Upgrading my Speedwell (circa 1955): Ride report

I have had a few rides on my Speedwell since it was upgraded with a Shimano Nexus 3 speed hub with coaster brake, hybrid alloy wheels and Michelin Tracker reflective tyres, and I have to say that it is a huge improvement. While I felt before that the single speed was adequate, I did have to stand to pedal up hills, and now this is not the case. I also had to stand to brake at intersections and did not feel completely safe with the brakes, so they were my main priority in the upgrade. I decided on the 3 speeds to make it a more “sittable” city bike and to make my life a bit easier on hilly terrains.

The new wheels, while I felt looked out of character at first, are nice and shiny and give a smooth ride at any speed (although I still ride quite slowly, this is not a racing bike!). They are also perfectly true and I notice that I can take my hands off the bars and the bike continues in a straight line, this was not the case before. While the slight warping in the old wheels did not make the bike unstable, they were not truly straight and I felt a little uncertain of their safety as this was worsening. The reflective Michelin tyres are an added safety feature which I like, and the thicker tyres add to the smoothness of the ride. I also feel safe to go up and down kerbs which was not the case with the original wheels.

The brakes work perfectly adequately, and when I first rode with them, I left quite a bit of rubber on the road as I jumped on the brakes in the manner I was accustomed to! I have read that even new coaster brakes are meant for flat terrain as they are prone to fade with overuse and heating. I rarely ride very hilly terrain, but will be mindful of this if I do, especially in hot weather.

I had decided a while back that I would use red as the colour for the majority of changes I made, as far as it was practicable, as that was the original colour of the bike, even though it is not a colour I usually prefer. So another addition with my upgrade has been bar tape in red, new grips (to accommodate the shifter grip) which I am not entirely sure that I am happy about, but they are fine for now. The Crane brass bell adds a vintage flavour as does the kick stand, kindly twined, shellacked and fitted for me by my friend Peter, if you want to read about how this was done, see here.

Drawbacks for me are:

  • the slight clicking sound the hub makes when it is freewheeling. Being accustomed to a totally silent ride (apart from a few tinny rattles), I keep looking behind me for another cyclist, though I am sure I will become accustomed to this sound. I have also had some adjustment problems with the 3 speeds and will report on them in more detail once they are fixed.
  • the appearance of the handgrips and they also feel a bit short.
  • the appearance of the wheels at first, but I am used to them now and quite like them.

Now that I am sitting in the saddle much more than I used to, it may need an upgrade too! I am certainly going to add a rack and a better lighting system in the future.

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12 Responses to Upgrading my Speedwell (circa 1955): Ride report

  1. adventurepdx says:

    I really like how this bike turned out! Love that skirtguard too. Did you make it yourself?
    As for lighting, I think a new version of an old fashioned bottle dynamo would look great. Couple it with some modern LED head and tail lamps and you’re set.

  2. Vicki says:

    Thank you! The skirtguard I ordered from ANT bikes in the US, I saw it on Lovely Bicycle and tracked it down from there. I agree re the bottle dynamo, I am still mulling it over though, I don’t want to spend up big on something that does not work effectively.

  3. adventurepdx says:

    The other option I can think of is the Soma vintage “torpedo” style headlamp. It’s battery powered and uses an LED bulb, but has the classic look.

  4. Vicki says:

    Thank you again! That would be pretty much perfect for the front, it is the look I want. I would like to mount it to the little headlamp holder below the bars, get rid of the basket and put on a Velo Orange porteur front rack. I hope they can ship to Australia if the bottle dynamo is not feasible.

  5. Pingback: Review of my Shimano Nexus 3-speed & coaster brake hub | Bicycles in Newcastle

  6. rusty says:

    Do i read corectly that this bike has cost the same as a new cruiser? Can you please tell me the cost to date, with the 3 speed gears separate. tks

    • Vicki says:

      Yes, it has ended up costing about the same as a new bike. I chose to do this as most of the bike was in really good working order and I really liked the riding position and found it quite easy to ride as a one speed. I do not think I would find a modern bike to be the same. The brakes were inadequate which is why I decided to get new brakes and also decided to include the 3 speeds as part of that upgrade. The wheels were also becoming a little wonky and needed replacing but the cranks, pedals and handlebars were fine. The upgrade of the wheels, tyres, chain and 3-speed coaster hub cost a little over $400, the Brooks saddle which I have since put onto it was $140(the saddle in that picture was $30), the bar tape was $12 but I am going to remove it as I am not happy with it. The bell was a gift.

  7. rusty says:

    Thank you. Maybe this is why they ask so much for the old bike’s properly serviced and done up. What did you do with the old rims / hub? Tks

    • Vicki says:

      How much do they ask for such a bike, rusty? I have not looked around at prices as I don’t want to sell it at all. I gave away the old wheels to a friend who likes to restore old bikes and it is possible he will be able to use them for parts.

  8. rusty says:

    A wide gambart of $! A lot of bikes described as “done up” are not fully serviced and are a quick bodge up. probally best to check Sydney Vintage Bikes site,. he is a bike mechanic and does them up authentic and properly ( a few Accessories are not true but they look nice). hence why SVB are at the upper end of $. Yours has providence and that is important element for you.

    I was chasing the old rims for an authentic Speedwell fix up. If you hear about any other Speedwell parts I would be interested.

    There are several very good cargo (delivery or butchers bike) currently being riden and in use.

  9. Vicki says:

    I looked at their site, they do have some good bikes for sale!

    The rims I had were 28″ and I gave them to Peter who writes A New Recyclist, there is a link to his blog on the sidebar of mine if you want to get in touch with him, he has a couple of old Speedwells too. I didn’t want to keep riding on my old wheels, they are starting to distort, though maybe respoking them would have worked to keep them in good order, I can’t do that sort of stuff. Would be interested to hear from you if you do up a Speedwell ….

  10. rusty says:

    I am now hence why I was interested in the fate of the rims. It is good that they are ReUse. cheers

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