Thursday, November 19, 2009

As the Sprocket Turns

One of the really wonderful things about writing this blog for the past two and a half years has been watching the different evolutions it has undergone. What started as an amateur's uncertain ramblings has become a genuinely collaborative endeavor, with readers posting questions in the comments, e-mailing me for information and advice, and sharing their own projects. I'm so glad that so many people have found this a useful and friendly place to visit on the Interwebs.

As you have probably noticed, postings here and at The World Awheel have slowed down in recent weeks. I have been devoting more time and energy to advancing my professional (that is, non-bicycle related) goals, and have consequently spent less time both in the garage working on bikes, and at the computer writing about them. This will be the situation for some time to come.

This, however, does not mean that either of my blogs will be shutting down. Rather, they will both be undergoing a bit of a shift in content and frequency of postings. I will also be instituting a fairly strict policy of not responding to technical questions or age/value/identification questions by e-mail. As much as I enjoy offering my advice and opinions and hunting about the Interwebs for useful facts to share with people, I just can't take the time to respond to all of them any longer. I will still welcome Reader Projects submissions, however, and updates from those of you with ongoing projects.

So, I'll keep posting if you keep reading, and I'll look forward to whatever new directions the blog ends up taking (it has always had a bit of a life of its own).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reader Project: Pete's Mystery "Aircycle" Bike

Edit: Bernard of Cyclone Coaster has answered in the comments that this is a 1939 Roadmaster built by Cleveland Welding Co. (CWC), USA. Thanks Bernard!

Yeah, I'm still here. Just busy with non-blog and non-bike stuff lately and for the foreseeable future as well, but I'll try to get back to semi-regular blogging here. Thanks to my loyal readers and lurkers for being patient.

This first post after my hiatus is long overdue, I'm afraid. Thanks for your patience, Pete.

This bike was picked up at a garage sale, and could be a Dutch(?) version of a balloon tire cruiser. The tires, in fact, are of Dutch origin (Swift). Pete doesn't think the fenders, chainguard, or rear rim are original, and he knows the Schwinn saddle isn't, but otherwise, there's a lot of interesting stuff here that I don't know anything about. I'm posting most of the photos Pete sent me in the hope that someone out there will know what this is, where it came from, and roughly how old it is.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Digitized Catalogues at the National Cycle Library (UK)

WARNING: Clicking on the links below will almost certainly lead to sleeplessness, extreme feelings of envy and/or desire, and potential loss of marriage.

Doing some research on Phillips today, I found myself checking in with the website of the British National Cycling Collection. It has been a while since I visited, and to my great surprise and delight, I found that they've digitized much more of their library than they had previously. Of particular note are the scanned catalogues, which provide an excellent reference for period restorations of many British-built bicycles.

Although it doesn't add much to my knowledge of my Raleigh-built 1955 Huffy, the image below of the "genuine" Raleigh equivalent (the Sports Light Roadster) is kind of neat to have as a reference. Now, if only we could still order from these catalogues...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Photos of My Workshop

Really, it's more of a cave that sort of passes for a garage. We rent a small cottage on a lot with two other houses, a fairly common situation in Southern California. The property is on a hill and the garages for all three places were added as an afterthought sometime in about the 1930s or 1940s. They were sort of carved out from beneath the property and have never been finished or had electricity run to them, so they're pretty primitive. This space is exactly big enough for one car, but I've got five assembled bikes (and three disassembled, presently) in there. I've been working on bikes down there for about a year and finally this summer got around to organizing a workshop of sorts. I cleaned it up yesterday after finishing dismantling the hub donor bike, and though it looked about as good as it was ever likely to, so I took some photos.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Salvaging a Hub, Part II

The final cleanup on the salvaged Sturmey-Archer TCW III was accomplished by scraping the remaining rust off with a razor blade, then several rounds of polishing with rubbing compound and Brasso. Some areas of the chrome have been cosmetically damaged by the rust, but not the scraping. There has been no structural damage to any of the exterior pieces of this hub. In fact, all cleaned up, many of the bits are in better shape than those on the Huffeigh. I don't post this to gloat (okay, maybe a little), but to demonstrate that even a hub that looks as bad as this one did may be worth a try to salvage and make useable again. Don't give up on bike or on salvage parts just because they look a little rough!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sweet Ride: The Bicycle Art of Christopher Koelle

