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Ben Folsom
Rules 5 and 9
Rules 5 and 9


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1979 American Flyer Roadie: Seatpost and Saddle; First Day Progress

Returning to the theme of oddball sizing on this bike, the seatpost is an unconventional size, 26.0 mm. A quick review of Sheldon Brown's seatpost sizing database (see references) tells me this size is relatively rare and does not have a strong association with one era, geography or national standard or bike type. It is still a current standard, favored by BMX bikes. I managed to acquire an unbranded vintage unit off eBay not long after acquiring the bike.

For saddles, I laid out two options for Young Master aka Anderson: A classic Avocet Touring I and the slightly shorter, slightly wider Avocert Touring WI. The 'W' was for 'womens.' After careful consideration, he opted for the wider saddle, despite having ten year-old sitbones.

The final image is the progress at the end of day one: Wheels, basic drivetrain (no shifters), seatpost and saddle.

Next: Stem and handlebar.
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1979 American Flyer Roadie: Wheels and Tires

As previously indicated, this bike came only as a frameset; it did not include wheels. At the time of the acquisition, I cast about in my cycling circles to see how one measures a frame for wheel size, surely there must be an established Sheldon Brown trick to it, triangulating dropout to brake mount or some such. I got some good input, like mount a brake (which at the time I did not have) and measure from the dropout to the brake surface, but there appeared to be no silver bullet. For some reason, my records indicate I estimated this bike was 650b.

About a year later, I received a call from the LBS, someone had dropped off an old bike for recycling, the guys eyeballed it and called me straight away. I went down and picked it up for a 12'er of PBR, it was a Montgomery Ward-branded ten-speed, very old, probably early 1980's at the latest, an awful, gas-pipe tubes, unbranded early Shimano bike in awful shape. But it was a 24-inch wheeled bike, a smaller frame than a big-kid's ten-speed, but larger than Young Master aka Anderson's 20-inch wheeled Gitane Puma. No pictures of this bike exist that I can find in my collection, and together they hung in the Shed, the American Flyer and the Montgomery Ward, examples of the two poles of department store bike quality from the early 1980's.

When it came time to build the AF, I got the Montgomery Ward down, removed the wheels and installed them on the AF. Thanks to +Dale Judy, by this time I had acquired a literal bucketful of Dia Compe centre-pull caliper brakes. By futzing with different versions, I was able to determine the exact BSD from the MW would fit the AF with long-reach 750's.

Then it was down to sorting new wheels and rubber. From the side of a dry-rotted MW tire, I read '37-540 24 x 1-3/8.' A quick check of the Sheldon Brown tire sizing chart (see references), 540 BSD is the 'E-5' 24-inch standard. Because of course there are two 24 x 1-3/8 sizes: 540, which is the E-5, attributed to "British Juvenile, most wheelchairs; common on women's utility bicycles in Japan," and the S-5, which is 547 BSD, and is attributed to "Schwinn Juvenile lightweights."

Off to the internet to acquire, where it gets even more confusing. Twenty-four x 1-3/8 is still a current size (awesome!), except it is a BMX standard (ok), is actually 520 BSD (umm...) and new wheels are paired with 110mm OLD BMX rear hubs (I can't even). So that's not it.

A deeper dive finds 540 BSD, old school, nutted wheels are still available new, but what I prefer is NOS. Dredging eBay, I managed to find a seller who bought out the stock of an LBS heading out of business and has a boatload of NOS 540 BSD wheels on offer for about $40 each. The front is an Araya rim with an unmarked 100 mm hub, the rear is the same Araya rim laced to a 120 mm 'KJ' branded hub. After some sleuthing, there is very little available on KJ hubs, except on a few BMX enthusiast sites. The rear hub is stamped '44 84' just below the logo branding, from the vintage of other KJ hubs I managed to find on eBay and on BMX boards, I presume '84' refers to the year the hub was made and/or marketed. The seller assured me these were new wheels that have been in storage for decades. They roll perfectly and I had no need to open and repack them.

Now, on to tires. 37-540 tires are much easier to find than wheels, I ordered a pair of $11 Sunlite tires from Niagara Cycle Works, they shipped Kenda's, but it's fine, they are plentiful and cheap and I assume the boy will skid them down to the casing, it is a right and duty of a kid to ride as fast as possible and skid out at every opportunity, especially when friends are watching.

Next: Saddle and seatpost.

