Posts Tagged ‘my old speedwell bike’

1960s flash – with original paint

This one came as only a frame, forks, headset and bottom bracket so I don’t know the exact running gear. While I realised that I could almost make a complete ‘period’ bike with this frame plus the parts off ‘ Flash No. 1’ , I decided that’s a project for sometime down the track. I am estimating an early 1960s build, but don’t quote me on that !

Serial number is W19788 whereas most of my other gent’s Speedwells have a “V” prefix. Seat tube is 55cm c-c and top tube 58cm c-c. I call it ‘over-square’.  Though the frame is technically a bit small for me, the longish stem and top tube combine to negate the slightly short seat tube.   

downtube details

It does seem a few years younger than my other Flash because the head and seat tube lugs are less ornate and there is no bottom bracket oil port.  The box lining is simpler and there’s more use of decals rather than paint stencilled decoration.  The main heavy box lining looks as though it was masked off for painting, then finished off with fine free-hand lining in certain places. I wonder if there’s any old footage around anywhere showing this type of lining being done – or perhaps it was a ‘trade secret’ type of work.  It would certainly be a great skill to keep alive nowadays.

With the faded candy red paint now turned to a mellow and patina’d ‘old wine’ red-brown, this frame somehow reminds me of a well thumbed leather bound book. The Speedwell Flash frames use a lighter (or thinner) steel than the Special Sports or Popular, which makes them nice to ride, but they are also more prone to dents, especially on the top tube, where it can be knocked by the bar ends. Unlike my older Flash, there is no letter “F” ( or anything else ) stamped on this fork steerer, though the ornate fork lugs are very similar, as are the chromed and painted fork legs.

The main difference in geometry between this and a modern steel frame is the somewhat laid back seat tube, but the short-ish chain stays and less fork offset mean that it’s a bit more responsive than some other 27″ bikes of its era. The seat pin diameter is 27mm versus the 27.2mm of my older Flash.

The cottered crank axle was badly pitted, as are most others on these old Speedwells. The new chain set, for the time being,  is a Shimano Exage 300, 170mm, converted to a single ring 44T on an FSA 103mm JIS square taper cartridge BB. 

I’ve found that a 103mm bracket works best with most 80s alloy cranks when running as a single speed with 110mm rear spaced frames. If you look at the original cottered Williams chain-sets on these Speedwells you’ll see how little clearance they have from the bracket cups and the chain stays, and the same should apply with an 80s chain set on a square taper, in order to get a decent chain line.

In this case, the freewheel and chain wheel are 3/16″ capable, so with a 1/4″ chain there is also a little bit of room for any slight chain line error.

pretty close – but works well

The pedals I fitted were Phillips, but I soon changed them to Wellgo B144s as the Phillips are designed for steel cranks and have really short threads – maybe they’re not such a good idea for thicker alloy cranks. The red Wellgo pedals somehow look out of place, yet at the same time, appropriate. Perhaps it’s the colour, reminiscent of the bike’s original hue but I’ve come to like the appearance. The same goes for the non-period chainset, and anyway, all these things can be swapped back if more originality is required.

normandy rear hub w/- huret wing nuts, halo freewheel

The wing nuts I used on the front and rear axles are Hurets, with a modern chain tensioner on the drive side rear.  Hubs are the converted Suzue front and Normandy rear shown a few posts ago, with a Halo 18T freewheel, laced to 27″ Ambrosio Extra 36H rims. The tyres were Continental Ultra Sport ( 27 x 1 & 1/8″ ), however following a couple of punctures I fitted my only pair of Gatorskins in 27 x 1 & 1/4″ and even though these look a little bit wide for the rims, I won’t be pushing them too hard.

love this stem !

