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A Tale of Two Columbias -or- My Ugly Americans

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A Tale of Two Columbias -or- My Ugly Americans

Old 06-05-12, 07:20 AM
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A Tale of Two Columbias -or- My Ugly Americans

I've always had a habit of keeping an old American bike around as a beater/bad weather bike. Of the old American makes Columbia has always been my favorite. Rich history, nice style, little mechanical idiosyncrasies - and for the most part decent quality up until the 1970s. Indeed up until the post war period it was Schwinn that was trying to catch up to Columbia, not the other way around.

My best loved beater was this Columbia built Western Flyer 3 speed, which unfortunately was stolen when I lived in Georgia:


About three years ago my life took an unexpected nose dive, I sold my bikes, my car, most of my stuff, and moved away.

But two years ago I started looking for a new bike and found this:


A 1972 Columbia Tourist Expert III. A bit of an odd one because it came with 27" wheels, and a different (steeper) frame geometry than Columbia's normal 26" wheel bikes. Also with alloy Weinmann sidepulls, Sturmey Archer AW, and Rigida wheels.

Since Rigida steel rims are made of tinfoil and deform when you look at them wrong, as well as eat up brake shoes, I ditched those things first and switched to some barely used Ukai alloys. Next thing to ditch was the rubber block pedals - the originals, Unions were nice - but absurdly heavy. I didn't weigh them, but they felt more than 5lbs together. I replaced them with some origin 8/welgo "track" pedals which may be the lightest things you can attach to a one piece crank.

Put on a block generator and a bell and it has carried me everywhere I want to go for the past two years.


I recently fitted an Altenburger Synchron brake that I found, and would like to find one for the rear too. A lot stronger than the original Weinmanns.

But I wanted to go further with this bike. It's a nice ride but it becomes a little tiresome on longer rides not having more hand positions, so I'm thinking about putting bullhorns on it next. I thought about regular drops, but bullhorns will save me having to find new levers, and I never really ride in the drops anyway. After that need toe straps. Likely want to put on a leather saddle as well.

Anyway I've had that in mind for a while, but also wanted to keep something more cruiser/utilitarian-ish and I had acquired some parts like a Bendix Automatic that I didn't have a bike to put on.
I went digging around for months looking for a Columbia Roadster (coaster brake bike) turned up nothing, but did come across this thing:

A 1967 Columbia built Foremost 3 speed. Perfect bike for a beater.

After removing all of the three speed junk and swapping out some parts, I have a very beat 2 speed coaster brake bike:


Plans for this bike: replace front wheel, swap in extra tall handlebar quill, install front brake, and fit a big huge front basket. Ideal grocery getter - go to the post office - nobody in their right mind would steal this - bike.

I am looking for an original Columbia bottom bracket for this bike. Somebody replaced the adjustable cone with a generic piece, which unfortunately is not 100% compatible with the original Columbia hardware. Columbia was for many years owned by Torrington and made their own bearings up until the mid/late 1970s. Although these are theoretically compatible with other one piece cranks there are some small differences which make mixing and matching parts a PITA. Particularly the adjustable cone as made by Columbia is thicker to hold the dust cap off of the bearing cup enough so it doesn't scrape.

Anyway this is going to be my build thread where I document progress on these two bikes.
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Old 06-05-12, 09:27 AM
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Nice old bikes, I have a Tourist III and a Roadster, I very much agree, they were far nicer and more advanced than the machines Schwinn was putting up against them.
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Old 06-05-12, 10:00 AM
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Nice bikes and thanks for sharing.

My grandfather worked for Columbia in Westfield, MA for most of his adult life and I've got a couple of his old bikes hanging in my parents' barn. Certainly not fancy or high end, but solid workingman bikes. One of these days I'll dig them out and clean them up.
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Old 06-05-12, 10:15 AM
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Looking forward to seeing these bikes' progress.

