Robin Hood in the Shire

This Brit two-wheeler arrived from Minnesota a few years ago and was promptly tucked away. Having a dizzying amount of projects can mean that good bikes sometimes don’t see daylight for awhile. A couple weeks ago I decided it was high time Robin Hood was let out of the box, so out it came.

My quandary was what to with the drivetrain. The bike was only a single speed, likely sold as an entry-level bike in 1966. After debating the merits of changing it over to a three speed I ended up leaving it as it was. It might not be as capable to handle hilly Reno, but after a glance down the row of balloon-tire bicycles cum boat anchors, I remembered that practicality had never been a strong suit of the collection from the beginning. A single speed it would be, then.

This particular Robin Hood will never be anything beyond a foothill bike; no Mot. Rose Highway or Geiger Grade for this bike. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy ride around the neighborhood, or “The Shire” as my friend Brennan calls it. Speaking of which, the coincidence of Robin Hood” and “The Shire” only clicked a day or so ago. At times I can be a little slow on the take.

As you probably are aware, Raleigh built bikes under various names. Roland Della Santa told me they did this so they could expand their market: one shop would be an exclusive  Raleigh dealer, another would sell Triumphs, while a third was carrying Robin Hoods. Roland said the shop he worked at sold Triumphs for a number of years, directly competing with the Raleigh distributor in town. Both shops effectively sold the same product, the only difference was the head badge. …And of all the badges, I like Robin Hoods the best. Rudges are a close second, but nothing has the character of the Prince of Thieves. With his longbow and tights, he certainly cuts a dashing figure.



1962 Frejus with lots of gears

Fellow Reno Rambler Jake Barrett had this frame hanging around his garage/shop for years. At one point he’d updated it, making it a townie bike of sorts. When I first saw it the bike was back to a frameset, more or less. Thankfully, Jake knew to keep the original parts around. After hinting and making pleading faces for half a year he graciously agreed to part with it.

One of my favorite parts of the bike (besides the paint color and the aluminum seat bag, of course) is the drivetrain. I can’t recall seeing very many early 60’s road bikes with triple chainrings. Rear derailleurs had a hard time managing 10 speed back then, so 15 was quite a stretch for short-cage derailleurs. Nevertheless, count ’em up and you’ll notice the Frejus has three steel rings up front. It must be pointed out that the Campagnolo Sportsman rear derailleur tries valiantly, but even so, it can barely throw around all that chain. At best I’d consider this bike a 13 speed, as the small-to-small and large-to-large ring/cog combinations are pretty much out of the question.



Early Della Santa

This early DS was built in 1976, the first “official” year of Roland’s business. He notes that he’d built a few framesets as early as 1971, but considers 1976 the year he took on framebuilding as an occupation.

The thick “disco” decals were only used for only a few years before Roland switched over to the design which he uses to this day. There aren’t very made of these early frames out there so we’re honored to be able to have one in the collection.

Thank you to Jeff Ross for graciously selling us the bicycle.

1904 Pierce- Suspension done right

To understand the history of suspension bicycles, you have to look way before modern  mt. bikes, past the goofy spring forks balloon-tire bikes and head back some 120 years to the early safety bicycle era. There you’ll find the Pierce Cushion Line.

To be fair, George Pierce wasn’t the first person to add mechanical cushioning to his frames, but he was one of the first to do it well. One look at this 1904 Pierce women’s bicycle and you can see he had suspension nailed down pretty well. Over the years I’ve ridden many of the aforementioned ballooner springer systems and they run the gamut from moderately helpful to downright dysfunctional. Some of the earliest mt. bike shocks weren’t much better. Not so here. The “Pierce Hygenic” rear shock seems to actually work. Based on stationary tests I think it would do the trick of absorbing road shock quite well. The front fork, which resembles a leaf spring, is a wonder both in its functionality and beauty. It has a tightness which keeps it from bouncing about like a Schwinn knee-action fork. When it does flex it moves smoothly and has an amazing amount of travel.

Both suspensions lack the showy component of the later balloon-tire versions, another sign that these were meant to be functional, not just ornamental. These were meant to smooth out the roads of the era, often little more than rutty dirt paths. Pierce’s suspension not only made riding more comfortable, it made it possible.


Boogie Bike- A Nevada City Legend

Early mt. bikes can be a motley bunch, with their various touring, BMX and vintage components, re-purposed and regrouped to (hopefully) create something that was a reasonably decent ride off road. A glance at a Boogie Bike and you’ll see that there was some real thought going into this bike, though. It may be an amalgamation of sorts, but it’s certainly no mongrel.

The bike was hand built by Ron Miller, a real-deal bike guy of the first order. He not only owned a bike shop in Nevada City with friend Jim Rogers, but also raced successfully for a number of years. His heartbreaking loss in the 1977 Nevada City Classic has been related to me more than once. Somewhere amidst all this found time to build roughly 50 frames.The story goes that he didn’t like the long wheelbase of most early mt. bikes which made it harder to maneuver the tight single track of California’s foothills. To shorten things up, he built his bikes around a 24″ rear wheel. Being wayyy too big for me, I’ve only ridden this particular Boogie Bike around the neighborhood, but on theory alone I like it if for no other reason that it’s an out-of-box, or should I say, out-of-the-triangle way of thinking.