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1979 American Flyer Roadie: Drivetrain

The build continues for this vintage pint-sized road bike.

At this point, we have removed, cleaned and repacked the bottom bracket, and cleaned, detailed and polished the frame. Time to start building.

Three years ago when I acquired this bike, Young Master aka Anderson was but 3-foot-7 / 110 cm. At the time there was no Gitane Puma (the even smaller, 20-inch wheeled road bike acquired after this one but built and deployed first) and I was worried a standard crank would be too long. I investigated and found a guy online who specializes in shortening cranks for little riders (see references for link and details). After some back and forth, the acquisition plan was set, then discarded when this bike went to the back of the line with the acquisition of the Puma.

Fast forward three and a half years later and YM is 8 inches / 20 cm taller, and has been riding a road bike for three years. In typical little brother fashion, he tough as nails, not afraid to fall over and is comfortable riding bikes much too large for him. As I contemplated the American Flyer build, I decided he would get the same standard 170mm cranks his brothers got when they were ten (albeit on a smaller bike, as the Twin Turbines got 19-inch bikes when they were ten and YM is getting a 17.5-inch bike).

In the Shed I happen to have an SR Custom 52-40 double crank that was acquired off eBay for the [REDACTED] project. Since that project is still far at the back of the line and there is an endless well of SR and Sugino doubles on eBay, I ganked it for this job. Standard square taper.

Rear derailer
The Shed is lousy with SunTour V-GT, VX-GT and Cyclone Mk-II long-cage rear derailers. For no real reason, I selected a Cyclone, probably because their minimal design is so visually appealing to me. This derailer was in good shape and got a wipedown, but not the full take-apart. I paired it with a vintage claw-type derailer hanger adapter that came with another old derailer in the Shed, as this bike has long, horizontal dropouts with no integrated hanger 'ear' (as Greg LeMond calls it).

Front derailer
It seemed only right to pair the SunTour Cyclone Mk-II rear with a Cyclone Mk-II front. Another elegant and minimalist design (which was actually the herald of SunTour's end and not a pinnacle of design), this derailer will work with a double or triple.

My main family line of bikes may be equipped with Helicomatic, but it was never going to be practical to equip this bike with Helicomatic, unless I wanted to get into the business of wheel-building (which I do, but not yet). I have a stack of standard 5- and 6-speed thread-on freewheels in the Shed, and for this bike I elected to keep it period-correct with a five-speed Maillard freewheel, thus going outside my main Helicomatic line but staying with the same maker.

This freewheel is identical to the one that came with the long-gone 1984 Gitane Esprit, my first commuter road bike, a gift from the missus in 2011 and my first road bike since a 1984 Raleigh Record (which was bought new for me in tenth grade). It fits with this bike, as the rear dropouts are 123mm, which is neither 120 mm (classic five-speed) nor 126 mm (classic six- and seven-speed), but was almost certainly equipped with a five-speed originally.

Of note, this freewheel requires a hard-to-find removal tool, a 24-splined creature I really had to look around for. Back in 2011, when doing my first overhaul, I managed to find a NOS Bicycle Tools unit on eBay, then three years later I found another, unbranded new unit that shopped from UK. Because of course I did.

Next: Wheels and tires.
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1979 American Flyer Roadie: Frame Details

The first order of business, after getting the bottom bracket out, was to give the bike a bath and polish it up. This bike is a deep, metallic green, it looks every bit British Racing Green.

I use blue Dawn dish detergent to wash my bikes (a good tip from the long-vanished James Black Heron), pretty heavily concentrated. It was bought clean and stored for three years, so it was not dirty. Once washed, rinsed and dried, I apply a heavy coat of Pedro's Bike Lust silicone polish, like seriously dousing the whole frame, wiping it on with a clean, dry towel, then wiping off with a different towel. The polish really makes the frame sparkle, bringing out the metallic highlights.

In terms of frame details, there is another reveal of the original frame color on the top of the fork lug, a medium blue. I cannot tell for sure (mainly because I do not know my paint technologies), but this frame looks like it was painted, rather than powder coated; there is inconsistency in the paint thickness, evidence of drip-dry, and at the base of the downtube, there is evidence of the cable guide clamps cutting into the paint. Combined with the fact that the powder coater I use sandblasts all color off the frame before applying new and like a hot car out a chop shop, I expect a sharp knife will reveal blue everywhere under the green.

The serial number in this bike is not located under the bottom bracket, the usual location, rather is on the seat tube. The serial number is 56984, but that is really of no help, as there is no database of serials online against which I can check it.

