Posts Tagged ‘vintage australian bikes’

love this bike ...

love this bike …

Ahhh, late autumn and a young person’s fancy turns to tweed …

So it’s time to dust off the old bike and make ready for the annual Newcastle Vintage Tweed Ride on this Sunday 7th June ( the 3rd time, I think ). Which got me thinking about my 1956 Speedwell Popular, I mean what would it ride like with a more modern pair of wheels ?

I have temporarily fitted some 700C wheels with a Falcon coaster brake rear – not quite as classy as the BSA New Eadie original, but it definitely works better. The rims are Alesa alloys from Belgium, salvaged from an old Apollo hybrid, being about the most classic looking 700C alloy rims I have.

The front is radially spoked, which looks trendy but doesn’t have much vertical ‘give’ unfortunately ( short, stiff spokes ), a decision I made a while back for a different bike.

Fear not, classic bike purists, this is easily reversible back to the originals, unlike, for example, a respray of the frame ( no way ! ).

Anyway, what happens when you go from 700A – 28″ ( 37-642 tyres ) to 700C ?

Well, the bike sits lower, is much lighter, turns more quickly, and gives a rougher ride. Pros and Cons.

just the right amount of patina ?

just the right amount of patina ?

Although this change opens up a wider range of current tyres than the block patterned 28″ Vee Rubber oldies the problem is that most of them are too small. As the rims are now 20mm smaller diameter it helps to go for a bigger tyre, these being Continental SpeedRide 700 X 42C ( 42-622 ).

While there are still bigger gaps to your guards ( fenders ) than with 28″, these are larger than any commonly found 27″ wheel/tyre combo ( usually 32-630 ).

continental speedride

continental speedride

The Conti SpeedRide is very light and rolls well for a city tyre – it’s designed for hard surfaces mainly and the recommended pressure is up to 85psi, quite high for such a tyre.

Pretty impressive then … the bike still has stable geometry and is geared low – it’s probably best to keep it that way, with one rear coaster brake only I don’t want to be going too fast. You can tell this bike is a favourite as it sports my B17 special ‘titanium’ saddle …

It should be fun to play with for a while !

at swansea bridge

at swansea bridge

Will I take it to the tweed ride ? And what will you be riding, dear Newcastle reader ? Maybe it will make it into this blog …. 0900 hours, Islington Park , Sunday 7th June 2015.

See Ya there !



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the lonely one

the lonely one

‘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.

red, white 'n' blue

red, white ‘n’ blue

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.

detail - seat tube

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).

the flying kangaroo - i always wanted one of these !

the flying kangaroo – i always wanted one of these !

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.

transfers have aged

transfers have aged

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?

the speedwell bell

the speedwell bell

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 ).

with brooks millbrook bag

with brooks millbrook saddle bag

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.

cool kanga !

cool kanga !

The straightforwardness of a single coaster brake is always appealing – no untidy cables, just a bike, pure and simple.

curly bars

curly bars

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 ! ).

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ahhh, green again...

ahhh, going green again…

Everything’s gone green again after days of rain, courtesy of the leftovers from tropical cyclone Oswald up north. I’m riding around on the pink “turbo” mixte to check out the effects …

at swansea heads

wild and moody – at swansea heads

back from the beach

back from the beach


alternative header shot, marks point

alternative header shot, marks point

Feeling mellow, so let’s change the blog header…

Here’s some recent bike miscellany :

rat-bike, belmont

loop framed rat-bike, belmont

cecil basks in the previous week's heat

cecil basks in the previous week’s heat

cecil at stockton

cecil at stockton

in the tunnel

in the tunnel

Happy Riding !




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stage 2 – ten speeds

Ahhh,  hindsight’s a wonderful thing … I’ve now fitted the overhauled steel wheels from the pink mixte onto Cecil to change him back to a ten speed. As mentioned before the rear is a 120mm wide 27″ that slots straight in. Braking feel isn’t as good, they are much heavier and the tyre treads don’t really suit, but I am working on the old rear hub, aiming to get a new alloy rim fitted later, as I also want the mixte running on it’s own wheels again.

The Reynolds tubing and many alloy fittings mean that it is still relatively light, at least.

lezyne micro-drive light

I also had the recent opportunity to buy a Brooks B17 Titanium saddle at a great price, and while I’m yet to do a long ride on it, it looks wonderful and feels fantastic to sit on. The titanium is a very light saddle too.  Now I can’t wait to get lost on it somewhere !

the brown is the nicest standard brooks colour, i think

Two more additions – a Soma “Torpedo” retro style AA battery LED head light and a Lezyne micro-drive USB tail light both of which I will review at some later date.

retro torpedo

led + reflector

My feeling is that this bike will be a great ride when all is properly finished…

the suntour freewheel and shimano mech.

I think that the freewheel’s sound has a big part to play in the enjoyment of coasting downhill – some have a raspy, abrasive sound, but this old Suntour “Perfect” sounds relaxed and easy. The cluster is 28T-14T, not as gung-ho as the original 18T-14T, but much more practical for my location on a hill.

