|My new old 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed (click to zoom)|
This week I posted a couple of quick photos of my new old bike on Facebook, Google and Twitter and so many people liked them that I thought I'd do it up a little better here.
There's an interesting story behind this bike that I think you'll like, and a few more photos so you can see the details on this cool survivor from when Nixon was in the White House.
Five years ago
I lucked into finding the bicycle, a 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed - new and still in a box, albeit a water-damaged and torn container showing its age. But marked with Flying Scot labels so I knew who had manufactured the bikes (well, not really because there was this Flying Scot but I don't see any bikes like mine).
As far as I've been able to figure out, for at least 30 years, the bike had been living less than a mile from my house stuffed in the back of a garage with about 20 more just like it. I found out about it because in September of 2006, the homeowner asked my friend Elisabeth if she knew anyone who knew anything about bikes who would be willing to empty her garage and help her "do something" with the bike stuff that was in there.
Digging for treasure
I didn't realize what I was getting into when I agreed to help. Hoping to find a garage filled with bicycles, I arrived only to see an open two-car garage packed to the door tracks with household boxes, not a bike frame, wheel or cycling component in sight.
But the homeowner's two sons were there and they told me the bicycle story as we spent the next four hours moving the small boxes, drawn by the promise of two-wheel treasure.
From a NY bike shop to a Santa Cruz garage
They related that their dad and uncle had owned a small bicycle store in New York in the sixties and seventies and had closed it, packed everything up, driven west, settled in Santa Cruz and stashed their entire inventory into the garage when they first moved into the house.
Since then, their dad had passed away and the stash had pretty much been forgotten and buried deeper and deeper as the garage got more packed.
|Matching metal fenders, chainguard and pump|
But most of all there was bike junk - forks with missing blades, pretzeled wheels comprised of lousy parts, seats with broken rails, rusty department store accessories, worn-out pedals and other useless odds and ends.
The brothers surmised that their dad had saved everything because he was a child of the great depression and the thinking of that generation that didn't have anything, was to save everything. That sounded right to me. It was about the only explanation that made sense.
About then we saw the Rex bicycle boxes hiding in the shadows and standing on end - the wrong way to store bike boxes. I saw that there'd been a leak in the roof and water had been dripping on the boxes for years. Many had holes in them and you could see the bikes inside and some obvious serious rust damage.
|Premium seating and plenty of carrying capacity|
I'm still not sure about the brand Rex, but my best guess is that their bike shop had been unable to land a major brand like Raleigh.
During the bike boom of the early seventies only established shops would have been allowed to carry famous brands like Raleigh. This caused a lot of small shops to seek out bicycles however and wherever they could get them. I worked for a shop that had a copy of a Peugeot made in fact, and sold it under a made-up name.
Spec'd and ordered from England direct?
So, it's possible that these Rex Classiques may have been ordered direct from the Flying Scot factory and built to the NY bike shop's specifications. That would account for the 27-inch wheels (the standard wheel size used on 3-speed bicycles at the time in America was 26-inch).
It would also explain the two-tone paint, matching fenders, chainguard, quality seats and included bag, bell and pump - over-the-top spec for 3-speeds at the time.
Take them away, Jim!
|Wing nuts and whitewalls|
I was happy to do that and within a few hours my backyard was the new home of the Santa Cruz Rex bike showroom.
Wanting to pass along my good fortune ASAP I posted an ad on craigslist offering the still-in-box bikes for sale in as-is condition, cash and carry only - and within a couple of weeks they had been passed along to 3-speed fans across California. The thought of these bikes that had waited all those years to see the light of day finally being ridden made, and still makes me happy.
The bicycle shown here is one of the last complete ones. I still have four or five 25 inch-frame models but they are missing certain key parts. They would make a fun project and if you'd like one, just let me know and I'll give you the details and make you a nice deal.
|Love that reflector|
After six years on hold, I took my time and enjoyed cleaning, regreasing, fine-tuning and dialing in everything just so. At the second bike shop I worked at, down in the basement where my work station was, my first task was assembling Raleigh 3-speeds. And working on this Rex took me back to those days even though the Rex is two years older than the Raleighs I built.
These British bicycles aren't like modern bikes are to build. You need British Standard wrenches to even properly tighten the nuts; you need to understand how to setup and adjust a Sturmey 3-speed drivetrain (and on a bike this old and forgotten, how to free up a hub frozen from lack of use).
You have to be able to correctly tension stamped-steel sidepull brakes so they center correctly and actually stop well (some people think they can't stop well, but it's all in the adjusting); you need to fuss around getting the sweet painted metal fenders and chainguard installed and rattle-free; and you've got to know how to regrease loose ball-bearing components, which is actually a lot of fun. (I'm happy to explain any/all of these things if you need help with your nice old 3-speed.)
Hitting the road
|I set the handlebars low and sporty|
The 27-inch wheels and Michelin tires that would have been a deluxe feature back in this bike's time help smooth rough pavement for nice comfort. I decided to invert the handlebars from the usual upright position for a sportier look that also fits the reach of my long arms and large hands.
The previously locked-up Sturmey-Archer hub now shifts smoothly whether you're stopped at a light in traffic or spinning along some backroad, and the Wrights leather saddle is as supportive and comfortable as it looks and will get even better with age.
Along with other ride essentials, I'll keep a baggie in the huge Carradice saddlebag so that I can cover the seat should it rain. It's protected with leather treatment, but you don't want to take any chances with classic saddles like these.
Now we just need some tweed rides in Santa Cruz so I have some 3-speed friends to ride with!