A bit surprised at the steel Rigida rim comments; I have a set of Superchromes on a non-Columbia and they appear to be nicely made.
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Old 06-05-12, 10:26 AM
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nobody in their right mind would steal this - bike.
You obviously ain't from 'round here if you believe that.
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Old 06-05-12, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by FlatTop View Post
Looking forward to seeing these bikes' progress.

A bit surprised at the steel Rigida rim comments; I have a set of Superchromes on a non-Columbia and they appear to be nicely made.
I had some on a Gitane too, just as bad as Huffy rims to keep in true in my experience. The original wheels on the Foremost were also rigida and I deformed the rim pulling the tire off with the tire lever, of course they're rusty - but that still kind of surprised me. Beyond that the dimpled sidewalls are annoying.
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Old 06-05-12, 11:31 AM
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Columbia's during the Bike Boom years were much better bikes than they ever got credit for. We carried them at A.R. Adams Cycle as our low end bike, and had pretty good service with them. I believe the shop had been a long term Columbia dealership (whether or not back to the shop's founding in 1914, I don't know) and the owner had a fair bit of loyalty towards the brand.

The biggest thing that hurt them in the marketplace was, when you put them on the showroom floor next to a Schwinn, they looked too much like a Murray or Huffy. Although I felt they were better built, they didn't look it (cosmetically), and I'd have a hard time explaining to the customer why they cost more than the Huffy at the local department store. With a Schwinn, the uneducated customer could easily see the difference and justification for the higher price. With the Columbia, you couldn't - unless you really knew what you were looking for.

And if you were that knowledgeable, you were probably more interested in a Raleigh, anyway.
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Old 06-05-12, 01:40 PM
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Originally Posted by sykerocker View Post
The biggest thing that hurt them in the marketplace was, when you put them on the showroom floor next to a Schwinn, they looked too much like a Murray or Huffy. Although I felt they were better built, they didn't look it (cosmetically), and I'd have a hard time explaining to the customer why they cost more than the Huffy at the local department store. With a Schwinn, the uneducated customer could easily see the difference and justification for the higher price. With the Columbia, you couldn't - unless you really knew what you were looking for.

And if you were that knowledgeable, you were probably more interested in a Raleigh, anyway.
It's true, the little things that Columbia did quality wise weren't really visible. For instance using seamless tubing for the head tube and bottom bracket, or grinding the bearing races with a concave profile. Little things here and there - but none of them visible unless you take the bike apart and know what you're looking for.

Unfortunately as they notched down quality in the 1970s they got rid of a lot of those little bits of decent engineering in the name of cheapness.
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Old 06-08-12, 08:41 PM
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Tall stem and front brake on:


Just needs a front wheel, big basket, and some misc. BB bits.
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Old 06-13-12, 05:25 PM
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I ordered the big Wald 139 basket:


18" x 13" wide, 6" deep. Should handle two paper grocery bags will a little room to spare.

I'm going to start taking the green bike apart to get ready for new bars and seat.
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Old 06-19-12, 09:27 PM
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Basket came in today.
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Old 06-24-12, 08:53 AM
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Decided to paint it green. Found the front hub had a cracked cup so I put the bars etc. back onto the Tourist. I guess I need to find a front wheel. At this point I don't really know if I want to keep it or sell it and try again.
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Old 06-24-12, 12:49 PM
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Sitting it out in the sun to help harden the paint. Actually turned out half way decent for rustoleum. Might do a second coat and then a clear coat.
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Old 06-24-12, 02:38 PM
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Can't beat an old Columbia.

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Old 06-26-12, 08:32 AM
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That's a cool one. I've only ever had one middleweight.

finished painting but for a clear coat.




Paint came out pretty smooth for a rattlecan job. Think it will look excellent once the clear goes on.
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Old 06-27-12, 05:03 AM
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That's looking great!
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Old 06-27-12, 07:36 AM
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Looks very nice even before the clear! Are the bands tape or paint?
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Old 06-27-12, 07:39 AM
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Originally Posted by FlatTop View Post
Looks very nice even before the clear! Are the bands tape or paint?
Paint. It all looks good from a few foots distance.
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