The evolution of my vintage Speedwell bike

I have done many posts on my Speedwell and this is an overview of the changes it has gone through in the past few months.  It had had a revamp and a brief return to the pathways when my sister used it a few times in the 80s, and I had ridden it a little in the 70s but apart from that it had been gathering dust since the 1960s. The stickers and front mudguard were replaced in the 80s as part of the update then, so are not the originals. This is how the Speedwell looked when I retrieved it from my parents’ garage in July after sitting there for many years. I am now disappointed that I did not get close ups of it in this state:

The first step was to get a cheap saddle and new tyres fitted just to see if it was rideable. The ride home from the bike shop convinced me. While I had some reservations about a single speed, I found it surprisingly easy to ride so the next step was a clean up to get rid of rust, dirt and grease. 

The skirtguard I ordered from the US. I never wear flowing skirts on my bike, only shortish ones that are too tight to require a skirtguard, but as the mudguards already had the holes drilled for the guard, I decided that it would look much better with one, and this gives me the option to wear a flowing skirt on it. A can of red spray paint from the local hardware shop was used to paint the front mudguard and to touch up the chain guard, the wires holding the mudguards and also to paint my cheap black helmet to match the bike. The basket I already had and I was delighted to find it fitted this bike perfectly and was reminiscent of the basket I used on it as a child:

After riding around on it for several months with the original wheels, brakes and single speed, I decided that an upgrade was necessary.  I like the original wheels but they became a bit wonky and while I managed quite well with the single speed, I also decided that 3 speeds would give me greater comfort in travelling around town, as this bike had become my main form of transport. But the main reason for the upgrade was the brakes, I had to stand to brake hard enough to stop and would not be able to brake rapidly in an emergency, so new wheels and a Shimano Nexus 3 speed hub were ordered. I decided to stick with coaster brakes as I like using them and did not want the bike to become cluttered with too many cables. Part of the upgrade was red handlebar tape and replacement of the grips to match the Shimano shifter. I was also given a lovely brass bell for my birthday to replace the ding dong bell I had been using. A new twined kickstand added to the retro charm while being very practical:

The initial saddle I chose from among ones available at my local bike shop: I just wanted a cheap seat to see if the bike would be viable (the original seat was broken beyond any sort of repair) and I liked the additional safety feature of the reflective piece on the back of it. It has also turned out to be a most comfortable saddle, although once I started to spend less time standing to brake and to get up hills I noticed that it was less comfortable, and I loved the idea of a Brooks saddle – B17s in Antique Brown – to fit with the retro style of the bike. So far it has been great, although I did get a little saddle-sore after the first ride on it … I also outlined the lugwork in white using a paint pen:

The Speedwell frame number is on the bottom bracket and is 79160, it is supposed to be possible to date the frame from this. I have not yet found a website which would allow this as the numbers do not correlate to the information I have found and although the estimated year of manufacture is 1955, it may be as late as 1960 and this possibly explains the last two digits in the frame number.

I have read many reviews of bikes done up in a similar way and after reading this post on Lovely Bicycle decided that this was the way I wanted to go with my bike, rather than getting a new town bike, which several bike shops wanted to sell me when I spoke to them about new wheels. Though this one has cost about the same as a new one, around $600, it has, for me, the added charm of being my childhood bike and I also really like the way it rides, it is comfortable without any shock absorbing beyond the natural shock absorbing properties of the steel loop frame and the saddle. I can also comfortably stand to pedal it up hills. The loop frame is very low and makes for a very easy dismount. I have not ridden modern loopframes but none of them look as though they would ride quite like this as the loop attaches higher up on the seat tube and would be more intrusive when mounting and dismounting. It is also very light, much lighter I think than a modern version of it would be. Now, all dressed up with its skirtguard, new saddle and wheels, it looks and goes much better.

Drawbacks are that the chain guard is not fully enclosed so I do occasionally get a little grease on my clothing. I have also had some problems with the basket getting in the way of the cable for the gear change so I will have to replace the basket. I also worry that the bike may be a target for thieves as I get so many compliments on it!

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10 Responses to The evolution of my vintage Speedwell bike

  1. adventurepdx says:

    I think it’s great that you’ve managed to keep this bike for so long, and have done the necessary changes to make it your daily rider. It’s got lots of character! That’s something that can’t be said about a new bike. Let’s hope for another 50 years of service!

    • Vicki says:

      It would be great if it lasted another 50 years, I agree! And it does have a lot of sentimental value to me in addition to being a great bike to ride. I think that something I read on a bike blog recently applies here: “a good frame is like a family heirloom”, and I will be passing it onto one of my daughters.

  2. anniebikes says:

    One of the attractions of your bog for me, beside being from Australia, has been exploring your renovation of the Speedwell. I admit to never hearing about a Speedwell before. I love it’s classic lines, red mudguards, the shape of the handlebars, the long wheel base (that nay be why it’s so comfortable) and the fact that it’s something you love and are fixing up to be ridden. I like the loop frame a lot, and as you say, it is easy to step through. I’s still looking for a good serviceable step through that I can ;make my own with baskets, racks, etc. A twined kickstand – how unique. i may have to put that on one of my bikes.

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Annie, I had forgotten to mention the long wheelbase, I do agree it makes a difference and I doubt I would find this on a modern bike too. Speedwell is an English brand which then started making bikes in Oz many years ago. From when I was a child I also remember that there was white pinstriping on it which was painted over in the 80s, it was on the wheels and the mudguard, I was very enchanted with this bike when I got it for my tenth birthday even though it was secondhand then, it seemed to have some class about it. The new recyclist did the twining on the kickstand for me, you can see it here.

  3. Pingback: A Loop Frame Australian Classic – Speedwell Popular : « a new recyclist

  4. Michael Cairns says:

    Ive just bought a strange speedwell mens , Has plastic badge .and 26″ wheels .
    very rakish frount forks ,welded lugs down back of seat downtube for pump.
    welded lug under front down tube for chain gaurd .Been brushed white ,was met blue.
    trying to find out if 26″wheels correct
    Really like your bike ,the upgrades are good …alloy ring set next?

    • Vicki says:

      I’ve since made some more changes to it, but no alloy ring set is planned, I like the original. Your speedwell sounds interesting! I don’t know about the original wheel size, does it look as though a 28″ wheel would fit on it? You could ask the new recyclist, his blog is in my blog roll and he is a speedwell enthusiast and knows a lot about them.

  5. steven says:

    hello my name is steven I really like the pictures of your bike…i recently got my self a old speedwell… its in poor condition but I luv it… I found the serial numbers but I cant find any where on the net where I can identify the bike ..can you help? thank u..

    • Vicki says:

      Hi Steven, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what you want to identify about your bike, is it the age? I’ve seen tables on how to identify the age of speedwells, but they don’t seem to be definitive. The first two numbers could indicate the year your bike was made.

  6. Daniel says:

    I have got a speedwell bike the serial # 53682 can u get back to me with more info pls on 0498196748

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