In December 2020, I was searching for an expert bicycle mechanic who could handle the task of restoring a more than 50-year-old BSA Roadster bicycle, which I had acquired in the same period from a veteran commuter in Mumbai.
After a long-serving companionship with its owner, and many miles covered on the roads that changed surfaces over the decades; the bicycle was nearly retired before changing hands.
It stands witness to a major shift in cities socio-political environment – from men in dhoti, kurta and turban riding a bullock cart – to men in lycra, shades and high-end carbon bikes and expensive cars going pass it.
Its previous master had done a lot of modifications for its maintenance that includes – change of original mudguards, carrier, crank set, chain guard, hubs, stand, rims, the bell, and most obviously the tyres, tubes and the brake pads.
The BSA frame that survived had originally donned a military green color and had undergone a number of rounds of black coating from time-to-time by the hands of the owner. He was following a low-maintenance policy and believed, “only a neutral shade like black would keep his bicycle understated and away from the malicious eyes when out in public domain”.
In the sixties-seventies period when the lifestyle in Mumbai city was slow, people often tried their hands on technical jobs that needed moderate to low skills in fixing up trivial issues by themselves. Mr. Glen Falcon, the first owner of the classic BSA Roadster that’s in discussion, recalls several instances of himself getting involved in fixing minor issues of his bicycle.
“Sunday’s were allotted for addressing the maintenance and upkeep of the house that included attending to the Roadster as there was ample of time to engage in constructive activities” explains Glen.
“My father use to go to his pharmaceutical factory in Worli-Mumbai, on this BSA Roadster which dates back to over five decades. Post his retirement, I secured a job in the same company but the factory was shifted far from the city. It was wise to use the train services but my BSA Roadster continued to ferry me till the Bandra Railway Station” recalls Glen.
Along with the frame – the original fork, the headset, the handlebar, seat post, grips, brake set and the air-pump manufactured by the ‘Birmingham Small Arms Company in England (BSA)’, are retained intact.
When the bicycle came to me, on close inspection it had rusting all over it, with flat tyres, chain coated with muck-rust, and many components corroded that needed to be either salvaged or replaced.
I approached Faisal Thakur, former BMX National champion and a bicycle geek who has the requisite knowledge, ability and a proven track record of creating custom bicycles and handling restoration projects.
Above all, Faisal being a maestro in this field, he carries the right mindset and approach towards vintage bicycles which was a major criterion to attend to my kind of project. Keeping full faith and confidence in his skills, I went ahead and handed-over this project to him.
Faisal unfolds the technical aspects of the restoration process:
It all started with Vijay’s telephone call and he said that I want to get a vintage bicycle reconditioned, and I knew that Vijay was looking to buy a vintage bicycle long time back when I was running a store and that time I couldn’t arrange for him. And when he said that he was trying to get it done and was looking for someone to do it, I said that I have his thing in me that I can do this and due to the pandemic, I had some time with me which I decided to invest in this project.
Personally, I knew this is going to take a lot of efforts, but I somehow like working on creative projects. And then when Vijay got the bicycle, I realized there’s a lot of work compared to what I had anticipated by looking at the pictures, phew!
Basically, the bicycle had components that needed to be reconditioned with passion, rather than just replace or repair parts. So, I started dismantling the bicycle, and opening-up some of the parts became tedious as they were rusted and it seemed that they were untouched from many decades.
I had them sprayed and left them overnight with WD40 to unfasten the bolts. To secure the parts, I even applied olive oil so that I could open them without any damage. And as I went on opening the parts – sorting out the components, I had to plan and allocate the outsourcing of specialized jobs such as – painting of the frame, briefing the chrome plating specialist, sourcing of components through suppliers etc.
In the process, I also understood that it won’t make complete sense to just restore the bicycle in its old-form; we could make it in a way with use of latest stainless steel parts, and that will become much easier for anyone to work with the Allen tool kit to repair it on the go.
So, considering the finer aspects, I started the work and there were times when I felt the bolt was not in the right shape – you have a round headed Allen bolt or a tapered Allen bolt, so I had to select between the two. The length differed, and I had to use lock nuts of different sizes so that it suited the size and the extra length of the bolt did not stand out. I had to get the right lengths of the bolts – could be a difference of 2mm or 3mm etc., but I felt doing the right thing would make it look neat, so that’s how I approached the situation.
Then, I thought that a stainless steel carrier and a stainless steel stand would make a lot of difference instead of a standard one. I got in touch with one fabricator who had not made something like this before but was willing to do it. For him, it was a challenge because I had told him to do something which was not a regular stuff, but somehow he managed it. I had to visit his workshop three times to ensure the brief is followed and it looked great by the time it was completed.
Now, there were some technical issues which I felt I had to work on for instance; I had to ultimately cut the nut to release the seat post as it didn’t come out after several attempts. To avoid rusting of the nipples on the spokes; they were anodized to improve its longevity, and so forth.
Next, I had to finalize and ensure that every part is in place to complete the bicycle before outsourcing the chrome plating job as there was no scope of making errors in judgment. The workman handling the chrome plating job typically don’t understand the value of vintage, as they are more interested to do routine industrial kind of jobs, so I had to monitor and convince them to deliver the output as I intended it to be done – accurately and timely. I even shared knowledge with the worker explaining ‘why this is being done and where the parts are going to be used’ so that they work with interest and produce quality results.
I had an intention of using white tyres but due to the ongoing pandemic and high demand, they are out of stock. Therefore, I went ahead with the regular tyres, but lighter ones with an overall intention to make the bicycle as light as possible.
The previous wheels were meant to handle heavy-duty work and carry load, but I knew Vijay would not be using it for other than commuting/leisure hence, I decided to go with light weight wheels and tyres. Thus, the overall weight of the bicycle has definitely come down.
On the aesthetic front, I have used such color combinations on certain parts so that it doesn’t appear too loud with excess of chrome on it, at the same time its classic identity is maintained. The handle has been painted black color that blends along with a black seat and grips that makes the top layer in one tone and goes well with the aesthetics of the frame which is painted mate military green. The fenders, chain-guard, carrier and the stand are in chrome finish.
Glen’s reaction after seeing the revamped bicycle:
“I am overwhelmed with the labor and love with which the roadster is restored. Faisal certainly has great hands and I would like to congratulate Vijay for taking the pain to revive the bike”.
“I am super happy with the results and can’t wait to ride this antique masterpiece”.
More photos can be found on my instagram page.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai