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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Other People's Bikes, Part 3: The Ska Huffy

Hello friends! It's been awhile, but here's a new installment in the "Other People's Bicycles" Series.

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.


  1. I had two Huffy bicycles, that I can remember. The first was in third grade, and it was a single-speed coaster-brake, with a purple banana seat and purple and silver and pink streamers on the handlebars.

    The second was when I was twelve? or so. A (gasp) ten-speed! With friction shifters mounted on the stem, and drop bars with suicide levers. I only ever rode on the tops, I never used the drops at all! It was orange-sherbet and turquoise. Very hip. I think it even had white or orange tires, I don't remember.

  2. But Shawn, what about SoCal?!

    April, was that the bike that had the girls riding near the beach in the commercial?! I can't remember the name but it definitely had one. I wanted it soooo bad but ended up with a pink cruiser instead. A Huffy pink cruiser. My mom was anti-dropbar. I guess I inherited that from her!

  3. Julie, I got three words for you: Orange County Supertones.

  4. Oh god, the fucking Christian ska bands were the worst. Hate, hate, hate. But that was a very, very small part of the socal "scene".

  5. Three more words: Reel Big Fish. And they are still around.

  6. Hey, and what about 5 speeds? You skipped right from 3 speeds to 10 speeds in your whirlwind bicycle history. I guess 5 speeds likely came out with the 10 speeds (a more economical option), considering both required the rear derailleur?

    BTW, are there any decent books out there on bicycle history (that might include Canadian bicycle companies?)?

  7. Prairie Voyageur, you sure you don't wanna talk about SoCal ska? ;-)

    Yeah, the 5 speed came along at the same time as the 10 speed, it was no in-between step. It was usually seen on more entry level models, as it didn't need a front derailleur and double chainset, plus it would be easier for a newbie to just deal with the rear derailleur. You rarely saw 5 speed derailleur models on "nice" bikes.

    As for bicycle history, there are scads of books out there. Unfortunately few really cover twentieth century bicycle production well. There are a few about Schwinn and Raleigh (though the Raleigh ones are hard to find this side of the pond.) Some books will have a cursory history on US/UK/European/Japanese bike production. But I don't think I've seen any that talk about Canadian bicycle production. It seemed like Canadian bike production was dominated by CCM, was insular (did not really export much), didn't have many "high-end" or noted bikes that would get notice in bicycle histories, and Canada was not a big market, so it's a blip compared to say the UK, which pumped out bikes by the millions to all corners of the globe.

    More info on CCM can be found on here:

    Does anyone else have any info?

    (and I never thought this post would get so many comments!)

  8. Prairie--
    Here are some books I have found on Canadian bicycling history. You should be able to find them through Amazon, I'm assuming. Or maybe the library:

    Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 [Hardcover]
    Glen Norcliffe (Author)

    Freewheeling: The Story of Bicycling in Canada

    The most benevolent machine: A historical assessment of cycles in Canada / Sharon Babaian

    Does anyone else want to help on this list? Keith? Tim? I know you fellow Canadians are out there.

    And don't get me started on Canadian ska! ;-)

    -everyone's favorite East Coast ska snob...

  9. Thanks, those books look very interesting. I'll be checking them out.

    Looks like you were trying to hook me into a defense of Canadian ska. I did go through a brief period of listening to ska in my teens, and this did include the O.C.S. *hanging in shame*. I was not in the ska phase long enough to discover the good (or local) bands.

  10. Hey! I love bicycles and SKA and so I came across this post. I'd like to mention it on my blog about - tadah - SKA & Bicycles. I'm from Germany, I'm in a Skaband and I ride an Uthopia Roadster with Rohloff Speedhub, SON hub dynamo, Brooks Colt and Van Raam steel frame. Handmade. Have a save ride Buster!

    1. Bluekilla, thanks for checkin' in to this checkered post. Ironically enough I listened to "SkaBoom" by the Toasters today.

      And don't call me Buster! (Are The Busters still around?)

  11. I just purchased a JC Penny 3 speed. Its in amazing shape. Would love to find out more info on it. Paid 30.00.

    1. Anonymous, generally you are not going to find much info on JC Penny, Sears, Montgomery Ward, and other department store bikes. Most were low end and made by a myriad of manufacturers. See the blog post above for more details. It would help if you either provided more details or photos of your bike in question, as someone might help.

  12. A good history of CCM, including the rationale of a forming a Canadian syndicate from the existing independent mfrs (to keep US mfrs out of the Cdn market):

    Authors:McKenty, John A. (John Arthur), 1948-
    Title: Canada Cycle & Motor: the CCM story
    Publisher:Belleville, Ont. :, Epic Press,, 2011
    Characteristics: 347 p. :,ill. ;,23 cm.
    Alternate Title:Canada Cycle and Motor
    ISBN: 1554526701
    - See more at:


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