Thursday, June 29, 2017

1947 Schwinn Continental

It's hard to believe that it's already the end of June. It's truly summer here now, with temperatures around 90 and plenty of humidity. The evening and the early morning are the best times to ride, and I take a little over an hour each evening to ride.

 This 1947 Schwinn Continental has a great combination of an American-made, fillet brazed frame; classic American-style bright parts; a great tint of blue; and the excellent Sturmey Archer 3-speed AW transmission.

I really like the chainring on these Continentals: it's simple, elegant, and functional.  The three-piece bottom bracket that Schwinn used is based on what the Birmingham-made English bikes used, and seem to be closest to the Brimingham Hercules family of parts.

This bike also has a really neat, two-piece stem. This stem has a steel pillar, but an aluminum neck. The bolts are monogrammed with the company logo: "AS". Balloon tire bicycle collectors seek out this style of stem for their bikes, and you even sometimes see these bikes missing the stems and for sale with either the wrong stem, or no bars/stem at all. This one is intact, and it's great.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

1974 Raleigh Grand Prix (with a couple Schwinn Pictures thrown in)

Another nice evening, this time riding a 1974 Raleigh Grand Prix. This is a sportier bike than the Schwinn 3-speeds I have been riding most of this summer. It's a different feel.

I would not call it "better", though people who enjoy road bikes probably would enjoy it more. It's just "different". Each has its own feel on the road, and I like all of them for what they are.

It's a classy looking bike, though not as "retro" looking as the older Schwinns of the 1940s.


Here's an over-the-bars shot from the 1941 Schwinn New World from last night.

Here's a little wider shot over the New World bars. It's definitely more a 'utility' bike than the Grand Prix.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

1972 Schwinn Super Sport

My latest project is this 1972 Schwinn Super Sport. At first, it looks like an electroforge welded frame, like a Varsity or Continental. These frames are actually fillet brazed Cro-Mo straight gauge steel tubing. 

I've stripped down to the frame and re-built the bottom bracket and headset already. I've cleaned up most of the parts and will be reassembling it over the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Rides

We're into the longest days of the year at the start of official summer. I'm mostly riding Schwinn 3-speeds, like this 1941 New World. They take a bit of maintenance, but that is expected of an older bike. I'm enjoying our (mostly) dry weather - lots of ride time.

Get your rides in - you'll wish you had weather like this come January.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Old Bicycle Mechanic's Dictionary (A)

Acorn nut: a nut with a rounded end usually filled with grit from the shop floor and residing under a cabinet after falling and bouncing there 10 years ago.

Adjustable Cup: the side of the three-piece bottom bracket that usually self-loosens and rattles 35 miles from home.

Ærodynamic: a Raleigh DL-1 with a 6 foot tall rider on it, going uphill.

Aftermarket: a set of Wald fenders that weigh 48 ounces and rattle like paint cans filled with quarters.

Alignment: eye-balling a frame and hitting it with a hammer until it looks to be within 6 inches of straight.

Allen Wrench: a bent key with a hex-shaped profile usually stepped on when wearing no shoes.

Alloy: a mix of unknown metals forming a single, also-unknown metal that usually forms the basis of Wal-Mart soup pots.

Alpine gearing: any gearing, including single speed beach cruiser gearing, that a person uses to climb any sort of hill and then brag about it on a bike-related internet forum.

Alternate Cable Routing: routing a cable around the wrong side of a bike and then selling it as 'innovation'.

Aluminum: what cans and cracked frames are made of.

Anti-rotation Washer: a washer beaten into place with a 5-pound hammer and then glued where it stops.

Ass: when on a bike, this is any person who passes you on another bike, while he is driving a car, or especially while he is walking.

Ashtabula crank: a piece of steel used in medieval years as a weapon and later bent into the shape of crank arms.

Autoshifting: a derailleur with a cable tightened to the max using vise grip pliers.

Axle: the bent and/or cracked piece of steel at the center of a wheel stripped of its threads with a torque wrench.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Learning the Local Terrain Is an Advantage

One thing that's nice about riding in the area close to home is the ability to familiarize yourself with the terrain, and then to use that knowledge to test or bring out certain aspects in your vintage bikes. In the automotive world, car makers have skid pads, trails, hills, and other terrain they test their designs on. You can do the same with the local roads and bike trails if you learn about the area near you.

For example, I have a couple streets near my house that are quiet, flat, and straight. These provide a great place to test the acceleration and braking of vintage bikes.

 Above is my 1947 Schwinn Continental sporting bike on that straight road. The Continental is a light, quick machine. This straight away really brings that out.

