Friday, January 6, 2017

Gifts That Make You Go Broke!



Well, it's only early January and already this year is off to an interesting start. The other evening I had a visitor. A neighbour from down the road arrived in his van ...and dropped off half a dozen or so vintage bikes! Most of them were for me to photograph, and he'd be back to collect them later. But two of them I could keep, if I wanted them. Well then!..

Now, if you were to ask me which English 3-speeds are definite musts in my hypothetical dream vintage bike collection, I would say without hesitation that it's a tie between two: the Rudge, with its "hand of Ulster" chainring, and the double-forkbladed Humber. And wouldn't you know it?



That's right. I present to you, Exhibit A.



And Exhibit B.



But of course there is a catch, and that catch is plain to see: Both bikes are in horrendous condition. The wheels were frozen so stiff, I could not even roll them along the ground and had to carry them to move them.



The Humber is a step-though roadster, just about my size. It sports a full chaincase, rod brakes, dynamo lighting (powered by a rear generator hub and a battery pack?), 3-speed gearing, a fork lock, and the remains of a Terry saddle.



The Rudge looks a slightly newer and sportier model, with rim brakes, no chaincase, bottle-powered lighting, and what looks like a Brooks 73.



In the early morning light I thought at first that the bicycles were green, but realised soon they were black - just covered with a layer of moss.



Or, more accurately, covered with a layer of bright orange rust, which in turn is covered with moss.



And while you might, quite reasonably, assume these bikes were fished out from the swamp, in fact they were kept in a shed for the last 4 decades. And if this is what the Irish damp does to bikes kept in a shed, just imagine what happens to them outdoors! (See also: Meditations on Early Ruin)



Overwhelmed by their overall look of decrepitude, my initial thought was, the machines were beyond rescue. But a scrape here and there revealed that the rust - on the frames at least - was mostly surface. And that the rims are actually in decent condition.



With a sigh, I acknowledged the nightmare scenario at hand: the bikes were not so bad as to be dismissed as unrestorable, but bad enough to need lots of work, and probably lots of replacement parts, if one were to take that on.  I've received a "gift" designed to make me go broke!



Standing there, all pitiful and neon in their "swamp thang" colourings, I admit these bicycles pull at my heartstrings. Nevertheless, there is no danger of my taking on such a project any time soon. So I'll look around for anyone interested, and pass this "gift" on to them if they're keen. Until then, I suppose there's no harm in giving these moss-ridden beauties a home, and simply enjoying their presence. If you're local and eager for a super-fun restoration project, do give me a shout. And to all, a happy weekend!


43 comments:

  1. Your Humber has what is called (by Sturmey-Archer and others) a "Battery Unit", which gave lighting backup in one of three ways. There were three types:- Dry Accumulator Unit (DAU), Filter Switch Unit (FSU), and Dry Battery Unit (DBU). The first used lead-acid batteries which were charged by the Dynohub,but for various reasons, was only in production for about 5 years post-WW2. The second used ordinary non-chargeable alkaline batteries, connected to the Dynohub, but which cut in if the Dynohub power dropped below a level e.g. when stationary. It was, in effect, a standlight battery and control unit. The DBU was more or less a flashlight body wired to the lights but independent of the Dynohub, so that you could manually switch the lights to battery when required. As this wasn't automatic, it was of limited use, and the best purpose I can think of for it would be pushing a bike home in the dark after a puncture or mechanical failure (or perhaps, walking home with the boyfriend).

    There are ways of telling them apart, besides the labels and plates if any on them, but it just goes to show that "there ain't nothing new under the Sun". They are quite scarce, especially in working order, as battery care often wasn't a major concern, and leaking cells corroded them away.

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    1. Thanks. I've seen a good dozen of these on various vintage bikes since moving here, including at least one in working order.

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  2. i'd love to resurrect that Rudge if i weren't an ocean away!

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  3. That Humber is really quite fantastic. I'd be forced to keep it.
    The Rudge doesn't grab my attention quite as much (though it is still pretty cool), but that chainring is probably something I would have to keep and possibly even display. I've seen pictures of the Hand rings before, but I've never seen one in person.


    (If, by some chance, the bikes become a project that you cannot resist, I've recently tried a product called "Quick Glow" recommended by Grant Petersen. I've found it to be remarkable for taking rust off of steel without being a harsh chemical. Don't know if it's available on your side of the world, but it's worth looking for, IMO.)


