Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Vintage Bikes In The Parents' Garage

After floating through the interwebs for two years and reading various personal accounts on bike blogs, it seems a common incident, at least within the last couple decades, is for a person who newly discovers cycling as a hobby to unearth a reasonably well-preserved vintage relic from their parents' stash of forgotten belongings.


Well, I can assure you that this is most definitely not the case for me (not immediately, at least). My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s, leaving behind whatever could not be carried by hand or stuffed into a small luggage. In our case, it appears that rather than having vintage bicycles emerge from the garage, the advent of my cycling hobby has put a few in


The story of this 1976 Raleigh Sprite was quite fascinating for me to hear. I stumbled upon it on craigslist per usual and with an extremely well-preserved Brooks B72 saddle and a $50 price tag, I could not resist. Long story short, it belonged to a nice, old lady who would take it on 100+ mile rides and after a series of events and just life in general, her beloved bike was relegated to the shed. 

The brake tracks are surprisingly helpful for stopping the steel rim in the wet

The poor bike was in sorry shape when we brought it out. Aside from all of the consumable items being shot, the fenders were severely bent and rusted and there was dust and dirt packed in places I never knew could get so nasty. Because I was able to identify the bike right away, the lady asked if I was a collector, to which I replied "I wish I could say no." She was utterly ecstatic that her "trusty ol' bike" was going to a collector. 


Initially, I intended to buy the bike and fix it up, keep the saddle, and sell off the bike. Although I loved the idea of having the entire family of Raleigh commuter bikes that were imported to America (Superbe, Sports, Sprite, Tourist, as pictured above) and despite my reluctance to let the seller down, I did not really see a reason to keep around a bike that was a literally Sports with a derailleur drivetrain and skinnier tires.  I brought the bike to my apartment, put the Brooks saddle on my Sports for a few months, then finally sold it to my friend and roommate after I had found another one. 

Love the aluminum pie plate

The bike sat in the balcony for the entire semester, waiting for my time to free up. I finally got to it the day after school ended and finished it in one night. All in all, the Sprite really did not need as much as I had thought. Replacing tires, tubes, cables, brake pads, chain, and grease is pretty standard when it comes to getting and old bike running and aside from that, this bike really only needed an extremely thorough cleaning. 

The last Sprite that passed through my hands was also a brown 10-speed. Something I noticed while test-riding that one was that the close-ratio (read: quick-shifting) 40/49 tooth crankset was extremely handy for fast starts around town. The same applied to this bike. Start on the 40, bang it onto the 49, then worry about fiddling with the rear gears once up to speed.  The difference in ratios was similar to that on an old 3-speed. There was something nice about being able to nail the 1-2 shift every time without worrying about getting it between gears on the rear cluster. Something that indexed-shifting cyclists need not worry about, I know. 

Check the small dots of rust on the lower tubes. Could salt water spray be the culprit?

The Raleigh-stamped Huret rear derailleur was completely dead and encased in dirt so off it came. The front was alright, except the little notch for the cable anchor bolt that kept it from spinning was worn down so I had to grind a flat into it and use two wrenches to replace the cable. 


After cleaning the bike and shining it up, it was looking ten times better than it did before. However, traces of its colorful history remained, such as a rust hole in the sheet metal where the front fender was mounted and patches of rust on both. To deal with the problem up front, I drilled a hole into the mounting tab, enlarged the one that had eaten through the fender, and stuck a screw through it. Other patches of rust are thankfully somewhat camouflaged by the brown paint. 


Originally intending to sell off this bike, I threw on the original seat that came off my '79 Superbe. Not as nice, but functional. Upon deciding that the bike would be going home, I switched it for a really nice mattress saddle that was unfortunately a tad wide for me but too nice to get rid of. I also added the Pletscher-imitation rack that was briefly on my Superbe


The self-adjusting brake levers are a cool idea themselves. If the levers are squeezed past a certain point, a tooth on the covered side hits a small ratchet sitting in the plastic which then turns the toothed wheel. That wheel is connected to a screw that turns and pushes out the place the cable housing sits in, therefore tightening the cable. Releasing the tension for wheel removal can be achieved by simply turning the toothed wheel backward; the screw thread is fine enough that it doesn't happen on its own. I tried so hard to make these work consistently but the ratchet pieces were so rusty that I just had to remove them. Tension can still be adjusted by turning the toothed wheel by hand. 


When I finally went for a test ride, there was something charming about the bike that made me suddenly not want to get rid of it right away. Was it the lovely ride quality of the Sports frame that it had or was it me feeling bad about betraying the previous owner? Either way, I suddenly called my mother and asked if she would like to have it. She hadn't ridden a bike in at least 30 years but by some stroke of luck, she and Dad agreed to bring it home. 


When we brought it home, I quickly demonstrated how to use the shifters and Mom hopped on to give it a whirl. Her first time on a bike in America, I think, and she's spent well over half of her life here. I followed closely on foot just to make sure there was no trouble. Forever dependent on wheels, I ended up running further than I had ever run in the last 3 years, a.k.a. down the street and back. 


I should also mention my sister's 1972 Schwinn Breeze as being the other old bike that made its way into the garage. Found and built last summer, it is a twin to my '72 Speedster which is also a green 3-speed. I briefly mentioned the Breeze in an old post but things have changed and I hadn't taken good photos. 


Upgrades include Kool Stop brake pads, the Wald 198 basket that used to be on my Raleigh Sports, and a bell that once again came from my Superbe. As described in the old post, my Speedster donated its front fender and new brace to this bike after I made a longer one for it. 


The original rear hub was so badly abused in its previous life that even overhauling it did not help. I took a day off work in the summer, rode all the way home, and gave it a clutch and spring from a '62 hub to mitigate shifting problems. Once that was over, my sister noticed that the actual pawls were having trouble engaging, signaling the need for new pawl springs. I had a '66 Schwinn wheel and hub with good internals so rather than swapping parts, I moved the whole wheel over and had to replace some spokes to get it to straighten out. The rust on the different rims matches surprisingly well. The '72 wheel was dismantled, bad parts reinserted to the hub, internals likely to be cleaned and used as a fun puzzle. 


My sister has been enjoying this bike ever since and will probably bring it to college next year. Here's to hoping that the problems are over and the bike is good to go for another few decades.