Actually, more like one half a Grand Jubile’, whatever one half a grand is (500?). It’s missing its wheels, front derailleur, saddle and original crankset. …And the handlebars are bent. …And some of the little Mafac bits are broken. …And the Vitus decals are pretty worked over. …And the seatpost looks like it was gnawed by beavers.
This will either turn into a good “before and after” story, or it’ll be a dismal failure. Stay tuned!
Little Cat “B” (aka son Lewis) has recently shown interest in learning the family trade. We thus decided to pick a bike to work on together, a wonderful Norman Rockwell father-son moment, if you will. Among the choices; a Motobecane Gran Jubile’, a Univega Gran Turismo, and any of the different Raleigh or Schwinn 3-speeds that had been littering the place as of late. There were also a couple ‘high-enders”, a beautiful C-Record equipped Scapin and the blog aforementioned Gios, but honestly, who’d let a newbie 16-year old boy with a crescent wrench near one of those?
Lewis was fine with any choice, as long as it wasn’t the “President”, a real heaper of a bike. It had been donated and even then I’d nearly turned it away as it was representative of a low point in bicycle manufacturing. Its redeeming qualities were, in order, uhhh…
Ok, so it didn’t have any. It weighed a ton, was poorly equipped and even more poorly constructed. For instance, rather than being spot on parallel with the top tube, the slot at the top of the seat tube was a full 20% off center. That’s a lot. Whoever had welded in the tube had either been blind as a bat or drunk as a skunk. And speaking of frame tubes, the President’s were hollow, but just barely, more akin to gas pipe.
What the bike lacked in desirability or performance it did make up for in expendability. If the President ended up becoming an actual running bike, well then great. If, however, it ended up falling prey to teenage overconfidence or any under-developed skills, no biggie. It was the perfect bike to bounce wrenches off. Though Lewis was less than thrilled by the choice he gamely agreed to give it a go. Good on him because he well knew it was the least palatable choice.
Right off the bat I started second-guessing my decision. The President was going to need more work and more parts than I’d initially figured (big shock). Worse, I found myself making excuses for the semi-functionality of all the subpar components (“Yep, that’s about as true as those rims can be”, or, “You really can’t make these brakes work any better.”) Was there anything to be learned from working on a bike that really wouldn’t improve much, even under the tutorship of a supposed old hand? Would this whole deal be rewarding to Lewis, or was it going to be an exercise in futility? …On his first bike, no less? Maybe he’d end up deciding bicycles were a gigantic pain in the ass and settle on a dull life like in, say, accounting. You know, like his mother.
Through all the many subsequent hours of toil the President sat there, much like the real President during these Covid times; it wasn’t helping out and it didn’t much care, either. Together, Lewis and I took parts off, cleaned and shined them up and then re-installed them in the hope that they’d work, a least a little.
We agreed to work a hour a day but I found myself putting in many more hours in the shop on my own, trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of my own choosing. Lewis started taking Rocket (his beloved cat) for backyard walks during our daily work time and I’d never seen him take such an interest in the less apparent going’s on of nature in general. He’d stare at the little songbirds at the thistle feeder, watch the winter clouds as they wandered over us, and the bathroom breaks were getting longer and longer. I couldn’t blame him as the bike really was a “Shop-Vac” in that it both sucked and blowed.
New saddle, new tires, new tubes. We threw out the lame 5-speed drivetrain in favor of a period-correct 3-speed setup. New grips, new chain, new handlebars. We scrubbed surface rust from chrome as much as we could, trying to make the bike appealing, at least aesthetically. We put on new fenders because the old ones were deemed unworthy of more effort. We replaced bearings, cables, housing, brake pads and did our level best to make the “bike” an actual bike.
On Day-2 we exceeded the original retail price of the President, on Day-5 we surpassed what any sane person would actually ever pay for it. By Day-8 the total invested was upside down by a factor of 3, possibly 4. The goal was never to recoup every cent, but it was getting ridiculous. It was no longer a bike project, more in line with one of Roosevelt’s New Deal projects.
..And still the bike just looked and functioned ok. OK was not going to cut it, but that’s the best we could hope for. Hoover Dam may have cost a bunch but it really did work quite well. Not so the President.
Coincidentally, we finished the President this morning, the same day our new president was sworn into office. I’d usually attempt some clever comparisons or heady remarks, but I’m tired and just want to put it behind me. The end result of the “Bike New Deal”? It surprisingly looks ok, kinda nice, even. Especially at dusk, though closer to actual nighttime. Lewis test rode it this morning and his take was, “It actually rides ok, Dad. It’s not too bad at all.” High praise indeed.
The bike is back up and running. Even with the narrow bars and short stem the International isn’t a bad fit for me. I am also surprised by how stable yet peppy it is. Maybe it’s because I’ve been test riding a bunch of Raleigh and Schwinn 3-speeds of late, but the International is, dare I say, sporty.
Highlights of the bike in my mind are the rebuilt wheels with those shiny stainless spokes, the high polish on the brake calipers (I don’t often go to that extent) and the NOS gold bicycle chain. I wouldn’t dare put a gold chain on a new bike but it’s perfectly at home next to the gold on the Suntour freewheel.
