Thursday, June 30, 2016

American and English Utility Bikes: Fourth of July Weekend

Fourth of July is approaching quickly-- just a couple of days away. To mark the event, I've taken out this 1947 Schwinn New World light roadster, a classic American utility road bike.

The New World is much lighter and quicker than the 1948 Raleigh Dawn, which is closer to a full roadster, with rod brakes and a chain case.

The two frames differ- with the New World being more relaxed, but also lighter, smoother, and more elegant. The Raleigh frame is large and robust by comparison.

I'll be riding this Schwinn all weekend- it's really lively after riding the Raleigh Dawn for several weeks.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Miller Generator Set and Lights

The 1948 Raleigh Dawn Tourist now has a complete, cleaned, and working Miller bicycle generator set. The headlight has a glass lens and two of the old-style, 'globe' bulbs.

The generator is a 6v bottle type. The bottle generator is an interesting piece of technology in that it provides modest power at the high cost of friction on the wheel.

Newer bottles are much more efficient than these old Miller ones, but this is the old-style piece I want for this project.

The tail lamp set up is semi-custom. Most Miller tail lights bolt onto the generator bracket, right below the bottle. In this case, I have a rear rack that blocks view of the tail light if I put the light in that position. In this case, I used a very small, black hose clamp to attach the tail light in a higher position on the rear rack strut. This makes the tail light fully visible to vehicles behind me, and particularly to passing cars.

I don't ride much at night, but do enjoy rides at dusk. The tail light draws attention so a passing car driver knows immediately that I'm a bicycle and on the move.

Do not underestimate the value of being seen. While the Miller lamps may not provide modern, LED-type light for you to see, they do make it much easier to be seen by passing motorists, which is also valuable. In fact, at dusk, it is more valuable than anything else because it is still light enough for you to see the road, but a passing car may not see you right away.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Officially Begins

Summer officially has begun. We have reached the longest days of the year, and there is no better time for dry, warm weather.

This 1948 Raleigh Dawn Tourist continues to run well. It is heavy, but still well-balanced and pleasant to ride.

It has a light, but this time of year, don't need it much. I have plenty of daylight to ride in the evenings, which is my favorite time of day this time of year.

 These original pedals are absolutely great. The Raleigh logo on the rubber is even well preserved.
 I ultimately opted to drop the original, long arm shifter. It was really a nice touch, but the shifting was a little dodgy and the lever was pretty loose. This 1950s shifter is slightly newer, but very reliabe and in like-new condition.

I am enjoying this and the 1946 Hercules Model C a lot these days. The rod brake three speed is really a wonderful type of bicycle.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"Hands and Feet": Hybrid Braking Set Ups on Vintage Bicycles

 Hybrid Brakes: Coasters and Cables in the U.S.

In the United States, among other places, the coaster brake was was the braking system of choice for many years. Coaster brakes seem to have been popular in very flat places, like the Netherlands, and in the United States (which is sometimes flat, and  sometimes not).

 The advantages and disadvantages of the coaster brake have been discussed many times, by many bicyclists and mechanics.

I will not go through all that, but I will say that from the 1920s through the 1960s, if a company wanted to sell bikes in the United States, it had to look seriously at adding a coaster brake.

While not all consumers in the U.S. had coaster brakes on their bicycles (all-hand brake bikes certainly existed), most did.

The classic American balloon tire bikes almost always had coaster brakes. A few had a front brake, but many had only the rear coaster.

American light roadster bikes also got in on this. This 1940 Westfield Sports roadster has a rear coaster brake, a New Departure Model D.

It accelerates and brakes like any other Model D, though the lighter bicycle makes it easier to pedal than a full weight tank bike.

However, the original owner added a Philco handbrake to the front. This creates a 'hybrid' brake system where one has a coaster brake in the back, but a traditional hand brake in the front.

Today, many experts advise you have a hand brake to assist with braking using the coaster. However, the American market focused heavily on bicycles with only coasters.

