1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist – 45 lbs of Riding Pleasure

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I recently cycled home from work on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist.  The bike had been sitting at my office for a while.  One of the reasons I haven’t ridden it with greater frequency is that the full chain guard (“gearcase” for those who speak British) and the drive side crank arm contact each other with an annoying noise with each pedal stroke.  Previously, I had tried to solve this problem by mashing various parts of the gearcase with my hands to see if I could force it into a different position that would provide clearance for the crank arm.

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As I was noisily making my way up Clinton Street, I came upon a rider on a Mercian.  We chatted for a while and I learned he was riding an early 80’s model that a friend had given him as a frame (nice gift!), which he then built up.  That’s only the 2nd Mercian I have spotted in Pdx, aside from my own.  Interestingly, because my Raleigh is geared so high, I ended up surging past him in my big (but lowest) 52 gear inch as we began to climb the steeper hills, and so we parted company.

When I arrived home, sans heart attack, I put the bike into the shop stand, determined to solve the gearcase/crank arm clearance problem.  The first thing I did was to mark the position of the axle in the dropout and the adjuster on the shifter cable.  This way, I could restore the wheel and cable back to their current position – something which took a while to perfect so that the hub shifts correctly.

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One thing I’ve gotten questions about before is how to get the gearcase off the bike.  There are two pieces at the back of the gearcase which can be removed by unscrewing the bolts which attach them to the main part of the gearcase.  After that, there is a bracket which attaches the gearcase to the chainstay, plus a bolt which holds the front part of the gearcase, and attaches near the bottom bracket.  Once those are removed, then it’s a matter of re-positioning the gearcase and sliding the opening at the back through the narrowest part of the drop out.  The photos above show how this is done.

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Once I had the gearcase off, I took my mallet to it and tried straightening it out a bit.  Then, I tried various methods of altering the position of the gearcase once I re-mounted it to the frame, but nothing worked.

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Finally, I took my files and filed away a small section of the metal on the inside of the crank arm, to provide more clearance.  I didn’t want to take a lot of material off.  But with these solid steel crank arms, I probably have nothing to worry about.  Ultimately, I was successful in adjusting the gearcase cover to eliminate any contact with the crank arm.

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Since I had the pedals off, I thought it might be time to overhaul them. Their last overhaul was 8 years ago.  Sure enough, the grease was pretty dirty.  Fortunately, the brilliant design of the cone and lock washer made the process incredibly quick and easy.  The tabs on the back of the cone make it simple to adjust the cone to perfection.  Once adjusted, the cone’s tabs lock into position with the grooves on the lock washer.  If your adjustment needs a tweak or two, just loosen the nut and move the cone one notch at a time.  If only all pedals were designed this way!

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I headed out on the bike today and thoroughly enjoyed not only the new, silent drive train, but the amazing ride quality of this bike.  The steel frame and steel wheels absorb road shock very well, so that even the upright riding position does not transmit pain waves to your spine.  With the inertia of the heavy steel wheels, the bike really rolls once it gets going.  In my high gear, I have even passed a carbon fiber bicycle or two, much to their riders’ surprise.  The components, the paint, and the attention to detail in every aspect of how this bike was manufactured puts modern quality control to shame.

The bike responds to pedal strokes and never feels mushy or bogged down.  The geometry is perfect for the type of bike it is, and it does not wobble at slow speeds and provides for fun descents and excellent cornering at high speeds.  In fact, the ride quality of this bike is a sharp contrast to another 45 lb. machine I recently rode – the SoBi bicycles which are part of Pdx’s new Biketown bike share program.  Those bikes are made with large diameter aluminum tubing, and also feature an upright riding position, although much more extreme than that of the Raleigh.  The stiff aluminum frames, bad geometry and questionable component quality provide for a really unpleasant riding experience.

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It would be fun to see a bike share program which used quality vintage bicycles and de-emphasized modern technology (which serves as a barrier to those who cannot afford the latest internet device) as a way to introduce new riders to urban commuting. There are so many quality vintage bicycles out there. Find one and ride it!

Spotted on Hawthorne: a Rivendell Rambouillet

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As I was having lunch at a neighborhood cafe, I saw a cyclist pull up on on a Rivendell and thoughtfully lock the frame up with a beefy cable.  I don’t see these bikes in Portland all that often, but the first thing I noticed before I even realized what kind of bike he was riding was the Sugino X D triple crankset – a beloved component which, especially as manufactured in decades past, would seem to never wear out.  I had one on my old Cannondale, and it definitely rivaled the performance of my 1984 Shimano 600 triple crank, which is still going strong and is now mounted on my Terry.

I introduced myself to the bike’s owner, Roger, and asked permission to photograph his bicycle.  We struck up a conversation and I learned that his Riv was a retirement gift to himself, fully spec’d by Rivendell, and purchased new back in 2004.

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This model is no longer available, but as you can see, he has taken great care of the bike, even though it has thousands upon thousand of miles on it.  It was nice to visit with another “mature” rider who, though older than most cyclists in Pdx, clearly relishes each ride on his beloved machine, from centuries to week long tours to neighborhood jaunts.

Grant Peterson has to be credited with the welcome shift in the cycling industry back toward the comfort of non-racing frame geometry and lugged steel construction.  He also championed a return to bar end shifters, platform pedals, and “normal” cycling clothing.  The Rambouillet was designed with a slightly (2 degrees) sloping top tube so that the stem position could end up a bit higher to provide a more comfortable ride.

