This is the story of my old Speedwell bike that I saved from the dump this year. It began as my grandfather’s bike in Swansea when I was a child. It has been in the family now for 40 to 50 years … it is like the proverbial “grandfather’s axe”, having been through many facelifts.
The originally blue and white Speedwell popular began as a “coaster” or “back-pedal” braked bike, and was given to me on my 15th birthday, in 1973. It had a leather saddle, mudguards ( fenders ), and an analogue hub driven speedo (!) that was stolen decades ago. I would estimate that it was early to mid 60s vintage.
I ceased to ride it when around the mid 80s I bought an early Apollo mountain bike and donated it to my father on the central coast, where it was used for a time to collect his daily mail – a round trip distance of say 200 metres ! He now uses an MTB more suited to his gravel entry road.
So, what to do with the Speedwell ? I hadn’t the heart to dump it, even though it had little value, no longer being anywhere near original. I decided to make it into a transport bike, keeping whatever parts I could salvage. The front wheel and forks were unsalvageable but the rear wheel, gear cable and shifter appeared OK. The only chromed steel front wheel I could find was on a salvaged Ricardo hybrid 26″. I had to use forks with canti studs for the brakes, and these were pilfered from a Repco cheapie.
The unsightly orange frame paint and grey zinc rich galmet on the rear wheel took a long time to remove, but they had at least helped to keep the rust at bay. Knife, steel wool, WD40, sandpaper, wire brush and phosphoric acid rust converter were used on various parts.
The 48T cottered crankset was worn and replaced by a tapered prowheel 40T. For the rear. I used a Shimano Alfine 20T sprocket giving the lowish 2:1 ratio I was aiming for – The Alfine has the same 3-lug and spring clip retainer attachment as the old 18T 3S sprocket.
Here is the parts list:
Frame : Speedwell popular lugged steel diamond frame, steel unicrown fork.
Rear Wheel: Shimano 3S hub, Araya 27″ steel rim, Shimano 3 speed click shifter.
Front Wheel: 26″ steel, Repco 26″ unicrown steel fork.
Brakes : Alloy cantilever front, Dia-compe side pull caliper rear. Alloy Polygon levers.
Bars: “North road” style alloy with Cardiff cork grips. Alloy quill stem.
Saddle: New Brooks B67s “aged”.
Front Rack : Basil “memories” with basket from an old freezer, wooden panels from a recycled palette, shellacked ( as per rear wooden box.)
Lights : Vintage Miller 6V and generator. Recycled steel bell, de-rusted and clear epoxied.
Plus various “Lovely Bicycle” type shellacked twine “experiments”. So how does it ride ?
The bike is heavy, slow and comfortable, the swept back bars give good leverage of the front load. Pedal clearance is limited so some care in cornering is required, but I don’t tend to have problems with it. The gearing gives 15 km/hr in first 20 in second and a comfortable 20-30 km/hr in third on the flat at a comfortable cadence range depending on wind direction.
The small front wheel gives responsive steering and the 26 x 1.75″ front tyre absorbs road shocks pretty well. It’s one of my favourite rides.
Ugly maybe, but it works and is a unique old friend that makes me feel nostalgic when I follow the roads in Swansea on which I travelled as a youth.
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