And finally, as implied earlier, there are not many brazed on cable guides on this bike. There is one on front of the top tube and another at the back, both underneath, for routing brake cable, and one at the rear of the drive side chainstay, for routing the rear derailer cable, and that is it. With no catalog or archive page to refer to, I cannot estimate the original build, but as indicated above, there is evidence of cable guide clamps around the base of the downtube. In the final build, I will be adding a two-sided cable guide at the top of the downtube (to accommodate barcon shifters), cable guides at the bottom of the downtube, one to route the rear derailer cable and one for the front, and one more on the seat tube, just below the front derailer.

Next: Drivetrain.
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1979 American Flyer Roadie: Bottom Bracket

As previously discussed, this purchase included the frame, fork, (non-original) headset and bottom bracket. While I have no exact way of knowing (there is little information out there on Shimano bottom brackets in the period before Shimano took SunTour's crown and put SR to the sword), it looks a lot like an early-1980's 600-series cup-and-cone bottom bracket, which would fit with the non-original Shimano 600 headset.

The bottom bracket, as far as how smoothly it rotated, was not in bad shape, but I still felt the need to open it up and have a look. The adjustable (non-drive side) cup is held in place by a standard lockring of the type a Park Tool HCW-5 wrench is meant for. Once the lockring was off, the adjustable cup itself did not have wrench flats, instead it has pinholes. I do not have a pin spanner*, so I used a needlenose pliers. The fixed (drive side) cup had an integrated lockring for use with the HCW-5, and came right off.

The spindle is 122.5 mm, suitable, though slightly on the small side for a triple (this bike will have a double). Inside were 1/4-inch bearings in two retainer rings, and some really old, caked-up grease. I dropped the hardware in the GeWilli bath and cleaned out the BB shell. It is in here that you can see the bike's original color, a light blue. While the BB was out, I washed and polished the bike (details in a future post).

Once the BB shell was cleaned out and the bike washed, dried and polished, I scrubbed down the BB parts with a toothbrush and green scrubbie pad, dried and wiped them down and put it all back together. Free balls and Phil Wood green grease. The spindle is (only slightly) asymmetric, so I was certain to put the longer end on the drive side.

Back in place and ready for the next step.

* Of course I have a pin spanner, it is on the other end of my HCW-4 wrench. Of course I came across this wrench on the workbench after opening and then closing the adjustable cup back up with the needlenose pliers.
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1979 American Flyer Roadie: On the Stand

While Young Master aka Anderson has not yet outgrown his 1973 Gitane Puma road bike, with the 20-inch wheels and 13.5-inch frame, he yearns for a new bike, and that is understandable, he is the smallest and has many opportunities to ride the larger bikes of his parents and brothers. He is quite comfortable on too-big bikes, and so I am happy to start building up his next bike so he may ride it now, even as I know for airquotes big rides, he will still likely ride the Puma for some time due to fit.

The bike in the photo is branded 'American Flyer,' and it is of questionable provenance. I saw it hanging in the rafters of a bike shop in Cambridge, Maryland back in early February 2014, the frame is 17.5 inches / 45 cm, much larger than his 13.5-inch / 35 cm, but still smaller than the conventionally smallest adult road bike, in 19-inch / 48 cm. It came only with the frame, fork, (non-original) headset and bottom bracket.

Immediately I began doing the research and putting together a build for this bike, and you can consult the earlier posts in this collection for those conversations. Ultimately, this bike's moment in the sun was brief, as barely a week after acquiring this bike, I found a listing for the Gitane Puma on Craigslist, and with a strong assist from +Tom L, a more appropriately-sized (and complete - no new parts required) bike was delivered and revealed to the little guy before the end of that month. Since then, this bike has hung in the back of the Shed.


As I contemplate the start of this project, it makes sense to lay out the empiricals on and the assumptions about this bike. Unlike my beloved vintage Treks, this bike has no ready-made reference for models, years, buildouts, materials, etc., so I have to make some decisions about what and when to call it.

Best as the internet has been able to tell me, American Flyer was a department store brand ('department store bike' was not always an insult, as it is in the modern period) sold by Western Auto, an American chain store that initially sold auto parts, but owing to their locations across the country and Walmart, Amazon and the other small-town business-busters being decades in the future, diversified their product lines into basic retail, think proto-Sears.

