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  1. #1
    Senior Member auchencrow's Avatar
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    Ashtabula Cranks

    Many of you have long since forgotten about these - (or would prefer to) but I have long wondered about Ashtabula cranks.

    - Not about the mechanical details or the servicing of them, but rather their HISTORY.

    All I know is that they are peculiarly American, and there is a city by the name of Ashtabula in Ohio, the name of which means "river of many fish" in native American.

    I Googled "Ashtabula Crank" and led me to an old C&V post referencing the Ashtabula Bow Socket Company. This was the "new" name given in 1907 to the Ashtabula Carriage Bow Company, but I can't seem to make a positive connection between the manufacture of these cranks and the Ashtabula Bow Socket company - or even to the city itself.

    A patent search turned up nothing (or more precisely, everything but!).

    There must be at least 300 million such cranks in the USA - but does anyone know ANYthing about these ubiquitous chunks of cycling history?

    I'm sure this is a tall order - but I'd like to know who designed it, what company first manufactured it, and what bicycle builders were first to adopt it - when.
    - Auchen

  2. #2
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    I used to hate them, because (1) they were on low end bikes, and (2) when I had to service them, they were abused.

    But really, it's a good design. It's easier to service than any other BB. I can do it with my eyes closed.

    But it is heavy.

    I don't know the answers to your questions, and they've been burning in my mind, too.

    Someone here on BF showed us a picture of a Swedish bike with an Ashtabula crank. That was a surprise to me, because I also think of it as purely American.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

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  3. #3
    . bbattle's Avatar
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    "Ashtabula
    One-piece cranks, like you commonly see on cheap American bikes and lower-end bmx bikes are "Ashtabula" cranks. The flat-bladed forks found on the old Schwinns are known as "Ashtabula forks", too.

    Why? Well, for one thing, the older versions on the Schwinns were made in Ashtabula, Ohio, by the Ashtabula Bicycle parts Company. Their parts were so prevalent, back in the day, that the name Ashtabula became the generic name for such parts, much like "Kleenex" became the generic for facial tissue.

    An odd little footnote in bicycling history: Ashtabula built one of the earliest (some say the first) complete bmx bikes available, in the mid-1970s.

    While we now think of Ashtabula parts a cheap and heavy, but the actual "Ashtabula" parts were well-known for high quality and durability, back in the day. Of course, they were also heavy like a boat anchor..."

    and
    http://bmxmuseum.com/bikes/ashtabula/90

    They had a patent on a kickstand, too. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/3608929.html

    Called the Ashtabula Bow Socket Company, you may have seen ABS stamped on a fork or crank.

    Check out this monster PDF. In the middle is a blurb about the ABS, which went out of business in 1982.
    http://ci.ashtabula.oh.us/parailroad.pdf

    In a History of Ashtabula, it says: "On May 27, 1907 the Ashtabula Carriage Bow Company will no longer be known as that name. It will be known as the Ashtabula Bow Socket Company."
    http://www.ashtabula200.com/1907.htm scroll down to part 9

    Rudolf Henry Pfaff was president of ABS till he died in 1935. http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...www.google.com

    Here is a map showing the ABS company on the left side of some railroad tracks: http://drc.ohiolink.edu/handle/2374.OX/64708

    "... Ashtabula Bow Socket lost their product to history. You see, they started out by manufacturing “bow sockets” which were the attachments several generations earlier for the bows which held up the roof of buggys. Then as the market changed and shrank, they made the bows for convertible tops on cars. Then during the 60’s to 80’s they made bicycle cranks and frame parts."
    http://raymondott.com/

  4. #4
    Senior Member
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    I do know this:

    For them being so gorram cheap, it's not unheard of to see one still in service after 30 years or so. I have a BSO with an ashtabula OPC. Thing is the only part not never have been replaced.

  5. #5
    Hopelessly addicted... photogravity's Avatar
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    Interesting information bbattle. Thanks for sharing some of the history about Ashtabula Bow Socket Company. I think what makes it difficult for people to make the connection between the bicycle parts and the company is the name. Who would have thought Ashtabula Bow Socket Company would make bicycle parts? For that matter, what is a bow socket? That had me more confused than anything else.