I received photos of the Gios, all painted up and ready to come back to Reno.
As always, Jim Allen did a great job.
Bahh! I couldn’t stand it! The frame was just too chunked up for my liking so the Gios is going out for paint.
I currently have no idea how to pay for it, but the good Lord watches over children and the simple minded.
I’ve always wanted a Gios, I think because of the beautiful blue paint. If it’s not called Gios Blue it should. I also have a thing for the coins in the fork crown, a Gios-specific touch.
I got a least part of my wish when this early 1980’s Gios showed up last week. It was blue, but no coins, as this Gios had the sloping fork crown. No matter. I’m wasn’t gonna be picky.
It’s previous owner obviously rode and loved the bike for years, so much so that it was pretty used up. The Gios had a combination of worn original parts, worn replaced parts, and finally, positively dead parts. The Silca pump had cracking into three separate pieces- dead; The rims were a mismatched set of Ambrosio and Mavic- both dead. The brake levers had been replaced and then worn out- wrong and dead. In other words, a great, though rather large project. I couldn’t be more excited. Who cares that it’s going to eat up $500 in parts and untold hours in the shop stand.
As far as the paint goes, we’ll see how Fluff responds to a potential refresh. I don’t remember having perpetrated any major acts of insurrection lately; I might be able to talk my decidedly better (and less compulsive) half into a Jim Allen paint job. If not, the bike will get a refurbishment rather than a restoration, meaning that I’ll replace the non-original parts and give it a good solid cleaning and overhaul, just no new shiny Gios Blue.
While we’re on the topic of bicycles from the East, here’s an interesting example of a vintage Japanese-made commuter. At first glance I thought it was Chinese-made based on the rod brakes, enclosed chaincase, hairpin saddle and black paint, all standard issue for bikes in China. Upon closer inspection it is indeed Japanese, with plenty of badges indicating its origin. It even has old Araya rims, something that many more modern Japanese road bikes used. An internet search produced nothing on Undes, Hayashiya or Best bicycles, all names that are present on it. I know that bicycles from the orient often have multiple names on them, any of which can refer to the manufacturer, distributor, model etc., but was hoping one of them would provide a starting point for research. Alas, nothing. So, if you know something about these please share. Also, if you know how to read Japanese and can decipher any of the markings I’d be very appreciate.
I’d known about this bicycle since 1988 (or so) after seeing it hung in the corner of my friend Leo’s garage. Leo was a horder extrordinaire, meaning the garage was packed to the rafters with all manner of stuff. The bicycle was of course stowed in the very back corner of the garage, effectively walled in by a mountain of old toasters, boxes of newspapers, vintage toys, broken light fixtures, tin cans full of straight nails, old car parts and pretty much anything else you could think of (and some you’d could never imagine). I didn’t know until many years later than under all that junk there were actually three cars, a 1927 Buick, a Maxwell (I forget which year), and a 1909 Sears. All runners, all beautiful, but all filled, then stacked on until you couldn’t see so much as a headlight, a tire tread, anything.
Leo passed away in 2012 and the family began the monumental task of de-hoarding, no small feat, even for the five siblings. By July of 2019 there was some semblance of a goat trail towards the back of the garage. Not all the way, mind you, but for a bicycle junkie, it was enough.
It took some low-level mountaineering skills to reach the bikes, and then 4 people and a bucket-brigade effort to cut the twine holding them to their nails and finally shine some daylight on them. I don’t think the family was thrilled that I had to stand in the Maxwell, and at one point, on the Sears, but again, bike junkie.
I can see where Leo would have acquired the other two bikes, a balloon-tire Schwinn and an old Brit racing bike; those probably turned up in town, at a yard sale perhaps. But the Undes? I’m pretty sure the brand was only sold in Japan, never meant for the American market. We already had tons of bicycles that more than filled the market niche that the Undes would have served. With one gear and weighing nearly 50 pounds it certainly didn’t surpass the standard American iron of the period. Maybe a serviceman brought it back, or it could have possibly been shipped here as a novelty after someone visited Japan. It’s all guessing at this point. For the sake of the bicycle’s history, or at least to quell my curiosity, hopefully someone out there will be able to offer some insight. Fire away with your thoughts, opinions or whatever.
Here it is, all shined up and ready to ride. The Brooks saddle is now dyed a shiny black, new Carlton decals have been installed and the bars have been re-wrapped with original white plastic tape. The bike rides well enough, though the handlebars are a bit narrow for long rides. Still, a pretty bike that was definitely worth the time.
This nice old Carlton showed up last week. Already pretty clean, the “Before and After” transition won’t be as dramatic as some, but that’s not to say it’s ready to go. It’s missing tires and most of its decals, the grease in the bearings is petrified, and the original Brooks B15 saddle has lost most of its color and suppleness. In other words, it’ll still be in the work stand for 8-10 hours.
Based on workflow I’m guessing it won’t be ready for it’s “After” shots for about a month. If you like Carltons it should be worth checking back, though.
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.