Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saved From the Scrapheap: The Basket Case Columbia Roadster

Going to the dump is like going to Facebook. You don't really enjoy going there and most of what you see is forgettable junk, but every once in a while you see something you like...or will take from the top of the 'Metal Only' bin.

This is a Columbia Roadster, and the photo above is exactly how the bike looked the day I took it home. It looked as though it was in pretty good condition, but had a greasy black film all over it. I imagine it spent many, many years hanging from a hook in someone's garage. I wasn't sure what year it was, but according to (really!) the badge told me it was built in Westfield, Massachusetts between '61 and '75.

The whole bike seemed to be the American equivalent of the mysterious Raleigh Sports. However this bike didn't have purposeful baskets, it had frivolous tassels on the handlebars. Well, one, actually. I looked the bike over and knew that the tassel needed to have the wind pass through it once again, and I was determined to make that happen.

So first I set to work cleaning it. It took several towels and a few gentle chemicals, but eventually I got the bike cleaned up of all of the strange grime. Those of you with really good screens should see the difference right away - and I encourage iPad 2 people to compare the shots with iPad 3 Retina Display people.

Once done, I did something I should have done before I went through all that work: I put the bike on the workstand and spun the pedals. I witnessed something I had never seen before: the crank moved, the chain moved and the cog on the hub moved...but the wheel didn't. I was baffled.

Then I remembered: just like the Top Banana find of last summer, the Roadster had coaster brakes, and there must have been something wrong with the hub itself. I don't know how to fix hubs.

I broke out my floor pump and tried inflating the tires. Neither held air particularly well, and even if they did, doing something silly like coasting the bike down the hill so I could take a picture of the tassel would have been dangerous since the bike couldn't stop either.

So I was left with a Scrapheap bike that I couldn't fix unless I could find parts for it. I didn't have time to do a proper search, but then one day at a tag sale, I found what I realized I was looking for. I attached it to the handlebars of the bike with wire ties I disguised with leather shoelaces, and set up a brace at the bottom to make sure it would hold weight.

Yeah, it's no Peteroboro Basket Company basket, but for $2 - and for what I had in mind - it would do.

Next, I brought the bike up the basement stairs and into the backyard. I put a few things in the basket I thought were appropriate and carefully arranged a 'glamour shot.'

I emailed the picture to a couple of garden shops but didn't get any takers. However, when I sent the picture to my mother she was enthused and said she wanted it...even though my wife later pointed out that the white 'flowers' I had arranged in the basket were really weeds.

It isn't the normal end to a Saved From the Scrapheap post, but the vintage Columbia Roadster is about to spend at least the rest of the summer near my mother's garden in Mystic, Connecticut, where the wind will blow through the tassel once again - just like I wanted. Thanks for reading.


  1. Great save of a classic old bike. When I was in 5th grade my mom took me to get a bike. I had a choice between a red Columbia or a black Schwinn Racer. I took the Schwinn.