Westfield also made an all-hand brake model, the Sports Tourist, while Schwinn's New World bicycles could be bought with a coaster, two hand brakes, or a combination of brakes.

English Variation: Rod Brake and Coaster Brake

This Hercules Model C is somewhat peculiar in that it is an English bicycle with a hybrid braking system.

This bicycle originally came with a single speed, Perry coaster brake in the rear, though I have swapped this for a Sturmey Archer TCW coaster brake 3 speed.

While the English made bicycles for sale in Britain with this brake set up (they actually marketed them to pipe smokers, so the rider could smoke while riding), the set up was never as common as full, front and back rod brakes.

The result here is a peculiar mixture of a front rod brake (truly English in style) and a rear coaster (very much American).

My suspicion is that this bicycle was not marketed for a pipe smoker, but that it was a variation of Hercules Model C meant for the U.S. market, where a coaster brake would be a good selling point and would make the bicycle more familiar to Americans, who were used to a coaster.

It should be remembered that in the 1930s and 40s, Hercules was one of the largest exporters of British bicycle to America, in many years exceeding even Raleigh in exports to the U.S.


The verdict here is that the hybrid system is somewhat peculiar, but not bad. Many people like the smoothness and precision of a good coaster brake, but also want the greater stopping power of a front brake. Bicycles like these let you have some of both, though the system is not perfect. These bicycles offer an enjoyable feature of mixed braking devices and add some variety to the usual dichotomy of 'coaster brake bikes' and 'hand brake bikes'.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Good Weather and Good Bikes

Here we are, with a weekend of 85 degree weather, lots of sunshine, and some of the longest days of the year. In January, we'll long for days like these. For that matter, in the humidity of August, we will long for days like these. Nature offers no better condition for riding.

I've been tweaking and riding the 1948 Raleigh Dawn Tourist. The bike is stately and the ride is pretty leisurely. It's heavy, but it handles reasonably well and is enjoyable on the road.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

1948 Raleigh Dawn Tourist On the Road

The Raleigh Dawn Tourist project is essentially done. I have some more minor clean up, but it's 98% done.

The bicycle combines the dimensions of a Raleigh Sports-style frame, but with the heft and extras of a full, rod brake roadster. It goes relatively well and has the feel of a sort of touring car. It's a joy to ride, though a bit on the heavy side.

The original, long arm shifter did not shift terribly well and was quite loose, even after complete cleaning and repair. I do have several really nice, 1950s-era shifters on hand, so I'm using one of those.

 The rear rack is quite heavy, but pretty sturdy as well. I get more use from this Banjo Brothers Barrel Bag, however.

The extra daylight this time of year gives me a little extra time to work on bikes like this, and to get them on the road. This final photo was taken around 7:30 P.M., and there was still plenty of daylight to get in some road time.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

1948 Raleigh Dawn Tourist

Here are a couple of shots of the 1948 Raleigh Dawn Tourist project. I took these on my cellphone, so the quality is iffy. I plan on getting some better pictures later.

These rubber grips came from Indonesia via eBay. I was skeptical of the quality when I bought them ($15 or so for a pair). However, the quality is very good. The rubber is heavy duty and the features are relatively well-defined. These grips are winners, in my book, at around $15 per pair.

It goes without saying, this bicycle is very heavy. It's a touring car of a bike. But again, I will get some better pictures later.

On the Road with the Hercules Model C

A few shots of the 1946 Hercules rod brake compact roadster under a large, old Willow Oak tree here in Virginia:

 I put on a set of old, celluloid Apex handlebar grips.
It's a pleasant, fun bike to ride.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Contrary Opinion on the Sturmey Archer TCW 3 Speed Coaster Brake Hub

During the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, Sturmey Archer produced a three speed coaster brake called the "TCW" hub, in various forms (TCW, TCW II, III, and IV). The hub essentially is a very close kin to the reliable Sturmey AW three speed (very close, but many parts will not interchange), but with a coaster brake grafted onto the non-drive side. The general consensus of many vintage bike experts has long been that the TCW is an unreliable, poorly engineered hub.

