Before I start let say that though I am going to point out problems with the ads and the bikes, I do not (except in obvious examples) blame the sellers. The history of bicycles is vast, and often not very well documented. This is especially true of utilitarian style bicycle like our beloved three speed. They were never ment to be collected, they were built with the intent to ride into the ground, or ride till you’re in the ground–which ever came first.
And this is why I have chosen this bike as my first installment. Old bike history is tough, especially if you’re not “into” bikes. And I got to admit that I might also be completely wrong with my assessment.
And lastly it’s a great example of the history/mystery that bikes can provide to our lives. If for no other reason than to climb down a rabbit hole on a cool rainy night.
So without further ado, here is my first CL listing review.
This is a bike that desperately needs some love. It’s old, and has obviously sat for a long time. On the surface it looks like it has some real potential. and hey, it might be a pre war bike as well.
First let’s get into the text of the ad and it read as follows:
“PRICE REDUCED $200 The Rolfe vintage 3-speed bicycle was made in Smethwick, Birmingham England. With this bike there is an extra pair of handle bars, 3-speed controller, cables, brake levers all from the same years. Not sure of the exact year but on the back hub it says 1950 but the bike I have been told was made in the 1930’s. Plz pay special attention to the two badges and the baskets and the original lock on the back wheel. I am sorry that one of the pedaling cranks are gone, and the front tire and tube are not there either. This could be the perfect gift for the collector in your life!”
The first thing you should take note of with ads like this is that the price has been reduced. This is a common problem with sellers that think that just because something is old, vintage, or antique that it is immediately valuable and they over shoot their asking price thinking they might have stumbled upon some rusty gold.
The good news is that once “Price Reduced” hit the ad, it’s a sure sign that they’re getting sick of looking at it, or are more willing to negotiate (which nearly always happens on CL sales anyway).
Next, I will tell you to forget the “model” of the bike. It generally doesn’t tell you much, especially with this bike (as you’ll soon see). But instead focus on the city in which it was made, in this case is Smethwick, Birmingham England.
Now Smethwick does have a couple of noticeable things going for it in the world of bicycles and especially 3 speeds. First and foremost, it’s the home of Brooks Leather, the Holy Grail of 3 speed thrones. Just attend any Tweed ride and you’ll see what I mean.
Also in this town notable three speed maker Phillips, bought the Credenda Works in 1909 from a steel tube manufacturer which was located on or near Rolfe Street. Which employed up to 2000 people in the manufacture of bicycles and bike parts until 1971. In 1949 Phillips was acquired by Tube Investments LTD. which was a very large bicycle conglomerate, which about a decade later even swallowed Raleigh.
Now with that in mind lets look at some of the pictures.
Here it is in full splendor. Before we start talking about the repairs that need to be done, lets continue with its history. It is after all worth looking into especially since it might be a prewar bike, which are rare and thus more valuable since most bikes were recycled into bullets and tanks in WWII.
Look closely at the chain ring. Now for those that know, it’s a fairly generic cottered crank. And again for those that are in the know, Phillips had a very specific chainring which featured their name cast into it. This is a Phillips that chain ring.
Now look at the shifter. definitely a Sturmey Archer three speed shifter, and to the best of my knowledge, a 1950s ish style. (I’m working on a cataloging all the shifter styles I can–but not done yet). The thirties and forties shifter had a different graphic on them.
Now granted the seller admits that the components are 1950’s, and for a good reason. The bike most likely is a 1950’s model and not a 1930’s. My best guess (and I’ll admit that I might be wrong) is that the bike is branded model from the Phillips plant while under TI.
Quite frankly, the bike wasn’t built to the same quality standard as one that would have been branded as a Phillips, though short of some bells and whistles, it is a Phillips bike. And they made great bikes. But most likely this bike was built with slightly lesser components for catalog or department store sales. I’m nearly positive it’s not a 1930’s bike at all.
Now I don’t blame the sellers for this. If you Google search Rolfe bikes there is one that comes up, and it’s a beautiful 1930’s Rolfe – and then there isn’t much else. Likely they saw that one and were hopeful, but how much research do you expect someone that’s cleaning out grandpa shed to do?
Another nice thing about this photo is that you can see the quality of the chrome handle bars. That rust is pretty easy to remove. Though the bell probably isn’t salvageable (though it’s hard to tell) but generally if the steel of any bike part looks like it was galvanized, it probably won’t shine up real well.
As for the baskets, they may or may not be age appropriate. If they came home from the store on the bike when bought new, they were bought at the same time. But note that they are held on with a zip tie, and it appears to lack noticeable mounts to the bike frame at the top. Add to that they’re pretty generic, and could have bought at nearly any time before or after the bike was made, like most wire baskets.
You can also see the frame lock behind it. But here is a closer look at that.
I’m the first to admit that I love frame locks, better than u locks in that if they are installed properly a thief would need to cut either the frame or the wheel to ride the bike away – but they couldn’t ride away they just cut the frame or the wheel. But without a key, it does you no good. you will be looking at hiring a locksmith to make a key. But I’m not sure finding one that can would be an easy task, if it’s even possible. So most likely it would be a conversation piece.
But lets not stop there. I see at least two mechanical issues with this bike as well. First the fender isn’t mounted to the frame. Usually not much of a problem, untill you look at the hole it should be mounted to. The hole appears to be filled, which could make mounting the fender difficult, depending on what it is filled with.
interestingly enough that is the same hole that the rear brakes should be mounted to, which also seem to be missing.
Now on top of that the ad mentions that it’s missing the left side pedal and crank arm. and in the first photo you’ll notice some pretty badly bent spokes in the rear wheel, lets not forget the missing tire and tube, though in all honestly even if they were there both would need to be replaced.
There is some interesting stuff as well
It pains me to say, that I have absolutely no idea what that headbadge looking thing is on the handle bar stem. It’s too bad the seller didn’t put in a better shot of it and the headbadge. They did try to take some shots of the headbadge, but the pictures are blurry and as such they don’t help much in researching the bike, or in selling the bike. (Hint- selling anything online pictures are the key, both in turn over rate and selling price).
So all in all I would say it’s a cool 50’s bike, but pretty beat up and at best a second tier model from the premium bike manufacturer Phillips. It could use some love, but honestly, it’ll likely cost more to get into rideable shape than the sellers asking price.