Ahh, my first bike, a second-hand 20″ single-speed with a rattle-can red paint job and dented fenders. It was nothing to look at, but I loved it nevertheless. I rode it everywhere, or at least everywhere a 5-year old could. Pretending it was a top-fuel dragster, I’d purposely high-center the rear wheel between its training wheels and pedal with all my might, executing the dirt equivalent of a burnout. I’d use more or less the same method but creep slowly forward, digging long trenches in our driveway, much more efficient than using my Tonka backhoe.
I understand why folks have a strong connection to their first bikes. Like the beat-up little Schwinn-built B.F. Goodrich girl’s bike that showed up here one day 7 months ago. It wasn’t rare, it wasn’t collectible per se… Heck, it wasn’t even a full-size bike, but rather a diminutive 24″ wheel model. The fact that the customer had kept it for 69 years was no accident, though. …And any attempts to talk her out of a full restoration fell on deaf ears: Sometimes a bike is restored not because it’s rare or valuable, it’s love, pure and simple.
The B.F. Goodrich went into the shop queue and soon enough was underway. I discovered there’s something liberating about restoration without worrying about the cost vs. subsequent value. It’s a good thing because the Goodrich threw the scales off almost immediately and never looked back.
So here it is, all shiny and running like a champ. No garage queen, the owner says the bike still fits her so she’s gonna ride it. Maybe I’ll teach her how to do a burnout when she picks it up.
Admittedly, I’m not the best at dating bikes. I can usually come close, but tend to forget individual bikes’ specific ages. If I’m within a couple years either way that’s usually good enough for me.
I love this old Crawford-badged Columbia, not only because it’s pretty as heck, but also because it has its date right on it. I haul it out for local rides or bike events just because of this. A couple of cocktails might try to wipe my memory clean, but that Anniversary decal is always there to help me out.
Which brings me to the topic of the anniversary itself. It’s hard to fathom that Columbia bicycles celebrated their 60th anniversary in 1937. That’s 80 years ago by my math, which (also by my math) was a long time ago, and 60 years before that was a really long time ago. Collecting bikes from 1930’s forward like I do, I forget just how far the industry goes back.
A final note: Modern bike computers might be able to tell you a hundred different things, but can they measure your effective wind speed like that old anemometer mounted on the handlebar? I think not.
I love them all, of course: old racing and touring bikes, 3-speeds, folders, track bikes, early wood wheel jobs… But the ones that really get my heart pounding are balloon-tire bikes. They’re just so over the top. Tanks, lights, springs, chainguards, horns… all of which could have been pared down weight-wise, or at times, left off completely. My fondness for these beasts obviously has little to do with how they ride, something akin to pedals mounted to a Buick Roadmaster.
So, it’s always a joy and pleasure to bring one back from the dead. Take a gander at the “before” photos and you’ll see a bike that was d.o.a. or at very least, flatlining. What’s worse, it arrived in pieces which always makes things more difficult. Thankfully the bike was more or less original and the owner had been very diligent to keep everything together. He was also infinitely patient throughout the whole restoration process that involved multiple false starts and what seemed like ions waiting for replacement parts, chroming and the like. Hopefully it’s all worth it to him. God knows I’m panting, and not just from test riding it.
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.
Ok, we’ve been collecting long enough to know that prewar bikes aren’t found in Nevada, at least not in any real numbers. There just weren’t enough people here. In 1940 Nevada’s total population was roughly that of one of Chicago’s suburbs. You can’t have bikes without bicycle owners, so vintage finds here have been understandably few and far between.
So when our friend Jake showed up with this gem in the back of his truck our collective jaws dropped. Old bikes are hard to find, and finding a true prewar beauty like this Schwinn Motorbike is something just short of unbelievable. These deluxe Schwinns came with everything; New Departure front braking hubs, key-locking spring forks, crossbar handlebars, built-in fender lights, motorbike tanks with battery compartments and horns…
Amazingly, the bicycle was found in an old hunting cabin near Stillwater, NV. If native Nevada bikes are rare, finding a great old Schwinn in Stillwater is like finding a needle in a hayfield.
The bicycle, originally sold under the name Mead, is remarkably intact. Alkali dust and any moisture Stillwater received over the past 74 years has obviously taken a toll, but the desert has also been relatively kind to the bicycle. The metal is still very much solid and savable, and the fact that the bike was stored in such a remote location no-doubt contributed to it not ever being molested.
Jake is currently debating what to do with his new find, but its rarity has been duly impressed upon him. A score like that just doesn’t happen; not around here.
This Shelby Flyer had been on the “to-do” list for a couple of years and finally got into the workstand a week ago. Whenever possible we prefer to refurbish rather than restore which means dealing with the limitations of the original paint, parts and such. The Shelby is an excellent example of a bike that’s rough but still has much of its character intact. In other words, a bike worth preserving.
The Flyer received a complete tear down/overhaul and throughout the process every effort was made to get it looking as good as possible. What you see is the end-result after more than 12 hours invested in the bike. There may not be a dramatic difference from what it looked like when it arrived here, but that’s how it goes at times. You work with what’s left and smile when it’s done.
This Rollfast, which until recently lived in Pennsylvania is fresh of the Buzz Bomb workstand. Apart from crusty tires and a little rust, the bike was in wonderful condition. After some buffing and shining the paint is as good as we’ve run across and the Troxel saddle looks virtually new.
Our favorite part of this streamlined beauty is the transition between the tank and the rear carrier. It’s about as seamless and slippery as any bike we’ve ever seen. We’re also quite fond of the twin headlights. …And the Persons reflectors. …And the tank itself. Lots of shiny metal to look at here.
The bike runs like a champ, which isn’t always the case with these old balloon-tire bikes. With all the mass and extra sheet metal they often creak, groan and rattle. Not this one, though; it’s quiet as a mouse.
A couple of acknowledgements: Thanks to Mark from Bike Line of Lancaster for such an amazing packing job. Also a thank you to Addison, Casey, Dan and Greg of the Reno Ramblers for escorting the Rollfast on its maiden voyage. Only, next time can we avoid the hills? 60+ pounds of bike climbs under much protest.