An American Roadster, more or less Resurrected!

September 14, 2009
The finished beast in all her 39.5 pound glory!

The finished beast in all her 39.5 pound glory!

After a month and a half of blood, sweat, toil, tears, interruptions, errors, disappointments, misinformation, heartache, and persistence, I am (sort of) finished with the Viking 5 Star American!  This project has been prolonged primarily by my own ignorance, and although I have reached a fairly acceptable result, there remain opportunities to do a better job.  In other words, it’s like every project I undertake – compromises have to be made in order to finish the job. 

Had I been possessed of an unlimited budget, I would have had the handlebars, stem, fenders, crank and chainring re-chromed.  The bike would then have looked approximately as it did when new, although sans decals.

However, I had almost no budget for this job, so those items that couldn’t be de-rusted and shined up were painted, with the hope that some day in the future, I can get around to doing the job more permanently.  I settled for a complete mechanical overhaul, replacement of the brake cables and pads, complete rebuild of the rear wheel, stripping and painting of wheel rims, fenders, and chainguard, repair and refinishing of the original grips, and a teardown, cleaning and polishing of the original saddle.
I was able to replace the handlebars with a new Wald 8095 Touring bar, which resembles the original, but is wider (I really needed the extra width).

Wald 8095 handlebars replaced the originals, which were beyond repair

Wald 8095 handlebars replaced the originals, which were beyond repair

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the results of this one, and today I took her out for a ride around the block.  The 53-year old Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub and shifter worked perfectly, as did the brakes, so it’s safe to ride, at least. I’m really pleased with overall look of the bike.

Here's the chainguard with the original silkscreen reveal

Here's the chainguard with the original silkscreen reveal

I opted for the English safety white stripe on the rear fender - sort of a nod to Raleigh

I opted for the English safety white on the rear fender - sort of a nod to Raleigh

Everything I replaced is period correct, although the color scheme is a completely imaginary one, and I think the bike will be fun to ride around the neighborhood.    It should keep me in shape, since the gearing is high, and the bike weighs 39 and a half pounds!


Another Bike Project – an American Roadster

September 14, 2009

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 bikeforums.com 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:

P1080843

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!

Back on the Bike (and Breathing Hard Again)

July 19, 2009

After 20 miles of easy biking, I decided it was time to start pushing it a bit. Having fought off a serious case of pneumonia this winter, I’ve been working on controlling my asthma for several months now, and it’s working pretty well. But I’m just now getting back onto the bike for real, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to take a while to get back to my previous form.

The day before yesterday, I rode 7.6 miles in 32 minutes at an average speed of 14.0 mph. Yesterday, it was 7.25 miles in 30 minutes, avg. speed 14.5 mph. I’m taking today off, then tomorrow I’ll try to improve slightly on those numbers.

I’m concluding that my speed is pretty close to what it used to be, but my endurance is way down. I guess my first goal will be to get up to an hour at my current speed – but that’ll take a few days (or weeks).

In the process of preparing for this, I had to get my bikes back in shape. I own three French road bikes – two tourers and a club racer. All my bikes are Motobecanes, made by the French company of that name (they’re no longer in the bike business, but they continue to exist as a division of Yamaha that builds mopeds. Motobecane means “motor bicycle” in French)

The racer is my fitness bike. It’s a 1982 Motobecane Mirage Sport, a steel-framed 12-speed with racing gearing (meaning hard to pedal most of the time), downtube shifters, and all original components. 27″ x 1″ tires means a fast but rough ride. The plain old low-end 2010 steel frame, however, makes up for a lot in the comfort area. This bike rides sweeter than just about any aluminum-framed carbon-forked over-priced monstrosity you can buy today. It’s the bike I ride around the neighborhood, and it’s equipped for speed. I’ve had it for about five years – my first French bike, and the reason I have two others.
I bought it at a swap meet and had it overhauled at my local bike shop, the cost of which motivated me to learn how to do all my own bike repairs!

The real torture rack - the bike I'm using to get back in shape!

The real torture rack - the bike I'm using to get back in shape!

My 1977 Motobecane Grand Touring bike is definitely the best bike I own. It has a Vitus 172 DB chrome-moly steel main triangle, brazed lugged steel frame, and is completely original in it’s current configuration, right down to the Zefal pump that came mounted to the seat tube. It’s a light day tourer, and it’s great for longer rides that last all day. I got it from a friend at work – it had been hanging in his garage for over ten years. I completely overhauled the bike, but I only had to replace the rubber parts and the bearings, plus a bottom bracket spindle and a few cables. After a lot of leather treatment and mink oil, the Brooks leather saddle is as comfy as a hammock (Sally doesn’t believe it, but it’s true!). This bike was used on a fully-supported tour of Nova Scotia, so the frame is strong enough for heavier loads than I’ll ever carry!

Here's my baby - the lightest frame and the sweetest ride I own!

Here's my baby - the lightest frame and the sweetest ride I own!

The 1982 Motobecane Randonnee is my “heavy” touring bike. Although I’ve never used it for fully loaded touring, it’s capable of handling it. Rack and fender mounts are brazed onto the 2040 steel frame, and the wheels are wider for more load carrying capacity. I use it for trail and path riding. I got it from my neighbor’s trash one night when he wasn’t looking. Sally gave me hell for bringing it into the garage – it was a real rust pile! After stripping the frame, repainting, new decals, a few new components, tires, tubes, cables, new brake levers and hoods, new aluminum bars to replace the rusty chromed steel ones, she looks great! It’s the first bike I’ve built from the frame up – and maybe the last!

Doesn't look like she came from a trashpile now, does she?

Doesn't look like she came from a trashpile now, does she?

I don’t really need three bikes, but I’m not likely to get rid of any of these in the near future – it’ll take quite a nice bike to tempt me to replace one of these three.


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