    I'd love to understand the nexus between their bow socket business and their crank and fork business.
    --
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  6. #6
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    bbattle, that's terrific! Thank you!

    Now that you tied all these facts together, I have a lot of respect for that company. They made useful products for a very long time. They seem to have been able to change with the times and provide whatever the market needed (going from a buggy part to a bicycle part) so I wonder what led them to fold. Perhaps it was Schwinn's dying market share.

    Did ABS supply cranks to Schwinn the whole time, or did Schwinn start making their own one piece cranks at some point?

    Next time I work on one of those cranks, I'll remember what I just learned.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

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  7. #7
    Senior Member auchencrow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbattle View Post
    ....

    Why? Well, for one thing, the older versions on the Schwinns were made in Ashtabula, Ohio, by the Ashtabula Bicycle parts Company. Their parts were so prevalent, back in the day, that the name Ashtabula became the generic name for such parts, much like "Kleenex" became the generic for facial tissue......

    THANKS bbattle! This ^ is one nugget of wisdom I was looking for, which makes a direct connection to the Ashtabula Bow Socket Company - and the link you provided to the site created by a long time Ashtabula resident ( http://raymondott.com/) solidifies it even further for me.

    I would like to second the point made by others, that the much reviled and heavy Ashtabula cranks so many of us had on the gaspipe steeds of our childhood were indeed a very good design for both serviceability and durability.

    I think if I were building a utility bike for a post-apocalyptic world, this would be the design I would choose!
    - Auchen

  8. #8
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by auchencrow View Post
    I think if I were building a utility bike for a post-apocalyptic world, this would be the design I would choose!
    This made me laugh out loud, but maybe one day, I'll need to build such a bike, and I'll remember this tip!

    There was a huge difference in quality between the cranks on Murrays and the cranks on Schwinns. Huge.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

    Tom Reingold
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  9. #9
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    Old Schwinns

    I've refurbed a dozen or so mostly 70s Schwinns and have come to love the Ashtabula OPC. They are super easy to overhaul and I have yet to replace a chainring or bearing because of wear. I am changing the gearing on my 72 Collegiate and Wald offers a nice selection of chainrings. Kudos to Worksman & Bowery Lane for still using these.

  10. #10
    Senior Member southpawboston's Avatar
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    Mike Flanigan of ANT specs many of his city bike builds with Ashtabula cranks. Yes, they are heavy, but these are city bikes, and Mike likes to build his bikes with as many US-made parts as possible. He often installs Wald fenders too.

  11. #11
    incazzare. lostarchitect's Avatar
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    Wow, Bbattle, great info! Thanks for all that.
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  12. #12
    Senior Member sykerocker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    There was a huge difference in quality between the cranks on Murrays and the cranks on Schwinns. Huge.
    Even down to the bearings. I remember Schwinn's using one bearing number and Columbia, Murray, et. al. using a different one - a cheaper bearing, of course.
    Syke

    "No wonder we keep testing positive in their bicycle races. Everyone looks like they're full of testosterone when they're surrounded by Frenchmen." ---Argus Hamilton

  13. #13
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Who makes the cranks for Worksman and Bowery Lane now?

    I used to be a bike snob. Now I love Wald products. I also love how they haven't changed for over 30 years, probably much more.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

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  14. #14
    Senior Member ftwelder's Avatar
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    Ashtabula also made Schwinn forks.
    1886 Surrey machinists Invincible, 1900 Nashua, 1937 Raleigh Golden Arrow, 1938 Raleigh Silver Record, 1951 Armstrong tourmalet, 1970 Motobecane Grand Record, 1971 Raleigh Professional, 1971 Gitane TDF, 1972 Legnano Gran Primio, 1973, Peugeot PX-10, 1975 Roberts, 1984 Battaglin Giro, 1985 Grandis Speciale, 2012 FTW

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  15. #15
    holyrollin' FlatTop's Avatar
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    Regarding carriage bows and bow sockets, as mentioned by bbattle: They were the structure for the fabric tops of carriages and buggies, which came to be called "top bows" with the advent of the automobile. I presume these are still in use on convertibles, though in a much-articulated and power-assisted form.
    Even on hardtops, sedans and station wagons, there was a kind of top bow used to attach the headliner to the roof structure, right up to the '70s. Somebody had to make them...