I have a pretty hard and fast policy on not doing commercial posts of any kind, but I also really like to promote the work of independent artists doing interesting work. I mentioned Kara Ginther's hand-carved Brooks saddles briefly in another post recently, so I wanted to give a little blog time to Christopher Koelle, too, especially since his work may be of particular interest to readers of this blog. From his Etsy profile:

My name is Christopher Koelle and I love drawing people with bicycles, especially from the early days of cycling.

The original Sweet Ride art zine sparked in me an ongoing fascination with the history of travel and roads, from the Good Roads Movement of Horatio Earle to the epic, sprawling interstate highways we love and hate today. Sweet Ride is now just the beginning of a progressively larger ongoing body of work about these histories.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Salvaging a Hub

I know I have lots of updates to give on various projects, which I will hopefully get to this week, but in the meantime, here are some photos of my latest project, which is really just a side project for the Phillips roadster.

My friend Mauricio tipped me off to a cheap junker bike at a local estate sale. I picked up what's left of this 1964 Huffy Sportsman for $10, and I'll probably be able to salvage a few things, but the main thing was the rear hub. It's a Sturmey-Archer TCW III, a three-speed coaster brake hub. Sheldon Brown says the TCW series is unreliable as a coaster hub, citing possible failure of the brake if the cable is not properly adjusted, but for the money, I'm willing to give it a try.

My wife has hinted that perhaps she would like to ride the Phillips when it's finished and she really liked the idea of a coaster brake. I, however, wanted to put a three-speed hub on it, so here's the compromise, which suits all parties. True, it's not period-correct for the Phillips, but the correct K Series Sturmey-Archer hubs seem to be hard to come by and somewhat expensive, and not available in a coaster brake model. We'll have the rod brakes, too, just in case there's a problem with the coaster brake.

Here's a little photo series on my efforts to salvage the hub:

The before photos:

I had to cut the spokes with a pair of aviation snips because the nipples were too corroded to turn and the spokes too rotten to reuse.

Below, the top layer of gunk and rust has been scraped off:

Below, rust removal continues with fine steel wool, penetrating oil, rubbing compound, and even very carefully applied sandpaper over the worst rust spots, never used directly on the chrome.

The external cleanup on this hub is probably about half-finished. I'm hoping for near-pristine by the time I'm done, but it's going to take a lot more elbow grease to get there. I took a peek at the internals, and everything is surprisingly clean in there, so maybe I can get away with not dismantling it entirely.

Mobile Museum of Material Culture

Artist Kara Ginther has been on the Interwebs a lot lately. You might have seen her hand-carving on leather saddles at To Be, Inspired, or BoingBoing, or Chic Cyclists. While her leatherwork has been getting most of the attention (and rightfully so), I'd also like to mention that Kara has a very neat side project going called the Mobile Museum of Material Culture, which as you can see from the photo above, is powered by an old tandem.

Kara and the MMMC are touring about the Madison, Wisconsin area this fall, so if you're in the area, check out their schedule, and if you're not, see her Flickr set.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brief History of the Runwell Cycle Company of Birmingham

Note: There is no official history of the company, and no collection of company records, with the exception of a few scrapbooks at the University of Warwick (UK). Since the author of this article did not have access to these scrapbooks, much of this information has been gathered through Internet research. If you believe any of this information is inaccurate, or if you would like to add something, please feel free to submit corrections or contributions.

For most Britishers, the name Runwell today connotes a mental hospital and community of that name east of London. However, between 1904 and the 1960s, it was also a small bicycle manufacturing firm located in Birmingham. The Runwell Cycle Company produced bicycles of several makes to meet the high domestic and export demand for bicycles in the first half of the twentieth century. By the post-World War II period, the ascendance of major manufacturers like Raleigh, and the declining popularity of bicycling, had forced many smaller companies like Runwell out of existence.