Happy Cycling !

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a ratty ride

On further research I found that Jack Walsh was a well known champion Australian sprint cyclist before WWII, who owned a popular bike shop in Punchbowl, a suburb of Sydney. He passed away at age 89 in 2010 according to newspaper reports online, having run his business for over 60 years.

head tube decal

As with other Australian bicycle companies I can find things about the people involved online, but never much about the bicycle models themselves. I honestly don’t know how much of this bike is original yet I would guess that the front wheel, frame and forks and front brake are original but the coaster brake rear wheel has been added later. Why? – because the frame has brazed on cable stays for front and rear derailleurs ! The curious thing is that the chainwheel is a single ring. Perhaps the bike was offered with 5 speeds and/or 10 speeds as an option or retrofit. I am interested to find out more and see whether other models are out there – perhaps on ebay.

large decals on down and seat tubes

I find the decals rather heavy handed and “bloke-y” for a step through “ladies” bike though – I wonder what the women cyclists out there think ? I’m not fussed about the metallic gold finish either but that’s only my fashion thing. There are signs that the bike once had mudguards, now sadly gone. There is significant surface rust but nothing deadly so far… it probably would be a nice ride if properly refurbished.

some details and rustbuster…

The bike appears to have been well made, fitted with quality components – here is a list of details so far, for reference :

Steel frame – size 18.5″ or 47cm from centre of BB to top of seat tube.

Hi Tensile 1021 decal on seat tube.

Leisure Cycles ( South Australia )  frame sticker as shown : Ricardo bikes had these stickers too…

leisure cycles was an S.A. distributor

Fork – Tange 4-D Made in Japan.

S/No on BB is L4M7772

Front wheel – Shimano quick release high flange hub, Araya rim – 27×1 & 1/4″ Japan

Rear wheel – Suntour coaster hub 22T w/splined sprocket (large cog added later?) and Ukairim? rim 27″

Crank axle – cottered Itazaki 27 Japan

Cranks – steel Sugino A-2 Japan, 44T chain wheel.

Seat post stamped “MORY”

Dia-compe alloy front brake and lever, stamped 07 83 inside – possibly date of manufacture

sugino cranks before/after some de-rusting

rust on BB shell

and the crank axle

The rust on chain wheel and right crank was removed with a knife, wire brush and phosphoric acid rust converter. It’s important to remove  any loose chrome also, as the rust beneath needs to be removed as well as the obvious surface rust. The chrome finish is now compromised and will need metal protection of some sort or it will quickly begin to rust again.

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Having had to use a larger chainwheel on the Speedwell popular, I found the gearing too high on starts and grades at 48x18T, up from the original 44x18T.

The “new” cottered crank set is one that I have had for many years and while it’s not as nice as the delicate spidery original one, it was the best I could find at short notice without using a tapered square modern crank that would be even more out of character.

a different bike - but this is the proper style of crank

So changing the rear cog was the way to go, and like the Malvern Star 2-star the cog on the old coaster hub is a standard thread “English” 1/8″ track style cog. These are relatively cheap up to 16-18T but beyond the 20T mark they are harder to find.

Surly 22T looks huge ...

Surly makes a range right up to 22T in both 1/8″ single speed and 3/32″ derailleur widths however, so I ordered a 22T to try. Believe it or not, while not horrendous, this cog cost more new than the entire bike did on ebay !  (I did get the bike at a very good price though, as it was neither going nor complete).

The top secret cog supplier was an online UK outlet – if you google them you will most likely see 1000 sites for a kid’s pop group that rhymes with “giggles” so just leave off the “s” on your search (teehee).

compare the old 18T with new 22T

To do this “gear change” you need a chain whip to move the (right hand threaded) cog and a C-spanner for the lockring – (it’s left hand thread btw). I use copper-slip anti seize compound on the threads too, so it’s not a nightmare job next time … put the new ones on by hand at first for a few turns – if you have to force them then something is wrong, so re-check before going further (The Golden Rule of Threads).

Also check the tightness again after a few rides, as the lockring can become loose when the cog tightens further under pedal pressure.

It’s also lucky I didn’t shorten the new chain when I fitted it a while back – it now fits about right with the wheel lining up more evenly with the mud guards (fenders) …

the hub's cog thread is now not visible - the thread showing is waiting for the lock ring

With the drilled holes and silver colour this cog (compared with the old one) somehow looks like the bike equivalent of fishnet stockings on the grand old dame, but I like it anyway !

now 48T x 22T on 642mm westwood rims (28 x 1 & 3/8 ")

Single speed gearing is always going to be a compromise – too high on starts and hills and/or too low at higher speed – I hope I don’t find this gear too low, I used 48x20T on the Malvern Star and that’s a good all round gearing for me, but I thought this bike should be a fraction lower. It feels right on a quick ride. We shall see.

you can just see the lock ring here

Incidentally, with a back pedal coaster braked bike the braking effort should also change along with the gearing, in this case needing less pressure but with a longer stroke, though it’s not all that obvious here.

Anyway, enough philosophy, I’m off riding.

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