Sunday, August 11, 2013

Summer Rides: 1935 Hercules Model G Three Speed

I've spent the past few weeks bouncing back and forth between the 1974 Sports (have had it 10 years and its workings are second nature to me) and the 1935 Hercules Model G (got it and rebuilt it just this year, still getting used to its capabilities). There's a thought that once you've ridden an English three speed, you've ridden all of them. It isn't true.

The first thing you notice about the Hercules is that it is a much older bicycle. Its lugs are plain, its frame is heavy, and everything just feels and looks more primitive. It has side-mounted rear linkages, a plain front stirrup without any pad extension arms, and the old style, narrow handlebars. The hand grips are tiny by modern utility bicycle standards.

Once you are on the bicycle, the first thing you notice is that you sit way up in the air, in a very upright position. I've never ridden a bicycle where you sit as straight up as this. You draw looks on the road, especially if you roll up next to a truck or van. You literally are as tall as a pick up truck or cargo van when riding, and the people in those vehicles do not seem to expect a bicyclist to suddenly appear all the way up at their level. You tower over regular passenger cars usually.

The position is almost completely straight up and down. A road bicyclist will have a fair amount of forward position, but with the Model G, your back is almost straight up and down, with your hands almost on your lap. There is very little reach on this bike in terms of having to go forward to meet the bars. You are basically sitting up straight, with your hands just in front of your lap to steer.

The saddle sits with a good bit of backwards rotation. This is common to upright roadsters, but this bicycle particularly favors it because of how straight up and down over those rear saddle springs you sit.

Turns are easily done and relatively lazy. They are not as lazy as an American balloon tire cruiser like my Columbia or Schwinn-Henderson, but are lazier than the Raleigh Sports. It does not have that "snappy" feeling, but rather a more gradual turn. You also have to beware the bar ends and your knees in tighter turns- you will quickly run out of space and need to open your leg a bit to all the near bar to pass.

The bicycle is quite stable, though tends to drop off a bit to the drive side. It is likely the chain case's added weight, along with that of the drive train, on that side is the deciding factor. I have set up the gearing relatively low and the bicycle accelerates smoothly and cruises along well enough. The 650b/26 x 1-1/2 wheels soak up the bumps better than the Sports.  The Avro Westwood rims behave like any other Westwood type I've ridden. They have a fairly dead feel.

The brakes work as well as can be expected for primitive rods. I have nice, old stock Raleigh pads on there and they really do work as well as you can expect.  They constantly need to be tinkered with in terms of adjustment, at least during the period of breaking new pads in.

The quadrant shifter is squishy and does not give the crisp, positive response the common handlebar SA shifters give. You have to sort of "search" for the gear similar to the way a friction derailleur shifter works, though you do have three holes to "pop" into once you're in the correct spot. The hub itself is pretty solid and shifts well.

The gist of all this is basically that even if you have ridden your share of English three speeds, they're not all the same. There are these subtle differences you encounter that make each model a little bit different. I like this example in particular because it's older and demonstrates some of the more antique trends in these types of bikes.