The stem is my early Cinelli track stem with 25.4mm bar clamp, ‘negative rise’ and a 110mm length, paired with some 1960s (?) steel drop bars. These 25.4mm bars have a long reach, long drops and narrow tops, though at least the long ramps offer a reasonable hand hold and the drops are reasonably wide for the period.  I still think the wide topped Cinelli ‘ Giro d’Italia ‘ 42 or 44cm alloy are my favourites, but they neither fit this stem, nor suit this bike’s appearance. The older steel drop bars do seem to transmit more ‘hurt’, perhaps because of their thinner diameter compared with more modern alloy bars.

before the extra bar tape

The brakes I used are currently available ( ! ),  Dia-Compe centre pulls with Dia Compe Q.R. levers, though I would like to use some fancier drilled levers if I can find a nice pair.

I’ve fitted some period steel cable clips on the top tube, but put some thin leather strips underneath them so as not to scratch the patina —— ( lol ).

These callipers seem considerably heavier than older Weinmanns and Dia-compes that I have used, and the overall bike is heavier than ‘Flash No 1’ too.

Bar tape is Ritchey Classic with used  Cat Eye end plugs. To help hold the tape ends in place, I’ve used some short sections of 23mm inner tube ( see top pic. ).  

I am aware that the dinky little mudguards may be more 70s than 60s but hopefully they will help keep a bit of dirt out of the callipers and lower steering head bearings ! I’ve since wrapped the bar tape more thickly and added more length – for extra comfort.

it’s a nice ride ..

Hope you like it !

And Happy Re-Cycling  !


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old faithful ..

old faithful ..

I’ve made a couple more changes here – firstly the bars and stem, where I’ve refitted the early Cinelli stem with a set of steel Alps bars.

The bars are a little wider to give me better steering leverage and alloy bars don’t look right with this stem. Also, as the ( roughly ) 11mm Cinelli stem hex bolt head was rounded off, I have replaced it with an allen head bolt, hopefully not offending any purists in the process.

complete with twined bottle cage

complete with twined bottle cage to hide the modernity

I am a bit fussy about the bar tape on this bike and can only seemingly tolerate the texture and colour of this brown Brooks bar tape However, it’s quite thin if wrapped along the full length of this narrow diameter bar. My way of making things more comfortable here is to very much overlap the tape around itself for the drops and ramps, and then use heavily wrapped cotton tape for finishing off the tops – which I then shellacked.

The result is more thickness – i.e. comfort – but without the clashing newness of modern tape. I think the effect is nicely ‘retro’, not least because the tape is somewhat deformed due to being re-fitted and removed several times !

Used alone, I find plain cotton tape to be a bit harsh on the hands.

the sturmey-archer s2c

the sturmey-archer s2c

The second alteration was to fit a Sturmey Archer S2C Duo-matic kickback hub, and because I like the classic look of the Alesa alloy rims that were already fitted, I spent an afternoon dismantling the single speed coaster wheel and re-lacing the S2C. There were two hesitations here and they are worth thinking about. One is the weight of the S2C, it seems heavier than even a typical 3-speed like the Nexus 3C. The other is the loud freewheel noise it makes compared to a silent single speed coaster hub. This is particularly noticeable in top gear when coasting Moving the pedals back a bit here will help make conditions less noisy.

Regarding the weight, at least the wheel is no heavier than the original all steel 700A that it replaces !

The top ratio, as in the S2, is 138% of normal gear, and that 38% is a pretty big jump ! To work it out, if you begin with a 22T cog such as supplied with this hub, then that will be your normal ( lower ) gear. Your high gear will be roughly equivalent to a 16T on the same front ring. In this case with a 46T the gear inches are approx. 56 and 78.

It’s better than single speed, but either gear is not always low enough nor first always high enough. Changing the front ring alters both ratios of course, and one needs to personally decide whether to set it up for spinning or grinding, or possibly both !

the old school 'millbrook' saddle bag..

the old school ‘millbrook’ saddle bag..

The beauty of this hub, though, has to be the “zero cables” thing, and there’s a whole lot to be said for that on an old bike such as this, in terms of uncluttered appearance and simplicity of operation. The Speedwell Popular models only came fitted with coaster brakes as far as I know and I’m still reluctant to fit a front brake even though I know it would make sense.

The other plus is not having to mash the pedals so much at low speeds, thus making life easier for the old knees, while retaining a top gear that won’t spin out so soon.

