The new project, part 2 (you get what you pay for)

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.

In conclusion.

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


Old bicycles

About a week ago, I visited an relative of mine on the countryside. He told me that he knew there was a barn a bit from his place where he knew the owner. I the barn there where is some old bicycles standing, he said. That sounds promising, old bicycles in barns can be fun.
Perhaps and old Swedish made one, put aside back in the 1950’s when the owner thought the bicycle was old and the owner wanted a modern one, perhaps with gears. On the countryside barns where used to store almost everything. Furnitures, cars, bicycles, scrap, things and different bits and pieces. With the modern way of life many farmers moved to the citys. With that the living countryside disappeared in a way and  many barns where forgotten and left to the nature to take over. The farmers children took over the old small farms as a summer house only to visit them sometimes when the weather is nice. The new owners have no interest in the old stuff, even sometimes not even going inside the old barns. Today you can see along the roads halfway collapsed barns in the woods. No one know what is inside them, who it belongs to.

We got to the barn and went in, the smell of old unheated wooden house filled with hay and spider webs filled my nose. “There they are” he said and pointed at some cycles in the corner. I went there and took a look. The bicycles in question was two 1980’s 3 geared standard bikes.

I guess the term “old bicycles” is a matter of opinion. For me an old bicycle is really old, with the look of the frame and mud guards telling a story of craftsmanship and an eye for details . The chain guards decorations and other signs. Lamps, pedals and old handlebars. But again, old is a wide used term, also a relative matter. You can be young but still feel old in the morning when getting out of bed. You can be old and feel more fit than when you were 20 years old. So, what others might think is old, can be rather modern for me. But on the other hand, what make the things I describe as old to others? Antique?

There is actually a way to get around all that. It is to call it “retro”. That is to make a modern/new thing in a old style. Now days you can buy an parts to build an entire bicycle with all accessories in an old style, but with everything newly made. There is also timeless looking modern bicycles that you can buy today. Pelago for example is a great company with a great idea of classical and timeless designs.

In fact I am thinking of buying a Pelago Bristol Classic and do some slight modifications. Only to do a retro racer in a vintage style. That even might be taken for an antique bicycle. Something for #bikeintweed2015 riding around on a new bicycle wearing a new tweed, all in a old style.

Next post will be about the Chinese bicycle project I mentioned earlier, there have been some developments. Stay tuned.


The new project

Some time ago when I was looking around to buy a new bicycle. As you might have read about it here. It was about my adventures with the China made bicycle I bought. There was an ad on the classifieds ads on internet, a company where selling these “Classical retro bicycles…”. I was stupid and naive so I bought it, I got it home, I adjusted it, I took it for a ride, I tore it to pieces, I threw it away. I dismantled the bicycle and filled bags with parts that where useless in every way, the chain case, the cranks, the break rods, the luggage rack, the saddle.

For example, when I was riding the bicycle I got bruises from the saddle. It was so sharp and badly made that you could cut yourself on the edges of the leather. The cranks was off each other by 5 degrees, which made an very difficult peddling motion. But the most disturbing part was when I put my foot on the pedal and pressed down gently just to see how stable the wheel and frame was. The wheels bended like soft cheese on a sunny day.
Here is an image of my little test, I am not pressing hard, not aggressive, only pressing down on the pedal with my foot slightly in an inward angle. I am even holding in an mobile phone in my hand and taking a photo while I am doing the pressing down test.
In short, that bicycle was dangerous in every way. I walked home with it, not riding. Well, to be honest I was so disappointed at the lot so I just wanted to forget it all, as soon as possible. I stowed away the frame and wheels (they where to big to put in a bag) in the back of my storage in the basement.

Just a few days ago, I found the frame again and started to look at it. The frame it self is not so badly made. It seem to be able to be used. The front fork, no. So I got an idea. I have all these different bicycle parts laying around after all repairing I have made lately. Why not make a final project? A racer with an retro/vintage/odd look? Down turned handlebars, old grips and so on. Why not? Well, one thing speaking against it is I need to buy a lot of new parts. But on the plus side, I do not need to run around to find them. I can visit the bicycle parts warehouse where they have all sorts of different bits and pieces. Perhaps I can make a bargain when buying all sorts of parts. About the frame it self, it has the holes drilled for the Phillips style braking system with rods and pads. Just like an old English roadster, only worse. I remember pressing hard on the breaks to stop and heard a “booing” sound when the rods flew away. Do I need to mention that the break pads dropped off in the first bump on the road? But anyway, the frame looks to be the only solid part of the entire bicycle. Beside the stand.