The Runwell Cycle Company was founded by William Henry Jennings (born 1873 in Derby, England). When Jennings was twenty, he moved to Leeds, where he was listed as a “clothier’s traveler.” By 1904, he had moved to Birmingham, where he founded the Runwell Cycle Company on Lawson Street.

Jennings’s granddaughter remembers her grandfather as a kind, generous, and good-hearted man:

My earliest vivid memory of my grandfather is of my grandfather’s 60th birhday party in London before the war. Grandpa was a member of the Magic Circle and entertained all his small children (grown-ups, too!) with conjuring tricks, to their great delight. During the war, he stayed in London (14 Great Eastern Street) and I visited him there when the war ended.

In 1945 my father had settled in the country in Warwickshire and it was then that grandpa gave me and my brothers a Runwell cycle each, which gave us the much appreciated freedom of being able to roam the countryside during our teen years. Grandpa wrote to us, too, and also gave us very generous birthday presents. I always remember him as being kind and generous and I believe his staff thought this too.

The Runwell Cycle Company started small, but “through sheer hard work and business acumen,” Jennings expanded the business until he had depots and branches in most of Britain’s large towns, and an overseas depot in Java.

One of Jennings’s daughters recalls that:

Father knew all of his workforce by name and never employed anyone who belonged to a Union. There was always a happy atmosphere and we enjoyed going round the factory talking to the people and watching them tune the spokes in the wheels. He used to leave us on the a.m. train and came home twelve hours later and brought work to do on the weekends.

The Runwell company relied on the strength of its bicycle frames and the quality of their construction to sell bicycles, rather than their brand name alone. In their advertising, they advocated quality workmanship and affordability as virtues of a good bicycle. Runwell originally manufactured only bicycles, but by the late 1920s seems to have also begun manufacturing toys and sundries, and by the 1950s had also begun manufacturing parts and accessories for the auto industry. While still focused on building quality bicycles, their earlier advertising claim that, “we concentrate our energies on bicycles alone” fell by the wayside. By the 1960s, the firm was known primarily as a parts and accessories supplier, and no images or examples of advertising could be located after 1961.

The Runwell bicycle in the author’s collection features a distinctive design element of the Runwell brand that was most likely in production in the 1930s: an unusual “rigid safety frame” design that includes an extra angled support connecting the head tube and top tube. Other features of the author’s late 1920s or 1930s model are provided here for reference purposes: rod brake on front wheel, Perry single-speed coaster brake hub on rear wheel, Westwood rims front and back, bottom bracket oiler, hub oilers, 32-spoke front wheel, 40-spoke rear wheel.

I have gathered a gallery of images of Runwell bicycles and advertising here. Hopefully it will grow over time.

*All quotations from original correspondence with Julia Jennings, 28 October 2008.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Here's a Surprise

It turns out that the Phillips was originally a deep red, not black like I had assumed. The fork steerer tube gives a pretty clear indication that this was the original color. It seems, in fact, that the base coat was black with the red on top, which creates a rather striking and rich red. This could mean that the bike is not pre-war, since most specimens from the 1920s and 1930s seem to have been black. However, at least one pre-war Phillips that I know of had a rather more striking original color scheme. In other words, the color doesn't do much to help date the bike, but it certainly did come as a surprise to me.

Also, I've managed to scrape the yellow paint off the head badge. This will be black, red, and gold when finished, like this one.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My New Project: Phillips Ladies Roadster

I just picked up this Phillips loop frame ladies roadster. A few bits of the rear rod brake mechanism are missing, the pump braze-ons are broken off, the wheels are wrong, the saddle is after-market, the rear hub was swapped out and replaced with a Bendix single-speed coaster (original would have been a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed, most likely), the mudguards are missing, and it's been painted a horrific yellow (original was black, I'm hoping the decals might still be under there somewhere so they can be reproduced). But the chrome is in good shape and I'm absolutely smitten with the lines. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of patience to get all the missing bits together, but in the meantime, it's going to be a privilege to have this classy lady in my garage.