Which is a good analogy, as Sears eventually purchased Western Auto. Sears had their own in-house line of bikes, and where the American Flyer brand fits is something of a mystery. If you Google or eBay American Flyer bikes, you will find a smattering of bikes going as far back as 1930's cruisers, and as far forward as today, when American Flyer is a shit brand in the same vein as the modern Huffy and Schwinn. Specifically searching 'American Flyer road bike' produces very few results, most of which are in cycling forums as people ask whether a bike they found online or came into possession of is worth anything.

I am calling this a 1979 bike, because the spec I can back into meets this description in four basic ways:

1. The chromed fork. While the bike was repainted at some point (it looks like it was a much lighter blue before it was repainted metallic British racing green), and the fork very well could have been chromed at that point, I consider that unlikely. More likely, the chrome was protected, or even re-done at the point of repainting. Chromed forks were a standard feature on American bikes from about 1975 to about 1982, and very common on Japanese-sourced bikes (more on this in a moment).The condition of the frame tells me this bike is later than 1975, but other details tell me it is earlier than 1982.

2. The rear dropouts. The bike has no integrated derailer hanger on the rear dropout, which was common on nice and less-nice bikes alike in the 1970's. By the early 1980's, all but the lowest-end road bikes (still a decade before the invasion of the modern, disposable BSO) had integrated hangers. Also, the dropouts measure 123 mm, which I am rounding down to 120 mm. This would fit with a five-speed freewheel, dating the bike in the mid-70's to early 80's. Again, 1979 does not seem like a bad guess.

3. Stem size. While 22.2 mm quill stem is the standard size for old bikes made for the American market, this bike has a 21.1 mm stem size. This is still a current standard, adopted by the American BMX market, but it was also a road bike standard at one point as well, overwhelmingly by Japanese makers. The Japanese shipped millions of bikes to the US in the 1970's bike boom, and if you head out to eBay to find a 21.1 mm road stem, chances are you are going to find Win- or Jun-branded units that when dated are assigned late-70's, and by visual cues (blockier design, top bolt instead of hex) are obviously much older than their Cinelli and SR counterparts in the vintage market.

4. Seatpost size. This bike has an obscure (though apparently not dead) seatpost size, 25.8 mm. This was a very uncommon size, and of all the sizes in Sheldon Brown's list of makers and sizes, 25.8 is listed for three makers from 1957 to 'late-70s.' The standard reappears in 1988 and as late (by Sheldon's list) as 2002, though clearly this bike predates 1988. Of the three 25.8 seatpost makers listed before 1988, two are Japanese.

And so, best I can tell, this is a bike made in Japan in the late 1970's for the US market. In all, and even with the serial number readable, I have no way properly to date this bike. So it is now a 1979 American Flyer Roadie. Let the build begin.

This will by my 19th complete overhaul/restoration project.

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1979 American Flyer Roadie: Collecting backup

Reference post, exhumed from 2014. Thanks to +Adam Pressler for helping me to try and identify the provenance of Young Master's bike.

As you may have guessed, this bike is up in the rotation.
+Ben Folsom the frame that American Flyer most resembles to me is the Miyata Sport Jr. It had the stem shifters and brake routing under the top tube. Miyata spec'd that with a 17" frame, deraileur claw, and 24" wheels.

Just saying: Miyata may have been OEM for your brand.

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1987 Trek 400: New Saddle

In my stable, a commuter bike is a working bike. It is the bike that gets the most miles, the most rides and the one that feels most like an extension of myself. By my rough estimates, I should be rounding 3500 miles on this bike since it went into service in March 2016.

A commuter bike is also the one that lives the hardest. In exchange for my constant attention, it is neglected, put up wet and has the most maintenance deferred. That rear brake getting soft? It's fine, I can compensate. Chain a little squealy? Shoot, forgot to lube it again, must deal with that at some point.

And so I can no longer ignore the saddle. This bike came to me with the stock saddle, a Vetta something or other that I did not like, I replaced it with a vintage Selle Italia Anatomic saddle in February 2016 (see comments below), this saddle was a clone of the classic Avocet Touring saddle from the era, it is literally the same saddle. I had acquired one as a toss-in in a batch of Avocets from eBay. Itself the Selle Italia was not in mint condition, but consistent with the philosophy of the commuter bike, this bike does not get the best of the best from Shed stock.

