Columbia / Solo steering bearing notes

Got a few things done on the Columbia yesterday, and thought I'd post some notes.

Steering bearings: There was a lot of play (clunk-clunk) in the steering on this bike, so I dug into it. First thing I noticed, is that this bike is built pretty cheesy. The top triple tree is unusual - the tops of the forks are not directly tied to the steering tube & bearings. There is an intermediate plate, secured by 4 bolts (plus the steering tube top nut), that ties it all together and also serves as the handlebar clamp.

Once apart, it was clear that the bearing set is typical bicycle stuff. Set of races driven into the frame tube, caged bearings, lower cone (a piece of pressed metal, cheapo) driven onto the bottom of the steering tube. The top cone is also the adjuster, with a large knurled outer ring.

The top race had lost it's fit in the tube, and lifted right out. Same for the lower cone - it slipped right off of the steering tube. Cleaned everthing, inspected, packed with grease and reassembled. Replaced the top race, reused the bearings and both cones. Lower cone should have been replaced (it's banged up) but I had no spare, and I punted.

In the end, it seems to have worked fine - way better than when I started. Adjustment of the bearings was very finicky due to the damaged lower cone. About 3 degrees of rotation on the adjuster was the difference between too sloppy vs. binding up.

Two notes on re-assembly and adjustment: When reinstalling the intertmediate plate, tighten down the rear bolts first (evenly). This will bring the plate into contact with the upper cone/adjuster. Then, evenly tighten the front bolts. If you don't do it in this order, you will be left with a gap between the plate and adjuster, and tightening the top nut will either warp the plate, or strip the nut/tube.

Problem is, this also locks the adjuster in place. So, when making final adjustments, you must slack off the rear bolts, move the adjuster, and re-tighten. I had to do this several times before adjustment was correct. On the bright side, once it's adjusted, you can just tighten the top nut, and it has no additional effect on the adjustment (as it normally would).

Last but not least, this bike is built in the fashion of a Harley, Polaris, AMF etc - for every bolt or screw you remove, there is a nut and a washer that falls off of the back. The only place I found captive nuts, was for the 4 bolts that secure the intermediate plate. Pretty cheap.

Re: Columbia / Solo steering bearing notes


I agree, the steering assembly is really bad, very cheap. My steering assembly is in excellent condition, and I don't expect it to fall apart anytime soon... For now, at least.

I'm the type that likes it when the moped is 100% original. The engines on these are fantastic. The rest of the frame, although kinda average/below average, it's pretty strong.

In your opinion, should I just go ahead and take the steering bracket off and replace it with a bicycle GT part?

Would it be worth the change, in your opinion, to make this moped high performance rather than 100% original, (since the engines on these are the best?) at the expense of having it not 100% original?





Good questions., and there are several ways to look at this..

These days, I tend to be all abour preservation of older machines in their original condition. Take a look at the recent changes in the mindset of the vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. 10 or 15 years ago, it was all about doing perfect 100-point restorations on valuable or important machines. However, thinking on these matters has become more sophisticated in recent times, and unrestored orginals are now commanding very high prices.

Truth is, not only are a lot of motorcycle restorations just badly done, but even the best of them tend to go way overboard. Most all of these bikes were not pieces of polished jewelry when new - they were transportation, sporting or pleasure vehicles, with typical factory finish quality. An overdone restoration is almost always worse than no restoration at all. How can you call it a 'restoration' if the bike never previously existed in such condition?

It's similar to the level of sophistication in the traditional antique furniture business. Doing a flawless strip & restoration of a piece of important furniture will make it look much better - but completely ruin the value (cuts it in half, or worse). People have figured out that once the original patina is gone, a very important part of the piece is lost forever. Same situation in the antique toy business - especially as applies to old cast-iron toy vehicles. See the pattern here?

In my opinion, if a machine is holding most of it's original finish & trim, it should not be modified. No, it's not perfect - but it's not supposed to be - it's old, and old things get that way. Work to carefully improve what you have, but don't got making a bunch of sweeping, irreversible changes. If parts are missing, try to find parts in a similar condition to - or slightly better than - what is already there. What's important, is that the machine look like a whole piece of equipment - not a collection of various parts, none of which look like they've spent much time together.

But back to the Solo Columbia. Considering the overall construction of this bike (cheap and cheery), I don't think it's a candidate for any kind of high-performance parts. The chassis just isn't built for it, and if you put a proper front end on the bike, the rear suspension would never keep up. I'd keep the Columbia in stock form, and maybe look for a better chassis for your Solo-engined high performance project.

The Columbias are not overly common, and the Solo engine models even less so. Considering that there were only two 'major' US moped manufacturers in the classic (70s-80s) era, these bikes will eventually attract the collector crowd. And the other US bike - the AMF - is a real pile of junk. I suppose you could also call the JC Penny Pinto a US bike, but none of it was actually built in the US.

Re: Preservation


You've made some very good points, and I agree with them. I'll be leaving my Columbia alone, afterall, it runs beautifully and has never given me any problems. I weigh 290 lbs and I go full speed on it often, and it has held together.

The only "modification" I would consider are the ones you can't really see. Like for instance, there's a flange in the clutch that you can grind down a little bit for more high end speed. In some cases, the increase is 10 mph. (They made 20 mph and 30 mph models- the 20 mph has a thicker flange) So, my moped goes 35-38 stock because I grinded it a little bit beyond the 30 mph model. Runs beautifully, and the part is in no danger of being ruined. (It makes the circumference on the front pulley "smaller")

Also, I have a rear wheel that came off a Columbia Imperial (same as Open Road pretty much) that had a Sachs motor- which means that it has less sprockets on it than the one with the Solo motor does. I'm thinking of putting that one on and testing it out. Fortunately, I have 2 different size chains and both of them are easily removed. So I'll be easily able to return it back to original.

I'm not sure yet if I'll even do that... The wheels are exact same size and looks exactly the same, even has the same ridges and all. The only difference is the smaller sprocket and a different rear brake mechanism (smaller but stronger)

I'm sure that would reduce the low end speed, but the high end speed probably would increase to maybe 40, 45? We'll find out this summer. :o)


Re: Preservation

Oh, about my AMF comment.. I just discovered that there are actually two AMF models, and one of them has a decent Italian engine in it.

Previously, I was only aware of the rear-engine, friction-drive monstrosity.

And now that I've gone and painted myself into a corner (pun intended) on the subject of preservation, I'm thinking about doing something really wrong with my Sebring. See the post about Painting Plastics.

I'd really rather do up a more common, cheaper bike, but it needs to be a top tank model for maximum effect.

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