I took this photo of the Speedwell last week and it’s prompted me to think about how I’d do things differently if I were restoring it again. The Brooks B67S aged leather saddle has been perfect. It has worn in nicely and has been comfortable from day one. This is how it looks now …All I’ve done to treat it has been a couple of coats of Armorall and of a leather conditioner in the two years I’ve had it. It has been ridden in the rain quite a few times and also been subjected to salt at the beach. I had to leave it out in the wet weather for a few weeks last winter too, and nothing has affected it adversely. When I first got it, the leather was matt and paler in colour so it has improved a lot in appearance with use. This is the saddle when new, two years ago …
The only thing I would have done differently is that I wouldn’t have chosen the Shimano Nexus 3 speed hub, even though it works perfectly now it has been properly adjusted. (The earlier problems were caused by the cable stretching)
I don’t feel the three speeds are really necessary for the riding I do and the addition of the adjustment window at the side of the rear axle means that I cannot fit a rack the way it was meant to be fitted on a bike of this vintage (the bike has no braze ons for a rack). Also, the clicking sound which is inherent in the hub, annoyed me when I first had it fitted, and though I am no longer as aware of it, it is still a factor working against the hub. I have since ridden new bikes with the same hub fitted and it feels quite different, more solid is the best way to describe it. Retrofitting this system to an old bike does not seem to work quite as well. I also don’t like the additional cable that is necessary and the modern style plastic shifter does not look right on the bike. I have been told that I could source an older style trigger shifter but I am reluctant to tamper with a system that is, for now at least, working. The presence of the adjustment window on the side of the bike also means that I cannot fit a device that allows for easy adjustment of the chain, so when the chain becomes loose and the wheel needs to be moved back in the dropouts, which happens every few months, I have to take it to a bike shop to have this done. The back pedal brake, also a part of the hub and the most pressing reason I decided to have new wheels fitted, works very well and can cause the rear wheel to lock if applied with force. I like the options of both pedal and hand operated brakes too.
The modern wheels, although I don’t really love the look of them, I can’t fault for performance. They enable me to ride over rocky ground and down gutters if I need to, without any problems. They have also enabled me to have a front brake fitted. This brake would not have worked on the old painted rims I had before. I feel much safer on the bike since having this additional brake fitted as the chain has fallen off a few times, though never on the downhill, always on the flat when I am in too high a gear.
I am very happy with the front retro style basket and the skirtguard. They are very similar to the originals that were on the bike when I was a child and they work well and look appropriate.
Having said all this, the Speedwell is very functional as a city bike and, with the addition of a small backpack and the bag on the saddle, it meets my carrying requirements most of the time and everything works well on it.
Restoring an old bike is always going to be a constant trade off between functionality, comfort and staying true to the origins of the bike. I feel that I have achieved the best outcomes for me without trading off too much, though whenever I talk to Peter about it, we end up talking through options which ultimately have drawbacks in terms of some of the above aspects. He still has the beautiful old hub, which he has restored but which still awaits being laced into a new wheel to see if the brake now works. So the old parts are still being used in a restoration project, always a good thing!