I also have a couple small hills near my house, which lets me test gear ratios for climbing and braking power.

It will behoove you to learn the terrain in the area where you ride and keep in mind that you can use this terrain not just to ride, but also test test out certain work on a bike, or aspects of a bike. The one thing I will say that is universal about these places for me is that there is relatively little car traffic in my "test areas".

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Should I Buy a Raleigh or a Schwinn Three Speed?

I've talked before at length about both Raleigh and Schwinn three speed utility bikes. Let's consider the common, cable brake model Raleigh Sports style bike, and its Schwinn counterparts. We're talking bikes with diamond or ladies frames, 26 x 1 3/8 or similar wheels, Sturmey Archer transmissions, and accessories befitting a basic utility bike. Let's exclude the higher-end bikes with Reynolds 531 tubing or Schwinn Cro-Mo tubing.

So this leaves us with the basic 3-speed bikes: the Raleigh Sports, and the Schwinn New World, Schwinn World Varsity/Traveler, and similar baseline 3-speed bikes. Here are a few key differences.



Raleigh Sports bikes are brazed and lugged, made from mild steel tubing. They have around a 72 degree frame angle and place the rider in a sitting-up type position. The Schwinn three speeds have somewhat more relaxed frame angles. Early Schwinn 3-speeds from before 1945 are fillet brazed of seamless, mild steel. Later bikes are flash electroforged welded of mild steel. The fillet brazed frames are a little lighter.

If you prefer a larger cockpit and more relaxed frame, look for the Schwinn. If you prefer tighter frame angles and lugs, go for the Raleigh. 

 The Raleigh frame is lighter than the electroforged frame of the same size, but heavier than the fillet brazed seamless frame of the same size. So an early Schwinn is lightest and, in my experience, most responsive. The Raleigh frame is a good balance of weight, responsiveness, and durability. The Schwinn electroforged frame is really bomb-proof, but also heavier than its needs to be. The later electroforged frames from the 1960s-70s have a very heavy, "dead" feel compared to earlier Schwinns and the Raleighs. Electroforged Schwinn frames from the 1960s-70s do make great commuters - cheap, durable, and not particularly theft-prone. 

I consider the frame, the most important factor on this list, because of the angle differences, weight differences, and differing feel.

Bottom Brackets

Raleigh bikes generally have cottered, three-piece cranks. 48-tooth chainrings are the norm, but some bikes have 46-tooth chainrings. Early Schwinn bikes from before the 1950s can have one-piece cranks or cottered three-piece cranks. Later Schwinn 3-speeds from the 1950s-60s have one-piece cranks. The Schwinn bikes usually have 46-tooth chainrings.

If you prefer very simple bottom brackets at the expense of a little weight, the Schwinn one-piece is fine. If you prefer cottered, look for a Raleigh or an early Schwinn.

If you want a very wide variety of pedal availability, go for the Raleigh. If you prefer American, cruiser-style big pedals, look for the Schwinn. 

Rust Resistance

I've fonder Raleigh frames, especially the bonderized ones to resist rust better than Schwinn frames. If you live in an area where frames like to rust, the Raleigh has a slight advantage here. 

As to the fenders- Schwinn stainless fenders are most rust-resistant. Raleigh fenders are usually pretty good, but do rust without proper care. Some early Schwinn painted fenders rust fairly quickly. I have to spot-clean my 1947 New World fenders of pop-up surface rust every spring.

Tires and Rims

It's easier to get a variety of tires for the Raleigh rim (ISO 590mm). The Schwinn size leaves you with basically just Kenda tires as an option for good tires, but the Kendas are pretty good still (ISO 597mm). I think the rims on the Raleighs are a bit lighter than their Schwinn cousins, at least comparing the Westrick to the S5 and the Endrick to the S6. The Schwinn rims are well-made usually, but a bit heavier. The Schwinn S5 rim, I think, is a real dud. The S6 rides nicely. The Raleigh Westricks are a bit heavy, but very durable. The Raleigh/Dunlop Endrick can be a very nice balance of durability and reasonable weight. 

If you want to replace rims with aluminum, the Sun CR18 is a direct swap for the Raleigh size, but the Schwinn size has no direct replacement that I know of. 

Brake Calipers and Cables

Earlier Raleigh use proprietary, double-ended cables. They work very, very nicely when the cables are good, but finding good cables today is a pain and expensive. Later Raleighs use a standard cable, but the calipers are not as good. Schwinn brakes are better usually - earlier Schwinns use US-made steel calipers taking standard cables. 

Later Schwinns use Weinmann alloy brakes that also take standard cables. The Weinmann Schwinn brakes are especially light and function fairly well. The Schwinn has the advantage here. Some very late Raleigh Sports also use the Weinmann alloy calipers.


