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Category: when was my bicycle made?

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?

Stanley, the BlackHAWK mystery bike

Stanley, the BlackHAWK mystery bike

Look what $10 can buy you off Kijiji!

Before Cleaning or really doing much more than ogling!

unmarked coaster brake
headbadge decal: BlackHAWK, Made In Canada, MW
(not to be confused with the UK’s Blackhawk Bikes, formed in 2006)
(top before lemon juice, bottom after!)
front forks, similar but not identical to CCM Galaxie
gorgeous flower chainwheel with five-point symmetry, 
after removing rust from cottered cranks and chainwheel

tires: SUPER-LASTIC 26 x 1 1/2
wheel rims:

Both pretty rusty, but at least they’re the same right?
(V160 – Made In Canada – 26 x 1 1/2 F12)
mysterious D mark on underside of bottom bracket
(the left and right rear forks were also marked L and R, respectively)
serial number stamped onto seatpost (does not match CCM’s format)
crappy rusted-out vinyl-covered seat
gorgeous glass reflector with metal casing – possibly older, and certainly rustier, than the bike

handlebars, before and after cleaning with lemon juice and aluminum foil, 
and RustCure and extrafine steel wool (which was handy for getting into crevices this time)
We discovered while removing the rust that the paint on frame is very easily rubbed right off… like, there’s just one thin coat of it… so this bike is a great candidate for repainting the frame and possibly also the wheels.
And here it is after a few hours of talk, boys playing and chit chat – with some cleaning in there. I cannot wait to attack the rims with lemon juice this weekend!!

We both took it for a spin around my garage but I’ll be honest, 26″ wheels? Maybe in some strange “just kidding” world? I rode it right after picking it up and thought to myself, “Wow, this is tiny!” So when doing a quick measure at home I assumed it had 24″ wheels. The handle bars add to the smallness factor, they’re obviously tilted WAY downwards (enough to hit our knees when pedalling!). Hopefully learning to fix them and a new saddle will fix all these problems?

Other things:

Pretty sure that the bottom bracket will need repacking…it feels..I’d say grainy? Not incredibly noticeable but there enough so I know it’s not 100% good and clean. Hopefully nothing as disturbing as Bert’s Problems  but hey, if it is, we’ll be sure to get photographic evidence of the beeswax and other disturbances!!

The amount of rust everywhere is disturbing, but aside from the bit at the top of the front forks I think most of it is surface enough to not cause mass panic. Of course this could prove to be a big error on our parts but….all part of the learning process!

Edit by Deborah:


About the name: the Chicago Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup, and we are hockey-crazy Canadians. (Screw you Pronger!)


Also, there is no information anywhere online about the BlackHAWK marque. We’re guessing that this is a cheapo department-store brand, and that’s why it hasn’t been documented. Based on the fork similarity to the Galaxie we think Stanley might be from the 60s or 70s, but honestly we have no clue. If anyone knows anything at all, please share it in the comments.

Daisy & dating

Daisy & dating

Firstly, apologies for my utter disappearance, while I’d like to say I have an excellent excuse the truth is that I just got dissapointed in the back story to my Daisy.

  The photo from the Kijiji listing – yay for TwitPic!

So, I’ve yet to find any markers actually identifying a brand or date ON the frame, and the only date I found is based purely on my Shimano shifter puts THOSE around 1987. I can’t be sure on the rest though as I’ve yet to find any other dating marks. Such is life.

It’s not that I don’t love Daisy, she’s gorgeous and I’ve put in plenty of thought on how to make her MORE my bike, how to make her more “retro” and less looking like she has BMX parts and more like she’s a dainty, sturdy steel steed!

Sadly though, my hard drive has been compromised and I’m now missing all my pictures, for now I’ll say go look at these two posts for references, maybe someone out there on the google machines will recognize a part of label and have a better idea of who Daisy is, since I’m STILL manufacturer-less. (And still hoping that she’s older and just has new parts (which I know is a far possibility, but still a possibility!)

Racks & Cotter Pins / Is Mary actually from ’66?

Racks & Cotter Pins / Is Mary actually from ’66?

The weather is turning cold here, so I’ve been concentrating on continuing the cleanup and adding bits to make Mary more useful. I’m still awaiting some things I’ve bought through eBay (the damaged seat I’m going to scavenge for springs, the pump, the front brakes, a little saddle bag to use for now). Meanwhile, I’ve been gradually cleaning the chrome, and I’ve added a bell (one of the Lime ones, for now, because I like the sound) and a couple of blinky-LED reflectors.

