The black bicycle, part 1

I have mentioned the black bicycle many times before. So many times by now that it has almost become a mythical story. But this time I will tell you the story behind it and my intentions with a black bicycle.

It all started when I was a kid. There were always bicycles all around me when I grew up. I grew up in the same house as my father grew up in when he was a kid. Back then in the late 1940’s bicycles was the main transport for short distances. My fathers parents was always riding their bicycles around the city and surroundings of Stockholm. My grandfather was a special keen bicyclist from an early age when he lived in the country side.

He used his bicycle every day going to his work. No matter weather, no matter season. In the heat of summer or the freezing cold winter with up to 1 meter snow. The entire family was riding bicycles all the time. So it was only logical that I grew up with old bicycles around me.


I have always been using vintage bicycles. Here I am in about 1986 about to ride bicycle from about 1940.

Back in the early 1980’s my mother used an old U-frame bicycle, or “ladies bicycle” as they are called in Sweden. She had painted it blue with a brush of some reason and used it every day to the grocery shop and to her work. It was standing outside in a bicycle rack day and night where we used to live. One day my mother discovered that it had been stolen during one night. But that was no problem for her, she got a different similar bicycle, painted it blue and kept pedalling on.

My father had an old bicycle that he had got from my grandfather. It looked different from the other bicycles I was used to see. It was all worn and the black paint was scuffed. I liked it a lot, it looked cool. I remember that there was a name plate that was mounted on the frame with a previous owners name and address. Why I remember that plate so specific is because that plate left an imprint on my thigh more than once when I was a kid, I was sitting on the frame when my father gave me a ride sometimes. Now, why I did not use the rear luggage rack? Simple, it was impossible to sit on. It was the style of rack made of flat irons, typical style in the 1930’s. To sit on flat irons was really painful when getting a ride, even for a little kid. But all those details, the bell, handles, pedals, name plate on the bicycle. They all stuck in my mind.

One of my first adult bicycles was an 1940’s Monark. Or, something like that. It was put together of all sorts of strange parts laying around. Sadly I was very reckless with it so it broke down and got replaced. But I liked the upright seating position when riding that old bicycle. Upright, looking around at the world when cruising along the asphalt on a old iron horse at an slow pace.

After a few years my father saved some money and bought two brand new bicycles for him and my mother. 10 geared racers with thin tires on shiny wheels with silver frames. The old bicycles were left alone in the basement. Some years later we moved away from the house, the black bicycle and some other old bicycles where left behind.


My fathers “new” shiny racer, slightly modified back in the 1990’s.

I never forgot that old black 1930’s old grandfather bicycle. A few years ago I got thinking of getting me an old bicycle. A black 1930’s bicycle! With the one my father used to have on my mind, I started to look for parts to build me a bicycle. Why build instead of buying a complete one?

That is easy. I wanted to work with my hands. An decision I have regretted over and over again along my bicycle adventures.

 

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Why do I like Torpedo

First of all, I must say that I am not in any way a repair person. I am not educated or even pretending to know what I am doing. I would never try this on anyone else bicycle. Simply because I have no idea what I am doing.

For me the Torpedo bicycle hub made by Fichtel & Sachs is a great invention. During my years mending, fixing and trying to repair old bicycles I have come by a few different hubs. Winco, Novo and other hubs. But none has the simplicity and quality as the Torpedo hub. Now I am talking about the standard version that has only one gear and a break and coaster. That means the wheel turns and the pedal are still. It is made in the spirit of my way of thinking, “less is more”.


Torpedo hub shell made in 1957

There is no need for gears and special functions that are impossible to figure out. Like the Norwegian DBS I had as a young teenager. Two gears, you shifted by quickly pedal backwards and the forward again. Or the 10 speed racer I once had. The chain skipped tooth’s on the sprocket so many times, causing pain and frustration that I looked for a single speed geared bicycle after a crash with the 10 speed racer one day.  Then we have the gearing system that the German bicycle Adler has, an entire gearbox just as a car mounted in the crankshaft and a stick shift. Give me Torpedo any day.