Ron wasn’t ambivalent about his theory, either. The Boogie Bike will be using a smaller rear wheel, period. Even if the chainstays were long enough to sneak in a 26″ wheel (which they aren’t), and even if you decided to go to the effort of moving your cantilever studs accordingly (which most of us wouldn’t), those huge plates on the seat and chainstays still guarantee you’ll be shopping for two different tires for the rest of your life. So, a 24″ rear wheel it will be, then.

Ron used profile tubing on the Boogie, quite appealing and totally over the top. I’m guessing he did it for stiffness rather than aerodynamics since the words “mt. bike” and “wind resistance” don’t cross paths very often. At some point the frame had a joining, or rather, lack-of-joining issue at the head/downtube which was repaired some years ago, thus the darker blue paint at the joint.

Other than that, the bike looks to be pretty much unmolested. You have your Suntour Mountech derailleurs, Sugino AT 175mm crankarms (to heck with ground clearance), Bullmoose handlebars, motocycle-esque Dia-Compe brake levers, Avocet seat/post combination, and of course, Specialized Ground Control tires mounted to blue anodized Araya rims. Without the Arayas  and matching Kangaroo Baggs pouch and Mt. Zefal pump it just wouldn’t be the same.

Sadly, Ron passed away at only 26 years old, really a shame because he would have no-doubt been a heck of a guy to meet. To me, it would easily have been worth a couple hour drive to go over the hill to Nevada City to share a few shop stories with Ron, if not to stock up on a 24″ tires.



Unveiling a collection

You know how it goes if you’re a bike collector: Sometimes you won’t run across anything worth mentioning for a long spell, and then out of the blue, a bunch will show up in one day. Such is the case with this collection of twenty bikes which arrived last Friday. They had been in the care of a local gentleman for a number of years, hung in his garage, dry, safe and largely unseen. I’d heard that the guy had bikes, but had never laid eyes on any of it until it fell into my lap.

Like most bicycle collections that are accrued over a long period of time, this one has a wide and varied range of styles, spanning more or less a century. There’s everything from an early Columbia Penny Farthing to a first-general handbuilt mt. bike, with a lot in between. Amongst the collection are some real beauties such as an early full suspension Pierce Arrow, a 1890’s Meteor, some early track bikes and a “Boogie Bike”, the aforementioned mt. bike which was reputedly made nearby in Nevada City, California. Throw in some original paint balloon-tire bikes, a few ugly repaints, a couple middleweights, a Raleigh 3-speed and a Schwinn stingray or two and there you have it.

I plan on highlighting the most intriguing of the lot over the coming couple months so please check back as they are individually dusted off, photographed and posted. As always, I’m also hoping to shed light on some of the more obscure bikes so feel free to chime in if you have insight into any of them.

As far as what happens to all the bikes, one or two will likely join the Buzz Bomb collection while the rest will either fall under the ebay auction hammer this spring and early summer or will be sold at our annual bicycle sale in June.

For now, I leave you with some images of the collection, taken upon their arrival.






The Swiss answer to the tank

…Or the horse. You choose. At more than 50 pounds, armor does come to mind, though.

The Swiss, ingenius folk that they are, figured out a long time ago that a bicycle could drastically increase the mobility of their troops. Where a foot soldier can walk 20-25 miles a day, a pedaling soldier can cover double that or more. Thus the Militarvelo was born. The idea must have had some credence since one or another version of the MO-05 was produced from 1905 to 1989 (this particular one was made in 1943).

Riding a Militarvelo is reminiscent of the old British rod brake bikes, though the quality is noticeably better and the bike fits better. That likely has something to do with the smaller 26″ wheels as opposed to the DL-1’s 28 inchers. As heavy as the bike is, it doesn’t feel lethargic of loafy. On a slight downhill there is a feeling of, dare I say, efficiency, as it glides quietly along, out-coasting most anything on the road. That might have something to do with shear weight and momentum but I contribute it to the bike’s Swiss bearings which I swear feel smoother and more precise than the Brit or American equivalents.

Like a Swiss Army knife, the bike is loaded with extra goodies, all which all stock. There is a front-wheel dynamo, head and tail light, frame pump, rear carrier, and three different storage areas (a canvas handlebar bag and a leather frame case and leather wedge bag behind the seat tube which holds a set of 4 bicycle-specific tools). There’s also a bell, a wheel lock, and leather saddle and mudflap. A set of riding googles were hanging from the canvas bag when I got the bike. I don’t know whether they’re original issue or not, but I do like the look of them and think they’re period correct so there they stay.

Maybe my favorite part of riding the Militarvelo is choosing how to stop; there’s a spoon brake that pushes down on the front tire, a rear coaster brake, and also a rear drum brake. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself trying different variants of the three to see which I like the best. The only sure conclusion I’ve come to is, when going down a steep hill the answer is always, “all three.”