Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Little Mystery

Perhaps to mark my own transition into vintage territory this weekend, I finally managed to retrieve the vintage Triumph mentioned here earlier. But more on that bicycle later. Because, unexpectedly, it came with a little something extra worth showing here ...And when I say little, I mean that literally! I have come across vintage children's roadster bicycles before, but I don't think I've seen one quite this small in person.

What is immediately striking about this children's loop frame, is how well it replicates the proportions of the adult equivalent - from the look of the frame itself right down to the handlebars and rod brakes. Nearly every detail resembles a shrunk version of the adult sized machine, so much so that in pictures it's hard to tell quite how teeny this bicycle really is.

But to give you a sense of scale, here is the baby loop frame next to the adult 26" wheel Triumph. The wheels on the child's bike are not marked with a size, but they measure similarly to modern 20" wheels. The overall sizing looks about right for a 5-7 year old.

As far as origin, this bicycle is a thing of mystery - completely devoid of branding. As for age I am guessing '50s by the look of it. Neither the frame, nor the components are stamped with markings of any kind.

An unmarked fixed gear(!) drivertain with miniature cottered cranks and pedals.

A generic miniature headlamp bracket. There is no headbadge or traces of one having been affixed. There are no decals. No markings on the fork crown or on the bottom bracket as far as I can see.

For the most part the baby loop frame is in functional and cosmetically good condition, with the exception of some chrome parts having been spray-painted silver. Sadly, there is a small split in the rear rim, and a replacement rod brake rim in this size might not be easy to source. I took the bike mainly to rescue it and have no plans for it beyond that. But I'd like to show it to a collector like Chris Sharp and see what they can make of its provenance.

Could it have been a one-off, made to order for some spunky little girl with a penchant for fixed gear? Or is it more likely that manufacturers made mass produced children's bikes without bothering to brand them? Whatever its story may be, it is a curious and adorable piece of two-wheel history.

42 comments:

  1. This is a beauty! What a great pairing!

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  2. What a charming little bicycle! I do hope it was properly used once - and that the young lady who rode it developed a lifelong love affair with beautiful bicycles.

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    1. I can see mild marks of use on the saddle, grips and pedals - so it was ridden, but probably not much.

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  3. 20x1.75" 28 hole on UK eBay.....

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    1. I think I see just twenty spokes in each wheel.

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  4. That little bike is definitely a charmer. On the wheel size:
    it looks like they couild be fractional-sized, rather than decimal-sized tires. 20" fractional-sized are 451mm rim size, while 20" decimal-sized are 409mm. The standard kids bmx wheels, like 20x1.75 or 20x2.125 are 409. A bit hard to tell, just looking at the photos.
    Bike made for children today are mostly heavy knarly-looking mountain bike wannabe's, sadly, and are not very useful for serious cycling, other than following mom or dad on a mountain bike trail.

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  5. I believe it can be Phillips or other raleigh branded bike.

    Wheelsize must be 18"x1 3/8

    I've seen 2 Phillips, but neither one is loop frame.
    This one (mudguards not original) in Portugal http://postimg.org/image/9a7miud7f/

    and this one in Brazil
    https://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/690x518q90/440/09ae.jpg


    Both have stamped hubs, brakes, frame numbers and rims.


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  6. That has got to be the most adorable little mini mystery bike! And it's small enough to keep around as a conversation piece, without it taking up too much space. She's lucky to have found her way into your hands.

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    1. Most likely I will evebtuslly give it away to someone local who'd like to refurbish it for their kid. But it's a neat little bike to have in the meantime.

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    2. My brother got a bike very much like that one for his 7th birthday while we were living in New Delhi, August, 1967. His was a "boys" model, though, and made by an Indian company -- Hero? Me, age 12 1/2, I had a full-size Hero.

      At any rate, it looks very much like that pictured, down to the cute li'l cranks.

      Later, age circa 15, I turned it into an early Frankenstein project of my of my own using a scavenged pipe for a 30" seatpost and wheelbarrow frame members as struts to support the saddle -- bolted at seatpost clamp and at hub bolts. I well remember riding it the 7 miles to school, with the very low gear, the short cranks, and a weight distribution that kept me popping the front wheel on hills.

      A bit later yet the front wheel went onto my first complete build: Indian frame with Czecho 700C flip flop steel rear and ~90" (50/15) ss gear; no brake would fit. I rode it around hilly Nairobi without brakes, proving that there is indeed a special Providence that watches over fools and Americans. (I shoved my right Ked onto the front tire to slow down, wearing a1 deep groove laterally across the sole.)

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    3. Even better! Wouldn't that make a sweet first bike?

