26 October 2009

First ride on Mary, & adjusting a saddle

Yesterday I took Mary Poppins for her first spin around my neighborhood. She rides smoothly, with no noise from the rear coaster brake and only the occasional 'tick' sound that might be a moving part rubbing against a dent. That said, the coaster brake needs a lot of space to actually stop, and for quick stops (such as when my 6-year-old darts in front of me) I need to jump down off the saddle, which is less than ideal. I wonder if that's typical of the Sturmey-Archer coaster brakes?

Mike took this photo of Audrey and I on our steel steeds just before we left. The riding boots, bought several seasons ago from J. Crew, work pretty well as a stylish alternative to a pant clip. I'm wearing a knee-length dress over harem pants - not that you can tell. Lesson learned: black outfits photograph poorly. Doesn't Audrey look cute? Her bike was inherited from a neighbor, and it needs some TLC too - lots of rusty parts from being left outside, and the front tire is almost flat and may not be salvagable.

Anyway, before we could ride, I needed to adjust Mary's saddle, since whoever had last rode her had either been a couple of inches taller than me or hadn't cared whether they could touch the ground (I was on tiptoe). I took some photos during the process.

Before. The bolt in the centre of the shot is the one I needed to loosen. It was just a smidgen bigger than 1/2", so I needed to use an adjustable hex wrench. It was, of course, seized. Luckily we had some WD-40 handy. I also needed it to work the saddle's post loose. It wouldn't go in further at all, so I pulled it out and sprayed a little lubricant into the frame.

This shot shows the top and inside of the seat post after removing the saddle. The top rim and inside are pretty rusty, I wonder if I should treat them with something? For now I just reassembled it...

...but not without taking some beauty shots of the saddle's underside. That "MADE IN ENGLAND" stamp is the only identifying mark on it. Phillips catalogues from the period call these "spring mattress saddles". A couple of things to note: at some point, someone needed to replace one of the screws holding the springs. Also, notice how skewed the springs themselves are! Holy cow! Somebody has ridden Mary hard (Am I allowed to write that on a family blog?). The springs can be removed and replaced, but I wonder if it's worth the effort to find the springs for a saddle that's damaged and not so comfy to sit on?

After reinstallation. It's a good thing my legs aren't any shorter! I also loosened the bolt in the middle of this shot to adjust the tilt of the seat. Getting it tight enough afterward to keep the seat from tilting while I rode was a bit challenging.

I did some hunting around on eBay, and it seems this unbranded vinyl saddle might not have been made by Brooks - there are almost identical blue-and-white saddles being sold that are labelled WRIGHTS that came off 1960s Hercules and Hawthorne roadsters (both also made by Raleigh), and a red-and-white vinyl saddle labelled LYCETT that came off a Raleigh.

So once again, I'd love some advice. Should I try to repair the seat? Should I replace the seat with a fancy new Brooks saddle? How should I handle the rust inside the frame? Is my coaster brake working as it should?

25 October 2009

Mary Poppins: a 1966 Phillips loop-frame bike

Now that my children are getting old enough to cycle faster than I can walk, it's high time I replaced the mountain bike that was stolen (along with every other bike in the apartment building by someone impersonating a construction worker) about a decade ago. So I'm eternally grateful to Angel for alerting me to the posting on Kijiji that made me the proud owner of this step-through, loop-frame town bike:


Isn't it lovely? A slightly eccentric English lady bike. I've named it (her) Mary Poppins, since as Angel pointed out, she's the Mary Poppins of bikes. The fellow who sold her to me (thanks Chris!) told me she was from the 1960s, has her original finishes and a coaster brake, and was built by Phillips, who were bought out by Raleigh later on. She does need a little TLC, mainly rust removal and paint touchup, but not much.

I did a little research online, and here’s what I learned about Miss Mary:


This headbadge may date her to about 1965, according to a Flikr set of another Phillips bike. Phillips was purchased by Raleigh in 1960, and from the Spring of 1961 on the bikes were made in Nottingham at Raleigh’s 40-acre factory instead of the Phillips bikeworks near Birmingham. Raleigh continued to make Phillips-branded bikes for export until the 1980s (the wiki page implies), and some collectors look down on them as poor cousins to the higher-quality Raleigh-branded bikes. Whatever. By today’s standards, the build quality is impressive regardless.


Note the chrome trim on this mudflap – mmmm. This style of mudguard was made by Speedwell and date the bike to the 50s or 60s, according to the information in current eBay listings and Flikr posts. A lot of the steel frame, and the tyre rims, is chromed. The tyre rims are marked STURMEY ARCHER *ENGLAND F250 28 x 1 1/2* (ie, they’re 635mm), and the tyres are marked SEMPERIT, Made In Austria, Super Elite (so they’re probably not original – would likely have been Dunlop when the bike was first sold). The two-tone vinyl mattress saddle was made by Brooks (who, like both Phillips and Sturmey-Archer, were owned at the time by Raleigh’s parent company, TI), and the white plastic grips were probably made by Dare. The kickstand is marked PLETCHER, who were/are a Swiss manufacturer. The basket isn’t marked, and appears to be made of aluminum.

For local historians, it bears a green “repairs” sticker from Premier Cycle & Sport Shop. Anyone know of them?


I haven’t seen any photos online of similar full-rubber chrome-edged pedals yet. The figure in the middle has an R marked on it, so they’re probably 1960s-era Raleigh pedals. [Update: there are other pedals on eBay right now with the same crest on them, but less wear so it's easier to make out in the photos, and the seller identifies them as being Raleigh Industries.]

If my bike were a three-speed, this article from oldroads.com would help me identify it much more easily. But a single-speed mechanism with a coaster brake means I’m out of luck unless I can find a serial number that matches what’s in the article. [Update: there is a serial number stamped onto the frame below the saddle: 3464230. Sadly that tells me nothing. The coaster brake has a plastic-stoppered hole for adding oil, and is marked: ENGLAND STURMEY ARCHER SC (in the bottom triangle) 11   6 (running perpendicular to the 4-triangle logo; if this is month/year, she was probably made in November 1966). SC would be the model number based on the illustration in this article by Sheldon Brown, and according to the official Sturmey-Archer history site, it's the SC single coaster brake hub, introduced in 1963 and retired in 1978.]

Here’s a shot on Flikr of a bike that’s very similar to mine, down to the aluminum front basket, although the frame isn’t as curvaceous.

Mary’s grey-plastic rear reflector is a mid-60s Phillips part, found in this catalogue (PDF) …but that’s the only part, apart from the headbadge and decals, that I’ve been able to confirm is Phillips for now. [Update: strike that! It's actually a very discoloured white rubber-cased reflector, with tiny, difficult-to-photograph letters, that identify it as a Fairylites reflector (also TI, also found on Raleighs of the period). Curiouser and curiouser.]

I wonder whether she was a custom order put together from various TI parts, and branded as a Phillips because she was assembled in or for the Canadian market?

Next I need to clean Mary up. Any advice on how best to do that would be greatly appreciated!

(The content of this post was originally published on Deborah's other blog.)