A Tale of Two Three Speeds

Last fall I relocated our offices to the Laurelhurst neighborhood in Northeast Portland.  Now, I commute to work in a lovely and historic part of Portland’s awesome east side, leaving behind the stressful and gnarly traffic surrounding our old Victorian on SW 5th near PSU.  I usually commute on one of my daily riders, but also keep extra bikes on hand at the office for errands and lunchtime rides through the neighborhood, including my two favorite 3 speeds:  a 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, and a 1947 Peugeot PH55.  I restored both bikes many years ago, but the Peugeot was a more involved process because many of its original parts were missing.

The restoration process involved sourcing a vintage 650b wheelset and fenders, as well as handlebars, stem, brake levers, saddle, dynamo, lamps, and saddle.

My goal was to come as close as possible to the bike featured in this 1947 Peugeot catalog, and to err on the higher quality side when possible.

I think I achieved this objective and am happy with the way the build came together.  The NOS Ducel dynamo lights work well without excessive drag.  The bike is much lighter than its Raleigh counterpart, weighing in at a respectable 28 lbs. compared with the Raleigh’s 45 lb. bulk.  This is because the tubing is high quality Rubis, and the bike features many alloy components.

The Peugeot’s drive train is all original, with a 19-24 “Twister” freewheel, Simplex TDF rear derailleur and Peugeot 46T crankset.  That puts the gear inch range, with its 650b wheel size, at 50 to 63.  Very narrow and with no low or high gears.  The Simplex TDF shifts just fine, but needs a bit of correction both shifting up and down the gear range.

The Raleigh’s drive train is, of course, a Sturmey Archer internally geared hub, mated to a 46T Raleigh crankset, which is fully enclosed in its full length chain guard.  The AW hub with its 19T cog gives a gear inch range of 47 – 84.  A much wider range than the Peugeot, but mostly very high, especially given its bulk.

The Raleigh has steel rims, as compared to the Peugeot’s lightweight alloy Super Champion rims.  Both wheel sizes are similar, and both bikes feature full length fenders.  The Raleigh’s are steel (of course!) and somewhat mangled from years of use, and the Peugeot’s are lighter weight alloy.  All of these elements contribute to the significant weight difference between the two bikes.

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist

So, what bike wins my vote?  Believe it or not, it’s the Raleigh.  While it is MUCH more challenging to conquer hills on the Raleigh, the comfort and quality of this machine is no match for its highly competent counterpart.  The bike kind of self-propels once it gets going, due to the inertia of the heavy wheels.  And, the convenience of shifting whether stopped or not adds to this bike’s appeal.  It’s the bike I most often select for neighborhood jaunts, even though I may have to stand up and stomp to get it up the hills.  It’s a pleasure to ride and gives me a great workout.  And, it’s a reminder of what it’s like to experience the quality and craftsmanship of this era’s legendary Raleigh marque.

14 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Three Speeds

  1. Very nice! I love that old Raleigh Sports. On paper, it always looks like the old Raleigh three speeds won’t be good. Of course, then you ride one and you’re hooked.

    Have you thought of a bigger cog for the Sports? I usually run 23 tooth cogs on my three speeds. My ’68 Raleigh Superbe has a 46 tooth chainring and the 23 tooth cog, giving the gear range (in gear-inches) of 40.6/54.1/72.1 I find that low of 40″ gives appropriate range for the hills on the east side, yes, even for the Triple Butte Crown of Rocky, Powell, and Tabor. And I never feel like I need more than 72″ for a high.

    I had a Peugeot project city bike from the ’60’s that had that type of three speed gearing, but let it go before I did anything to it.I know that the wheels were steel and am pretty sure that the tubing wasn’t as nice as the one you have. I loved the beautiful matching Peugeot bell.

    • That’s a great solution to give the bike a more appropriate gearing range. I’ve had a bigger cog around for a while but need to prepare myself for the ordeal of removing the full chain case! While nice to have, it does make it more time consuming to service the bike (which almost never needs servicing).

      • Yeah, that’s the pro and con of those full chain guards. I hear that in the Netherlands they rarely take off the rear wheel to patch a flat, they just “unbead” the tire at the flat, pull out tube, patch, and put back in.

  2. There’s just something I love about that beat to hell rear fender on the Raleigh.
    Somewhere within all the scrapes, chips, dents and worn spots lies its personal history.

  3. Nice bikes and glad they are “living on”. So many times the old three speed bikes are overlooked and just left as garden ornaments , which is cool but in a way kind of breaks my heart. Unless a bike is beyond repair, it needs to have someone pedaling it to new adventures, thank you for keeping the flame, Joe

  4. I wonder if you know or can guess at the reasons for the weird, slack geometry and minuscule top tubes of road braked roadsters. I’ve ridden plenty of them, and I recall how close the bar was when standing to climb, or when trying to get long and low for speed on the flats (the solution was basically a Graeme Obree position with fists clasping bar on either side of stem and chest on bar). I know that they weren’t meant to be ridden like this, but I saw very many other riders — India, Pakistan, Kenya — doing the same thing.

    So, why the weirdly cramped riding position? In other words, why design the frames for bolt upright, with handlebar grips hitting your knees? Was this a holdover from the Ordinary?

    And also, for the 3 speeds, why the weirdly high gearing? 96″??? My father had the Hero he bought me for birthday 11 hot rodded with scarlet paint and AW hub for birthday 12, and I just knew that keeping it in 3rd / 96″ made me faster; but it was certainly harder to pedal.


    That said, I **would** buy a Raleigh DL-1 instead of a Sports — I’ve owned many of these, too; simply not as fun, although more rationally designed.

      • Same here. My “sports” bikes, either the Raleigh Wayfarer, Raleigh Superbe, and Robin Hood, all handle remarkably well, whether with upright bars or drop bars.

      • I was talking about the rod-brake-roadster design, with the very short tt and very short stem, and ends of bars adjacent to your knees. The Sports (I’ve owned several) are quite different.

  5. I had my junior ten speed stolen when I was about 12 years old ( from the school bike shed ). Despite being relatively well off, my dad decided that I would just have to ride my sisters bike, a Raleigh 20 Shopper ( 20 being the 20″ wheels ). It had the 3-speed and hub dynamo and was HEAVY. It was probably the making of me because I got a lot of stick from the other kids and made a point of leaving them in my dust on the ride home from school every day. Luckily we lived in a part of England that is very like Holland no hills for miles around and dykes along all the roadside in the country. I could just about muscle the Raleigh over the railway bridges that qualify as hills in the town.

    The hub dynamo was the thing that stuck with me and I built a wheel for my current bike with a Shimano alloy version. It has been running for 20 years now.

    • I owned a Sturmey Archer rear hub that **combined** AW gear and dynamo in one big, heavy chromed-steel case; the hub must have weighed 8 lb. I thought of installing it on a bike but decided to sell it and let someone else carry it around. Fascinating piece of machinery, though. (I use SON and SP dynohubs nowadays.)

      Speaking of SA hubs: I just took delivery of a custom road frame designed to accommodate a wonderful AM hub (medium ratio, more or less equivalent of 2 cogs between overdrive/3d and direct/2d, and ~3 cogs between 2nd and underdrive/1st; 74-66/57 gi). Wonderful hub with aluminum shell and, with SA wingnuts and QR indicator chain, easy to remove rear wheel.

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