Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My 1950's Speedwell

My 1950's Speedwell
In about October 2009 a bicycle building friend of mine named George, handed me an old Speedwell men's frame that had been sitting in his backyard for years. The frame had been exposed to the elements and was covered with a thin film of rust, although I could tell that the original colour was a ghastly green. Unfortunately there was no serial number on the frame, so dating the bike by this method was not an option. 

Luckily, the previous owner had painted the cranks and bottom bracket with a thick grey paint that provided them with some protection. The headset was rusty but restorable, however the rest of the parts were beyond restoration hope. The rims had rusted out and the hubs had rusted badly with severe corrosion. The mistake I made at this point was not photographing the rusted old frame, an image of which would have been handy for this article.

Anyway I stripped the bike and retained the frame, cranks, bottom bracket, and headset, and pretty much disposed of the rest.  I did note that the original rims measured 28 x 1 3/8 inches and that they were spoked 32 front and 40 rear, and the original rear hub was a reversable fixed / free 18T setup.

I had the frame painted (a similar ghastly green) and fitted some old Speedwell decals, although the decals were not original they did the job of identifying the brand of bike....and I had the cranks and headset re-chromed. Surprisingly, the bottom bracket (marked T.D.C. Made in England) polished up very well after I removed the layers of old grey paint and grease. 

Below are some images of the finished frame that is fitted with the T.D.C bottom bracket and newly chromed headset. 

1950's Speedwell frame, painted with decals.

T.D.C. bottom bracket and oiler port.


Newly chromed headset circa 1950's.

When I received the Williams branded cranks back after re-chroming I could see that there was a manufacturers mark on the inside of the chainwheel pictured below..... 

Williams sword trade mark....with "46" and "AW".

After a bit of internet research I learnt that the "46" referred to the number of teeth on the chainwheel (which was right) and that the "AW" referred to the component's date of manufacture.

I located the manufacturer's dating codes at Interesting reading (if you're into vintage bikes I guess) and learnt that the dating code of "AW" indicated that the Williams crank had been manufactured in 1956. the crank was made in 1956 and perhaps fitted to the bike soon an assembly date in the mid to late 50's was reasonable to assume and consistent with the other fittings on the bike which were period correct.

At this point I made a few additions to the build and added  a few newer components to improve the ride. I located a set of 32/40 Endrick 28 x 1 3/8 rims (powder coated) and a period correct Bayliss Wiley 32H front hub, and I also got hold of  a 1964 dated Sturmey Archer 3 speed 40H AW hub for the rear wheel.

George laced them in, both hubs had very good chrome and the front hub had an old oiling hole with cover. I also located an old 3 speed Sturmey Archer trigger control and decided to run the gear cable through to the rear hub across the top tube and down the rear seat stay via a Sturmey Archer pulley wheel. This gear cabling method is correct for the period and would compliment the style of the bike. 

Sturmey Archer 3 Speed AW 40 hole hub

SA 3 speed trigger

Sturmey Archer gear cable pulley wheel

My next problem was that of braking, although I had considered braking options early in the planning stage. There was no hole drilled in the front forks so a front brake was not an option. The only reasonable (and effective) braking option was a new caliper brake on the rear wheel. I had considered the period correct rear caliper centre pull brakes, although they are not very effective and look so awkward and bulky, so I discounted this option.

George supplied me with a new retro styled caliper brake that worked reasonably well.....and because this was the only brake on the bike it had to work with some sense of confidence. After locating a 1950's new old stock brake lever I had George fit the brakes, very functional and they didn't look too bad either!!  

Next came the hunt for 28 x 1 3/8 tyres, a new Brooks B72 saddle, a chromed period stem, grips, and a few other bits and pieces and the enjoyment of fitting it all together as below...

Brooks B72 saddle...a work of art!!

Inverted North Road bars for the relaxed look.

Original Malvern Star bell.

Williams cranks and period pedals.

Speedwell decals and a chrome pump fitted behind seat tube.
So there's the finished item, and I must say she rides really well. The 3 speed gearing is the key to this bike, the gears making it a pleasure  to ride in all terrain, and it handles so well with the inverted North Road bars....and since discovering what a pleasure this setup is to ride I'm keen to explore the Pashley Guv'nor a bit further......I think I'll make arrangements to test ride a Guv'nor tomorrow!!


  1. Wow. I just picked up a vintage Healing bike which I'm about to restore. It has the exact same oiler port and headset. The headset has damage to the knurling and there's a few balls missing from the bearings. Would you know where to get replacement headsets like this?

  2. I have the sister bike of this one, you can see it on my blog, I have had it since I was a child and I got it secondhand then, I think it would be the same age as yours. It has the same sprocket on it, quite distinctively Speedwell. You can also see the headbadge, though it is not a great pic of it. I haven't done mine up to the same extent as yours as it was quite rideable, just needed new tyres and saddle, it even has the original backpedal brake on it, and no gears. Yours looks great!

  3. Hi there,

    I have a 56 speedwell that i am fixing up and would love to get some tips from you. I am struggling to get the cranks off so that I can get them rechromed. Any tips? Also, what is your view on retaining the Sturmey Archer vs stripping it off and going with simpler fixie look?

    Your bikes look excellent!


  4. Hi I have a speedwell ladies with the hooped step through like your pictures. I am having a very hard time dating the frame. It is Australian. Near the seat insert, the number is B68694; near the rear wheel axle / dropout is G2866; wheel rim BIM P - 2.