When using bicycles that was made back in mid 1930’s, the chance is that the bicycle never have been serviced since 1950’s. Back then a bicycle was an investment, not a toy. Kids got their bicycles that was way to big for them. but they had them to “grow in to”. So here we are with an old bicycle. It is my old/new Nordstjärnan that almost never have been serviced since the last 50 years. With a rear hub that I bought on eBay in Germany and build the wheel my self.

This morning I decided to take a test run with the Norstjärnan just to see if it would manage a Tweed event. After all, on these events we use to ride for about 19 miles (30 kilometres). Having problems with a bicycle along that ride is not a good idea, there is one thing worse than riding a broken bicycle. That is manage a  broken bicycle while walking. So the test today was simply to see if everything was in good shape. After the ride I found some issues that I need to address before an longer ride. It is nothing major, merely small, easy things like a rattling headlight, rattling bars to the rear mud guard and the Torpedo hub that behaves oddly when coasting. It works great, but not perfect. That is the danger of making things yourself. Why settle for great when it can be perfect?


Torpedo hub from 1937, bought from eBay Germany that I serviced and laced the wheel.

The only adjustment that takes longer than 5 minutes is the Torpedo hub. With a few tools you can disassembly the entire hub, clean it and put it all together again so it works! The usage and worn parts are easily located, simply by looking at the parts. The brake cylinder has grooves on it, if the grooves are worn, well the the break is not good and trying to stop is an adventure. I know that by experience. That goes for the ball bearings to, you can see if they are good or need replacements. It is a simple sign if the parts are broken or shows sign of ware and tear.

To disassembly the Torpedo hub is really easy. First loosen the wheel from the bicycle. Then with some tools loosen the lock nut by holding the axle with the special key. There is a special key made by Torpedo that are perfect for that work, of course I have one of those keys. Then gently take the entire hub apart, put all the parts on a towel clean all parts and clean off all old grease.


The parts of a Torpedo hub, axle, brake cylinder and att the bottom left, the special key


All parts have the F&S and the dimensions stamped on it.

I use a degreaser agent to get all old grease and dirt removed from the parts. Some times the parts have to be soaked in the cleaning agent for a  few hours. Then with a brush, an old toothbrush works great, brush off the sticky residues. Clean all parts with a cloth and inspect all parts for damages. Any crooked axle, damaged bearings and so on. If all looks all right, lubricate it generously and mount it all in the correct order again.


The repaired hub, mounted and newly greased. Ready for long rides.

Tighten the hub by adjusting the brake leaver cone. I use to tighten the assembly so it is just a small amount friction, then loose up it ever so slightly. Because when you tighten the lock nut it tighten the assembly altogether. There you have it a perfect fixed hub and a wheel that spins without wobbling, rattling or any play.

Now the Nordstjärnan is ready for many miles of tweed rides.

 

Why Harris Tweed?

Now days it is popular to organize tweed rides with the London Tweed Run as an example. All sorts of historical societies, groups and clubs organizes an tweed ride, run or social meeting in almost every town. It is fun, cheap and easy to organize. Bicycles are easy to carry around if needed, you can not carry a car and park it on the side walk at an café. Well you can, but it is frowned up on by many of the pedestrians that would like to use the side walk.

After riding vintage bicycles and attending all sorts of events for some years now. I realized that I was never quite out of style.  Because I have been riding vintage bicycles while using tweed since I was a teenager. Well not all the time. I was not using tweed in the summer when the heat was really demanding or when we were swimming in the sea during school breaks.

My first experience with tweed was my fathers old coat that was hanging on a hanger in the closet in attic. It was a Harris Tweed brown herringbone coat that he bought back in the late 1960’s at the famous Stockholm department store NK (Nordic Company).

By accident he bought the coat in the wrong size, it was just ever so slightly to small. Instead of returning the coat to the shop after you realized the mistake as you normally do. He kept it in an closet in the attic for many years. There it was left along with other clothes that he also bought in the wrong size some reason.

The coat was hanging there until the early 1980’s. That was when we did were looking after old things in closets to get rid off. My father found the old tweed coat, he asked me if I would like to have it. The coat was double breasted, 3/4 long coat and had an “Napoleonic ” style collar top fashion in late 1960’s. Because it was made of heavy tweed it was really warm, perfect for long winter days. My father remembering the fabric as “extremely sticky”, but I really liked it.