  16. #16
    26 tpi nut. sailorbenjamin's Avatar
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    This thread is worthless without pictures. Here's a 1910 Barnes with sealed (real leather seals) crank bearings.
    I have spoken.

  17. #17
    another retro grouch Mr IGH's Avatar
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    Sschwinn Hand-brazed and one-piece cranks, sheer pleasure:

  18. #18
    Hopelessly addicted... photogravity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sailorbenjamin View Post
    This thread is worthless without pictures. Here's a 1910 Barnes with sealed (real leather seals) crank bearings.
    Wow, that is quite neat! I really like that skiptooth chainring. They are just too cool. Have you restored the bike or at least put it into a ride-able condition? That looks like a real time machine...
    --
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  19. #19
    Hopelessly addicted... photogravity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr IGH View Post
    Sschwinn Hand-brazed and one-piece cranks, sheer pleasure:
    Very nice indeed... Any pictures of the rest of the bike? I can see it was a derailleur bike originally. What model is it?
    Last edited by photogravity; 08-15-11 at 07:46 PM. Reason: typo <sigh>
    --
    Ridding the world of derailleurs, one bicycle at a time.

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  20. #20
    Rustbelt Rider mkeller234's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by photogravity View Post
    Very nice indeed... Any pictures of the rest of the bike? I can see it was a derailleur bike originally. What model is it?
    Filet brazed, one piece crank, no RD hanger.... My guess is a super sport. It looks really great, now I am starting to wish my Schwinns had a one piece crank...Should not have read this! I wish Ashtabula was a little closer, I want to see if anything is left.
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  21. #21
    Freewheel Medic pastorbobnlnh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sailorbenjamin View Post
    This thread is worthless without pictures...
    The Marriage of Ashtabula and Huret. The Franco-America One Piece. From my '65 Schwinn Super Sport.



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  22. #22
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mkeller234 View Post
    I wish Ashtabula was a little closer, I want to see if anything is left.
    You may be the closest to Ashtabula than any of us. So you owe it to us to go take a look.

    Don't some serious BMX bikes still come with one piece cranks?
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

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  23. #23
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    I used to hate them, because (1) they were on low end bikes, and (2) when I had to service them, they were abused.

    But really, it's a good design. It's easier to service than any other BB. I can do it with my eyes closed.

    But it is heavy.

    I don't know the answers to your questions, and they've been burning in my mind, too.

    Someone here on BF showed us a picture of a Swedish bike with an Ashtabula crank. That was a surprise to me, because I also think of it as purely American.
    The Swedish bike may have had a Thompson bottom bracket (especially if it was a Crescent) which is visually and structurally similar to an Ashtabula... but also very rare.

    We see lots of these on CCM bicycles as CCM adopted the Ashtabula early on and they are some truly bulletproof cranks that really should get a little more appreciation as for a utility application they are about as simple and tough as they get.

  24. #24
    Hopelessly addicted... photogravity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
    The Swedish bike may have had a Thompson bottom bracket (especially if it was a Crescent) which is visually and structurally similar to an Ashtabula... but also very rare.

    We see lots of these on CCM bicycles as CCM adopted the Ashtabula early on and they are some truly bulletproof cranks that really should get a little more appreciation as for a utility application they are about as simple and tough as they get.
    That's an interesting observation. I acquired a CCM Concorde mixte from one of the members on this forum last weekend and it has cottered cranks. I need to see what year it is - I haven't looked it up yet - but I'm guessing late 70's to early eighties. Now the Columbia mixte - I haven't yet determined the year - I bought off CL a few weeks ago has Ashtabula cranks. I really need to start messing with the Ashtabula cranks. I recently bought one of the 110bcd adapters so I can change out chainrings without taking out the crank for one of my planned IGH conversions.
    --
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  25. #25
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    You may be the closest to Ashtabula than any of us. So you owe it to us to go take a look.

    Don't some serious BMX bikes still come with one piece cranks?
    Yes, and some serious MTB's if I recall, due to their durability. Much harder to destroy a solid piece of forged steel, and three threaded pieces. Harder to gum up the works, and easier to fix on the fly if needed.

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