Three Speed Spotted: Ska Huffy

This post originally posted at Urban Adventure League on 13-Nov-2011.
This particular bicycle was peeped by the Belmont Branch of the Multnomah County Library, the library where I pick up my holds. Libraries along with grocery stores tend to be good bikespotting locations. The Belmont Library usually doesn’t disappoint.
I saw this bike on Monday November 7th. It is indeed a Huffy. For those unfamiliar with the brand* Huffy was once America’s largest bicycle manufacturer and churned out low-quality bikes by the millions. You bought Huffy in the Kmarts and Walmarts of the world, not bike shops. They were never “great” bikes, and there isn’t much love for them. Finding good info about them on the internets is hard because no one really cares about them. (Maybe I should do a website about crappy American bikes? There would be Huffy, Murray, AMF/Roadmaster, Iverson, what else?)
Still, while there isn’t much love for Huffy, you still do find plenty of them on the roads in various states of repair, some being loved more than not. This particular one definitely falls into the “loved” category. And it’s easy to see why: it’s in decent shape and it was one of the few American bikes during the postwar era to be designed with “transportation” in mind.**
It’s a three speed. Like pretty much any other American bicycle manufacturer of this era (and by “this era” I’m talking 1945ish to mid-1970’s) Huffy hoped to tap in to the nascent (or non-existent) adult bicycle market. And “adult bicycle” meant three-speed. During the Bike Boom the American brands would make the ten-speed the “default” adult bike, and for awhile many low-priced ten-speeds were simply three-speeds fitted with derailleurs and drop bars. And then mountain bikes came along…
But back to three speeds. Many American three-speeds didn’t fare well against their major competitor, the English three-speed. Schwinn tried its damndest to find adult riders, but the bikes were heavy compared to a Raleigh. The other American makers were also guilty of heft, as their factories were tooled for kids bikes, not lightweights. Some companies realized that the best option was to sell rebadged British bikes, especially since they couldn’t really make a decent bike to save their life. Huffy came out with the “Sportsman”, which was simply a Raleigh Sports with a Huffy tag. It even advertised that it was “Made in England.”*** AMF sold a Hercules three-speed under an AMF-Hercules badge. Sears sold a “Made in Austria” three-speed with Sachs Torpedo hub, made by Austro-Diamler-Puch. If you look hard enough, you can find some of these bikes on Craigslist and pay less than a Raleigh for what amounts to the same thing.
However, this Huffy three-speed was definitely made by Huffy. There’s no model name, just 3-Speed. It has the tell tale signs of Huffy “quality” like the one piece (Ashtabula) crank:****
And stamped rear dropouts, which I didn’t get a good shot of.
As for the hub, pretty much all of the American manufacturers had moved beyond Sturmey-Archer at this point and used the cheaper (and dreaded) Shimano “333” hub or variant.
This particular one used a grip-shifter, vs. the trigger I’ve seen on other models.
And quite the obscene saddle as well. I believe it’s “aftermarket”.
While these details are all well and good, I’ve left out the details that really made me pay attention to the bike in the first place: THE STICKERS.
For those of you not in the know, both the Skatalites and the Slackers were ska bands. The Skatalites were a legendary first wave ska band from Jamaica, and the Slackers a not-as-legendary***** third-wave ska band from NYC. I’ve seen both several times.
The stickers bring me back to a former life. Before the Urban Adventure League, before Portland, but not before comics and zines, there was the Shawn Granton who lived somewhere outside of New Haven, Connecticut. This was the mid-to-late nineties. Ska was just blowing up, New York and Boston had the two most vital ska scenes in the country****** and Connecticut was no slouch in that department, either, being between both of them. (Spring Heeled Jack! Woot!) I was in the thick of the local ska scene, going to shows, being the “merch” guy for local band Sgt. Scagnetti, drawing flyers, etc. Yeah, I know ska (esp. 90’s ska) is loathed by some. But it was a fun time, and I have a good set of memories from that experience.
Ah, Spring Heeled Jack. I miss ya.
Back in 1997 seeing a Skatalite and/or Slackers sticker on someone’s car in CT would be fairly normal. Now in 2011 in Portland (an area not known for its ska scene) seeing the same stickers on someone’s bike is a big deal. Big enough that I would photograph it and write this fairly long blog post.*******
Nice bike. Now if the owner would just put a black-and-white checker pattern over the whole thing…
*Which is code for “You must not be American”, because I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t have a Huffy or three in their youth. I certainly owned my share.
**And I know with Huffy, “designed” is a dubious term.
***Not all Sportsman models were made by Raleigh. I saw a later Sportsman that was made in the USA and had all the tell-tale signs of the Huffy factory: Ashtabula cranks, stamped rear dropouts, etc.
****To be fair, Schwinn used Ashtabula cranksets on all but its most expensive road bikes during this era. This does not count the “Schwinn approved” lightweights like the Le Tour. Those lugged frame bikes were made by Panasonic and had three piece cranks.
*****Don’t tell them that!
******This is the point when someone will go “What about SoCal?” Yeah, what ABOUT SoCal?
*******I had no intentions to make it this long. Promise.
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