The stand was a rear wheel mounted thingy that must have been made by the left over from an old dreadnought ship. So incredibly heavy, so unnecessarily stable. I bet you could stop a car with that stand. A total overkill in metal usage. The stand weighted almost as much as the bicycle itself.
No. Of course I am exaggerating, but it was made in thick metal with strange rods sticking out everywhere. I guess that the stand was made in the original batch of steel and pressing tools. Then after on after making 15 million bicycle parts the tools become slightly used and the heap of steel is getting nearer the bottom of the crate. But then we still have the stand! Made to last a lifetime outside in the rain, perhaps even in a lake.

I have only seen one more of those Chinese made bicycles in real life. It was at an train station, the bicycle was parked in the stands with other bicycles. There was an collage nearby so I assumed it was a “hip” student who wanted a retro/good looking/fun/odd bicycle. It was identical with mine, all details where the same. But it was rusty, oh so rusty. The luggage rack was far from its shining chrome condition as it started out. The rest? Well, it was tragic. Perhaps I got an bad example, perhaps I had bad luck. Perhaps this is the resurrection of the China bicycle? It will proove its glory and shine again. After all, I have seen ads for those bicycles after I bought mine. With all parts upgraded from the factory.

So as now I have this frame. It is cleaned from it’s old parts. I got the frame… that is it. So in short, I need everything.
Cranks with pedals (with an vintage look) and the entire casing with crank shaft and bearings, wheels (with tires), front fork. Perhaps even a chain. That might be the  things needed as I can think of right now. Then is the matter of putting it all together. But might be just fun. New parts are clean and in good condition! No grease since the spring of 1937 in the bearings or crank houses. New parts that are unused and has a smell of silicone oil.

It can be a good challenge. It also can be a disaster in making. I will give it some more thought.


The force of man

When dealing with engines you often mention horsepower and torque. Higher numbers makes people impressed. But we should think of the power in our legs to. There is power that is not seen or noticed so often. But when on a bicycle and you start to think about it. It is your legs that makes the wheel turn. Up the hills, down the hills. In rain and snow. The legs keep on peddling. But with an tandem bicycle there is two people peddling. Twice the normal power on a bicycle. Imagen the force when going up a hill. The chain, wheels, bearings pedals, cranks. Everything needs to be in good shape for making it up the hill.
I have experienced a chain failure while going up an hill. Even an crank shattering, going up a hill. Or an pedal snapping right off from the crank.

With all this in mind I started to take the front crank to pieces (the crank wobbled, most likely a loose bearing inside). But when I got the covers off I discovered that the small balls in the retainer was missing, the retainer itself was all bended and scratched. This is looking really bad.
I dismantled the rest of the crank and bearings. It turned out that all balls had fallen out the retainer and where in the bottom of the crank housing. The balls was all badly damaged and unusable. The bearing shell was looking strange. As it turned out, it had shattered. It was in two pieces and all cracked. Metal parts from the shell where all over the bearings and crankshaft. All the grease inside was filled with small metal parts.

Luckily bearing shells are somewhat an easy part to find, it all depends on the treads. Since the tread is going against the directions of rotations. There is one for left side and one for the right. It is important to remember this when repairing bicycles. Since the old “righty tighty – lefty loosy” do not apply. There you can thinking that you are loosing the part you are swearing over. When you in fact are tightening it all.
So I made an visit to the special vintage bicycle shop in the city. The old gentleman in the shop pulled out an old drawer and some money later I had an old but unused shell in my pocket. Back home, it fitted right away. So now it is an matter of cleaning the old parts from all old 1940’s grease and metal parts from the old bearing shell.

The pure power of two persons peddling up an hill made the entire bearing shell shatter. No need for an engine. Tandem bicycle and fresh air and strong legs are a good combination so it seems.