Another Bike Project – an American Roadster

Note: I wrote this post on July 31 and forgot to post it.  Here it is, followed by today’s post:

I recently came across an unidentified 3-speed roadster style bike at my local thrift store.  I thought it was a 1950 Raleigh Roadster at first glance, then I noticed the very American-style 2-piece crank and the internally mounted kickstand.  It was covered in black paint, except for the fenders and wheels, which were covered in silver paint.  The headbadge said “Viking”.  The saddle was an obvious replacement, but everything else was original, even the handlebar grips, which had a Columbia logo. 

In fact, after querying the Classic & Vintage board, I was informed that the bike was in fact made by Columbia, in Westfield, MA.  Several guys recognized the crank configuration and the kickstand mount as characteristic of Columbia’s products.  Columbia was the first American bicycle manufacturer, and they became famous for, among other things, some really cool balloon-tired cruisers.  They rated their bikes by a “starred” heirarchy: 3 Star bikes were entry level, 4 Star bikes were mid-grade, and 5 Star bikes were top of the line.

One of the guys suggested I look for the serial number on the frame dropout, and look up the result on the Columbia serial number database online to get the manufacturing date.  The number was in there, and the model year was shown as 1955, with the caveat that some model years ran over into the next calendar year.  This was confirmed when the date code on the 3-speed hub showed January 1956 for its production date.  In short, the bike is nearly as old as I am!

Another collector suggested I try to remove the black paint to reveal any decals that might be underneath.  The normal methods didn’t work too well for the frame, but the chainguard revealed the words: “Columbia built 5 Star American”. 

At this point I decided to try to preserve the bike as much as possible, recognizing that a complete restoration is beyond my capabilities at the moment.   The fenders are chromed, but very rusty, with no way to restore them without a rechrome job.  For the moment, I’m going to prime and paint them, along with the cranks and chainring.  Some day I’ll get the funds and the gumption to have them triple-chrome plated, but for the moment, I want to get the bike ridable and looking presentable.

Here are a few of the pictures taken before and during disassembly, with a few after shots as well:


Viking 5 Star American as found - don't look too close!

Here's the headbadge - the only ID we had to start off with

Here's the headbadge - the only ID we had to start off with

Handlebars wrapped with tape to cover the rust!

Handlebars wrapped with tape to cover the rust!

"Beaked" fenders

"Beaked" fenders Gnarly rusty pitted handlebars...Rusty crank, painted over chrome

Removing the top coat of paint revealed this silk screen on the chainguard.

Removing the top coat of paint revealed this silk screen on the chainguard.

I found out a few interesting things about how to clean up old parts in the process of ressurrecting this beast.  Here are a few of them:
1) Rusty chrome can be shined up really nicely by dipping a ball of aluminum foil in lemon juice and polishing off the rust.  It really is effective.  
2) Oxalic acid dissolves rust – a commercial rust remover containing the stuff can be used to soak old fasteners, brackets, etc. and the rust simply goes away!  Be careful not to get it on aluminum parts.
3) Goof Off is a great product for dissolving the top coat of paint – when a bike has been repainted, you can often reveal the original color and sometimes the decals or silk screen decorations.
I’ll be posting pictures of the final results when I get finished!

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