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    4. Bertin 753. Dudes messed up. I wish he lived next door...

      Spindizzy

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    5. Would a spoon brake not fit? On the other hand, your Ked method was probably more effective!

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  7. I have seen several "mini" roadsters most were made in India and were Raleigh clones. But that doesn't mean they weren't produced in the UK too. Sweet little bike!

    Aaron

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  8. Back on my 5th birthday in July 1948 I woke up with the sun shining through the window at my grandmothers. In the sunshine - on the floor - stood a beatiful red bicycle. A Hermes, a true copy of a first class grown-up mens road bike. 17' wheels, rod brake (that my parents took away) in front and a rear coaster brake. I learnt to ride on it in ten minutes the same day and have continued to do so up to this day, now on a custom Rivendell. All my four siblings learnt to ride on it as well, it might still be in my parents garage.
    So these things were made and used, but probably not in big numbers, I guess my parents paid more than I had deserved for it.
    Hermes - made in Uppsala, Sweden - was a well-known brand from 1894 up into the 50s, Harry Stenqvist took gold in the Olympic road race 1920 on one.

    sipelgas

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  9. Quite common in UK. They did smaller versions of the adult bikes in wheel sizes of 20" x 1 3/8" and 24" x 1 3/8". 20" were usually single speed 24" could be 3 speed. Most manufacturers had a version we have 2 of the 24" wheeled versions for our daughter and son one is a BSA the other Raleigh. Both have some element of the parent brand in our case it is the fork crowns which follow standard pattern. lots to see on http://threespeedhub.com/catalogues/ but I warn you, whole afternoons can vanish once you get started looking at old catalogues.

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  10. When I was a child, my dad bought two Phillips roadsters. the 24" was for me and the 20" (much like the one pictured here but with a standard frame) was for my brother. They were really well made and took us on many adventures before we passed them on to other children. You're right about their size. They were scaled down versions of there larger brethren and just right for a kid. Too bad they let fashion and marketing ruin the kids bikes.
    Emile

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  11. I agree. A delightful little bike to have for a while. Good luck with finding it a good home.

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  12. It looks just the size for the friendly neighbor dog, too.

    Really neat little bicycle. Not even a stamping on the hubs, eh? Hm.

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  13. What kind of bikes do kids ride in your neck of the woods?

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    1. All over the spectrum, from BMX to Barbie bikes to kiddie MTBs to old bikes found in the garage from several generations ago.

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  14. I wonder how common fixed gears bikes were for kids back then. Maybe more common than you'd think, because fixed gear didn't always have daredevil, hipster image it does now. They might have made fixed gears for kids because they're mechanically simpler and easier to maintain.

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    1. That is what I am thinking. After all, trikes are direct drive, so the reasoning might have been that kids of immediate post-trike age are used to it.

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  15. Since we're guessing I'll go for 22x1-3/8 (32-501). Raleigh made roadsters that size. Be sure before you buy something. Even if it is an 18 or 22 inch rim it should not be too hard to find.

    Also not too hard to find a little Brooks or (Terry, Wright) mattress saddle like the one Raleigh used on the Mountie. Better, but very hard to find would be a Brooks J.3 or J.4 or J.5 in full leather. French ebay usually has a couple nice leather saddles pour les enfants and they come with anglo-sounding brand names like Brown, Nelson's, VeryBest, White Star. The French saddles for kids go for modest prices.

    Part of collecting is getting all involved in these details and splurging on things you will only give away. Do hope you make a little girl happy.

    The fixed gear is likely there because it cost a few pennies less than a freewheel. In most respects building that bike cost the mfr just as much as building an adult bike. And it would have sold for a juvenile price. Bet they lost money on every one. When it comes to bikes and little children who could say no.

    Wondrous bike. Very special.

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    1. I'd say definitely smaller than 22", but I could be wrong. No plans to buy a new wheel, but if I do I'd definitely ask a vintage afficionado to have a look first.

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    2. Just counted the spokes in the front wheel. Only 20 of them. Image of the rear wheel not so sharp but looks to be only 20 as well. So an 18" wheel is possible. It can be found. If it is an 18" this is the finest bike I've seen or heard of in such a small size. A 20" wheel could be built with so few spokes and it would even work but mfrs are normally much more conservative. Tape measure time.

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    3. http://phoenixhubgearrepairs.co.uk/
      They have NOS 18" Dunlop Westwood rims in 20 hole. Go to "New and Used" lower on the page rather than the first instance of "Rims".

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  16. Very cool kid's bike! For comparison, you might enjoy these recent examples I came across of a kid's French drop bar bike, and a Jack Taylor children's bike, both shown at a 2010 Bike Expo in Seattle (all photos from Robert Freeman's flicker collection posted on the Jack Taylor group).