I never wore it to school. After all, the fashion amongst kids back then was jeans, sport trainer trousers, sneakers (white of course) and white tube socks. Anyone who came dressed in anything else was a open target for bullying. So I was only using the coat on my spare time.

There I was, dressed in fathers tweed. Beside an coat was better than a jacket when its cold, it keeps the behind warm. There were other cloths in the closet that I could use, shirts, sweaters. Sometimes when we were going to my grandparents I had his old ties and even dabbed on some of his old 1960’s after shave that I found in an cupboard in the basement. Sounds strange perhaps, but I guarantee that it was better with tweed, shirt and a tie than jeans and t-shirts. My mother always sighed and said that it was impossible to by clothes to me. I have no idea what she was talking about.

After all, I was quite fashionable back then. Almost straight from the 60’s. Sadly there are no photos from that era, it would be fun to see today how I looked in my outfit. Surely like no other kid in the middle of 1980’s. I would be beyond hip if I dressed like that in school today.

In the end, where did the Harris Tweed coat go? Te honest I do not remember, perhaps it was damaged in a house move at some point. Or perhaps it was decided to be thrown away at some stage. Only the label and the buttons exists today.


The buttons and the lable form my fathers old coat

Why did I got stuck in Harris Tweed? I guess there is three main reasons for that. First it was the coat mentioned above.

Secondly, when I was in school I met a teacher that was very special. He played chess, talked philosophy with us kids in a way no other teacher talked to us. We were equals, not kids to him. I remember that he had a photo of William Golding on the classroom wall and often quoted the book “Lord of the Flies” to us kids. Always when I saw him he wore an grey herringbone Harris Tweed jacket with dark elbow patches. He looked like an actor from an English TV-play, inspector Morse perhaps, Frost or any other of all these series. That teacher was the best one I ever had in school. I decided that I would have a jacket like that just because of him.

Thirdly, when we had lessons in school and I saw photos from Scotland. I fell in love with the nature of the highlands, the rugged landscape. I fell in love with the images you can see of the Hebrides. The sea and sunsets, it was then I decided that one day I should travel and visit the Harris Tweed factory.

But the years went by until one day a few years ago when I was looking around the internet for a new jacket. I found a web site of a small shop in Scotland that sells Harris Tweed clothing. I found a grey herringbone jacket, remembering my old teacher from school. I placed the order and a week later an package from Scotland arrived. It was just what I expected, heavy, strong, warm and great looking. But sadly without elbow patches.


Grey herringbone Harris Tweed, the same style of jacket my chess playing teacher used

Later when I started joining different vintage bicycle events I needed a suit. A suit in tweed naturally. My very first Tweed suit was bought on location while an vacation in Edinburgh. I visited an retailer on a Queens street and bought a three piece suite that I will write about in the future. It was an adventure from the start.

The following year I saved up some money and bought a genuine Harris Tweed suite from the small shop up in the highlands. The Harris Tweed suit I received is made to travel around the world on a bicycle! It is so well made and the fabric is marvellous, all the colours and the lining with the symbol of Harris Tweed embroidered. Details everywhere.


The Iain Harris Tweed suit, quality in every way

It is easy to understand why tweed has been so appreciated. It is reliable, warm, and looks amazing. It is a shame that I do not still have my fathers old tweed coat, but it got me in to tweed. Perhaps it is the destiny of some sort.


A lovely lady jacket in Harris Tweed, but the jacket is sewn by a different company

But the great feeling attending all sorts of vintage bicycle events dressed in tweed. Meeting other people that also dressed up enjoying the event. It is fun, not only for me but for the others. Look and admire each others outfits and bicycles. Perhaps there even is someone else among the riders that got to use their parents old Tweed suit, jacket or coat.

After all, tweed is a fabric that is almost impossible to wear out.

Springtime for Tweed

It has been a while since I last wrote here. Well, as usual I have no good excuse for not writing. More that laziness and that the weather has been bad (says the fellow who wrote an article about riding a bicycle in Helsinki in the middle of February).