There was a small crack in the right side of the underlying plastic of the saddle, I knew it was there when I installed the saddle, but I did not really realize how bad it had become until the last month or so. Over time, the crack in the saddle frame has worsened, causing the foam padding and leather cover to tear, and the saddle to sag on the right side. But, as indicated above, it was just another fact of life with the bike and something I can tolerate 20 km at a time.

Back in March 2016, I was just starting to collect vintage saddles, and there was no way a saddle as nice as an Avocet Touring was going onto a daily commuter. If you wonder why, have a look at the side view of the saddle from last week (second photo as I need it in the album posted) and compare it to the same view of the same saddle from the day it was installed, 18 months and 3500 miles ago.

By now though, things have changed. The Shed is lousy with Avocet Touring I's and the Touring II's are now the saddles that grace only vintage touring bikes. The Touring I's sit in a stack, waiting for the commuter, the kids' bikes and for rehab jobs for neighbors.

We will take another look at the replacement in 18 months to see how it has aged.
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1981 Trek 613: Bottle cage

Throughout the good years, Trek was kind of all over the place when it came to bottle cages. There is no consistent placement, with mounting bosses found on the seat tube, upper downtube and lower downtube, and in no consistent combinations. Some of it had to do with logo placement, no seat tube-mounted cages through 1983, when decals occupied that spot, and some to do with purpose, touring bikes have under-downtube bosses while 'sport' bikes do not.

This 1981 though, has nothing. In fact, the frame is pretty naked. In additional to a complete absence of bottle cage bosses, this bike also came with (original I assume) plastic cable housing guides on the top tube. Every other Trek I have (which are all younger than this bike) have standard housing guides brazed on to the top tube.

While sitting out to watch the eclipse on Monday, I remedied the bottle cage issue (the loose-fitting cable guides will be replaced with a set of alloy Dia Compe guides at a later date). As it would happen, I have a set of NOS Blackburn 'bottle cage clamps' in stock (I acquired a few of these in conjunction with the 1983 Trek 620 project - that bike has exactly one set of cage bosses, on the upper downtube. For touring I need two, so I clamp-mounted a second on the lower downtube).

To protect the frame paint, I cut a small strip of old tube to go under each clamp. Getting proper placement was tedious. The boy now has one bottle cage. I have a second set of clamps in reserve should he need a second.

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1984 Trek 520 (Turbine A): Time to Move On

Twin Turbine aka Josh has outgrown another bike, with the debut of his new bike, a shiny old 1981 Trek 613 in 22.5 inch / 57 cm, his last bike, a 1984 Trek 520 in 21-inch / 53 cm becomes redundant. We do not really do hand-me-down's in our family when it comes to bikes; everyone gets their own, so there is no real reason to hang onto this bike. As ever, I would rather see this bike go for free to someone in my community who will ride it over any sale to a random person.

As it happens, a good friend just changed jobs and now works across the street from me in Washington, DC. He lives only a couple of miles down the road, we got to talking and he indicated he is interested in exploring the option to commute by bike on occasion, however his current bike is not up to the task, he does not know how to begin, what facilities his building has or anything. He is what we would call 'bike-curious.' I offered up this bike, so while the eclipse cast its 88% shadow over Alexandria, I put it on the stand and prepped it for its next owner. Details:

* Full cleaning: Complete spraydown, soap and water with sponge, rag and toothbrush.

* Frame polish: Shine up with Pedro's Bike Lust.

* Fresh bar tape: Off with Joshy blue, on with basic black. Also, I leveled up the bars, Josh with his long arms preferred the bars angle down relative to the stem, better to give him some extra reach. For the next prospective owner, I leveled the bars back up for a less aggressive geometry.

* Swap bottle cage: The pink was Josh's choice, it was replaced with a Jim Blackburn in basic black.

* Reset brakes and derailers: All wires loosened and reset for optimum shifting and braking.

* Swap pedals: Josh wanted the combo SPD+platforms on his new bike (even though he outgrew his bike shoes years ago and with his rate of growth I have not bothered to buy him new bike shoes), so those came off the bike and were replaced with a set of period-correct platforms.

The bike is now ready for a new owner. If the friend in question is interested, it is his. I will offer him a rack and pannier set on loan until he sorts his preferences. While I doubt he will become a vintage, downtubez4lyfe convert as I did, my hope is that an old, tough ride purpose-built for carrying stuff will serve him until he figures out how it works for him. He seems like a Soma kind of guy.

And if he is not interested, or finds it is not to his taste, I will pass the bike on in another manner.
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