Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pre-War 1930s Phillips Bicycle Project Update

A Pre-War Phillips Rod Brake Roadster

 Back in June, I bought a faded, very old Phillips bicycle. This appears to be a pre-war, early or mid 1930s-era Phillips bicycle, owing to the mixture of chrome and nickel plated parts. The bike was more or less complete, and still had its original paint, but was well-worn and faded.


This is the bicycle basically as it arrived. The cranks were somewhat bent and the chainring loose. The handle bars are original, but a piece of them had broken off in the fork steerer tube. The saddle is original (wow) but beat. Even one of the original, spring-loaded frame pump clamps is still there (but totally rusted). The rod brake parts are complete. The rear hub's cups and cones were shot, but the front hub is in much better shape.

So basically, the bike is there, but needed a lot of work. The wheel condition in particular was typical for a very old, very well-used English roadster. The rims were solid, but totally rusted and not very straight any more. The spokes were pitted and many were just plain shot. The nipples were a bear to adjust at all.

I've been working very slowly since June - just a couple of days per month on the bike. This weekend was the first weekend where I spent substantial time on the bike, other than just disassembly (which itself was time-consuming because of how gunked and/or rusted things were).


September 2018 Project Update

At this point, the bicycle is disassembled. I'm down to just the frame/fork/stays combo on the stand. I bag/box up the parts and keep parts together so I remember where they go. This bike in particular has some quirky elements that are very different from the more common, post-war Raleigh DL-1 roadster. So it's a good idea to keep the parts together and label what you have.

Cleaning old, black British paint

(You'll need: Scratch-X or Scratch Doctor or similarly good paint-friendly polish; soft, clean rags)

 
This very old bicycle appears to have the typically British, black paint from the pre-war era. Whatever its composition, this paint is not as hard as post-war Raleigh black paint, and when you polish the paint, it leaves a brown-ish color on the polish rag rather than pure black. However, this paint is still fairly durable and does a fine job protecting the base metal.

I used Scratch-X car polish on the bike, and the paint shined up nicely. It does not clean up quite as nicely as 1950s-era Raleigh black, but it's still pretty good. 

 

There's even some spots where the original pinstripes are still present, which is pretty good for an 85 year old bicycle.

The frame still has some decent Phillips transfers. This bicycle does not have a badge, it instead has an ornate Phillips (lion) transfer on the head tube. The lugs are of a straight-cut, very heavy-duty style. 

 

The seat tube "Phillips" transfer is pain, and in extraordinary shape for its age. I wish the lion was in as nice a condition, but this is still pretty good overall.
 

There are still some areas that are not totally shined-up. These are areas where there are delicate transfers or remnants of pinstripes. Since I want to preserve these things, I do not polish over them. I avoid them by carefully polishing by hand. It is time-consuming, but worth the preservation.


Frame Brazing Repair

One problem with the frame when the bike arrived was that there as a split in the rear fork joint. The way the rear forks are constructed, a solid piece of metal is sandwiched inside a cut in the chainstay tube end.  The sandwich was then brazed with a softer alloy, locking the solid "drop out metal" in place inside the chainstay. The non-drive side joint had opened up.

I took the frame over to Urban East, a motorcycle fabrication shop in Lorton, VA. They brazed-up the frame joint with an alloy, which is consistent with the original construction methods on this bike. I was very happy they recognized this was a job for brazing. The work was excellent, and the brazing work only minimally disturbed the nearby paint. I should be able to touch this up pretty easily.


Wheel Building 

(You'll need: new Westwood rims [28 x 1 1/2]; 72 new spokes [306mm in this case];  spoke head brass washers [Velofuze here]; nipple rim washers [Zipp Firecrest Westwood type here]; spoke wrench; and a little light oil).

The original Phillips rims are built like a tank - heavy and solid despite 85 years of rust. The original plating is badly worn and they are not very straight any more. So we have to build wheels... The original rear hub is nickel plated and a single speed, but the integral cups are shot. Someone was riding this bike with contaminated bearings at some point and tore big pits into the cups.

I've ordered a new set of Westwood KW Products rims from Yellow Jersey in Wisconsin. I've used a number of different "new" rims over the years for rod brake bikes, almost all from India. Certainly the original rims are better-made, but they stopped making those in Britain decades ago. 

These KW rims are actually not bad at all. They are heavier-built than the Avro rims I got from Britain a few years ago for another bike, and the plating is a bit nicer than the Eastman rims I bought for a post-war DL-1 probably 12 years ago. These KWs should work OK.