That is true, but can I say to my defence that I actually had nothing interesting to write about? After all, reading about bicycles and more bicycles can be a bit boring for you. Considering that I once stated that the motto of this blogg was “my view of things around me”. Then the question is, how difficult can it be to write things that are around me? Strangely, not difficult at all.
But, what can I write to still keep the level of my writing style? I can of course write political articles, reviews of things that I tried. I could write endless posts about movies, music, life and so on. But would I like to do that? Strangely, yes and no.


the sticker from Helsinki tweed run is still there

If I started a long time ago and kept it all under one roof, all writings, thoughts and articles collected here under this blogg. Then it would have be a great collection of my views. An time line over what I, as a person, was developing. Different interests and ideas over the years. But after starting this blogg rather recently.  I realized that I wanted to keep it clean, no statements other that “tweed is nice” and “vintage bicycling is the bees knees”, you get the point. An sort of silly, harmless writing about things that offends no one. That is what we really need at this day and age. More harmless silliness about nothing.

So here I am, writing about old bicycles and Tweed hoping that I offend no one.

In fact, now when writing about it. I realize that I never have written anything about tweed it self, the cloth. All my experiences of the cloth with stories from my early teens up to the present. The change in fashion and other ideas all over but how tweed always was important and why a grey herringbone tweed was important for me. Could that be something for you to read?

Or I could write about my ideas for a new bicycle project that I have been thinking of for many years. Once I had an old Swedish military bicycle from the 40’s. Sadly it was in a pretty bad shape and was later even stolen. But today, I would really like to get one again and this time really try to get it in good working order. It would be fun, they are heavy, but reliable!

I can also now officially let you know that I have an vision to participate of 5 different Bicycle Tweed Rides/races/runs this year. That vision brings me to the issue of bicycles in general. After all, I really would love to only have one good vintage bicycle that I could use and participate in different Tweed Rides. But as now, I had different bicycles in every event. There is more articles to write about. In fact, when thinking about it. I have no time to do something else than writing. The questing is how to earn money on writing?

To something completely different. The weather today was an lovely day in the spring with lots of sunshine and chirping birds. In short, it was a perfect day to take the 1956 Hermes bicycle for a ride. I have not moved or looked at it since my return from the Helsinki event, I have not even cleaned it yet. But still the tires had full pressure, nothing on the frame was loose.
I brought my tweed jacket and took a ride. It went smooth as silk. They knew how to make great bicycles back then.


the weather was perfect for an ride with an vintage bicycle, springtime

Happy Tweed!

Winter Tweed Run Helsinki 2017

February 19th was the date set for 2017 version of Winter Tweed Run Helsinki that is held in Finland’s capitol. The meet up for the event was at Senaatintori (the senate square) in central Helsinki, an perfect place to meet. We all had hoped for a sunny day with lots of snow and a at least -20 degrees Celsius bone chilling Nordic winter. But sadly it was +3 degrees and light rain with an heavy overcast instead. This year the weather was more of an dull October day rather than a day in February.

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My Swedish Hermes from 1956 parked on Senaatintori

When I arrived at the square round about noon, I noticed a group of bicyclists standing in front of the stairs leading up to Helsingin tuomiokirkko (Helsinki cathedral). I joined them, after all, they were standing there with vintage bicycles and dressed in tweed. I guessed they were participants of the tweed run. Right away we started to have a chat and I noticed the kindness and friendliness of the riders. Even if we all was trying to make conversations mixed in Swedish, English, Finish all added with home made sign language. More and more riders with their great looking clothes and nice bicycles arrived and joined us. Both modern and vintage bicycles of all styles and models, Swedish, Finish, Indian(?). It was a great mix of everything. Lots and lots of photos were taken, by ourselves and others. Even tourists came up to us and wanted to know more what we were up to looking as we did. It was an relaxed and happy feeling in the light rain on the square.

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The meeting in front of Helsingin tuomiokirkko

Soon the organizers joined us. Sadly I never got their names, but they were very kind and helpful in every way. They welcomed us all individually, shook our hands and gave us stickers as an gift with the events logo for this year. We also got information about an race that is held in the summer of 2017 that looked very tempting to join. After a short while one of the organizers stood up on his bicycle and with a old megaphone and announced to us that we was welcome to the seventh annual Winter Tweed Run Helsinki! He explained that we would take the coastal route around the central part of Helsinki. But first of all we all should get up on the stairs to the cathedral and take a group photography. We took our bicycles and climbed the stairs trying to group ourself for a good and fun photo! One of the organizers used the megaphone and directed us, telling us to cheer seven times to celebrate the event. Sadly I do not have any group photo, but I am sure that it will be available on-line. Somewhere.

