Friday, May 23, 2014

Three Times a Lady: the Lives and Times of Modified Vintage Bikes

1960s BSA Roadster
Last year I wrote about my ethereal friend Clive and his bicycle Lady Huck - a 1960s BSA roadster in a lovely dark shade of racing green. Sadly for me and her both, Clive moved back to New Zealand a few months back. Too costly to transport, Lady Huck was left behind in a shed. "What ever will become of her?" were Clive's tearful words as he boarded the steamship, Huckless.

1960s BSA Roadster
But fate has a way of bringing bikes and people together. For around this same time, my boyfriend (Wait, what?! Yes. Moving on now...) spoke those magic words I'd been longing to hear for months. 

"Listen," he said, astride his rusty mountain bike, eying my Brompton thoughtfully. "Do you think I need mudguards and something over the chain? I keep getting my clothes dirty." 

"Well," I said, as casually as possible, fantasies of him in tweed already running rampant. "If you don't mind an old bike, I know where we can get one with all of those things straight away."

"How old are we talking about here?" he asked suspiciously, recalling the non-functional rod brakes and decomposing tires on my Triumph. 

"Oh don't worry, this one is years newer. You remember, Clive's green bike. It's practically cutting edge."

Lady Huck Under New Ownership
Several days later Lady Huck was under new ownership. 

1960s BSA Roadster
Because of their rise in popularity over the past years, there is now an interesting new category of vintage bicycles on the market: Those that, in addition to their original life span - and, possibly after several decades of languishing in a shed - have lived a second life in modern times. 

1960s BSA Roadster
Typically these bikes will have been cleaned and at least partly refurbished or modified. Deteriorated saddles, tires and grips may replaced with new ones. 

1960s BSA Roadster
Caked dirt and rust removed with diligence.

1960s BSA Roadster
New cables and brake pads might be installed.

1960s BSA Roadster
Perhaps the handlebars are swapped, the levers' position altered, or the gearing modified.

1960s BSA Roadster
Or rod brakes replaced with calipers (though on this bike this was apparently done in the factory). 

1960s BSA Roadster
Sometimes the updates are dramatic. But even when they are subtle, the Second Life vintage bike will have a look to it that sets it apart from the untampered-with originals. And it's fun to try and spot all the little changes the contemporary owner had made. For those seeking the comfort and charm of a vintage bicycle with modern updates, some excellent deals can be had when these bikes are put up for sale by the second owner. On the other hand, there are those who derive pleasure from doing all the cleanup and mods themselves. My boyfriend is more in the latter category, but as Lady Huck needed a home he was happy to oblige.

Lady Huck Under New Ownership
The bicycle being functional and ready-to-ride also gives him a chance to decide whether he even likes vintage roadsters. Last time he rode one was as a child, before he got into motocross and road cycling, and that was decades ago. The geometry and handling are dramatically different from what he's used to ("the front wheel is miles away!"). But he loves the feel of the old Sturmey Archer hub and the upright position. And, riding the BSA down the busted-up farm lanes, he can't get over how cushy the bike feels over rough surfaces - better than a mountain bike with fatter tires.

Lady Huck Under New Ownership
The BSA is too big for me to try, so I cannot contribute any feedback, but I'm glad he's having some fun with it. His position needs tweaking I think, and the bike is screaming out for a large saddlebag… but I'll not interfere and see what he gets up to on his own accord.

1960s BSA Roadster
Perhaps Lady Huck will stay just as she is, or perhaps she will be altered further. Either way, she has been given a 3rd chance at life.

37 comments:

  1. Nice post, and I love the photos in this one a lot. I just picked up an old Concord 10-speed for $20 at a community event (that fits me perfectly), and I've stripped down the rusty, heavy beast to the frame. The Dia Compe brakes are in great shape, and the headset is very salvageable, too. But I'll be swapping out nearly everything else with a few new parts and many I already have -- including a Brooks saddle. I'm making it lighter, leaner and more upright. It's a fun project, and I'm looking forward to riding it.

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  2. That's really lovely ! Reading that tale brought a smile to my face with the rain pelting outside. Those old bikes are a joy to behold. Recently came across an old Dutch bike from 1940s in daily use in Dublin nowadays. Great stuff.

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  3. I am so glad you posted this! My Puch Rugby Sport is completely original at the moment - after 30+ years undisturbed in a garage. She'd be so much more functional and enjoyabout with just a few judicious 'improvements'. Yet I've hesitated, for fear of losing something precious. "Second Life Vintage" sounds like a equally honourable life, though, and I think this is where we are going.

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    1. I was curious about that new swoopy mixte of yours, look forward to reading more about it.

      My take on vintage bike modification: Unless it is a rare, historically valuable specimen, any change that makes it more ridable for you can only be a good thing.

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  4. Beautiful bike. nice score.

    Just need some lights for that dynohub on the front. And they shouldn't be too hard to find over on that side of the pond. They do make led lights that will fit into the old lights.

    Other nice possible feature (but can't tell from the photos) BB might be oil lubed (there might be an oil port on the BB), if so oil it when you oil the hub - no need to grease the BB.