 

With Westwood rims, you always want to use a nipple-rim washer. The washer is sort of shaped like a taco shell - an oval that has a bend in it to match the contour of the Westwood rim's center ridge. I use Zipp Firecrest washers, and these are just as good as the originals (they may actually be even a little heavier-duty than the originals).

At the hub flange, you also want to use a brass spoke head washer (I'm using Velofuze here). The issue is that modern spokes tend to have longer elbows than the hub flange. The flange holes also have some wear on them, from being used in the past. The brass spoke washers will improve your spoke-to-flange fit.

To build wheels, I recommend Sheldon Brown's wheelbuilding instructions.

What Hubs Am I Using?

The original front Phillips hub is a 32-hole hub plated in nickel. It has a larger barrel than the post-war Raleigh type hubs. Thankfully, the hub is in great mechanical condition, with good integral cups. I bought a fresh set of Phillips cones (eBay) and added new bearing balls (Amazon). The grease I'm using is Lucas Green Synthetic grease from a small grease gun (Lowe's/Home Depot). 


The rear hub is an original Sturmey Archer AW hub from the late 1930s or early 1940s. This is a no-date hub with a small Sturmey brand strike and simply "Patent" at the bottom. This is a relatively early AW, judging from the internal parts. When I rebuilt the Sturmey hub, I went to new bearings, a longer axle, and a 1950s-era Sturmey driver that will accept a variety of cog sizes. For me, customizing the cog-to-sprocket ratio is "a must", especially on a heavier roadster like this one.


What's Next?

At this point, I need to clean up the fenders with polish. Once I've polished everything, that will establish a baseline for what kind of touch-up paint I will need (gloss vs semi-gloss vs flat black). I will then de-rust the touch up areas and match those areas to the original paint. The result will be a pretty clean finish overall. Original paint will be left alone wherever possible, and touch-up will be the least intrusive that I can make it.

I also need to re-build the headset. It will need new grease and probably new bearing balls. We'll see what condition we have in there once I open it up in a few days.















Tuesday, September 11, 2018

15 Years Apart

On September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina and began making its way north into Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area. In those times, I lived on T Street NW in the District of Columbia. This neighborhood was somewhat more suburban than the area to its south and east in the more developed parts of D.C.

About a month earlier, I had purchased a 20+ speed, modern wonder-bike. It was a Specialized Expedition Deluxe - a handsome bike that I had customized with fenders. This was to be my campus bike for commuting down to college at Georgetown.

When Isabel moved into the area, it caused a great deal of wind and rain. At first, it did not seem like much. My friends and I went out and about at the start of the storm, picking up a few things at the store. Over the course of an evening, the storm steadily worsened. Many of the large, older trees uprooted, falling over onto rowhouses and taking down power lines. These trees raised with them the entire sidewalk, bricks and all.

For about two weeks our area had no electricity after the storm. The only way to get power was to go to campus, only a portion of which had electricity. Each night, I'd ride down to do work where there was light and power, and then return home to go to bed late in the evening. During one of these trips, I found that my bicycle had been stolen from the rack. The thief cut the cable lock and made off with the wonder bike.

Prior to all this, from about 1994 to 2001, I had been in the hobby of restoring old bikes and riding them. These were single speed middleweight and balloon tire bikes of the American style. After losing the modern wonder bike, I decided to get back into old bikes, this time as a means of transportation in college. I bought a 1974 Raleigh Sports for $30.

-----------------------------------------------------

So here we are, 15 years - almost to the day - after Isabel wiped out power for two weeks and the wonder bike was stolen; almost 15 years to the day after I bought my 1974 Raleigh Sports. Another hurricane is making landfall in North Carolina and threatening to bring to our area wind and rain. It reminds me how lucky I was to locate and buy this old bike for $30. It has undergone some changes and improvements over the years, but this is a sentimental favorite of mine.

In life, certain things change and certain things hold. Hopefully our luck will be better this time and we will not lose power for two weeks. But then too, hopefully, I am better prepared than in those days. We all try to grow wiser by our mistakes and try to find the better constants in life. $30 well spent.



Saturday, August 18, 2018

1958 Raleigh Sports: 60 Years of Quality


My Raleigh Sports 4-speed dates to 1958. The late 1940s through the early 1960s were the "golden age" of Raleigh. This was when Raleigh bikes had many high-quality touches, and finishing was at its best. Over the course of the 1960s, cost-cutting diminished some of the "posher" touches on the bikes. A 1970s-era Raleigh Sports might certainly be a reliable, attractive bike, but the 1940s-early 60s bikes had another level of finishing and fitting.

I love this 1958 Raleigh Sports, and here are a few, detailed shots of the nicer touches on the bike.



