Sunday, July 31, 2016

1954 Schwinn Traveler 3 Speed




Over the past few weeks, I have been working toward returning a 1954 Schwinn Traveler bicycle to the road. Earlier, I discussed a slight bend in the frame's down tube.

After taking the bicycle to a local bike shop specializing in vintage bicycles, and consulting a number of vintage bike enthusiasts, I concluded that the bend is very minor (less than 1/8 inch). The bicycle tracks reasonably straight.




A More Extroverted Bicycle

By the 1950s, American bicycle manufacturers, and especially Schwinn, were marketing their 'lightweight' or light roadster bicycles toward younger people, though the 21 and 23 inch frame light roadsters certainly were practical for adult riders still. The 1950s were a classic era for American automobiles, and it was the automobile that captured the attention of American adults. Schwinn capitalized on the love of automobiles in that era by coping many design trends.

In the late 1940s, Schwinn went more heavily into stainless steel and plated parts on lightweights like the Continental. By the 1950s, candy, metallic colors copying cars of the era were common. This bicycle is "Opalescent Green", a color very close to a shade that GM (particularly Chevy) was using in the early 1950s.

A comparison with this 1947 Schwinn New World shows just how much more "extroverted" the Traveler was compared to its 1940s-era ancestor.



"Under the Hood"

The performance of both bicycles, however, was similar.  Both bicycles employed the Sturmey Archer AW three speed hub, or a similar copy by any number of brands (Brampton, Steyr, etc).

Both bicycles are very enjoyable rides. However, the stem and handlebars on the Traveler are a little more "upright". The New World of the 1940s often appears with flat "sporting" type bars, though any number of configurations existed.












Closing Thoughts

I really like these bicycles. They're a little more relaxed in frame geometry than the Raleigh Sports bikes, but still reasonably agile and lively on the road. The early and mid 1950s Schwinns offer a number of nice touches, like "torpedo tube" fork with darts, and "winged globe" graphics on the frame. They're certainly more extroverted bikes from an era known for big cars, bright colors, white wall tires, and American steel.

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.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Schwinn Headbadges

Here is a look at the 1950s-era Schwinn lightweight "winged" badge. The badge is aluminum and smaller than the standard Schwinn badge.

I really like these badges. They're classy, but not too over-the-top. They're relatively small, but still noticeable.

I think this badge was a winner and Schwinn should have stuck with it. They later went to a "starburst" background, large badge, and finally to a plain white background badge with black letting. Those were the "oval", large-style badge.

I'll go with the smaller, winged type.

Friday, July 8, 2016

1947 Schwinn New World

This time of year brings sudden thunderstorms, and today we had a solid downpour. I waited for it to pass, then took a ride on the 1947 Schwinn New World. I like to make sure I'm clear of the lightening when I go. Fortunately, the skies cleared and we had drier weather after the downpour. It remained hot and very humid though.

 I've been fiddling with the spokes on both wheels. I noticed last night that several spokes were loose on the front wheel.  I tensioned them, trued both wheels, and returned to the road.

 One thing that people overlook is a good bicycle bell. The best bets today are the old, West German bells on eBay. I usually get them for under $20 with shipping included. They are well made.
 I bought this Brooks B73 from a vintage bicycle exchange member, tensioned it, and applied some Proof Hide after letting it sit in newly tensioned state a couple of days. The B73 is great on this bike.
I am awaiting two bottles of John Deere Ultraguard to try to soften these grips a little. They're in good shape for being almost 70 years old, but a little petrified. Oil of Wintergreen helped a little, but I fear it might be too strong for these.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Schwinn Lightweight Fork: "Torpedo Tube"

Early Schwinn lightweights, particularly many of those made in the 1940s-50s, feature a variety of unique parts that set them apart from English three speeds, or even three speeds made in the U.S. 

One such part is the somewhat odd, "torpedo" tube fork. While not all Schwinn lightweights used this fork (many used a "flat top" fork, while Paramounts had a different fork), you do see many New Worlds, Superiors, Continentals, World Travelers, and World Varsities with this fork.

Fresh from the parts bin is this bare torpedo tube Schwinn fork. Many people associate the flat-bladed, "ashtabula" style forks with Schwinn lightweights, but this torpedo fork offers a look at earlier approaches to a 26 x 1-3/8 inch bike fork.

The fork is solidly made, but not overly heavy. It has a clean drilling for a caliper brake bolt, and smooth joining between the steerer tube and the fork tubes. The dropouts are also cleanly made.

The only drawback here is the proprietary headset threading, which requires a Schwinn headset instead of a generic type.

These forks offer a look at the good quality and unique elements of the early Schwinn lightweights from the 1940s and 50s.