    Wolf.

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    1. The Quick Glo is available, albeit for triple the US pice.

      My ideal Rudge would be a step-through of course, and they are not that difficult to get. I could have this one, for instance, at my doorstep within a week for under $150 including shipping. Or this older and more luxuriant one in the $300's. It's funny though, because when a bicycle finds you it feels like "fate" and even if it's decrepit it somehow makes more sense to try and get that one restored than look for a better specimen : )

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    2. The Quick Glo wouldn't help those bikes.

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    3. I am hopeless with bikes. I cannot turn my back on any sad stray that finds it's way to me. I've only recently, and with no small amount of encouragement from my wife, been able to muster the fortitude to scrap the saddest examples that come to me rather than rehabilitate them. You are correct, of course, that it's more economical to just buy one that's not a basket case.

      I have recently been given an old ladies loop frame bike that had been untouched for decades. No decals on it to aide in identification, but it's just a cheap department store model. The chain was rusted solid and the wheels were so rusted that the hubs couldn't be made to turn. Perplexingly, the frame itself is fine, and the deep maroon color is beautiful in the sun. That darned paint has kept it from going to the scrapyard. :)
      Once the spring thaw comes, I reckon I'm going to put a nice big basket on it that I'll grow some colorful flowers in, and lean it against the fence in my garden. Mother nature will eventually claim it, of course, but I've seen this done on... one of these here bike blogs I think, and thought it was a nice looking garden decoration for a bike-minded person.

      Wolf.

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  4. You are wise to harden your heart to these forlorn wretches.

    I've gone down this path oh so many heartbreaking times. The scrofulous MGB that appeared in my yard with an anonymous note saying "This car was running great til it broke down", the Series 1 Land Rover(1957, Perkins Diesel SWB Station Wagon with removable top/Alpine Lights)that I bought from a junkyard 90% complete for $300 that nearly rendered me homeless before I flogged it off to an attorney with more dollars than sense, The BMW R5/5 I bought in boxes for "a song"(the song being the "Lament of the Damned"), or the 2,700 bikes just like these I've re-built, repaired/straitened/rehabilitated and found homes for.

    And the Boat. Oh God. The boat...

    If worse comes to worse, give them each a bullet behind the ear, take off the "Hand of Ulster" chainring and the iconic Rudge fork, mount them on nice plaques and hang them on your wall.

    If you can't bring yourself to do that you may as well go fling yourself in the sea right now.

    Spindizzy

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    1. I was thinking of hanging them above the fireplace mounted on wooden plaques, like taxidermied animal heads.

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    2. "I was thinking of hanging them above the fireplace mounted on wooden plaques, like taxidermied animal heads."

      The mind boggles at the display possibilities.

      Looking at the photo of the mossy saddle, I picture two things- the wrecked Barkentine in Anacortes, Washington with the trees growing from the hull, and also Hemingway's depiction of Death as "two bicycle policemen..."

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    3. Spindizzy, that sounds like the future of my life. Are you just the older version of me?

      And man, these english 3-speeds are just about my favorite thing. If I was in this situation, I wouldn't be able to let them go for fear of someone else giving up and scrapping them. My first instinct would be to get them running without looking perfect (if the SA hubs are shot, which they rarely are but you never know) with fixed or single speed coaster hubs as loaners or pub bikes. I did that once until I found another wheel & hub. And at the worst case scenario, I would strip all parts for use or display.

      And hey, if you can't find a use for that chain case & pie plate, complete sets can fetch big bucks!

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  5. The light is magical in these photos!

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  6. Oh Velouria, run away from this! So many excellent bicycles you can find of these marks if you truly wish them. The condition here is sad.

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  7. I'm local and would certainly relish the opportunity to restore the Rudge.........

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    1. Oh wow, excellent. Email me at filigreevelo{at}yahoo{dot}com please.

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  8. This maybe somewhat off topic, but perhaps you could say a word from time to time, about your photography equipment. Nice pictures, as always. Jim Dinneen Massachusetts

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    1. I don't mention it lately, mostly because it has not changed in 4 years. I use a Nikon D600 and a Fuji X-Pro1 with various lenses, as well as my iphone. I do have film cameras as well, but haven't used film for bike photos in a while. Hope that helps!