Purists please note that the original wheels have been safely stored away for future re-fitting… but the relative lightness of these alloy wheels with modern tyres is hard to ignore.

Even so, the extra weight and laid back geometry is hard to get used to after stepping off the ‘criterium style’ quick handling Vectre. Ah well, all in good time …

greetings from the land of the summer Christmas

greetings from the land of the summer Christmas

Christmas Greetings !

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at marks point

at marks point

Unfortunately I have no photographs or precise memories of how this bike originally looked. That’s not a bad thing as it allows me some free rein, and I’m not averse to modernising components to make it a better ride, unlike my blue Speedwell that I want to keep fairly original. I might mention that  ( in near faithful ‘Grandfather’s axe’ fashion ) only the steel frame itself – without the paintwork – is really original.

e-thirteen lg1+ pedals

e-thirteen lg1+ pedals

These flat pedals have good grip thanks to the many threaded studs, though I think I prefer the feel of Speedplay Drilliums. To me, the white finish suits this bike though some may see them as garish. It seems they run on bushes rather than ball bearings and have spin adjustability  for your personal pedalling preference.

some basic stencils

some basic stencils

I cut these stencils with a craft knife based on the blue bike’s stencilled lettering. It was hard to get a clean finish – if the foil is too thin it won’t stay put when you curve it around the tubes. If too thick, it is hard to cut cleanly. Nevertheless a little later repainting of the  area around it should solve the overspray and run problems. I stuck the fiddly bits down with tiny spots of blu-tack before spraying.

I took a lot of liberty with the seat tube decoration, making it a ‘modernised’  and simplified version, using the same letter “S” and some gold lines and trim with red and indian red.

after some tidying up

after some tidying up

The head tube was infilled with Indian Red enamel by hand ( without being too particular ), and I left some black around the home-made head badge to add visual depth. This head tube colour infill makes a big visual improvement over the previous all black finish.

infill headset

infill headset & rework lining

I accentuated the gold hand lining as well. I find that it’s best to use a slightly thinned gold enamel with a good quality pointed artist’s brush and to try for a continuous and confident brush stroke. A turps-y rag will wipe off mistakes.

getting close now

getting close now

It’s the best I think I can do without repainting all one colour, though I am still open to more  lightbulb moments regarding the decoration …

imperial narrow, with cut-out

imperial narrow, with cut-out & laces

From my humble collection of Brooks saddles I decided to use the B17 Imperial narrow – so far, so good. The B17 narrow is becoming a favourite saddle of mine on bikes with drop bars. I’m not yet certain if the cut-away is of benefit over the standard B17 narrow, but it’s comfortable anyway.

kt leather bar tape

kt leather bar tape & soma flares

The Soma Road Flares are a rather bling-y kind of safety feature. Just don’t drop the bike or lean it on a wall, and make sure they can’t hit the top tube on full lock … any bars with rear facing ends should be fine – albatross, gull-wing, drop, porteur etc. I guess they would also work as bar end caps using lock-on grips on upright bars, as well as with the bar tape used here.

soma road flare

soma road flare – what bling !

constant or flicker on AAA batteries

constant or flicker on AAA batteries

The switches underneath are hard to locate ( hence unobtrusive ). AAA batteries are a good idea. The flares fit firmly yet are easy to remove. The little top windows are a nice touch.

another view

another view

I didn’t really want reproduction decals on this, so why not D.I.Y. ? It’s fun, if a little time consuming, and a pleasant task in the winter sun. Decorating it was enjoyable, but best of all is taking it for a cruise-y ride on a sunny-cool winter morning off  …

at blacksmiths

mangroves at blacksmiths

Remember though, once any bike is re-painted you will have to wait a long time for that nice patina to re-develop.

Happy Re-cycling !


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as it was

as it was

I’ve not been leaving well enough alone in the perfecting of the imperfections of some of my bikes – this one is my grandfather’s ( and my ) old Speedwell.

home of my youth

home of my youth

Having decided to approach ever so slightly closer toward originality, I’ve used the forks from the Malvern two star, and its mudguards to aid the cause. Both these bikes have non-original paintwork so I can feel okay about playing around with them.

