‘Popular’ is such a quaint old fashioned name for a bicycle model suggesting an everyday bike for the average person – which is what it was. Nowadays, however, the Popular is pretty rarely seen, though some are still around in Newcastle if you look out for them.
Speedwell designed it for robust simplicity, to be a relatively affordable, sturdy, basic single speed transport and leisure machine with a little bit of flair in the decoration, perhaps inspired in this case by the post-war and post-coronation aspirations and hopes of ’50s society – despite the general lack of affluence compared with today.
Those days of a more simple life are long gone now — or are they ? A bicycle doesn’t have to be complex, as the fixed gear movement has shown, and we know that sometimes the least desirable bikes can have the most gears, features etc. – witness the average low quality department store suspension MTB. Things are as simple as one wants them to be, really.
The bike is all steel, with big wheels - ( 28″ x 1 & 3/8″ – i.e. 642mm, not 635×1 & 1/2″ ), painted and lined Westwood rims, a generous fork rake, and a comfortable Bell 12-40 model leather saddle (not sure if it’s the original one though).
I purchased it from a Speedwell collector who is more interested in the Speedwell “Special Sports” models, of which he had a number of lovely examples to show me.
Originally it came from Yass, and still has much of it’s original frame paint intact, though the guards have been sympathetically resprayed.
The generous quantity of hand lining looks art-deco influenced, and is typical of so many Aussie bikes of its era, though perhaps not as elaborate a flourish as on the more upmarket ‘sports’ models.
It’s unusual for me to buy a bike and overhaul it only to have it look much the same as it was, but even so, I checked and adjusted the steering and front wheel bearings, replaced a missing spoke after disassembling, cleaning and re-greasing the BSA ‘New Eadie’ Coaster hub. You can see the same brake internals on a previous post about my ladies’ Popular, suffice it to say that photography is difficult when your hands are covered in grease ! This was an important job for a bike that is to be used, as the old coaster hubs eventually become dry and/or rusty inside, and can then wear out quickly. There is a grease port on the hub, but this is mainly for the braking surfaces, and injected grease is unlikely to reach the bearings, especially the ones nearest the cog that have their own little cone and race chamber separate to the rest.
I find that serviced coaster hubs can sometimes become a little idiosyncratic in operation, but generally do ride much more sweetly as a reward for the overhaul. It will sometimes take half a turn to re-engage drive after using the brakes – probably a sticking clutch assembly. This particular ‘New Eadie’ coaster brake stops very well, unlike the same soggy model on my ladies’ Popular … perhaps it comes down to wear, though I also didn’t use teflon grease on it this time … hmmm?
As an aside, many other old bikes that I find seem to have been unnecessarily abandoned partly because tight front wheel bearings have made them mysteriously unpleasant to ride, so it’s worth checking these often on your “classic”, and adjusting them for play & free running … to check, lift the wheel and see if it rotates back and forward freely ’til it comes to rest with the heaviest point of the rim – usually either the valve or the plastic reflector – at the bottom, while making sure there is no brake friction stopping this, then check there is no serious play side to side ( a minute amount is OK on an old bike if it’s necessary to keep the wheel running free ).
Even with the hard plastic grips this ride is comfortable thanks to the relaxed frame angles and those large tyres and softly spoked wheels. I’ve changed the gearing by going to a 20T rear cog (to replace a worn 18T) while retaining the original 46T front ring. ( Please forgive me the modern Surly track cog excess – but I do like those round holes ! )
This gives an overall low 60s gear inch measurement as recommended in “The Art of Easy Cycling”, and is a good compromise for this single speed, giving a feeling of pedalling lightness at sensible speeds … though it isn’t overwhelmingly heavy anyway, thanks to the spartan simplicity.
The straightforwardness of a single coaster brake is always appealing – no untidy cables, just a bike, pure and simple.
Initially I had thought that the drop bars would be uncomfortable, and it’s true that they are difficult to hold on the tops – having no ‘hoods’, and being a continuous curve except for the straight drop ends — but they also look just right for this bike, as I found by trying ‘north road’ style bars. I quickly swapped them back ! Because of the smooth ride it’s relatively comfortable for someone now used to riding old road bikes. The turning circle is large and cornering is slow compared with modern bikes.
The broad saddle doesn’t interfere with my pedalling when leaning forward, and that surprised me. As sold, the bars were rotated 180 degrees to ‘upright’ mode, but this just felt clumsy to ride, as well as looking less attractive.
In short, it’s a pleasure cruise – and quite graceful too, if one “rides it steady”.
( there you go ! ).