Pdx Commute: 1950 Raleigh 3 Speed!

Brooks roll up bags

Today’s golden sunrise gave impetus to my desire for a leisurely ride to work on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist.  Since it was a Saturday, the commute would be less stressful, with fewer high speed competitive riders about.  In fact, maybe the commute would be…relaxing!


It was a wonderful promise-of-spring day, cool but dry, and very welcome after weeks of bad weather.  This Raleigh is one of the first bikes I purchased as I was beginning my bike restoration business.  It’s a Raleigh Sports Tourist “C” model, and weighing in at around 45 lbs., it is a bike I reserve for special occasions.  Since I live in a hilly neighborhood, riding this bike requires a certain mental preparation before I am ready to conquer the steep inclines awaiting me.  Fortunately, even though the bike is geared very high (I have left it all original and haven’t changed the gearing – what’s good enough for the Brits is good enough for me), I was able to make it up my hills without walking the bike, and I was rewarded with wonderful descents, especially enjoyable  because of the bike’s long wheelbase and amazing ability to absorb road shock.

751 741

The Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub with its 19T cog, combined with the 46 tooth chainring, has a gear inch range of 47 – 84.  The AW 3 speed hub is still going strong. In fact, I did nothing to restore it but add a few drops of oil to the oil port and a bit of lubrication to the spindle.  I did have to adjust the cable tension until I finally hit the sweet spot, where the shifting is just right, and there is no unpleasant and scary “free wheeling” in the middle (neutral) gear.

julie andrews bicycle

If Julie Andrews is happy, then so am I!  Riding this bike today restored my faith in Portland drivers.  I was politely waved through 4 way stops, and given the right of way at intersections, all with a happy (and proper?) wave and nod.  I can assure you, this never happens when I am riding my more performance oriented bicycles.

Brooks roll up bags

With this pleasant riding experience and fantastic work-out from pushing up the hills, I am feeling like the Brits know something that we don’t – that it is not always necessary to get where you are going in the fastest way possible.  Instead, get on your 3 speed and relax…

16 thoughts on “Pdx Commute: 1950 Raleigh 3 Speed!

  1. Aren’t those S-A shifters just great! It’s tough to improve on something that just seems to work so well. That’s a pretty great example of a classic Raleigh three-speed, by the way.

  2. Beautiful bike! I find it interesting that you got better treatment from drivers. I ride my vintage 3 speed nearly all the time and though I occasionally get poor treatment from drivers, they are mostly ok, I wonder if it would be different it I were riding a racy bike?

    • Hi Vicki,
      Thanks for your comments. It is not only my own experience that drivers react differently based on a cyclist’s bicycle, helmet and clothing, but has also been documented by several studies. The phenomenon even has a name: “The Mary Poppins Effect”. Basically, if a cyclist looks too “bikey”, then cars will pass closer and generally behave in a more hostile and unsafe manner. I do think there is another side to this puzzling result: riding a classic old 3 speed is not only slower, but does not lend itself to performance oriented behavior such as track stands, quick maneuvers and lane-splitting. So, the cyclist’s behavior is also different. While “risk compensation” due to helmet use has been documented (this is where a cyclist will ride in a less safe manner when wearing a helmet as opposed to not wearing a helmet), I also think there is risk compensation when riding a performance oriented bike, and I notice it in my own cycling behavior.

  3. Although Portland isn’t the most perfect place on the planet to ride your bicycle in an urban environment, sometimes it sure feels like it! Glad to hear you took advantage of the pleasant weather, Nola.
    Also, any chance you could speak to your Brooks roll-up panniers? A full review isn’t necessary but I’m curious what your overall impression is. They certainly have a wonderful look along with being quite appropriate for the steed they are mounted to.

    • Hi Josh,

      The Brooks roll-up panniers are very stylish and do go perfectly with the old Raleigh. They are well-made, as one would expect, and have a nice soft lining. They are in no way waterproof, but may be water resistant when rolled up. There are no internal pockets for organizing anything. I ended up putting some cloth grocery bags inside the roll up bags to help keep things sorted. I was shocked that they have no connection to the frame, other than at the rack mount, so the bags hang loose at the bottom and will flap around if you ride vigorously. Clearly, the bags are designed for sunny days and bikes ridden in a leisurely fashion. So, they are perfect for what I am using them for, but I could not recommend them as a bag for regular commuting in Portland’s unpredictable weather!

  4. I’m working on a 3 speed Raleigh I think it’s a 1973. I’ve never worked on a bike as old as it. Can you recommend a place to buy a manual on it ? As well as a place I might find parts needed ? FYI I live in Portland Oregon

    • I recommend Glenn’s complete cycling manual. Might find it at Powells or on Amazon. For additional Sturmey Archer guidance you can visit Sheldon Brown’s site as well as study many other online sources and videos, including this one. Enjoy!

    • Check CityBikes for parts, they used to have spare S-A stuff, but it’s been awhile since I’ve checked. Clever may have a few things too, as well as Portland Bicycle Emporium. I’d also check out the other co-op type places: Community Cycling Center, Bike Farm, and Kenton Cycle. They tend to have bins of old parts.

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