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.
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.
We all take breaks from riding. And when we do our trusty steeds sit there patiently gathering dust. If it sits long enough the bike will start to collect grime. We humans tend to like oil in everything from lawn mowers to shrimp scampis and some of that invariably becomes airborne, eventually to alite on “Ol’ Paint”. It can takes years, or you can throw one good Bagna Cauda party and the deed will be done in one evening.
Once everything is good and tacky, simply add pet hair, your hair, lint, another helping of dust in the form of bunnies, etc. and you’ll have what is known in Buzz Bomb nomenclature as a “Fuzzy Kitten”.
As “Kittens” go, this Della Santa is about as good an example as one could hope to find. Note the uniform coating of oily felt on all bits, the wisps of fluff draped from the spokes. It’s nothing short of feline art. Part of me wants to hose it down with Simple Green, while another part wants to hide it away and let it continue on its current path. In another couple decades it could be the bike equivalent of a purple bottle, aged into unexpected beauty. Since the bike has to be prepped for sale it will almost certainly get the hosing treatment, but you get my point.
By the by, the stamping on the bottom of this DS is “GL”, but no, I don’t think Greg LeMond ever owned a Fuzzy Kitten, let alone a 61cm.
(Thanks to G. Lanstyak for allowing me to poke fun of his bike and my apologies if didn’t want me to.)
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 Mt. 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.
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.
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 latest completed project is this 40 year old Gitane. It arrived a year ago, missing well over 50% of its parts and certainly in need of a redo (“before” photos of the frame at the bottom of the post). Unfortunately, the chrome was too far gone to save, but the bike overall was definitely worth the time and effort.
Thanks to Roland Della Santa, Jim Allen and Chad Kortan for all the help along the way. It sure is nice to have such a great group of friends to pitch in or bounce ideas off. Finally, thanks to Craig Miller for entrusting me with the project in the first place.