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  9. I think you are missing an opportunity here. These bikes are clearly beyond restoration to their original state. That is unfortunate, but puts you in the (bike-geek)moral clear to be expressive and creative with them.

    If you don't limit yourself to restoring the original finish, or keep to 'period correct' pieces, you could more quickly/cheaply make some unique and usable bikes. Sure that hand shaped crank has likely rusted beyond refinishing, but what would if look like powder-coated?

    I challenge you to give yourself a modest budget of time and money, and see what you can do. Celebrate what is salvageable, and cobble together the rest. Let them live again as funky frankenbikes.

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  10. Every time I "get rid" of a bike two more appear (that need more work) to take it's place! - masmojo

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  11. Well, obviously they can't be restored to their original state, but I bet they can get rolling agin, quickly if you replace the wheels
    Twenty years ago, when these were just "old bikes" I had several, a huge very primitive Hercules rod braker with one speed and a mattress saddle, I gave £5 for it and remember ranging far and wide around Yorkshire. We crossed the Humber bridge several times.

    There was a ladies' Raleigh sport I built for my girlfriend, skirtguard, quicker basket, she painted flowers all over it, like a canal boat. It came from the tip. One day she rode off on it.

    When the Herc got nicked I gave £10 for a fairly late Superbe. Some idea of the life it had can be gained from the fact that I snapped a seatstay, and bent a crank arm. On a bike that was built like the Titanic.

    Finally, the next girlfriend got a Rudge Whitworth loop frame. She's long gone, but the Rudge is still in my garage. I'll have to think of something to do with it.


    Chris


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  12. Has the Humber got the "dancing men"
    Chainwheel?

    Chris

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  13. The answer here is: Tear them down, box up the parts, and start cleaning them one by one as time and finances allow. Eventually you have two restored bikes, without straining the pocketbook at any one time.

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    1. Or like me you end up with boxes and boxes of parts and stripped down frames that you are "going to get to" lol

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  14. The cables are still on the three speeds, that's a good sign.

    Chris

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  15. I don't think I've ever even seen a Humber – other than cars and, um, the river of course – so those double-bladed forks are something new to me. Very interesting. Do you know the reasoning behind them? Perhaps on the theory that two small diameter tubes are springier than one large diameter tube but still strong?

    Rudge, though, and the Hand of Ulster (are you tempted to paint it red? I would be!), oh yes. Which prompts me to ask, because I've never quite been able to work out, are you in Ulster or the Republic?

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    1. Ulster includes Northern Ireland and parts of the Republic, including Donegal - so both. We moved to Donegal last year but still spend a lot of time in NI.

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    2. Oh, I had a vague feeling Ulster might be too general a term. I'm at least as ignorant of Irish geography as the average inhabitant of that there English bit! :~

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  16. As I've aged, I've grown more tolerant of "beusage," one of my favorite terms coined by the inimitable Grant Petersen. Each spring for the last two or three years I've intended to brighten up the weathered spar varnish on my beautiful wooden sea kayak. But of course I always seem to run out of time. I've learned that the dull finish really has no effect on the way it glides through the water. Except, the boat receives fewer adoring compliments whenever I pull up to the gas pump with it strapped to the top of the truck. I've spiffed up a few bikes by powder coating them. But so far, I've chosen to leave my Raleigh Competition in its original rough-and-ready state. Besides giving those bikes some personality, the accumulation of moss could feed a garden full of slugs for a whole summer.

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  17. Back in 1990 I lived in Hull, they found half a dozen Humber roadsters packed up in cardboard for shipping. They'd been there 40 years. I tried to buy one, but they were going to auction.

    I kept watching, but never saw them come up.

    Chris

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  18. While I can admire those who restore such old bicycles (actually restore them, not just talk about it while they rust further and further into total oblivion), personally, those bikes would have been back in the van that delivered them in five seconds flat.

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  19. Sheds spend most of the year very moist environments, and I'm guessing more so in the green and emerald isle, sometimes putting a bike in one cannot be avoided, but never leave your bike tools in one. Garden tools should be cleaned and oiled after use. Garages are only a little better.
    Could the red hand crank be seen as a little bit sectarian, I know the peace process is going fairly well, but... Perhaps similar to a flag of the confederacy crank on a cruiser in a predominantly african american neighbourhood?