I have rebuilt several of these hubs and ride one several times weekly on my Hercules Model C  .  The hub certainly has some flaws, but it is not the unmitigated disaster that some online have described. In fact, the hub is generally pleasant once set up properly. It is not as unsafe as some allege when used in conjunction with a front brake. While I do not advise using it as your only brake, I do think a properly set up TCW is perfectly functional in combination with a front brake.

The Two Major Flaws and Solutions

The TCW series has a couple flaws in the design, true. These are: (1) driving the brake through the transmission, thereby allowing the 'neutral' position to disable the brake and (2) the reliance on a fragile "E-clip" to ensure the transmission side of the hub remains in place. 

Both of these problems can be mitigated. The first issue is mainly an adjustment issue. Properly adjusting the shifter cable can help ensure the brake remains activated and the hub stays in gear when you're shifting.  The other byproduct of the first flaw is that the brakes tender to be a bit 'weaker' in third gear because of the gear ratio applied by the transmission. However, I have noticed the brake still slows and stops the bike, even in third. The logical solution here is to make sure you have a front hand brake on your bicycle, which is something you probably should have anyway on a coaster brake bicycle with multiple gears.

The second flaw is a bit more insidious. The TCW hub needs the transmission to stay on its half of the hub shell and axle, and not to slip around or migrate toward the brake. If it does migrate, third gear may not engage probably, preventing the high gear from powering the bicycle and preventing the brake from working in third gear. This usually happens when the E-clip is weakened or loose, and the slamming of the clutch into high gear drives the E-clip out of its axle slot.

The way to remedy this is to replace the E-clip, or else slightly tighten it using care and small pair of pliers (be very careful doing this). What I do is completely tear down the hub to the axle, then remove the E-clip. I then tighten the clip in the plier jaws and snap it back into its axle slot. The result is a noticeably tighter e-clip that keeps the transmission components in place. Remember too that if you do have the transmission migrate in this way, low and medium will very likely still work fine, so this will at least get you home and allow braking in the two lower gears. Again, it's also a good idea here to have a front brake.

 Other Thoughts

The TCW's other issue is that it relies on a rather small brake sleeve. The way the brake works is essentially as an expanding cuff driven open by a wedge when the rider pedals backwards. The expander thus rubs on the inside of the hub shell and slows the bike. With a very slender expander, the brakes are a bit anemic. This is not really a "flaw" that causes a malfunction in the hub, but it is a weakness that necessitates a front brake to help stop the bike in an emergency. Again, the TCW in this case is actually not bad when used in conjunction with a front brake. 

I also like the composition of the brake expander. The metal is softer than the hub material by enough to keep the brake action smooth and not "jerky", while it is still hard enough not to wear excessively. I have several such expander brake sleeves with quite a few miles on them, and the wear is not bad at all.

Closing Thoughts

I will grant that the TCW series of hubs, especially the earlier models, are not as reliable or strong as a modern Sturmey coaster. However, the hubs are not nearly as bad as some make them out to be.

First, learn how the hub works. There are some excellent tutorials online on them, including Youtube videos. Second, fault check the hub when you get it. Don't try to ride an unknown hub straight off. 

Third, do not be afraid to get into the hub and rebuild it. The TCWs I have are all ones I have rebuilt, which made a big difference in the smoothness and brake functioning of the hub. Often an old hub doesn't work because it needs a cleaning and refreshing, rather than having a mechanical failure.

Finally, always use the hub with a front brake. The TCW series can perform reasonably for a vintage hub, but really should not be used alone. They're not nearly robust enough for downhill riding, unless they have help from a front brake. However, for recreational riding on reasonable terrain, they can be enjoyable and functional, if imperfect, if you are careful and pay attention to their details.