One of my relatives recently decided to take up bicycling. While this is good, because exercise is a good thing, blah blah blah, I was tasked with both finding them a suitable bicycle, and ensuring its functionality.
Their criteria was fairly simple: It had to be a diamond frame (i.e. a “men’s bike”), it had to have upright handlebars, and it could have no more than five speeds. (I have no idea why, either. I just do what I’m told.)
My criteria was a bit more complicated: It had to actually fit them, it had to be in decent mechanical shape, it had to not use a buttload of proprietary-sized parts or need obscure proprietary tools to work on, and it had to not be a super attractive theft-magnet, because they are probably only going to use a cable lock, not a u-lock, and we’d both feel bad if it got stolen.
I almost wavered on the last one – there was a gorgeous 1950s BSA three-speed on Craigslist, fully restored, for $150 – but in the end I persevered, and we wound up with…
…a 3-speed Hercules from the mid-1960s. Built in Nottingham by Raleigh and imported and marketed by AMF, it’s a fairly common bike, essentially a re-badged Raleigh Sports. Fluted fenders with pinstripes, woo-hoo. We picked it up from the world’s most inept bike flipper, who’d taken the bike to a fairly inept bike shop somewhere. End result of their cluelessness was that the bike didn’t shift, and the chain skipped, which kept the price way, way down.
Anyway, with the wheel mounted correctly and the shifter adjusted properly, and a little light oil in the rear hub, the whole thing works quite well, and its new owner is apparently happy with it. Yay me.
(Yes, I did kind of compromise on the whole “no proprietary-sized parts” thing, with the Hercules and Raleigh’s penchant for doing things their way. But, eh, I wasn’t going to replace the bottom bracket, so who really cares? The seatpost and stem are standard and popular sizes (cough, Schwinn, cough) and it takes a reasonably standard tire size (cough, Schwinn, cough), and that’s really good enough for me.)
In my spare time, though, I’ve been going over the bike and making sure everything is working correctly. Re-greasing the front hub, lubricating the brakes, that kind of thing. Making a working bike work better.
Eventually I got to the pedals, which didn’t spin nearly as well as they should have. No problem, pop them off and overhaul them, right?
If only it were so easy.
These are the less-desirable Raleigh pedals made in Germany by Union, which aren’t designed to be serviced. Oh, you can take them apart – you just have to drill out the rivets, and replace them with long bolts, or something. That sounds a lot like work, though, so I got to wondering if there wasn’t some other option…
I cleaned the pedals pretty well, which helped reveal that the inner bearings are basically exposed, i.e. you can actually see the (loose) balls. Makes sense, I suppose; English bikes from back in the day were oil-lubed, by and large, and the manuals generally advised dripping a bit of oil on all the various moving parts once or twice a month. Alright, fair enough; I took a bottle of light oil, and dribbled a bit into the inner bearings on one of the pedals. Giving it a spin, it was a definite improvement… but it still wasn’t as great as it could have been. A little more oil, maybe? No, the problem was almost certainly the outer bearings, still as sticky and dry as the inner one had been a moment earlier.
Not a little oil, no. A lot.
Basically, hold the pedal with the threaded shaft upright, dribble oil into the bearings, spin the shaft a bit to let the oil work its way in, and repeat. After several minutes, a bunch of patience, and a fair amount of oil, some will work its way down the insides of the pedal to the outer bearings, and suddenly the whole thing will spin smoothly, just like new.
It’s perhaps a bit of a kludge, but it seems vaguely appropriate on a British 3-speed, which are generally infamous for leaking and dripping oil under the best of circumstances, and it’s a heck of a lot easier than drilling out rivets and so on. A couple drops of oil in there every several months, and it’ll probably last another fifty years or so, I’m guessing.
I haven’t ridden it much, but the Hercules is a surprisingly nice bike. They’re not collectible and only have nominal value, but they were built to last by Raleigh, back in the day. Lycra-wearing weight weenies might deride them as heavy and slow, but it’s actually quite a bit lighter than the somewhat comparable Schwinn Suburban I have. It might not go quite as fast as the ten-speed Schwinn, but there’s a lot to be said for the nice, quiet, Sturmey-Archer AW hub. And, now that I’ve got everything working well, I expect I won’t have to do much of anything to it anytime soon. Whenever I’m over at their house, and remember, I’ll add a little oil to the rear hub, and various other places, but that’ll probable be all it needs, and it’s hard not to like that degree of simplicity.