The really big challenge for me, since I want to use the bike for runs to the grocery store, is that modern rear racks are not sized correctly for her 28″ wheels, and that vintage racks that would fit are relatively rare. This would also pose a problem if I wanted to mount a child seat (like, say, the cunning ones from Bobike) on the back for doing the school run. Still mulling over how to address this issue. If off-the-shelf extenders don’t exist, the answer might involve asking my dad (an amateur machinist) and father-in-law (a professional machinist) for their help in creating a custom part to secure everything properly.

If only I could just order from one of these old catalogues. Time-travel shopping would be awesome.

[Update: After much consideration, I’ve ordered an NOS-with-attachment-parts Pletscher-style chrome rack, made in the UK by Steco, via eBay, that should fit. I’ll mount a wooden box or milk crate on top of that. Child seats will just have to go on a different bike with 26″ wheels.]

It also turns out I shouldn’t ride her for now, since one of the cotter pins (they hold the pedal cranks in place) is missing its nut, and riding it without a nut could deform the cotter pin or the crank, according to Sheldon Brown’s advice. So, that nut needs replacing before I get back on it (Thanks to Thom and his readers for advice on this over at OldBikeBlog!). The gals at Edmonton Bicycle Commuters helpfully gave me a new cotter pin with nut and washer today, but the nut won’t screw on far enough – I haven’t sorted out yet whether that’s because the pin has worked a bit loose, or because the nut isn’t the correct thread for Raleigh-made cotter pins. I do notice that the nut on the other side isn’t screwed on all the way either. I may need to replace the entire cotterpin-washer-nut assembly, or just reset the existing cotter pins. More on this soon.

I’ve also done a little work on my daughter’s bike: blew up the flattened tires; tried to replace the handlebar grips, but the replacements were too narrow, so instead I put the old ones back on and capped them with wine corks, trimmed to fit, then drilled to accept glued-in tassels (so cute, and super-easy); and added a basket on the front, and a lei of fabric flowers in the same lilac as the paint wrapped around the tube under the seat. I also installed a bell on my son’s trike, and we’ve gotten him a new helmet since he’d outgrown his old one. It has Lightning McQueen on it. He’s four, so he thinks that’s all kinds of awesome.

In other news:

If the estimates on The Headbadge are correct, the serial number on the frame *might* tell me something! It appears that my 7-digit numerical serial number may mean my frame was numbered using “System 196X”, and a 7-digit number starting with 3 (like mine, 3464230) would date the frame’s manufacture to 1972. However, Jay also says there were other numbering systems used from the early 60s to early 70s, with duplicate numbers in some of them, and they haven’t all been worked out. So, let’s look at what other information we have from the bike.

– Mary has an 11 6 (Nov 1966)-dated Sturmey-Archer SC hub (made from 1963-1978). It’s definitely an 11 and not a 71 – one of these days I’ll get a decent photo of it, or do a rubbing, or something. Images and instructions for the SC hub can be found on pages 28-30 of this 1973-dated Sturmey-Archer catalogue (PDF).

 Now *that* is bike pron.

– The pedals are associated with a Raleigh model (the Chopper) introduced to market in 1969, in an oval style introduced in about 1967 – but could easily have been switched later.

– The spoking of my wheels is 32 front, 40 rear (Sheldon Brown puts that at pre-1973).

– Most of the parts, including the loop-frame, are in a Raleigh catalogue dating to 1963 (see my previous post for the link and a complete-ish list). Sadly the corresponding 1973 catalogue is a dead link right now.

– The chainwheel and an oval all-rubber pedal, but not forks or frame, are found in a Phillips fitments catalogue dating to late 1960s (PDF).

– Similar vinyl saddles, but not in the blue-and-white colour combination, are still being sold in a Brooks/Wright catalogue dating to 1973 (PDF).

– Forks for 28″ wheels sold in a 1966-67 Phillips price list (PDF). However, pricing is not given for 28″ forks or 28″ hockey-stick chainguards in Raleigh or Phillips 1971 parts price lists (PDFs) – so this definitely puts the frame at pre-1971.

– The only other thing that might help date the bike is the style of its decals. Can anyone suggest an archive of decals to compare with?

So taken together, I still think the evidence (especially the 28″ wheels) points to this bike being from the late 1960s, not the early 1970s. What do you think? Anything else I should look at?