These all arrived the same week so I took the opportunity to photograph them all together. Shown are a 1949 Phantom, 1995 Anniversary Phantom, and early 21st century Nexus-hubbed Cruiser 7. Among other things, note how the fenderlight position has changed over the years.
Some 20 years ago I helped restore this 1949 Phantom for Gary Klefman, the owner of the Schwinn shop here in town. It was one of the first restorations I’d done for someone else. To that point all the bikes I worked on were either for myself or my partner in paint, Sean O’Brien. I admit I wasn’t yet used to putting all the sweat and tears in for someone else’s benefit. Both Sean and I were young and though neither were rich, we were nominally funded enough to restore and keep anything we worked on. It took over a year, but in the end the Phantom was finished. It was thus was a bittersweet moment when it rolled out the front door.
After that, I’d occasionally go into Gary’s shop. I’d see the Phantom hanging on the wall and I’d start to pine for it, partly because I’d put all the time into it and partly because, well, a collector is always collecting. I knew Gary prized the bike and that it would have been futile to make an offer, however ridiculous. I had to be content visiting it on the rare occasion I needed something from the Schwinn shop. I think I might have even made up an excuse to go see it once or twice, purchasing a couple extra Bendix two-speed springs just so I could look it over.
Gary’s son Randy took over the business in the 2000’s, the shop moved and eventually they even dropped the Schwinn line. …And still the bike hung on the wall. Imagine my surprise when Randy called recently, asking me if I might be interested in purchasing the bike. He seemed shocked that I was interested, and I must have sounded shocked that he thought I might not have been. I guess a possession can mean different things to different people. To Randy the bike might have been merely a dust collector. To me, well, you probably know what it means to me by now.
So now there’s another full circle ownership story to tell. It took a little over two decades to complete, but nevertheless, it feels like the bike is home.
This Witcomb was purchased from its original owner in Colorado and shipped here a couple weeks ago. The bike had a mix of components on it, everything from Campagnolo to Suntour to early Dura-Ace. I’m guessing the combination was largely done to extend the gear ratio, probably not a bad idea since Colorado is known to be a bit hilly. The eventual goal for the bike, beyond overhauling and giving it a good detailing, is to remove any non-Campagnolo bits and get it flying under one component flag.
When it arrived I admit I didn’t know much about Witcombs. I knew the U.S. versions were built in Connecticut, but that was only because it said so on the head decal. I had no idea there were American and English Witcombs, nor did I know that the frames themselves had a storied past. To me it was just a nicely made road bike that was still in great condition.
Roland was the one who eventually clued me in. It seems that more than a few reknowned framebuilders cut their teeth at Witcomb USA; Richard Sachs, J.P. Weigle, Chris Chance and Ben Serotta all put in time there. Each has subsequently gone on to carve out a name for himself. Like, a really big name for himself. I admit I was a bit star-struck when I found that out.
I have no idea which person actually built this Witcomb, or if was any of the builders listed. I don’t even know who was and wasn’t working for the company in 1976, the year the owner claimed to have ordered the bike. Maybe more information will come down the road. For now, it’s enough to know that it’s part of a bigger story.
Some bike folk remember all the little details. For example, they can wax on about why a particular Schwinn is a 1938 and not a ’39. Me? I’m lucky to get within a couple years either way. I hear the differences but over time they just slip away.
I guess it doesn’t help that strange, new bikes are always showing up. Take this Adler which I’m sure to mis-remember here soon. Brief research turned up evidence that Adler was quite the manufacturer in Germany, making everything from motorcycles to Zeppelin engines. …And bikes, of course.
I don’t remember seeing an Adler before, and I think I would have remembered based on the unique accessories they have. Take the locking mechanism on the rear hub brake arm, for instance. Or the knurled knob on the headlug; a lockout for the headset, perhaps?
The Bosch lighting system still works and the original Continental tires hold air. With its heavy tubing and looong chainstays it’s never going to win any races, but it rides more efficiently than most prewar American bikes, since the Germans only hung accessories that added to the practicality and versatility of the bike (no tanks here).
I’ve worked on tons of balloon-tire bikes and my fair of Schwinns in particular, but this is the first Whizzer I’ve ever tackled. Thankfully the engine reputedly runs so I don’t have to mess with any of that (the specific workings of the combustion engine elude me). Instead, I’m left figuring out a better way to attach the rear carrier, getting a crank that clears the engine and overall giving the bike a good overhauling.
After all that I might even try to ride it before I hand it back over to its owner. I hear Whizzers can move along at a decent clip so I’m looking forward to seeing what this old gal has in store for me.”
Over the last 4 years we’ve certainly had a lot of bikes at the annual sale. Beyond the stuff we run across in our daily travels we’ve been selling through a collection of roughly 200 bicycles from fellow collector Leo Knuf. We’ll again be selling a mix of our stuff and Leo’s including vintage balloon-tire and middleweight bikes, three speed British bikes, old racing and touring bikes and a smattering of BMX, Stingrays, folding bikes and other strange stuff.
You never know what’s going to show up at the local bicycle co-op. Take, for example, this Bickerton Portable. There can’t be that many to begin with, but nevertheless, there one was, sitting in the corner of the Reno Bike Project.
Now, it goes without saying that it takes a certain person to get fired up about a folding bike like a Bickerton. I freely and openly admit that I’m one of them. Folding bikes have always intrigued me. They are unique unto and even amongst themselves: more or less equal parts Rubic’s Cube, nightmare and magic. At the very least they fit in the trunk of the car and have frequently delivered me home from the auto shop so they serve some purpose beyond being unique.
Calling the Bickerton “unique” is a monumental understatement, though. Design-wise, the bike is flat out wacky, like something a NASA employee might whip out his briefcase to run lunchtime errands on. There are things that just don’t jibe with how a bike is normally built (I’d point some of the more obvious ones, but honestly, just look at the photos and you’ll see them in much greater detail).
Maybe I need to tighten any/all of the seven (count ’em, seven) quick releases because the bike feels like it might revert back to its folded status at any moment. The main hinge in the frame is especially worrisome; what’s with the extra thinwall tube arching into the frame? I honestly can’t tell if it even does anything. Based on how the tube , which looks like it came off a piece of lawn furniture, loosely slip-mounts to a stud on the frame makes me believe its there less for structural than moral support. The fork trail also makes for a less than predictable path at anything above walking speed. I nearly gathered up the trunk of our elm tree on the maiden voyage.
…Which is all fine me because I don’t plan on touring cross country on it. I love it for all that it is and all that it isn’t (both of which are in plentiful supply). Heck, the Bickerton even came complete with its original tote case that supposedly folds/compresses into a smaller handlebar bag. Once I figure that out I’m sure I’ll love it even more, though I wouldn’t count on seeing it on the road anytime soon.