The heron head crank set has a 48-tooth sprocket. The heron bird figures in the chain ring have "eyes" and face front. The chain ring has the "inverted-V bridges" between the herons.

The rear fender decal has held up pretty well. These often get worn or damaged.

This "plain-style" headbadge is a nice, vintage touch. 

The Sports has an FW 4-speed hub, and the shifter to match.

There are a few scratches here and there, but the condition on this bike is pretty good. Even those little "Raleigh" heron graphics on the fork blades are intact.

Talk about "overkill" - the seat tube has a full rack of graphcs: "High Tensile Steel Tubing"; "Genuine English Lightweight"; and my favorite, "The All-Steel Bicycle".  Nobody brags about "all steel" anymore... I doubt buyers would pay good money for heavy, steel rims these days.

Here's a killer extra - a Raleigh Industries original bell, complete with the Raleigh Industries logo in the center of the bell. This isn't your typical, "$5 made-in-China" plastic bell for sure.

Even the brake lever straps are rounded, well-plated, and have received the "Raleigh Industries" strike. Think about that a moment - the clamp on a brake lever fully finished; struck; and plated in chrome. Raleigh spared few expenses on these "golden age" bikes.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Deep into August

Over the course of July and the first half of August, our weather has been pretty rotten. I've gotten in a good number of rides, but we've had an almost-daily threat of rain, often pouring rain.

The odd thing is that it has been dry more than it has been raining, but even on the dry days, the rain is never very far away. This has resulted in prolonged paving (torn-up) roads in the area, and several rides I had to cancel.

Tonight though, I was happy to squeeze in an evening ride on my 1974 Raleigh Sports. There was plenty of rain in the area, but it stayed just to the north of here. It was pouring 10 miles north here, yet my local area stayed dry.




One item unique to this bike is the U.K. flag lapel pin. I bought this simple pin at a local mall 15 years ago this past spring. It originally was on the back of my backpack in college, but once I got this Raleigh in September 2003, I added the lapel pin to the saddle bag.


 

It's hard to believe I've had this bicycle almost 15 years. This one is a sentimental favorite of mine, even if it's not the highest collector cachet bike that I have.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Cleaning Bicycle Fender/Mudguard Wells (Wheels on)

Crews have been busy re-paving our local roads, taking some these roads down to the dirt bed. Other roads are newly re-paved and are in excellent condition. The result is that I've been spending quite a bit of time on my Raleigh Export Model DL-1. The DL-1's robust construction and large, 28 inch wheels handle many road surfaces without too much difficulty.


But part of riding on dirt bed is that you inevitably get mud deep into the fender/mudguard wells. And it's a pain to remove the wheels on this bike... Below you can see plenty of  dust on the outside of the fender, and there's caked mud on the tire.


Caked mud on the tire is a fairly good indicator you probably have mud on the inside of the fender well. The English called these "mudguards" because that's exactly what they do - stop mud and water from being kicked up on the rider and the rest of the bike. I love fenders, but they do need a little cleaning now and then.


Did you know that you can give your fender wells a good cleaning without removing the wheels, at least most of the time?

I "quick clean" my fender wells using a rag or paper towel and an old bicycle spoke. First, the rag can be loaded up with soapy water, WD-40, Kroil or other cleaning solutions. In this case, I'm using WD-40 because it both cleans and displaces any moisture.

Second, I work the rag into the fender well and position the spoke head in the rag so that it's only touching the rag - not punching through the rag or in any way contacting the fender well paint.


Finally, I work the rag around the fender well using the spoke head as a hook to pull/push the rag. The wheel/tire can also be helpful to push the rag in which ever direction you want to go. If the rag is properly "stuffed" into the well - it will contour its shape to the well and clean out the various crevices.


I do this treatment perhaps once per season on each bike, and maybe a little more often if the fender wells have gotten particularly muddy like this DL-1's have become. Also nice is the fact that you can choose what you want to use by way of cleaner - soapy water, WD-40, Kroil, and similar can be employed. Just avoid paint thinner, acetone, and similar solvents that will damage the paint.

What if you don't want to go all the way to a "hook and rag" method - because you've got some loose debris, but not mud "caked" or "stuck" to the well? Often this will be grass clippings, pieces of plants, or other "loose items" you've picked up in the fender well.

In that case, you can use either canned "electronics cleaning" air, or an air compressor to simply blow out the debris. This is fast, effective, and involves no chemicals. This is the way to go if you just have a few loose pieces in the fender, and not the "caked mud" I picked up from riding on the road bed.


After the riding season is over, I assess each bike to see what cleaning need to be done. If need be, I pull the wheels and completely clean the bike's fenders and hard-to-reach areas.

But during the season, these "quick clean" methods work well.