Saddles vary all over. The Raleigh stock Brooks B72 is a good saddle. The Superbe stock B66 is the best saddle model ever produced. The 1930s-50s Schwinn horsehair tourist saddle is very nice, but usually they're beat when you find them today. The rubber mattress saddles from the 1960s-70s are OK but not terribly comfortable. Raleigh eventually swapped to the rubber mattress as well. Do yourself a favor and buy a new Brooks B66 or B72 if you're serious about riding.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hot Weather in the Upper South: Virginia

Today was a classic Virginia summer day, well into the 90's with strong humidity. I deal with this pretty simply: sometimes wait until just before dusk to ride, sometimes take two shorter rides (one in the afternoon and one in the evening), sometimes take a lighter bike, etc.

 (above: 1941 Schwinn New World 3-speed bicycle)

Today I took about an hour ride in the afternoon, and it was very, very hot. I will take another, shorter ride this evening, just before dusk. I ride in cargo shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. I do have a helmet, which has pretty good ventilation.

I also like to pick out riding areas with more shade.

These are all little things one can do to stay at least a little cooler riding in the summer. It's all very basic, but worth keeping in mind. You can make life easier by being selective about your ride duration, time of day, attire, type of bike, and pace. It may be hot, but I don't want to miss any road time, when I can get it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Quality, American-Made Three Speeds: 1940s Schwinns

 When you're buying a bicycle, buy the "best" bike you can afford. Don't go cheap and come away thinking you've got a "better deal" just because you spent less money. Buy the most bike you can afford, whether it's a new bike or a vintage bike.

And when you build-up a vintage bicycle, use good-quality parts and thorough re-building. While you have the bike apart, completely clean and re-grease the bottom bracket. Check for damaged or missing bearing balls. Remove rust from inside the rims. Invest in good-quality brake cables, brake pads, tubes, and tires. Get a good, leather saddle. These are just a few examples of keeping focus on a quality build that will last you a long time.

In past times, the same held true. In the 1940s, Schwinn offered a couple of options in high-quality bikes for the adult touring and sporting markets. The best of the bikes was the classic Paramount, but mid-range models like the Superior and Continental offered a high-end bicycle in a more affordable price. The New World was still an excellent bicycle, and formed the baseline model for Schwinn. You could not "go wrong" with any of these bicycles.

By keeping all of these bicycles of very high quality, Schwinn established an ability to make modern, high-performing bicycles in the 1940s. A buyer could walk into any Schwinn shop and order a high-quality bicycle at a price point that would work well.

The casual, vacation tourist might be fine with a single speed, coaster brake New World. A more advanced rider might like a three-speed New World. A sporting club rider might do well with a three speed Continental, while high-end buyers would go for the Paramount.

Compared to a single speed balloon tire bicycle, these bikes must have been very different to consumers of the time.  They still perform very well today, and the Continental and Paramount frames are still considered outstandingly well-made and viable platforms for vintage club bikes.

Today, we've become accustomed to junk bikes sold in big box stores. We even have come to accept that certain bicycle shops will sell low-end, junk bikes with clunky frames, cheap components, and slap-dash assemblies. I tend to think our ancestors went more with quality over quantity - buy a New World and buy a bike once rather than buying a big box bike every 2 years.

Even in the 1970s, people were still writing to Schwinn asking about parts and service available for late 1930s and early 1940s era lightweights.

The two bikes pictured are both from the 1940s, and the red New World is from before World War II. It's very likely the original owners of both bikes are deceased, yet these Schwinn bicycles ride on, 70+ years after they were first built.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Summer-Like Weather: Raleigh 5-Speed Sprite

 I've been busy the past couple of weeks doing non-bicycle things: traveling and then yard work. I've also spent a little time playing golf and fixing up some golf clubs I bought used.
 But the weather was particularly warm today, and I decided to take a ride on this late-1960s Raleigh Sprite. It's a great bike and the S5 hub is very versatile.
 The bronze green paint has a way of changing tones, depending on how much light is shining on the bike. In the shade it's an olive-color, but in the sun it's more a bronze color.
 The Brooks B66 Honey saddle goes well with the green paint. I've found this saddle a little harder to break in than my other, brown Brooks. I'm not sure if this is something common to the Honey colored saddles.
 The rear rack and Banjo Brothers Barrel Bag offer a little hauling capacity, at least enough for an afternoon of riding around the area.
The whole bike presents nicely and it's fun to ride. It's heavier than the 10-speed Raleigh Grand Prix I recently re-built, but it's still a great riding bike.