Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My New Old Bicycle: A Rex Classique 3-speed from 1971

My new old 1971 Rex Classique 3-speed (click to zoom)
I hope you're all getting ready for the holiday festivities and fitting your fun bike projects and rides in. It's been windy and cold here - at least by Santa Cruz standards.

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.
Rider's view

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
When we finally removed the last row of regular boxes and reached the bike-shop portion of the garage, my heart sank. There was a pristine 1970 or so Peugeot AO-8 ladies bicycle, a decent Raleigh Super Course from the same era, many cardboard and small tin boxes full of Sturmey-Archer small parts, a few hubs and some Wrights leather saddles too.

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.

Bike boxes!
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
As we moved the bike boxes outside we discovered that some of the bicycles had been used as parts bikes and had been robbed of key components. Still, a complete inventory showed there were about 20 Rex Classique bicycles I thought would be buildable.

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
The brothers were so happy we had cleaned out the garage that they said that if I would help them pick out the two best bicycles for them and help get them running, they would just let me take whatever else I thought I could salvage and do with it whatever I thought was best.

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.

My Rex
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
Mine was a long project because I wasn't in any rush to build the one I had put aside for me. It was almost as nice hanging onto it in the box in its original as-found condition and I didn't feel any need to put it together until I was good and ready. Recently I started thinking about how much fun it would be to build it, ride it and show it around.

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 payoff is the wonderful ride of an all-steel English racer as they were called back when I was a boy and riding a funky Phillips fairly long distances across Massachusetts.

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!

Great rides!


fenderman said...

Hi Jim -
Found this Craigslist ad (see below) and searched from the text and found your post about Rex...I'm certainly interested in having a go at one of those frames of yours, but am considering this complete bike instead...prefer the upright bars on yours to the drops on the one in the ad...


Very Rare Rex 3 Sp. by Raleigh - $250 (healdsburg / windsor)

Date: 2012-03-03, 6:29PM PST

Very Rare 1971 Rex Classique THREE SPEED with tall 25" frame 34.5" stand over height and 27" wheels and pretty lugged frame it says MADE IN ENGLAND on it and the 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub is stamped 71 but being made by Raleigh Nottingham Factory is just me going by an article I found about an Identical bike . The bicycle still has lots of shine but with a few scratches and it looks and rides very good it is mostly original but with some new parts (new tires) It still has the original white bar tape under the blue no-glue tape I added for more bar cush . I'm 6' and it fits me great (I'd say it would work for 5'10" to about 6'4" riders) and with it's tall handlebar stem raised up I can sit more upright than with normal down bars it also has a twist shifter I just have too many bikes and have to thin the herd which makes this a hard decision for which ones to sacrifice Please call Bill to see in Windsor Thanks for looking

Anonymous said...

I think I just bought one of these "Rex Classique" bikes at the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's Bike Expo here in Santa Rosa today.

I'm trying to figure out the date. The blog says 1971, but the numbers engraved onto the Sturmey-Archer hub are "7" and "2" (spaced apart), which I believe dates the hub from 1972.

Other web sites I found about the "Langley" bikes state that they were probably manufactured by Raleigh.

The serial number on the right rear dropout is 65947, which implies the frame was made in 1965. That seems to be confirmed by Sheldon Brown's web site, which says that no chain-guard braze-ons were used on Raleigh 3-speed bikes from 1962-1965, but they did have braze-ons from 1966-1976. This bike uses clamps rather than braze-ons.

It sounds to me like the fellow who imported the bikes must have latched on to a stock of out-of date frames and had Raleigh or someone re-badge them and install more-modern components.

Jim Langley said...

If you didn't buy that craigslist Rex and are interesting in getting one of my remaining 25-inch Rex frames and parts, just let me know by email fenderman.

Jim Langley

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for the email anonymous. Congrats on buying one of what was likely one of my Rexs. It's possible, maybe even likely that Raleigh owned Flying Scot or whatever company made the Rexs, so in a way, Raleigh was behind the building of the bikes, or you could see how people would say/think that. On the date on your rear hub, look more closely. You may need to shine a light on it or use a magnifying glass. But if you look closely you should see that there's a 1 next to the 7. That 2 over on the right isn't part of the year. All the bikes had that date. The parts on the bike are right for a bike from the early 1970s, too. Serial numbers don't always have anything to do with dating on bicycles. A lot of the time they're just numbers. I would have liked to have shown my bike to Sheldon who was a friend, but sadly, didn't have the chance before he passed away. Enjoy your Rex Classique!
Jim Langley

Marios Chalkiadakis said...

Hello from Greece! I'm Marios Chalkiadakis and I want to know if there is a data base somewhere with all REX bicycles from Sweden. 26 years ago I was studding in Sweden and had bought a cheep bicycle to use in the village I was.A month ago I discovered it in my basement. I had forgotten I had it. It's a REX, the old man who sold it to me, said that it was from the 30's. I read in this blog that the first two numbers of the frame number is the year that the bike was made. My bike's frame number is 11285. Do you think that it can be from 1911?I can post some pictures if you want. Regards, Marios

Jim Langley said...

If you can email me some photos Marios, I'll take a look and see if I can provide any information on your bike. Happy to do it,
In cycling,

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