1940s? Rollfast, or, Apparently We Take The Hard Cases

1940s? Rollfast, or, Apparently We Take The Hard Cases

I bought another bike to gradually restore a couple of weeks ago. Laura pointed the vaguely-worded Kijiji listing out to me, and dubbed it Broke-Down Bike. Angel came with me to pick it up:

As found.

What you see is a Rollfast step-through frame with balloon tires on grey-painted 36-hole 24-inch rims, one-piece (dogleg) cranks and a skiptooth chainwheel, wide (Texas steer horn?) handlebars, and a coaster brake that’s missing a nut and the reaction arm. Not only is there a broken front spoke, the whole front rim is a bit egg shaped, and the (original) tire is pretty hard. The tire on the back has already been replaced at some point.

We already know from sitting on it that it is too short for both of us (sadfaces!), so this will be a learning project that we’ll then sell to a vertically-challenged friend. (If you are interested, feel free to say so in the comments so you can have a say in the restoration choices we make!)

The family I bought it from had stored it for at least eight years in this condition, hanging in their garage, after buying it from its original owner with the intent of fixing it themselves. They sold it because they don’t want to move it to their new home.

Here’s what I have learned online about Rollfast bicycles:

– There isn’t anywhere online to look up the serial number and use that for dating – but the guys in the forums recommend Classic Bicycle News’ Rollfast book for the answer to all such questions. In any case, we can’t find a serial number stamped on the seat tube or bottom bracket – can anyone suggest where else we should look?

– Based on the (gorgeous) raised ball-bearing brass? headbadge design (which is apparently painted on the back as well), this is likely a 1930s-1940s bicycle. It reads:

                                                     D.P. HARRIS MFG. CO.

                                                               NEW YORK

                                                     MADE IN USA 

below the raised central motif (which is what pre-war ones say, according to current eBay headbadge listings). These run USD$30-40 +S/H on eBay all by themselves. (The guys who buy old bikes at yard sales and part them out must do pretty well, eh?)

– The balloon tires date it to 1934 or later according to this history. The (non-original) rear tire is marked 24 x 2.125, INFLATE 35 POUNDS, MADE IN TAIWAN, NYLON CORD and has a little Norco sticker. The original tire on the front (rock hard, cracked, and definitely needing replacement) has no markings I could find, apart from its treads:

– The shape of the rear dropout, exiting to the front, dates it to post-war according to this forum post.

We think the clamp seen in the above photo belongs to the missing reaction arm from the coaster brake, but we aren’t sure. It is marked H.C. 5/83 (not original?).

– The hubs are a New Departure Model D coaster brake (missing its arm and perhaps some other parts) and a New Departure Model W front hub – and as you can see, the chrome was in great condition under all the crud encrusting them. According to this forum discussion, New Departure went out of business in 1953, so that gives us a circa-1954 cutoff for the youngest this bike could be. The Model D appears in a 1936 catalogue (I love how they distinguish between “regular bicycles” and “sidewalk bicycles”!) and was commonly used by the mid-1940s. Sheldon Brown explains how it works here.

I have a replacement NOS arm, internal bearings and spring (the part that usually breaks first) coming in the mail – hopefully that’s all the coaster brake will need to make it work again. I also ordered NOS caged bearings for when we repack the bottom bracket.

– The 22-tooth (in this case) star-shaped skiptooth chainwheel appears on Rollfast bikes dated to 1936, 1941, and the early 1950s or mid-1950s. Other skiptooth chainwheel patterns were also used throughout this period – maybe they were used to distinguish models from each other?

Here’s why they’re called skiptooth chains:

– The pedal blocks have an interesting zigzag pattern. Are they Torrington pedals? If so, the blocks are quite different from the ones for sale on eBay. The dust covers for the ends of both pedals seem to be missing, if they ever existed.

– The fluting I see on the gooseneck (where the handlebars attach) are also seen on Ian’s 1936 Rollfast (the same one Thom links to in the list in my previous point). Ian’s labelled parts pics may come very much in handy.

– This stepthrough frame architecture was later used for the 1950s-60s Space Racer model.

– If this bike had been originally pimped out with a tank horn, front shock-absorber springer fork, and all the rest, it might have looked like this – or without a tank like this – but stripped-down models were often sold, particularly during the war. The front fork and head tube don’t show any signs that a springer fork was originally attached, but then, the part at the bottom was not welded on, and the upper attachment ring could theoretically have been replaced.