    Though it might be a pain, you can also take off the pie tin cover on the chain guard to add a little bling showing off what is probably the BSA chainring. At the very least you need to remove the pedal and pry it off- at worse you might need to take the whole chain guard off which means you'll likely need to remove the crank arms as well.

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  5. If Clive really was returning to NZ via steamship, it should not have been all that expensive to ship the bike...but sound as though it worked out anyway!

    Had been wondering what had happened to "the co-habitant," but refrained from prying. Curiosity satisfied now.

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    1. The steamship had a totally unreasonable 3-bikes-only policy; after that they charged an arm and a leg.

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    2. I could easily see Clive tootling around the quarterdeck in circles, teacup in one hand, rangefinder Olympus in the other, taking snap after snap of his bare feet on the pedals while the deck whirs by blurrily under-wheel.
      At least until he gets too close to the fantail railing.

      *shudder*

      That bike is both a rolling monument and a tabula rasa, isn't it?

      I am very fond of that green.

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  6. This is the height of good form. A well made machine of thoughtful design and quality should be good for at least a generation. The style is impeccable, and lends to hope that a culture of low quality throw away nonsense items can be replaced by something better.

    Also, just way cool. A wonder if a modern hub could be retrofitted to expand functionality - without damaging the aesthetic.

    Lastly, glad that you seem to be finding happiness both on wheels and on foot. Both pain and happiness lend to creativity. Your audience will reap the benefits of this.

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  7. Why is this a she?

    Also, when bikes move through new owners they are often modified to be safer or fit better or meet certain requirements for the new rider. Maybe it's only me but most my bikes have gone through several lives, as have my children's....It does not seem like a new thing, that market has always been there.

    It sounds like you have ideas about this bike...Heed your own advice and stay out of it. Maybe it's a he ;)

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    1. Oh I'm staying totally out of it unless asked a direct question.

      "Maybe it's a he"

      Clive says he checked under the bottom bracket. I'll take his word for it.

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    2. You can't always go by that. Like some kinds of fish and lizards, bikes can, er...transition genders over time. I've seen it happen...

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    3. I thought the name may have been a nod to Ladyhawke.

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  8. One of my sweet rides is an early 70s Raleigh Competition rescued from a Corvallis, OR bike shop's window display & updated with Ergo & 105 triple/cassette & Schwalbe 28mm Supremes. Kept the GB bars and Weinman. Sacrilige! Maybe. What a fast & comfy ride though & a kick that she's a contemporary competitor. Kept all the OEM though. Thanks and luck to you and yours. Jim Duncan

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  9. Ha! "Good on you!" as they say. Hopefully he will be making more cameos! Remind him often of how lucky he is.

    I have a red metallic '65 Raleigh Sports that I love but feel so much more comfy on my '56 Schwinn Corvette. Maybe it's the lower gearing (both SA 3 speeds) or the fat sprung saddle over the Brooks B72. Maybe I just have to take them both out for more "exercise" and such.

    NYC / NJ roads - yes, as harrowing as you think and as Bike Snob makes them out to be. I have become accustomed to the rhythm of people's driving habits.
    I always always use a clip on Third Eye rear view mirror. Especially useful as hybrid cars are very quiet but equally deadly. You're surrounded by assassins and I just try to stay out of the way.

    Fooling around with several Frankenbikes, I have a Schwinn Corvette cantilever frame that I adapted for a standard bottom bracket. Just because I can does not mean I should, but I shall. My friend told me to spin a lot and "train" with a heavy bike. If I can rig up the right geometry on it, Schwalbe Fat Franks here I come!

    vsk

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  10. Great Observations, V.
    Leads to another.
    I think unsavory circumstances can lead to people
    waiting in sheds for someone to come along and take an interest, air the old tires, polish the chrome....update,
    get it back on the road!
    I'm just saying........ i love old bikes- HA!

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  11. Bikes and boyfriend, tongues will wag, prepare!

    Ah yes, classic and vintage on bike forums is always busy. Last night I was looking at some restorations of road bikes from the 50's which warmed my heart. It is true that a decent steel bike can have a very very long life. There is an amazing woman who restores older bicycles, partly on principle, on style and because of quality. http://restoringvintagebicycles.com/

    I gave my not THAT old raleigh sports a new life, although it needs a bit more work. I have tried to keep my lady raleigh clubman mostly original and rode it as is, but the gearing is difficult, so may look into that. modern rims of a more common size would help, the cottered cranks while in good shape have a huge chainring that makes riding tough for those inexperienced. It is mostly a guest bicycle and I feel bad when people have trouble on it. I'd hate to sell it, but husband is grumbling about space...
    Even bicycles from the 80's and 90's get new lives. I was just given a beautiful 80's celeste bianchi, with campy with the promise that I would not throw it out. I have been trying to obtain a celeste bianchi for years!!

    Have fun!

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  12. Does the Sturmey-Archer Dynohub work? Setting up generator-powered lights would be a nice addition for this bike. One of the proudest moments in my brief history of bike wrenching was coaxing a rusty, seized-up GH6 to pump out current. Just make sure you don't separate the armature from the magnet. There are pretty good instructions on line.