The Speedwell frame is long and low with a 60cm top tube and a 56cm seat tube so it looks smaller than it really is if you judge it by the head tube length. The previous chromed forks were bodged a bit to fit the short head tube and I decided to correct this by using the Malvern star forks and a new head set.

campag record head set and home made headbadge

campag record head set and home made headbadge – pedals are temporary – i think !

The headset is a Campagnolo Record which has an ISO 26.4mm crown race. This was too small for the flange on the fork steerer but a JiS 27.2mm was too big – I had to gently file away the flange ’til the Campag fitted …

The wheels are the same, Weinmann alloy rims with a Quando front hub and generic coaster rear. I had toyed with the idea of going to 3-speed but canned it as I like the simplicity of single speed and that was its original format. There is a real aesthetic purity in a bike with no cables and I’m sure that’s a big part of the appeal of track bikes too.

I’ve used a set of SR “Road Champion” bars which are waiting anxiously for some luxurious bar tape. You’ll notice the tall head stem with very short extension – this is so I can sit up like a roadster rider on the tops, yet still get out of the wind more in the drops without leaning too low on these deep bars. The other nice thing about this type of stem is the ‘vintage’ appearance it lends.

With no cables it’s very easy to swap to and fro with the gull wing bars I was using before – just one allen key !

The bottom bracket is new, a Genetic 107mm that seems to work well chain line- wise with the narrow coaster hub. The cheap and heavy non-original steel cranks have gone, replaced by a Charge Rotisserie 42T ( really an FSA, I think ), nice and light and classy looking in a ‘modern but traditional’ kind of way … I changed the rear cog to a Nexus 19T ( the old set up was 40x18T ). It’s a little low geared but that’s how I like single speeds. The small ring doesn’t quite have the old-fashioned look though.

A new micro-adjust alloy seat post ( 26.4 mm ), a B17 flyer saddle and a new chain tensioner complete the many changes. There are still some details of the finish to tidy up – I added a little Indian Red colour to the seat tube and chainguard to tie the look together with the new fork and guards – now I wonder if it’s worth getting some repro. Speedwell decals ?

Old frames like this tend to ride well, though they can be a bit heavy and this one does, and is, too – but because of the many alloy bits and the simplicity, the weight isn’t bad. Steering is only a little slow but the trade off is good stability. The 27″ tyres and alloy wheels mean it’s quicker steering than the original blue Speedwell 28″ in the header shot.


I’ll show some more pics when it’s completed.

Happy Re-Cycling !


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a small detail ..

a small detail ..

Once upon a time long ago, ( when I didn’t know better ) I repainted my original old Speedwell bike that had become very rusty from living near the sea. To help do this I removed the “S” insignia head badge so I could paint underneath it, but sadly my efforts at reaffixing it were a failure and it was lost on the road somewhere in my misspent youth …

the ladies' popular

the ladies’ popular

Since then I’ve missed having it there and the steering head has looked kind of empty after refurbishing “old faithful” for the umpteenth time. So, just for fun, I tried a cheap and cheerful solution, and I don’t mean trawling ebay for an obscure bike badge. I had a roll of thin Aldi aluminium tape on hand plus some strong double sided sticky that I use for shellacking ( btw, how come shellac doesn’t have a “k” in it ? ).

empty headed

empty headed

I took a pencil rubbing off my Speedwell ladies’ popular and transferred it by tracing to the aluminium, cutting out with an Olfa cutter and scissors. The final touch was to use a concave nail punch head and thickish gold paint to simulate the rivets.

