the set I tried out brought to mind a thousand hungry infants wailing all at once. So, I put the old pads back on and developed a plan.
Motorcyclists (of which I am one) have some skills that many non-riders don’t know about: the ability to ferret out non-disgusting bathrooms while riding at speed and peering through a helmet visor is one of them. Another skill is knowing in the back of your mind where every single flat, empty parking lot can be found on a Sunday afternoon – these are lures for practicing slow speed maneuvers, which is a must for motorcyclists who take safety seriously.
The latter skill came in handy today. I first drove the bike to my nearby huge empty parking lot. The bike’s wheels barely fit into the wheel wells of my car’s bike rack. Its wheelbase is 113 cm, one of the many oversize features of this great old machine. After getting the bike off the rack and strapping on an old Carradice saddlebag, I leaned the tall bike over and hopped up on the long, leather Glorieuse saddle.
Then I sailed around the parking lot, gingerly at first, and began accelerating and then attempting to stop. After a while I found just the right combination of body english and leverage and was able to bring the bike to a halt after several wheel revolutions at speed. Not bad! The front brake had a bit of chatter, and did not perform as well as the rear brake, so there are probably some minor adjustments to be made to the position of the clamps which house the springs and which have a groove along which the caliper arms travel. Each clamp needs to be positioned just right so that both brake arms move evenly and in tandem – see below.
To make it possible for me to ride this bike, with its 59 cm top tube, I reversed the saddle clamp and also shoved the saddle forward on its rails, to bring the saddle as close to the handlebars as possible. The 66 degree head tube kind of counteracts the effect of the long top tube, but because the stem is very short, this didn’t help as much as I expected. The ginormous bars are 78 cm across – the widest bars I have seen on a bike.
Even the bar diameter is oversized – 25 mm on the grip area. So, no grips of any kind, modern or vintage, can be installed. Probably, the bike originally had wood grips. But, finding the right size vintage wood grips now will be a challenge. In the meantime, I hastily added some cork tape to make my ride more comfortable today – which doesn’t look too bad from afar, but not so great close up.
I ended up resting my hands on the curved section of the bars, which was enormously more comfortable than having my hands on the grips. The bike seems to have been designed for a long-armed broad shouldered giant! Seriously though, probably the wide bars were useful in providing leverage over the cobblestones and rough roads of the time.
Once I felt fairly confident about riding amongst the masses, I headed over to Springwater Trail and took a short jaunt to my favorite tiny getaway – Tadpole Pond.
I enjoyed getting the bike up to speed, and was greeted with smiles, and some astonishment, by other cyclists I encountered today. The weather was perfect for riding, and I stopped to enjoy the birds and wildflowers. The Griffon fit right in, looking a bit like a hobo bike. Given all the homeless tents I encountered along the trail (camping a la Portland-style), the Griffon was a natural.
The lighting was just right for taking some close-ups of the bike’s features. The 1940’s Tank pedals are from another project – the bike didn’t have pedals when I acquired it – but they look just right on this bike and worked fine for today’s ride.
The Griffon head badge is one of my favorites, featuring the mythological flying Griffon in blue and gold, encircled in red.
I had no mishaps riding the trail today, even when some pedestrians walked out in front of me – we all just laughed as I swerved and screeched to a halt, Griffon – style.
You can see how long, tall and wide the bike is by comparing it to my Meral, which has 650b wheels and a 49×51 cm frame. Not only did the bike comport itself quite well, with the old Peugeot freewheel ticking sweetly while coasting, this ride reminded me that perhaps we are all too consumed with finding a bike that is just the right size, instead of riding the bike we have. Lots can be done with saddle, stem and handlebar adjustments to overcome a bike that is a bit too large or too small. Today’s ride proves that some bikes can be adapted to a wide range of rider height.