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    1. Replied below first before seeing your comment. Might work, but it's a lot of fuss just to end up with a dim set of lights. It's pitch black around here.

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  13. I love those white hard rubber grips. The bike I have now had such grips (installed, I'm fairly sure, by the previous owner), which I unfortunately lost in the process of switching them out with comfier, but much less fun, Oury grips.

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  14. Those brakes and rims would give me pause, but perhaps in Northern Ireland you don't need to stop so suddenly. Also, did you say rusty mountain bike? Wasn't that aluminum? This old steel thing seems more worrisome.

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    1. A bike is more than just a frame; plenty of MTB part can rust. Braking and needing to stop suddenly depends on where you ride. To the shops and back on the flat farm roads, it's more than fine.

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  15. Loving this post and bike story! It's much better to have an old bike that's been modified to make it roadworthy and rideable on an everyday basis. That's what I've done with mine, and while I look a little wistfully at the old photos with its original wheels, I like that I can ride it everyday much better.

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  16. I've read information about the front hub "dynohub" from Sheldon Brown: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/dynohubs.html
    Maybe it can work again.

    L.

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    1. It might work again. But the output of the old dynohubs is lower than that of modern hubs or bottle dynamos, so it won't be much use with modern lights. I do have some vintage lights that could be fitted, but the light output would be considerably inferior.

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    2. Even with modern LEDs? They require a lot less power.

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    3. Last time I checked it was not possible, I forget the exact mechanics of why. That was a couple years back though.

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  17. Busch & Muller do the Lumotec Classic which will blend right in and the Seculite or the newer Secula will fit to the mudguard and not look out of place. There are places that will service your SA dyno hub but I cant find one in Ireland. Nenon and her team at www.bicycleworkshop.co.uk do a good job but that Lunnon place is a trek from you

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  18. Love the fork crown detail on that BSA nice shot. Just picked up a late 70s Motobecane Grand Touring I am looking forward to lavishing love on. Great to see old bikes getting new life.

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  19. Is there 2" of stem in the steerer? They did make some tall ones so I don't know the answer to that. But check and be sure. It's high enough to make me squeamish.

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  20. Having done the old bike thing,I thank my Gods for the "bike to Work" scheme.

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  21. Everything needs replacing eventually.Trying to keep something "on the road" which long ago should have been consigned to the recycling centre or left to languish in peace beneath a flowering hedge is not always the best option. Move on ,the past is nice to visit but we should be careful not to linger too long.

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  22. I have never seen such fantastic brake pads.

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  23. Regardez la C.N.C. au bas de la page:

    http://hilarystone.com/bike.html

    She has conspicuously had a minimum of three lives so far. Looks ready for more. You were saying something about combining the best of the Rawland and the Seven? And Frenchness! It would be project n+5 for me. If it were my size it would be sold anyway.

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  24. I did this a few years ago using a retrofit LED bulb a bit like this http://www.amazon.co.uk/NITE-IZE-Upgrade-Cell-White/dp/B0013LKFVO/ref=tag_stp_s2_edpp_url
    (check power level around 1 Watt), a full rectifier chip and a stack of ni-cad C-cell batteries in a piece of waste pipe fitted between the pump bosses. Also wired in four ultrabright old-skool LEDs to the rear lamp. It's a lot brighter than the filament bulbs, but does need the batteries on my set-up to power both ends. Losing the rear lights is a good indicator that the batteries need a charge. The dynohub then powers the front lamp only - at nearly full brightness. I think it depends on how well the dynohub still performs - my wife's bike is better in this respect with otherwise identical set-up. I was inspired by Sheldon Brown on this.

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  25. So you live in Northern Ireland now? I'd thought you were there a rather long time for some kind of job deployment...guess that's why the "co-habitant" hadn't featured in a long while.

    M.

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  26. You have opened up a new theme for your blog. I found you when we were looking to buy new bikes in Germany, and eventually settled on Bella Ciao. As I got deeper into it, I began looking for sad old Raleigh DL-1 bikes where all that was left worth using was the frame and perhaps the original guards. Each old bike rides dramatically differently, mostly due to geometry and selection of components (28" 1 1/2 wheels perform so differently than 26" or 700C).

    I expect many of your readers come to you when they are looking to get back into bikes as adults... with various memories of bikes as a child. As a kid, the bike was a toy. As an adult it is a tool, but too many bike outlets sell toys even for grownups. A MTB for the road is the wrong design, and then dumbing it down to be a "hybrid" is form following trends, not function.

    While your reviews of new bikes is great for one group of readers, this review of the 2nd life bike (born again?) opens a whole new avenue of discussion. In theory it is simple... find an old bike, upgrade the components and ride. But what bike? What are its characteristics? What components are best (a combination of fit and price/performance)?

    This may be an area where you consider an addition to your software... set up a place where readers can share not only their short comments (like this one), but submit a detailed documentation of their 2nd life bike complete with photos. Then select one to run in your blog every so often, say 1st blog of the month. This will result in more bikes being saved. You might even enroll the component makers to sponsor your work, just as new bike manufacturers saw the value in sponsoring this blog.

    Just a thought

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