PS -- The previous owners told me this was pre-war (which is what they were told when they bought it), and I'm inclined to agree, but I do not have independent confirmation on this. Does anyone know if there is a Phillips serial number guide or any scanned catalogues out there somewhere?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reader Project: John's 1963 and 1964 Huffy Sportsmen

Remember John's 1955 Huffy Sportsman that was a brother of a different color to mine? Well, by some strange twist of fate, John came upon two more Raleigh-made Huffys, an almost-identically matched pair, in fact, and decided to restore them as a wedding present for his nephew and bride (the men's is 1963, the women's 1964). The results are astonishing, and John did a fantastic job of documenting his work. We hope the happy couple will spend many enjoyable hours awheel on these lovely bicycles.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reader Project: JP's 1968 Robin Hood


One of the great and terrible things about the Interwebs is that you get to meet people of like mind who you wouldn't have had a chance to meet otherwise, and then spend a whole lot of time online discussing the finer points of brake levers, chain guards, and fender stays.


Flickr user the-macnab has been working on this 1968 Robin Hood (a mid-level brand of Raleigh) for quite a while, and his friend williamhutchinson was also working to restore a Raleigh Sports, all about the same time I was working on the Huffeigh. The three of us exchanged comments, tips, and frustrations as we worked, and engaged in a sort of long-distance race to finish our respective projects. I believe I finished first, but my project was decidedly less ambitious than either of theirs, and I cut a lot of corners (like painting rusted chrome parts silver instead of replacing them). I'll do another post on William's amazing work on his Raleigh, but this long-promised post is all about the J.P.'s Robin Hood, and it is well-deserved.

Check out his full Flickr set on the restoration process.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Making a Saddle Bag, Part IV

No real substantial update this time, but I wanted to share some photos of the entire bag finally all stitched up. The top edges haven't been finished yet, the top flap needs some work, and a few spots on the sides need to be reinforced and tightened up, but hey, it's starting to look like a saddle bag finally!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Making a Saddle Bag, Part III

I've finally had some time in the evenings again to work on this project, but I haven't made a lot of progress. I have one side fully stitched in now, which means the bag is finally taking its proper shape. I ended up getting most of the other side done before I realized it wasn't going together very well (the seam was kind of loose), so I took it out and started over. I'm mostly finished with the second side now too, I just need to stitch up the front edge.

I'm still using a simple back stitch, which seems to be working fine. To sew the sides in, I ended up going with a small curved upholstery needle. Since I'm basically sewing from inside the bag, I find that this needle is really quite necessary.

My earlier suspicions that I somehow made the top flap too short have been confirmed. I'm trying to decide just how I'm going to fix the problem. I think I will probably just try to extend the side flaps (which have yet to make an appearance) around the front, but I'm not sure if I can do that in one piece, or if I should use a separate piece.


Making a Saddle Bag, Part II

Making a Saddle Bag, Part I

Can I Make My Own Saddle Bag?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Out of My Way

On the way home from running some errands this morning, as I approached my turn to go home, I decided that I wanted to keep riding, just for the sheer joy of it. I only went an extra block, but it got me thinking about the difference between riding a bicycle and driving. Whenever I'm driving, I really don't like having to go out of my way, even if it's just a block. As a driver, I've been conditioned (as most have) to expect convenience, and anything that inconveniences me in the car seems like a massive hassle. On a bike, though, a detour just means more time on the bike, and (usually) more fun. When was the last time you decided to drive your car an extra block just for fun?

PS -- One of the errands was to get a different needle for my saddle bag project. Updates on that, and other things, coming soon!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Temporary Interruption to Bike Bag Project

I know a lot of you are anxious to see how my saddle bag turns out, so I wanted to let you know that my project is temporarily on hold until our current very warm weather passes. About the last thing I want to do of an evening is sit with a heap of wool on my lap. I think it's supposed to be cooler in the next few days, so I'll probably get back to it soon. Never fear.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bicycles in the Kibbutz

Our friend Yanek of bicyclog in Israel has just posted a lovely photo essay of bicycles on a kibbutz.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making a Saddle Bag, Part II

Boy, I had no idea so many people would be interested in my inept efforts to put a saddle bag together! Things are going slowly, but so far, so good. All I've done since my last post is cut and position the four plastic panels (cut from two cheap three-ring binders) that will form the front, bottom, back, and top of the bag. The sides, with their own plastic panels, will be what actually gives the bag its shape.