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  20. I love your photos here.

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  21. I managed to find on ebay a few years ago an 100-110 year old French fixed gents bicycle. It was a very bad photo on the ad and just said 'old bike'. Missing one crank arm and 'patinated' similar to your 'gifts'. It is my favourite bike. Over 100 years old and still in weekly use.Though the spoon brake in the wet is not up there with a 1970s caliper on a chrome rim! It is my favourite bike as it stands un-restored, I have a few. Keep them?
    Geraldo g

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  22. The patina on the bikes is beyond awesome! I think they would be great to have leaning against the side of the house so that the moss and rust can continue to flourish. Art that can be enjoyed every time your return home or working outside.

    On a somewhat related note, I have a Phillips crank/chain ring hanging in the garage. It's a beauty, the chrome is in great shape, but unfortunately it's bent, that's why it became a wall hanger.I also have a damaged Peugeot frame hanging from the garage rafters, love the decals and the shade of green.

    Wishing you and everyone a Happy New Year,
    JohnS

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  23. I see two possibly useful headlight bezels. The dented one should mostly come back. Sturmey internals should still be good. But as spare parts. Don't mess about building wheels when the flange and spoke holes are rusted.

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  24. The wonderful thing about gifts is the way in which they remind us to participate….There's a whole economy going on where one will never go broke. So what's up with these?

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  25. You will probably need tyres, cables and possibly brake blocks and tubes but those bikes could be put back on the road with very little expenditure with a little patience and TLC.

    They need stripped down, re-lubricated and with some oily rag treatment they won't look like new but you'd be surprised how well they'd clean up.

    BW

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  26. I just have to say, thank you for keeping this blog going. I feel like I have "grown-up" reading your writing since it started when i similarly, was fully immersed in an obsessively expanding Raleigh collection, and relentless restoration regime, which led to over 40 pre-1960 Raleighs, Rudges, Humbers, Triumphs, And even my Precious Sunbeam. As fate would have it, I now make bicycles for a living. Seeing these two bikes here really brings back memories, particularly, a 1960s Raleigh DL! Roadster i literally pulled from a bamboo patch in a vacant lot in Florida. Bamboo stalks were growing through the wheels and spokes and its condition was comparable to these bikes you have here. I was a mechanic at the time and my co-workers thought me naive and said "that thing is too far gone, you know how much that thing is gonna cost you? let alone how much time it's gonna take and how many parts you're gonna have to source? throw it away! there are better bikes out there, which make much more sense to restore!" i remember completely restoring the bike without refinishing anything, it was mechanically perfect with many new internal parts but externally had a patina that you cannot buy, and in fact, is so attractive that there are many faux finishes available now for almost any metal object. but enough about me, thanks for sharing these images and words!

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  27. THat bad on the outside - how bad is the rust inside the tubes? Safety issue?

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  28. It seems like a primordial urge that gets stronger as the days shorten. Most every year I "save" a couple bike, and they in turn save me. It's cheaper than a psychiatrist. The (supposed) fact that people who work with their hand and minds equally are the happiest is a motivator. …Wrenching, scrubbing, and researching. My goal is to not lose any money -- not counting the tens of hour I put into each -- and not ruin the carpet. Depending on my living situation I limit my total bikes on hand to 3 or 4. If I fall in love with one, I keep it. The others go on craigslist. I often buy for $50 and sell for $150 to $350. Friends and LBSs seem to enjoy me coming around with something interesting. Tonight, I'm thinking I'll swap some parts with a bike I'm not in love with one I'm hoping to fall in love with. Hopefully, I'll get one or the other in running order. I may ponder buying an ultrasonic parts cleaner, too.

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  29. Several years ago a friend who was moving gave me his Schwinn. To be truthful I have never been interested in Schwinns, but I suspect I was expected to work my magic on it, as I had done with a number of English bicycles. It did not turn out perfect. The parts made English bicycle parts seem cheap. Two years, countless hours and $800+ later I became the owner of a 1959 Schwinn Phantom, which I have ridden twice.Since then I have learned many ways to avoid the gift bicycle, but in a strange way this 60+ pound single speed monster exudes a certain charm.I also discovered that my 1964 Christmas bicycle was in fact a Japanese copy of the Schwinn.

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