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Bulletin # 03
Restoring antique bicycles generally falls into two different schools of thought as to the types of restoration. One is restoring the bike to a bright and shiny look as it appeared when brand new. The other is to preserve what remains of the original paint and nickel plating. Either method is acceptable and is stricktly a matter of taste to the owner.
When an antique bicycle retains much of its' original appearance, it is desirable to make every effort to preserve the bike as is. Oftentimes a bicycle with its' original appearance can actually improve the value versus a full restoration with new nickel plating and paint. This is certainly the case with machines like velocipedes that are fortunate enough to have the original finish intact or even fragments of the original finish. Remember, that any artifact is original only once.
With other antique bicycles like highwheelers and safeties that are covered in rust, performing a partial restoration and cleaning up of the parts with a wire wheel and coating them with Waxoyl can result in a surprisingly attractive and rideable machine while retaining an old antique look.
If you purchase an original highwheel bicycle that hasn't been ridden for many decades, and have intentions of turning it into a safe and rideable machine without going to the expense of a full restoration, there are some considerations to check out first.
Hang the bike up first so that the front wheel is off the floor and carefully observe the turning of the cranks from the front of the bike. Do the cranks look like they are turning at a perfect 90 degree angle to the axle? If the cranks look like they are not turning right maybe it is an indication the front hub axle is bent. If this is the case, it is recommended that the front wheel be completely disassembled.
Removing spokes that haven't been turned in many decades can be a daunting challange to a new comer, but done with patience and care, it is an achievabe task. American highwheels like the Columbia Expert have steel hub flanges which often means the spokes can be seized up due to rusting. Radial spoke wheels with bronze flanges generally don't have this problem because of dissimilar metals.
Use a good quality penetrating oil and let the spokes soak. WD-40 is not the best oil to use. On radial spokes, use two needle nose vise grips, one at the top near the rim and the other clamped near the hub flange. When turning the spoke to loosen it, turn the two vice grips together in unison so the spoke doesn't twist. Don't attempt to turn much more than 5° at first while working it back and forth. You should be able to tell right off the bat if the spoke loosens up or not. If it doesn't, you may have to use a small tourch on the hub flange to heat it up. Add more penetrating oil. If it still feels stubborn, go to the next spoke.
Straightening out the front hub is best done in a metal working lathe. Chuck the axle end in the jaws. While the hub is turning, use a torch and heat the axle up to an orange color. You probable will be able to use the tool post to physically force the axle back into true. There are usually center drill holes in the axle end which can be used with a live center for fine tuning. Reheat where necessary.
The Columbia Expert highwheel, for example, has a rear hub in three pieces, with a lip formed on the inside to prevent the steel balls from falling out. If it is determined the balls need replacing, there are two ways to accomplish this. The hub flanges are pressed fitted on the center portion. It should be noted that the position of the flanges is critical when reassembling, otherwise the spokes will be either too short or too long. Use a hard plastic mallet to hit the flanges and change positions frequently. You can also use a brass bar up against the flanges and hit brass with a hammer. Before knocking off the flanges use a machinist's ink like Dykem and scratch a line with a scriber on the hub and flanges which will aid in realignment. The other less evasive method is to simply use a Dremel tool to grind off a small section of the lip so that there is enough room to pull the balls out one at a time.
Other factors to consider are cracks in the backbone which usually occur at or near and on the rear forks. On New Mail highwheels there is a built in design flaw at the neck where it is formed at a sharp angle instead of a radius which is a frequent cause of cracking. A small hole drilled at the end of the crack and all the way through the neck will prevent the crack from spreading further. Any cracks should be beveled to a V shape and welded.
Oftentimes handlebars have been reshaped from their original position. Check the catalogs through the Wheelmen Library for illustrations which will provide valuable information as to their original appearance. When reshaping hollow hadlebars, you can use very fine play sand to pack the inside and plug or tape up the ends. This will greatly aid in bending to prevent buckling. Heat the bars bars to an orange color at the spot that needs bending. The bending should be done very slowly but firmly and only at a section at a time. Another piece of tubing slipped over the handlebar will provide extra leverage. Handlebars with cracks can have bushings press fitted on the inside if needed and welded. When these antique bicycles were built, standardization of thread systems were generally not in vogue. Odd ball thread sizes are frequently found such as 3-54, 6-38, 7-40, 7/16-16, etc. Companies like MSC Industrial Supply or McMasters, supply some of these taps and dies in special threads. If not, custom made taps and dies are available. sometimes this is a necessity if your bike is missing nuts or has broken screws or bolts.
The bearings should be closely examined. Usually groves or pits are on the contact surfaces. If these imperfections are not too deep, the races can be chucked in a lathe and ground out smooth again. Maintaining concentricity of the diameters is essential. Any bearing race that is cracked really is not worth the trouble to repair. It is easier making a new one. When reinstalling the bearings, be careful not to ove tighten on the adjustments as the steel balls will begin to dig into the races again. Races that are too far gone for grinding can be made using drill rod like W-1. After hardening, they should be annealed to relieve some of the stress.
If at all possible, avoid using a torch on any bearing parts if the parts are seized up, as this will destroy the hardness of the parts. Usually a long soak in penetrating oil will do the job.
Repairing bent or warped rims can be a challenging repair job. Generally a cresent shaped rim is easier to repair than a hollow rim. Hollow rims that are cracked along the edge or heavily rusted in spots should not be considered safe to ride on and need to be replaced. Bent cresent shaped rims with all the spokes removed can sometimes be repaired by placing them up against a door jam and pushing the door tight up against the rim and physically pulling the rim back in place. This is a two person operation. This technique should not be used on hollow rims as they can easily buckle.
Saddles that are missing parts like coil springs can be made from 400 series stainless steel or other heat treated stainless like 18-8 or 17-4PH. To maintain uniformity of a coil, the stainless can be wrapped around solid bar stock using a torch. Using stainless eliminates the need for nickel plating as the nickel can easily chip off while bending.
Spokes can be made from stainless or even mild steel. Try using 316 grade stainless instead of 304 or 308 grade. On Columbia Light Roadsters the spoke nuts are 3-54t.p.i. A modern 3-56 standard fine thread will work on these spokes as there are only 2 threads difference per 1" of length. The heads can be formed using a block of steel that has been drilled through with the same diameter as the spoke and then countersunk for the spoke head. It is then sawed in half with a jeweler's saw so that the two halves hold the spoke. Keep about 1/8" to 3/16" of spoke above the top of the block and heat it up with a torch to an orange color and peen it over with a ball peen hammer. The spoke can then be chucked in a lathe to shape the head uniformly.
Frame parts that are heavily pitted can be spray welded for aid in painting. Thin coats of primer and top coats sanded down almost to bare metal will produce a better finish than a couple of heavy coats of paint.
The forgoing notes should be considereed as general suggestions assuming the restorer has some basic metalworking skills. Each bicycle presents its' own challenge. If the restoration is something beyond what you want to take on, it is highly recommended you advertise on the Wheelmen forum or in the Wheelmen newsletter. There are many experienced Wheelmen willing to offer advice.