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Some of the people behind Winter Tweed Run Helsinki

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The style is a winner!

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I placed the sticker on the frame of my bicycle.

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“Welcome to Helsinki”

After the photo we all made us ready for the start. The direction was given and off we went. It is a fun thing when an race like this starts. Tourists stands still and looks amazed on this large group of bicyclists that are dressed in odd cloths. Not to mention the car drivers surprised looks when they sees about 30 riders in a group riding on the streets.

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Here we are just coming down the stares to for the start of the race.

The goal of the route was an café located on the shore on the other side of Helsinki. It is an regular route that they usually use for this event. It consists of bicycle lanes most of the time, the few times we crossed streets with traffic one of the organizers stopped the cars. Because we were riding in a relative tight formation the car drivers showed an great deal of understanding. After all, it is February and some strange people are riding bicycles, “better to let the bicycles pass…”.

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Crossing a street on our way to the coastal scenery bicycle path around Helsinki

The bicycle lane along the sea shore had lovely scenery of the sea and buildings on the other side. For me it was special, as one of my favourite films from Finland is Calamari Union made by Aki Kaurismäki. Along the ride we went by the area called Eira that is a famous place in that film. It was really great to be there and see it. We took the bicycle lanes further along the way to reach our destination, Café Regatta.

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There was a strong head wind sometimes, but for us that was no problem.

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Some of us stopped to take photos of the sea

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Wide and nice bicycle paths, even for an “lay-down-and-pedal-bicycle”

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More wonderful scenery and surprised bystanders.

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At the Regatta café.

Now we could sit by an open fire or enter the café for a semla pastry and a hot coco, of course with whipped cream on top! Excellent service and really tasty! On the outside we all could talk and admire the bicycles, special made ones, really vintage Crescents, old Hermes and different Finish brands. All sorts of modifications as wine bottle holders and cup holders for coffee that was isolated to keep the heat. The organizers had transport bicycles. One “long John” model that is build as an regular bicycle but has an large luggage rack between the handlebars and the front wheel. The other one was the more common three wheeled version with a large storage box in front. But the most impressive was the fellow dressed in tweed with a cap and an umbrella under his arm while riding all the way on a unicycle! That was truly an amazing sight to see.

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An 1920’s Crescent, all original.

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The details on the bell and worn wooden grips are amazing.

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Hot coco and a semla filled with whipped cream and strawberry jam, it was a real treat. Tasty and delicious.

At the café about half of the riders that started said good bye and left. For example the riders from Sweden needed to go back and catch the boat. After the break we all started again and left for the after party that was held in the northern parts of Helsinki. The road there was sometimes really steep but it was really a nice ride, forest roads and great nature. Suddenly one of the riders bicycle broke down. Everyone was trying to help out, but almost all of us only had tools for vintage bicycles, this was an modern bicycle. But they found a tool that did the job so we went on.

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“Get ready to start”. The megaphone has “speed race” written on it.

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An forest route was planned.

After a while riding of small paths, larger roads, bicycle paths that was covered with ice we arrived at our final destination. It was a club house, where a band should play later on that evening. But up to that point we were welcome to buy some pea and carrot soup, beer and also have a sauna. The kindness among the organizers (I really can not remember their names) was heart warming.

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Our final destination.

After eating some hot and freshly made pea and carrot soup served out of a huge pot, served with mustard. We were few riders that decided to leave this lovely event. I talked to the organizer and thanked him for a lovely day and lovely hospitality. I was so overwhelmed by all expressions, when saying good buy I mistook an honest hug for a odd handshake.
I am still ashamed for my awkwardness.

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The smile says it all, it was a good day.

Finally, my personal thoughts on Winter tweed run Helsinki 2017 are simple and straight forward. It was a great event with no rules more than just to have fun and having a great time. But if there will be an Helsinki tweed run 2018, I will plan it way better. Sauna, beer, bicycles and music, count me in.

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On the way back to Helsinki city

Kiitos paljon!