My good friends and neighbors, Brad and Mitch stopped by today to show me their latest project. You may remember them from a previous project of theirs- the complete restoration of a 1959 Glass Slipper. This father and son team have restored a number of boats together so I was quite surprised when this latest project turned out to be a bicycle. But not just any bicycle, mind you. A 1952 26-inch balloon tire Western Flyer bicycle.
I recall asking Brad last summer what his next project would be, shortly after completing his latest boat restoration and hearing about the Western Flyer for the first time. He had already begun searching online for one and finally found the right bicycle on ebay from a seller in Texas.
I love the history behind this bicycle. First, like many other things designed in the futuristic 1950s (cars, motorcycles, bikes, even appliances…), the Western Flyer was styled after jets and rockets. The first picture above shows a close up of the jet-inspired exhaust.
A second interesting bit of history was that these Western Flyers were often used by newspaper delivery boys. The riders would have to travel for miles through towns and rural areas. They could pedal these bicycles or they could motorize their bikes with a kit available for purchase. Sometimes there would be a promotion where kids who delivered the most newspapers could win one of these motors as a prize.
Brad purchased a reproduction of the 1950s bicycle motors that they were using back in the day, however, he and Mitch still had to customize the entire kit in order to make it all fit and they built a custom exhaust.
I love that they left the rust alone and they admitted that they had no intention of painting this project. You just can’t recreate that gorgeous patina and it makes me wonder where this vintage bicycle has travelled and what stories it would tell if it could speak.
Brad and Mitch took the Western Flyer out for a first run two weeks ago. Unfortunately the chain guard popped the clip off of the master link and the chain piled up. That was the end of that trip and it was back to the garage for tweaking.
Today was their second test run, this time with the custom exhaust installed, and the ride went perfectly without a hitch. The boys even got some early spring sunshine on their ride after a morning of heavy cloud cover. Over a glass of lemonade, they shared the story of their project- both the challenges and the satisfaction of finishing it, and generously allowed me to share their story.