Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Family Affair: 3-speed 1955 Phillips

Resurrect a classic? Eh, why not. While purists may scoff to the idea of repainting rusty old frames without restoring them into original state, the main idea is to breathe new life to them, make them rideable for at least a couple decades more—instead of creating another museum piece that we're too afraid to ride.

This project is special. Not only because it's the oldest bicycle that we've ever worked on, but also becuse this 1955 Phillips has been a part of our family since forever.

My grandfather from my mom's side was a teacher in a small town of Ponorogo, East Java. He had two classic roadsters for as long as I can remember. Once he told us his story of how he get his first bicycle, a Dutch-made Gazelle, "It was back when I was still studying at the teacher preparation school. I used to walk all the way to school, ten kilometers a day, every single day. My father thought there's going to be a better way to commute, so he sold a couple cows he had, and bought me this Gazelle. From then on, it's been a part of the family."
He never told us the exact year he got his Gazelle. But assuming he's in his twenties or thirties during his study, and since he's born at 1910... you'll get the idea.
This British-made Phillips was added later to the family. Bought new, this step-through-styled roadster and the Gazelle was the only means of transportation that my grandfather and his family had—although my mom have eight siblings, living in small town helps so much because everything is literally within walking distance. Even so, my mom have a lot of fond memory with this Phillips—especially since its step-through frame allows her and her sisters to ride it while dressed in skirts.

My grandfather prized these two bicycles so much, I can still remember watching him polishing their whole parts, down to their individual spokes.
So I guess you can figure out where does my love of bicycles came from.
By the late nineties, my mom's family decided to move the bicycles out of my grandfather's house. This step was taken because my grandfather really loved riding his bicycles: my father was once asked to accompany him to the post office, riding these bicycles, even though my grandfather was in his eighties. He can't drive—never owned a motor vehicle for the rest of his life—but he'd prefer to ride his bicycle than to have his children—or other people for that matter—drive him to the post office. Concerned about my grandfather's health and safety, the family decided to split the bicycles in half: the Gazelle was to put in my uncle's house at Malang, East Java, while the Phillips was stationed in my other uncle's house at Jakarta.
The Gazelle was perfectly preserved by my cousin, but the Phillips was another story.
Years after my grandfather passed away, my mom wanted to get back riding a bicycle again. She thought that she could use the Phillips, so it was brought from my uncle's house. But after years of neglection, it was in a rather sorry state. Worn-out paint and surface rust are the least of my concern, it's the 3-speed Sturmey Archer AB hub that got me worried. Will it still work after collecting dust for more than a decade?
The first thing we did upon getting this bicycle in our garage was to put new inner tubes, clean up and relube the chain, and hoped that the internal geared hub mechanism was still intact, or even better, worked.  Brakes checked, bearings packed, and with Sheldon by my side telling me exactly what to do—more or less—I dismantled and reassembled the rear hub that's almost as old as my mom. Then rebuilt the bike, and took a spin around the block.
Mirabile dictu, it worked.
It's amazing what a bicycle could bring to a person. I asked my mom to give the bicycle a short ride—and we ended up riding around more than a couple blocks. Her smile tells me everything I need to know.  And then, as we stopped for a short break, she looked at me straight in the eye and asked, "I'm sure you can bring this bike back to its glory, right?"
It doesn't take long for me to say yes.

The brief from my mom was simple: make it clean and ready for the next fifty-sixty years or so. She doesn't need me to restore the original paint since she completely forgot how the pinstriping used to look, so plain coloured paintjob was in order. She told me that the frame used to be black with red pinstripes, so I repaint it with gloss black with Xirallic red finish as a nod. The rusty components—including the rod-actuated brakes and its bell cranks—are chrome plated, and worn-out parts are replaced. Feeling confident, once again I dismantled the innards out of the Sturmey Archer AB rear hub since the hub shell was full of surface rust, then sent both shells for chrome plating. Even the chain is original—all I have to do is to cut two links to remove chain slack and to get proper rear wheel-to-fender stance. The rusted spokes, that my grandfather used to polish one by one, were replaced by plain gauge stainless spokes that were cut to exact lengths and secured with DT Swiss brass nipples.

Sorry Grandpa, but I figured that you might liked my decision.
During the restoration progress, one of my mom's brothers coined this idea of getting both bicycles together again. He told me that, "a couple of husband and wife should not be separated." So after separated for a few decades, the lovingly preserved Gazelle is now standing side-by-side with the restored Phillips inside our living room, here in Jakarta.

Photo taken as soon as the Phillips returned from the painter and was half built. You know, because I couldn't help it.
Among other modifications is the headlamp, now converted into battery-powered LED since the original Bosch dynamo was toasted. The inner tubes were replaced with 700c x 35-45mm with Presta valves since I don't want to be bothered with 28 x 1/38 inner tubes with Dunlop valves. And since this is a British-made bicycle, the only thing proper to top the build off is a Brooks B73 saddle—which happened to mimic the originally installed Japanese-made Kobayashi saddle.


  1. Lovely post... simply lovely...

  2. Yo! I'm so glad I stumbled upon this post. Looks like I'll be following your blog from now on. My first restoration project (my first real bike, actually) was a 1958 Raleigh Sports. I also had to disassemble and repaint everything and also learned how to rebuild a 3-speed hub on that bike. It was the bike that got me into bikes and also the bike that got me started on my own blog ... I love how you have so many mixtes featured here and the english roadsters are definitely some of the nicest rides out there. Cheers!