Sure it’s only cheap embellishment, and professional restorers may chuckle, but it has at least  given back a bit of nostalgic identity to my old childhood bike and I don’t see the point in spending on Speedwell repro. decals when this bike is so non-original anyway.

the transfer

the transfer

The tape will need clear coating to help preserve it as it’s quite flimsy. The badge could be coated with amber shellac to give a bit of rustic visual warmth if so desired.

these punches are great for making painted dots

these concave punches are great for making painted dots


ta-daa … positioning is very critical though , this is a bit low

Actually all this experimenting started when I tried to make an original head badge for the “empty headed” generic Pink Mixte that I’m refurbishing. Using the same process I cut out a “PM” badge – coincidentally my initials also …

no more "turbo"

no more “turbo”

This frame will have the lugs lined and some more detailing and coating yet, but you get the idea….

Depending on your patience, this process could be used to DIY decorate other parts of your restored bike provided it’s not done in a vulnerable location where a scrape is likely.

Also, shiny soft aluminium pet food containers could be cut up and recycled in lieu of the alu tape. Thin copper craft sheets also come to mind for head badges.

Happy Decorating !

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at swansea

This is my re-vamped old Speedwell – a bike that was already old when I was given it by my grandfather  in the early ’70s. I’ve now converted it back to a coaster braked single speed from it’s 3-speed conversion in the late 70s.

But this post is more about the virtues and vices of single speed versus gearing than about my old bike itself – so what do I think now I’ve had some long rides on it ?

I have deliberately left the gearing low, at 40T x 18T – that’s around third gear equivalent on my ten speed commuter. Why ? Because I find that gearing too high puts a strain on my knees on the local uphills on long rides, while faster spinning seems to better alleviate that.

To compensate for this low gearing at speed a technique that I sometimes use when wanting to ride faster than my comfortable cadence allows is to spin then coast, spin then coast … I think it’s good to practise mastering a faster cadence too, as it can help improve pedalling action and control at all speeds.

in town

On the steady uphill of the Fernleigh track this gearing is about as high as I would want. I could manage a 16T cog if I needed to, but for now it stays as is. Of course, if you are unwilling to get off and push occasionally on hills, a single speed is probably not for you anyway. I can stand up and pedal if necessary, but personally prefer to remain in the saddle or push it up the steep ones.

Otherwise, I will just cruise along more slowly on the flats and downhills. On my work commute though, I do like to pedal continuously down hills to maintain a higher average speed, and you can’t really do that without a good top gear. This bike is therefore not used for such “timed” commuting.


This new hub has some real braking bite that is lacking in my old restored pre-’70s coaster hubs, and so I reckon that the “modern” coaster brake really is the thinking person’s single speed – it has operational silence and reassuring wet weather braking with fine low speed control while still having the freedom of the freewheel to coast.

Unlike a fixed wheel, your gearing is not restricted to higher ratios by the “eggbeater” effect down hills. With the addition of a front handbrake you have an easier way of braking while dismounting as well as a backup brake for sudden stops. And don’t forget that while they aren’t common, you can have coaster brakes with hub gears too …

All this perhaps with only one cable !

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no identifying features

Here are two of my vintage/classic bike tail lights, both “unswitched” – the first is unbranded, made of a thermosetting plastic that looks a bit like black bakelite. I believe it was Australian made but I’m not certain. It is about as simple as you can get, relying on screwing in the cap to make contact between the bulb and “D” cell battery via copper tracks that mate at a certain point of  rotation. This light is to be fitted to my old speedwell bike, and has polished up nicely with metal polishing paste on all external parts.


bulb and contacts

the neat bracket is obviously designed for a seat stay

on my speedwell diamond frame

The second is the Eveready, made in the UK, of aluminium. This one is slightly more robust in build and the lens doubles as a rear reflector. I may be fitting it to my loop frame Speedwell when it is finished – it needs a tidy-up, as the alloy has oxidised in places.

it’s working

the rubber washer prevents shorting the battery on the spring

the reflector/lens

The main disadvantage with both these lights is that the large battery tends to rattle around when the light is off and may also turn on at times because of this. Some tweaking with rubber washers should help with this issue. Alternatively, I can remove the battery till needed as these bikes won’t get a lot of night use.

The “D” cells back then must have been mostly insulated on the top (+ve) terminal as the holding spring will short out the modern “D” cells via the terminal plate, unless this part is insulated.

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