Spent part of the weekend tuning up an old yellow bicycle given to me over a decade ago. It was a thrift score, a 5-speed Roadmaster cruiser named Nimble.
It was as cute as a button. When I first got it, I strapped a camera mount on it and used it as my photo excursion touring vehicle.
Turns out, it wasn’t so nimble. Over time, I couldn’t ignore the clumsy proportions of the frame and the oversized seat which made for an awkward uncomfortable ride. So it ended up taking a back seat to more user friendly cruisers on hand. Alas, the Nimble sat neglected out on the roof I used to call home, braving the Southern California elements.
Last weekend, I decided to get the little feller into working order again. It looked pretty sad– dusty and rusty with two flat tires. While cleaning her up, I noticed the familiar AMF branding on the bicycle frame. AMF? Of bowling alley fame?
Yep! Brooklyn based American Machine and Foundry dabbled in a bit of everything. AMF got its start in 1900 by making equipment for the tobacco industry. By the 1940’s, it had diversified into all sorts of automatic manufacturing gear– from mechanical bread packagers to necktie stitchers to pretzel twisting machines.
It seems either a head scratcher or a logical progression that in the 40’s AMF would introduce the first automatic bowling pin setting machine. (Remember, humans used to do that job.) The so called Pinspotter was a hit! Because of it, AMF both helped create and profited from a countrywide “bowling boom”. This is why AMF would come to be synonymous with bowling. Lanes, balls, pins, and bowling alley operations would follow.
In the 50’s AMF got into the bicycle racket. (Later, they also got into the tennis racket racket, but that’s another story.) The AMF Wheel Goods Division produced Roadmaster bicycles in a super automated factory in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks to the baby boom, they sold a lot of bicycles and soon moved operations to a bigger new factory in Illinois.
It’s there that AMF Wheel Goods started going downhill fast along with the quality of their bicycle line. It’s said that some bicycle shops even declined repairing Roadmasters, cause there’s no polishing a turd I guess.
The Roadmaster Nimble I have dates back to the 1970s and that’s just about when things started to go wheely bad over at AMF Wheel Goods. So it seems like I have a lemon on my hands. But that’s okay. Like a Cutter, I’ll pedal through the rough patches and make lemonade.