– It looks like two shapes of chainguard were commonly used during this period: the fluted wing and this huge thing I now dub the chainshield. The only braze-on in the area may have helped secure a chainguard, but it looks like it was also used for a kickstand:

from above

from below – yowch

– The vinyl-on-plastic-pan spring-supported saddle is probably not original, since most of the period bikes seem to have Mesinger saddles with ginormous oddly-shaped springs underneath. We may eventually use the springs from this saddle to repair Fio’s saddle and replace this one. Can anyone tell me if the old Mesingers were at all comfortable?

– The green paint is not as rusty as it looks in the photos – it’s just surface rust, and we kind of like the patina, and the Jaguar-style hunter green colour, so I think we’ll take the preservation approach and clean it (lemon juice and aluminum FTW!) then clear-coat it. There is no sign of any original pinstripes or decals, and it’s possible (from how some of the paintless, rustless or surface-rusted areas look) that the last owner had scoured the whole thing with steel wool in preparation for a DIY paint-job that never happened.
For instance, the downtube looks like it originally had a decal like this one and someone removed it.

– These paint chips near a weld-point are worrisome. I hope the frame doesn’t turn out to be subtly warped.

So taken together, we think this is a bike originally built between 1945 and 1954… can anyone help us narrow it down further?

Since Rollfast parts from any era are relatively hard to come by, I think we’ll be using the replace-with-a-reproduction approach to anything that needs replacing, and make it obvious what is original and what is repro – for instance, by getting chrome (or wood) balloon-width fenders and putting the repro decals and vintage glass reflectors you can get on eBay on them. The beat-up hand grips are Made In Taiwan, and likely not original, so we’ll replace them – maybe with Rivendell’s Portuguese cork grips (yum).

I am naming her Rhonda Rollfast, since the historical data on American baby name popularity indicates that Rhonda first became popular in the early 1940s. Has a nice ring to it, yes?

6 thoughts on “1940s? Rollfast, or, Apparently We Take The Hard Cases

  1. I considered that one when I seen it on kijiji but I had enough projects at the time. I believe that that stem is fairly valuable as there was someone making similar reproductions and selling them off on ebay in the $40 US range. I’ve heard mixed reviews on hiwheel’s reproduction vintage saddles but the price sure is tempting, one thing forums have definitely made clear is that they smell nasty when they first arrive http://www.hiwheel.com/parts/index.htm
    Either way good luck and I look forward to following your progress!

  2. @mattyfu: Thanks! It’ll be a really interesting project!

    I now have the classicbicyclenews.com Rollfast Bicycles book, and it is terrific. I believe that this bike is the Girls’ model 2481 shown on page 112, from the 1949 catalogue. Its’ specs (page 110) are Girls’ Frame with 24 x 2.125 Balloon Tires and “Regular fork. Enameled rims. Streamlined chain guard. Juvenile saddle. Scout Jr. handlebar. Approved rear red reflector.” One of the colour options was Green with Ivory trim.

  3. …HOWEVER! The bikes in the 1949 catalogue all had half-inch pitch sprockets instead of skiptooth sprockets. SO this is a post-war, pre-1949 bike!

  4. Update: Keith the wonder mechanic (see: Raving Bike Fiend in the blogroll) is going to be giving Rhonda Rollfast some love! He’ll be taking care of the bent front fork and front tire for me, as well as replacing the rear axle (whose threads are completely and utterly mashed flat in places) and helping me source some needed parts. He says the paint chips are just chips, the frame is sound. He also advised against clearcoating in favour of stripping it and repainting. The rest of the work (you know, the simpler things) I’ll do myself at EBC to keep the resale price down. So, someday in the not-too-distant future she’ll make a sweet, sweet ride for someone (someone short) to love. Yay!

  5. Rhonda is a nice name and she should be an interesting date when I get back… 🙂

    I got me some loop frame lovin’ today… you will have to check at ravingbikefiend.com to check out my new girl.


  6. @Sixty Fiver: …and I am so glad you’re taking her on. =) Oooh, a ’47 CCM. Niiiiice. (Still trying to figure out how to comment on your blog…)

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