As I mentioned earlier I have this Chinese bicycle frame standing the a corner in my basement without any parts, it is just the frame. Since all of the parts were of an “not-so-good” quality on the bicycle. I removed all of them, as I mentioned earlier. Handlebars, luggage rack, stand, saddle, chain guard. The mud fenders where rather nice, but had the makers brand all over them. It all went in to the bin. Some of the screws and bolts went the same way. Just sad quality in general. Shame, it was nice looking parts, but so badly made.
My plan for the frame was to build a “retro racer”. Inspired by the amateur “tuned” bicycles from the 1920′s and so on you can see on old photos. But mostly inspired by the style of the Pashely Guv’nor and equal retro racers. An build with down turned handlebars, rat trap style pedals, a shiny decorated crank wheel a good set of wheels with crème or grey tires. Today you can use modern components, they are smooth and easy to buy.
In fact, at the bike in tweed event last year I saw a few old bicycles builds with vintage frames, but completely new parts in overall. Disc breaks, modern lightweight rims, safety tires and so on. I thought they where looking really good! Also very safe to ride with breaks and quality parts that are new and made of good materials.
My story behind the Chinese frame I have is simple. When I was looking for a bicycle a while back (remember the post “the story of the impossible bicycle“)? I quickly realized I wanted a bicycle, something looking like a English roadster from the 1930′s, with all odd parts that belongs. Philips style rod breaks*, handlebars and a high riding position.
To get this look I wanted and was dreaming of. I realized that I either had to look for an vintage English bicycle, that is very difficult to find in Sweden. Or I had to find a Dutch style bicycle, that is even more difficult to find around here. I found a retailer in Berlin that sold new “Holland bikes”. But then is the matter of transport to Sweden. I could ride the bicycle home?! Not, really. Or find a old, veteran roadster in England hand have it shipped here. But then by a coincidence I found an add on the classifieds to buy a “retro” Chinese bicycle made as it has been since 1930′s, complete with Philips breaks and a huge stand mounted on the rear wheel. The price was fair. So I bought one.
To put it in a short context, you get what you pay for. Let that be the guide words in this story.
About the Philips style breaks, everyone who knows that style of breaks know how they work. But for you who do not know, here is an small explanation. There is two break handles on the handlebar. One for the front breaks, one for the rear. When pressing the handle, there is a rod pushing and makes the rim break pads go against the rim. Not the rods to the front wheel is rather simple. But to the rear wheel. Now there is a fine tuning situation that never will be good and usable. To have those rods in place they are mounted on the frame, that is drilled holes in the frame to fit the break rods. It is a good system, it looks even better.
The Phillips rod system on the Chinese bicycle I bought, turned out all flimsy and did not really fit together at all. It was a general feeling of that the machine that makes all the parts where in good shape back in 1950′s. But now they have been used for to long time, so the precision is not what it used to be. The break pads fell of the first ting when I used the bicycle (no bolts to hold them in place or anything). Then the rods started to rattle even when the where tightly fastened. The the rods mounts where drilled straight through the frame.
One of the main things why I bought that bicycle was because the rod breaks of course, the look of the roadster handlebars with break handles. But the main thing was the frame. It is a “double” tube style. It has an extra upper frame tube attached. I liked the look of that extra tube in top of the frame, it looks so “special” and old. I read an article about why the Chinese bicycle had the extra tube, it said that was an development for strength. So farmers, for example, could transporting pigs and other items on the bicycle . That is why my bicycle quickly gained the nickname “the pig bike”.
Now back to the frame that is standing in my basement. It turns out that I have an frame with drilled holes in it, and double top tubes on the frame. That is not ideal for a racing machine. It is heavy and perhaps not even very stable due to the build of the frame. But still. It would be fun and a rather good looking bicycle! I went down to the basement and started to take the crank apart from the frame. When I realized that the bicycle was almost dangerous to ride. I got an idea of having a donor bicycle to take parts from to fix the Chinese one. But when I was trying out the “donor” bicycle parts, measurements and so on. New discoveries. The front wheel, a 28″ wheel. Same size as the one that was fitted on the Chinese bicycle, the front hub axle was to thick for the fork! The back wheel was to wide at the hub axle. The cranks did not fit the axle. All that might be sorted out I guessed then.
Just a few days ago I went down in the basement again just to see if I could mount other new parts on the frame. A front fork might be easy to find a better one than the original one. But I was curious about the crank cassette. After all that is the most important thing on the bicycle. It would be just great and easy to buy a new cassette and mount it on the bicycle. With that having a good foundation to build a secure and stable frame. So I picked up some tools and unscrewed the metal locking ring that locked the bearing shell to the frame. I only removed the parts on the left hand side, after all the treads and diameter is the same on both sides (yes, it is different on right and left mounted bearings on the crank. Always tighten in the direction of the way you are peddling, so one is threaded left and the other is threaded right). But I took the left one as an measurements example. I had my vernier calliper upstairs. So I went up and measured the diameter and started to search the internet for matching crank cassettes. Easy!
First of all, an cassette is where the axle is mounted by it self and you simply put it as an unit with bearings, grease and everything inside the frame. Then after fitting the cassette in the frame it is easy to just screw the pedal cranks in place on to the axle. The older style of one-pice-crank (the Fauber style) is mounted in a different way. They are made so you have to dismount everything and gently wiggle out the entire crank, with bearings and shells hanging around. There is small cut outs in the frame so the Fauber style crank can be removed and installed. The China bicycle had the modern cassette version, but in a almost silly bad quality, the precision of the parts where forgiving on a steam roller. I would love to have a Fauber crank in the frame. Sadly you can put a cassette version in an “Fauber style frame”, but not the other way around. So, in short I am stuck with looking for an cassette that fits.
I searched the regular bicycle part sites first, searching deeper to the special sites, no results. I searched even further, still no results. Then I started to think that I can not be the first person to make a modification like this to an bicycle of this make and type. After some research I found an site where they described what they have done to a bicycle like this. It was a long reading with many ideas and points.
I will get rid of the frame, it is way to much work and to costly for the eventual results that might be. As I also mentioned earlier. The frame was not so good from the start. So it is a trip to the recycle bin with the frame too. Shame, the idea was great, it was a good looking bicycle.
If you want to build a bicycle of your own. There is many good and safe ways to do that. First of all, you can contact Pelago in Helsinki, they have frame sets for sale. Just a matter of ordering the parts and in the style you want. Or, if you like the feeling of making something really special. Simply use your local classified ads on internet or down at the supermarket. There is always an old bicycle for sale there. An old one, not 1980′s, but old 1940′s and older. For example, I just found an old 1940′s Swedish made Husqvarna. The frame, Fauber crank, rims and other parts are there, original handlebars. An very good project to build a nice minimalistic bicycle, or refurbish to original or make a racer, cruiser or just a nice old bicycle with your personal style.
I strongly believe that when a bicycle gets in the state where parts are missing and the frame finish is long lost. It is better to use it for something, an build of some sort. Instead of throwing it away. Or even worse, just leave it standing to rust away in a stand outside. There might be people interested in the bicycle, it was made to be used. Even sometimes abused. But never left outside to rust away. That is just sad.
*the rod break system got many names, but I will name them as the Phillips style breaks