Monday, February 15, 2010

Bikes Outside: Going for Gold

I was hoping to find something that could tie in to the winter Olympics, Presidents Day or Valentines Day for this Monday's Bikes Outside, but the best I could find this past week was a bike that didn't cost a lot of dead presidents locked up outside the Gold Building downtown.

Huffys don't tend to get a lot of love. Few will do anything but scoff at how awful and cheap they are, yet they have been best-selling bike brand in the US for decades. They are kind of ubiquitous. A friend of mine who recycles dumpster and curbside bikes has found more Huffys than any other brand. It's America's most popular disposable bike.

George P. Huffman was a comparative latecomer to the 19th century bike boom when he is said to have overseen his first bikes being made in 1892, but the Huffy lineage (Davis, Dayton, Huffman-Dayton, and finally Huffy) has some parallels to Hartford's own Columbia brand. Both were originally made in sewing machine factories; Columbias at the Weed Sewing Machine Company on Capitol Ave (Weed is still quite popular in the area) and Huffman's bikes and parts at the Davis Sewing Machine Company bicycle in Dayton, Ohio. Both brands were churning out cheap high-volume bikes by the 1960's, with heavy tubing, ugly welds and clunky components. They were still kind of charming in their own way (my mid-60's Columbia has lousy build quality, but I'm still fond of it) but things got aggressively tacky from the 1970's onward.

My web searches for Huffy history turned up a wide variety of non-matching timelines that all seem to agree on only one thing: Huffman is credited with inventing and introducing removable training wheels on the 1949 Huffy Convertible children's bike, also the beginning of the "Huffy" nameplate. If you learned to ride with training wheels, you owe the man a little credit.

I've seen some very cool older balloon-tire era Huffys, my favorite being the Radio Bike, but like many US manufacturers, they were phasing out awesome for cheap in the twilight of the 1950's. There were some latter-day exceptions, like the Nottingham-sourced "Huffiegh" Sportsman 3-speeds and some recent higher-end BMX frames, but their bread-and-butter these days is cheap Chinese-made bikes that are spec'd to a very low price point.

Anyway, back to Pearl Street for a parting glance at this week's street-parked workhorse. Ashtabula cranks, hi-ten steel tubing, and everything else that makes a bike heavy and slow are in effect here, but this mountain-style bike is obviously getting the job done for somebody. I'm pretty sure I have seen this bike in this spot before, so it seems to be on commuter duty. I didn't see any Rivendells downtown on this February afternoon, so Team Huffy gets the win. It takes more patience, physical effort and heart to daily ride a heavy bike so they get this week's nod for keepin' it real.


Brendan said...

That bike is parked there every day during the work week, but I've never checked after five to see if it leaves.

Erik Jorgensen said...

Yep, more Huffys than any other brand. Additional fun fact: never have I found two with the same model name. There must be hundreds of "different" Huffys out there....