    •A French Roold bunny bike:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8379107@N03/4415976574/in/photostream/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8379107@N03/4415976874/in/photostream/

    •The Jack Taylor "Bambino" bike (photographed with Ken Taylor himself, who attended the Seattle Exposition)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8379107@N03/4415098049/in/photostream/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8379107@N03/4415863696/in/photostream/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8379107@N03/4349194557/in/photostream/

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    1. oh my god, the Roold squirrel headbadge!

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  17. That's neat. I've never seen one of these but I wouldn't be surprised if they used to be "common". Kids bikes don't seem to survive in the same numbers so just cuz' I've never seen one doesn't mean they didn't used to roam in packs.

    If any one has one and wants a rack for it I would happily make them one at a big discount so I could add it to the list of vintage bikes I have patterns for.

    Spindizzy

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    1. My thinking is that these types of bikes never did roam in packs, which explains why not many survived. Roadsters used to be quite expensive; to buy one was no small thing. So to get one for a child only to have them grow out of it by age 7 would not make financial sense for most families. Speaking to locals who are old enough to remember, they do not seem to recall there being many of such bikes around either. More likely, a child would ride a too-big adult bike once they were old enough to manage it, until they grew into it. Finally another thing, is that the catalogues of the time did not include many children's models, at least not for children this young. So… I could be wrong, but my tentative conclusion is that these mini roadsters were not too common to begin with...

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    2. Yeah, I think you're right. When I used the word "common" I meant like in the context of , say, Bigfoot. We all know he's out there, we see his butt-prints on the hoods of our cars on frosty mornings and all that, but even where there's a lot of them, there aren't that many of them... Ya' know what I mean?

      Spindizzy

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  18. very cool bikes.
    i'm thinking the rim might be mended by a skilled repairman.
    welded if steel - mig, tig - or heliarced if aluminum.
    i guess it depends on the severity of the split, just saying.

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  19. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

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  20. In South America, 1969, I learned to ride on a bike similar to that one, fixed-gear, but with a top tube. I was six years old.

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  21. Every now and then in my fits of Francophilia on eBay, I will see a Velo Enfante, wonderfully scaled down randonneuse. I forget what brands, although the parts were stamed with manufacturers names. Where the standard size wheels are 700 or 650C, the smaller bike wheels would be 400A or so.

    I have come to the stage of outfitting a bike way too small for me too. I bought a Dick Power track frame for the components (47 / 48cm). Now, knowing a little history have a great old track bike not big enough for my 56 cm self. But it's cool.
    I have a '56 Schwinn Corvette 26" full size and a "matching" 24" ladies (girl's) bike for the girlfriend to use (she's 5'2" so it works for her). Many "standard sized" parts on it though.
    I come across a Schwinn Bantam every now and then, 20" wheels.
    Yours looks great!

    vsk

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  22. Hello:

    I ran across your lovely blog, and I wanted to tell you and your friends and followers about an event in my hometown, the Rensselaerville Cycling Festival- http://www.rensselaervillecycling.com/ The 8-Mile Festival Ride would be the perfect opportunity for you all to bust out your antique bikes and parade them through the historic hamlet of Rensselaerville (whole town on the national historic register- http://www.pinterest.com/catalpahouse/rensselaerville-new-york/ ) and on up to the party on top of the hill above town. Just look at the logo on the top banner of the event site to see how well your old bikes would fit in here. Keep it in mind, and I hope to see you all here on September 28!

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  23. We recently fixed up a very similar bike. https://scontent-a-sea.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/t1/1463506_667846663236667_111654923_n.jpg

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  24. My first bike was a 20 inch wheel Sunbeam Rodeo which I got for my 5th birthday in 1963.

    It was a single speed bike with flat handlebars and mudguards, and was a scaled down version of the 26 inch wheeled bike many adults rode at the time. There was a 24 inch wheel size for older children.

    Back in those days a child's bike was simply a small bike, no different in style or equipment to the everyday transport of quite a few adults. They were more brightly coloured though, with frame transfers of cartoon characters, spacemen etc. My Rodeo had transfers of cowboys with lassos. Adult bikes were more likely to have a 3 speed Sturmey Archer rear hub, but single speed bikes were much more common.

    Just as with adult bikes children's bikes came in 2 frame designs, one for each sex.

    I remember that as the 60s became the 70s children's bikes ceased to be serious transport for going to school or accompanying parents around town. They became novelty designs, often with fat tyres, and used for little more than cycling up and down the local pavement while playing out. This was a time when cycling among adults really plummeted as more families got cars.

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