In the photo below, I've just pinned the panels into place, but last night I got two panels fully stitched in. I'm using what my wife tells me is a backstitch, which she showed me how to do. I started off pretty slow, but by the end of the evening, I was getting much faster and more confident with my stitches. Once the panels are all sewn in and all the pins are removed, the bag will finally start to take shape as I begin the process of attaching the side panels to the body of the bag.


Making a Saddle Bag, Part I

Can I Make My Own Saddle Bag?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Blog: Bike San Diego

Calling all San Diego bicycle bloggers, riders, shop owners, advocates, enthusiasts, and anyone with an interest in sustainable urban development! A small group of San Diego bicycle bloggers has just launched a new site called, appropriately, Bike San Diego. Drawing inspiration from sites such as BikePortland and Streetsblog, the primary mission of Bike San Diego is simple: to provide a one-stop source for bicycle-related news, events, and advocacy in America's Finest City. This is an all-volunteer effort at citizen journalism by and for bicycle riders in metro San Diego and San Diego County. is in pre-launch status right now; the site is up and content is flowing, but the editors are accepting suggestions from the community as the site takes shape. This is your site, riders of San Diego, be the change you would like to see in the world and help us provide content that is relevant to you! Please send your comments, suggestions and tips by filling out the Contact Us form at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Pet Peeve

I think it's just coincidence that these things occur to me on Mondays. I came across a reference to "casual" urban bicyclists today and it started me thinking about how much I hate that word when it's used to refer to people who don't ride for sport. Just because I don't have a racing bike, wear lycra, or clip-in to my pedals doesn't mean I'm "casual." Sure, I ride for fun sometimes (it's always fun, after all), but I also run errands and do all of our household grocery shopping by bike. It certainly doesn't feel casual when I'm grinding up a hill with 30 lbs. of groceries in my baskets, and that's really not the word I would use to describe my assertive lane-taking and hyper-awareness of my surroundings while riding. Non-competitive? Sure, I'll own that. But casual? Hardly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Making a Saddle Bag, Part I

Here we go. The first thing I did (this was weeks ago) was to take some rough measurements of the original bag (I'll post them in a wrap-up post at the end of the series) and translated that into a paper mock-up. Why did I do this? I'm a visual learner, that's why. I needed to know that this was possible, physically in space. Whatever, that's how I think.

Then, after I picked out some fabric, I disassembled my paper mock-up and laid the pieces out on the fabric to cut out the pattern. I cut approximately a 1" seam allowance around each piece. I'm double-layering the bag, so I did two cut-outs for each piece seen below. The small pieces that would have been the side flaps for the top have not been cut out yet, but I'll come back to that later.

At this point, I decided that I was going to need to incorporate some sort of stiffening material, since the wool itself was too floppy. I decided on the flexible plastic cover of a small three-ring binder, cut to fit. I am stitching this stiffener between the layers of wool on the two side panels as well as the front, bottom, back, and top flap of the bag.

Below, I've sewn the stiffener into the two side panels and then pinned the side panels to the piece of fabric that forms the front, bottom, back, and top flap. I did this so that I could get an idea of what size I need to cut the rest of the stiffener panels. I'll do four separate panels: front, bottom, back, and top flap (although I may just triple-layer the top flap so it's not too stiff). In the photo below, I've stuffed the bag with napkins to give it some shape.

What I discovered in the process is that the top flap seems to be a bit too short. I think to fix this, I'll cut one single piece that will be sewn to the top flap, and that will run around the sides and front and overhang just a bit. If that's not clear, I think it will be later on. Anyway, so far, so good.

Previously: Can I Make My Own Saddle Bag?