Saturday, July 23, 2016

Original Versus Reproduction Bike Parts

Reproduction versus original parts is a debate that comes up sometimes among old bike enthusiasts. There is an overwhelming preference for original parts. However, sometimes a reproduction part needs to be used. Sometimes the rider wants the smoothest possible drive train, or the straightest and truest wheels. This can mean that old parts are dropped in favor of reproductions.

So is something lost when we use a reproduction part? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

Tonight, let's look at the reproduction "classic cruiser" Schwinn-type sprocket, versus an original Schwinn 1950s-60s era sprocket.

The original is on the right (mounted on the bike) below. The reproduction is in my hand on the left.

As you can see, the shaping of the original is crisper. The plating is also deeper and cleaner. The metal on the original is heavier gauge and seemed a bit harder.  The original does have a little wear on the teeth, but plenty of miles left. I'm going with the original, though I will admit I had to true the sprocket using a big crescent wrench.

So why would you use the reproduction? The reproduction is a little straighter. If you didn't want to true the original, then you could drop the reproduction in, and the drive train would run reasonably smoothly.

I think the answer to reproduction versus original is to run original parts whenever reasonably possible for a working bike. However, if the choice is between a broken down bike with original parts or a working bike with reproduction parts, go with the repro and put the bike back on the road.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

1954 Schwinn Traveler

My next project is this slightly damaged 1954 Schwinn Traveler. I say it is 'slightly damaged' because it appears to have been in a front end collision at some point. This resulted in a re-build of the front wheel some years ago, as well as a slight bend in the down tube. It varies a bit less than 1/8 (2-3 mm it seems) of an inch from a straight edge. I believe the bicycle was professionally repaired many years ago and put back on the road.

I took the bicycle to a local shop that specializes in vintage bikes and asked around about the bend. No one I asked thought scrapping the frame was necessary. A couple of people talked about straightening the frame, but most seemed to think that down tube deviation from straight was not enough to warrant messing with the frame. The overwhelming majority I talked to thought I should just roll with the bike so long as it rode OK.

You can just barely see the down tube bend in the pictures, as the light reflection curves near the head tube.

I'm going to refresh this bicycle and try riding it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Historical Success of the 'Light Roadster' Style Bicycle

The Light Roadster

In terms of thinking about styles of bicycle, several main types come to mind. People think of the "heavy weight" balloon tire bikes of the 1930s-50s, the lightweight 10 speeds and derailleur bikes of the post-World War II era, the antique/wood wheel bikes of the pre-1933 period, etc. 

In terms of utility cycles, let's think about the overall "3 speed roadster family" of bicycles. Sheldon Brown once set out the basic divisions of this family of bicycles when talking about English three speeds. He roughly defined a light roadster as having 26 1-3/8 or 26 x 1-1/4 wheels, metal fenders and utility accessories, a 3 speed hub (usually Sturmey Archer), and sharper/nimbler frame angles than a longer, full roadster. The full roadster often has rod brakes, a full chain case (though not always) and 28 or 26 x 1-1/2 inch wheels/tires (though not always). Thus the "light roadster" is exactly what its name implies: a lightened and nimbler version of a utility bicycle.

 A Quick Study in Contrasts and Hybrids


Full Roadsters:


 A 1978 Raleigh DL-1 roadster: 28 inch wheels, rod brakes, slack frame angles. This epitomizes what Sheldon Brown referred to as a "roadster", even if it lacks a full chain case.








"Vintage Hybridized Roadsters" 


Some bicycles display elements of both the "light" and full roadsters. To differentiate these bikes from today's "hybrid" or "comfort" bikes, let's call these "vintage hybridized roadsters".

Raleigh Dawn Tourist: a Raleigh Sports (light roadster class) frame, but rod brakes, full chain case, and lots of accessories. It's more "roadster" than "light", but you can't ignore the frame dimensions, which are "light" roadster class.



 Hercules Model C: full roadster slack frame angles, but "light" roadster style 26 x 1-3/8 wheels and lower bottom bracket of a "light" roadster class bike. It's almost a perfect hybridization at the 50/50 point.




Light Roadsters

The "light" roadster is epitomized by the Raleigh Sports: cable brakes, 26 x 1-3/8 wheels, nimbler frame angles, and different frame construction types on the back triangle.

This 1958 Raleigh Sports 4 speed is the quintessential light roadster.





This Raleigh Sprite 5 speed is a "high performance" light roadster variation. It bridges the gap between a 10-speed "light weight" or "road bike", and more traditional light roadsters like the Raleigh Sports. I think the Sprite is more a light roadster with a little more "oomph".


An American light roadster: the Schwinn New World: cable brakes, frame angle nimbler than a roadster but slacker than a Raleigh Sports, 26 x 1-3/8 x 1-1/4 wheels (comparable to a Raleigh Sports).

This bike has a nice, fillet brazed frame as well. It's notable that American light roadsters can come with three speed hubs, coaster brakes, two speed "kick back" hubs, two speed "lever actuated" hubs, and a wide mix of parts. These are variations, but remain "light roadsters" at heart.



Why was the Light Roadster So Successful?

I think the light roadster's success over the years comes from finding just the right balance of utility, sturdiness, weight, and handling. The light roadster can be lifted and carried up the steps of your house more easily than a full, Raleigh DL-1 types roadster. The light roadster's cable brakes or cable-coaster combo provide reasonable stopping power without the added weight of rods. The nimbler frame angles make the bicycle more responsive, but remain open enough to be stable carrying a moderate load of rider and cargo. The fenders, chain guard, and accessories make the riding experience practical, but not overloaded.

In other words, I think the 'light roadster' bicycle is the product of experience. If the Raleigh DL-1 and other roadsters were the "Ford Model T's" of the bicycle world, then the light roadster is the "Model A": an improved but still simple vehicle born from experience in needing to improve on the original, full roadster design.

Closing Thoughts

If you're looking for a practice, attractive, and serviceable bicycle, a 'light roadster' is hard to beat. I tend to think of today's hybrid and "townie" bikes as the descendants of yesterday's Raleigh Sports and Schwinn New World or World Traveler 3 speed bikes. We've come a long way in materials and technology, but the basic concept of a balanced utility bicycle remains.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Light set for 1947 Schwinn New World

After feeling under the weather for a day or so, I got back on the road today. But before I did, I took some time to add a light set to the 1947 Schwinn New World.

This light set is a custom job: classic English tail light and generator, a Schwinn front lamp bracket, and a classic French aluminum bullet light in front.

The French light is streamlined and goes particularly well with this bicycle. It even has a French-style yellow head light bulb.

It really looks at home on this bicycle. While it is not particularly powerful, it does give off enough light for cars to see you at dusk.

I think this makes a nice edition to the New World light roadster.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Evening Rides in the Summer

There really is no substitute for the evening summer ride. There's lots of daylight, making it possible to ride in the cooler, evening conditions. I like to go right after dinner time. It's still light enough to ride safely, but it's cooler than earlier in the day.

I see quite a few other bicyclists out, along with pedestrians and others making use of the longer daylight.

The Schwinn New World is of the 'light roadster' school of design, being much lighter than a rod brake English bike, and even lighter than a fully-equipped Raleigh Sports. This New World is noticeably lighter than my Raleigh Sports bikes, which are fully equipped with lights, bags, racks, and such extras.