Fondest Hopes

After having posted so much about relatively modern bikes, I feel it can´t do any harm to present the oldest bike in my stable, my 1899 Crescent No. 17.

In November 1999, there was a traffic jam on my commute. I chose a different route and came across a cycle shop I had not visited before. My standard question in those cases is of course if there´s an old racing bike somewhere among the used bikes. The man in the shop said there was no racing bike in the used bike rack, but there was one in the cellar.

So down we went into the badly lit caverns (please make a mental note of the cellar being badly lit) of the age old house, and there it was, a frame of a very old bike, badly damaged, nothing on it, not even a chainwheel, though the cranks were there. I was disappointed. However, the chap said that when the bike had been left by a customer some years before, it had been complete, and would I want to have a look around.

Do you still remember Apple II computers? And if so, do you know the “Mystery House” game? I felt a bit like I was in that game, with the light getting less and less (You did make that mental note, didn´t you?), and me keying in “go door” or “open box”. However, after some 30 minutes search I had more or less assembled the sad remains of a very old bike, wooden rims, Kelly bars and all, but the chainwheel remained elusive. I decided to call it a day as neither the chainwheel nor the chain, for that matter, would turn up; no “search cupboard” or “go next room” had helped.

Anyway, after ringing the owner we agreed on a price of 200 Marks, and off I went, wondering where I could get the spares for my chainless bicycle. At home, in better light, I found that the bike was exactly that: Chainless. A Crescent No. 17 bevel gear drive chainless. Bingo.

But what sorry state the bike was in. I found some pics I took back in the day, scanned them, and sincerely hope that you will forgive the truly horrible quality. This is what the bike looked like when I had pieced it together:

This photo has been to the US and back, in the days when every gram counted in an airmail letter, so I cropped it. Not bad, I hear you say, the old bike? Well, let´s get down to the details:

Note the crack where the down tube meets the b/b shell.

Here´s the dent in the down tube. The frame actually was bent in two dimensions and would turn a corner with the bars straight.

The front hub was missing its axle and cones. The front fork was bent that badly that the wheel wouldn´t go in anywhere near straight…

… had it been anywhere near straight itself.

This motheaten something was one end of the handlebars.

This was the center of it. Nice Kelly bars with a locknut in the middle keeping the serrated bar centres from un-serrating during the ride. You could choose many dozens of positions varying from super scorcher low down to happy go lucky upright. Nice idea; wonder why we can´t have the bars today. You can actually still read “Kelly” on the locknut, even after re-plating.

This mangled something was the centre of the seattube. I think had they had tanks in 1899, they would have run one over the bike to make the list (horse carriages, trams, pliers) complete.

And this was everything that was left of the saddle. Unbelievably, neither the handlebar extension nor the seat tube were stuck. They just slid out of the frame after loosening the internal clamps which, BTW, makes for a very smooth seat cluster.

This was the rear triangle. I think it must have been out of true by about 20 degrees.

The damage to the seat l/h stay.

Luckily, all of these parts were still there. When hunting around for info I had two people in the States making me offers for the bike because of the alloy bevel gear covers alone.

It still turned, and the bearing cap is the same item as the b/b gear inspection cover. Amazing.

Here we are, one undamaged part. Nice double crescent Crescent badge positioned in the typical Western Wheel Works low down position on the headtube.

The remains of the lining, very elaborate, and extra. Neither lining nor Kelly bars were in the 1899 Crescent catalogue, of which some scans further down. Someone bought the most expensive bicycle in the shop and then spent some more on it. Amazing.

And this is what Tim Gunn made of the bike some two years later. He did a complete tube by tube disassembly – repair – assembly job on the frame, made some spares for the mechanicals, and made the platers do such a great job that all the finery on the nickel parts is still there. OK, there were some hiccups in re-plating, but the final result was wonderful.

The rims are now wire ons which came from Velo-Classic. There were raw and undrilled so I could accomodate the 36/32 spoke count and varnish them in a rosewood colour just like the original spec as per the catalogue.

The lining was done by Velo-Classic here in Germany. They also did a marvellous job. Tim fabricated the – no, not the chain tensioner, but the thingy which looks like one.

Note the inspection cover on the drive housing which could double as a pedal cap.

And I restored the headbadge – took a Dremel with a rotating brass brush to it and dremelled away. The dirt went up in a small cloud, and the black etching stayed on. Sheer luck.

The handle bar bars couldn´t be polished before re-plating – they had rusted too thin, so I put some tape over the pitting.

And now some scans from the 2nd generation photocopy of an 1899 Western Wheel Works, Chicago, Crescent catalogue.

This is what the frame looks like form the inside.

Some blurb from inside the catalogue. The chain drive No. 15 cost $35, the 17 cost $60. These figures reflect the price war being fought at the time: Only a few years earlier a chain driven quality bicycle would have cost around $100, if you can believe Pridmore/Hurt in The American Bicycle. Three years later, Western Wheel Works, huge as they were, went out of business.

The restauration took me three years and a whole lot of money. I kept all the receipts, and the last one is for the rear wheel spokes, dating from August 2002.

How does the Crescent ride? Well, the gear makes a lot of noise when under pressure, but that is to be expected. The bevels don´t show any wear, it must be the construction. Fixed gear, of course, but I don´t mind that. It is a sturdy, solid feeling frame and it goes where you point it even at speed.



  1. Posted July 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Did Tim Gunn replace all of the frame tubes, one by one, or are some of the frame tubes straightened/repaired and re-assembled?

    This was a remarkable effort on your part when you could have just left the bike in its “as found” condition..Thank you!

    • Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Tim actually repaired all of the damaged tubes. He made mandrels for most, but the pinched seat tube had to have its centre section replaced. If you ping it with your fingernail you can hear it: The centre section sounds different.

  2. Kevin
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 3:25 am | Permalink | Reply

    Can I ask if locking it up as in street riding is/was an option?
    I feel awful for asking, but hey?
    Very Impressive work to say the least.

    • Posted July 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Glad you like the Crescent.
      Locking up a shaft drive – I guess it´s putting the same strain on things as on chain driven bikes, and I can´t see a real difference. What you are definitively right with is that old chainless bikes are very hard to come by and beastly expensive, and more modern ones (Fendt for instance) are not well made. I had three and passed them all on because I couldn´t stand them.
      I personally think of brakeless fixed riding in traffic as suicidal, but there you go. No accounting for taste. I do ride fixed in town, see my very first (I think) blog post on the Funkmeister´s Favourite, but I wouldn´t want to give up brakes, so I can´t give a qualified estimate on this matter anyway. I rode the Crescent on the dirt track in the Championships mentioned in the photo caption, and around the countryside, but definitively no heavy traffic.
      What you are definitively right with is that old chainless bikes are beastly expensive and hard to come by, and new ones (Fendt) are not well made. I´ve had three and passed them all on because I couldn´t stand them. Problems with spares and gear ratios (as Ted Ernst said) with all of them, old or new.

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