The original components appear to still be going strong.  Probably the Ruffy Tuffy tires were replaced a few times over the last 12 years – but maybe not.  Although I personally don’t care for the way they ride, I did use a set for a number of years and they never showed any wear at all.

This Rambouillet is even equipped with Rivendell’s quirky hi-viz spoke mounted reflectors, and a Rivendell water bottle!

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Sheldon Brown championed a number of Rivendell models, and counted the Rambouillet among his collection, which he first had set up as a fixed gear, but then later converted it to a 7 speed. 

Fortunately, Rivendell  continues to fill an important niche in the cycling industry – riders who want a quality machine with reliable components, a bike that will last through the ages yet not bust the budget.  This Rivendell gives evidence to the success of that mission.

It’s Not Me, It’s the Bike

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These are the words I say to myself when I am riding especially fast.  Or especially slowly, as of late.

This winter I have been using my Panasonic MC 7500 winter bike as my primary commuter, which is a change from past winters, partly driven by this winter’s wet and colder conditions which heralded the onset of a typically Portland rainy season last November.  Very recent winters have been gloriously warm and dry, so my choice of commuting vehicles was vastly expanded and even included scooter rides in the dead of December.  But, not this winter.  Portland is back to typical seasonal weather which can include anything from 35 degrees and raining hard, to light sprinkles in the lower 50’s (like today), and the occasional freezing rain and snow.  The short days also come with twilight seeming to descend in apocalyptic fashion in the middle of the afternoon.

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This bike was actually quite the machine in its day – the top of the line Mountain Bike in Panasonic’s line up in 1987.  It is built with Tange Prestige Cro-Mo double butted tubes, with forged drop outs and chromed chain stays.  The geometry on the smaller frame that I am riding features a slack 70 degree head tube combined with minimal fork rake, which would normally make it less than ideal for commuting, but its long wheelbase (107 cm) makes up for the higher than ideal wheel flop.  Consequently, I can usually avoid putting my foot down as I approach red lights and four way stops.

I bought this Panasonic as a frame and fork, then built it into a city commuter.  It went through various iterations, and now is set up for maximum comfort and utility.

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I was using a Shimano grip shifter and a 6 speed cassette, but after a black ice crash in 2012, the shifter broke apart (because it is made of plastic), so I splurged on a $7 no name friction shifter, made of good old steel.  That meant that I could install a 7 speed freewheel, and increase the bike’s gear range a bit.

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I had been using these UNO city bars, pictured above, but the shape and width did not agree with my anatomy, so I swapped them out for a vintage steel Northroad bar.  This bar is a great improvement in comfort, being narrower and putting my hands and shoulders in a much more neutral position, and increases the bike’s un-coolness factor by a few thousand degrees.

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Steel Northroad bars

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Further agitating bike snobs in Pdx, the Panasonic is sporting a duct tape rear fender repair job, and a ghastly kickstand.

The kickstand is a convenient accessory, and this design is useful for any bike where mounting in back of the bottom bracket is not an option (in this case due to the U-brakes residing there).  The stand is adjustable to any wheel size, and keeps the bike secure, even when I have my bags loaded up with groceries.

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I like using these Jandd Hurricane bags, which are aptly named and can handle just about any kind of weather.  Their vibrant colors augment my winter bike’s 1980’s color scheme, and add a lot to its visibility.  If you haven’t used Jandd bags, you are missing out on the ultimate in practicality and quality.  I have a set of Jandd panniers that are 30 years old, and still look new.

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The Panasonic MC 7500 is a bike that enthusiasts have embraced, but the frame does have its downsides – one of them being that on some builds, holes drilled in the seat stays (necessary to allow heat to escape while brazing), were actually drilled very close to the seat stay attachment.  Fortunately, on my frame, the holes have been drilled near the dropouts.  Unfortunately, the seat stay holes have caused a stress riser to appear on this cyclist’s bike.

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Paul’s chain keeper for my 1×7 drive train, with vintage Peugeot branded crankset.

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Specialized Nimbus Tires. Never a flat in six years, and the exact opposite of supple side walls.

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Possible stress crack

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After sanding to remove the paint, no stress crack visible.

On my own frame, I had concerns about the paint cracks which had developed near to the U-Brake braze-ons on the chain stays.  Whenever you heat the tubes to braze, there is a danger of overheating and weakening them. Since the frame was already cosmetically challenged, I had no qualms about taking my emery cloth and sandpaper to this area to see what lay beneath the cracked paint.  Fortunately, nothing at all.  But now I can monitor this area.  I will paint it with Testor’s clear paint so that I can watch for any future changes.

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SunRims on the wheelset I built for this bike – holding up okay but the sidewalls have been scored by my too hard brake pads.

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Offending hard pad on the U Brake – showing no wear which is a bad sign. Meaning that my rims have suffered instead.

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Repair job on the broken fender attachment.

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Repaired fender bracket.

While I had the bike in the shop stand, I decided to do a full tune-up.  I washed the wheels (a new wheelset which I built last year, and which are working well), picked rim material out of the brake pads, sanded the rear ones, replaced the too hard original Tektro pads which had messed up my new rims, and cleaned and lubricated the SunTour freewheel (more on that, below).  I repaired the broken fender attachment by rummaging through the parts bin to find a reasonable facsimile with which to repair the broken bracket.  I drilled a new hole through the center of the fender, and installed the new bracket.  Hopefully, it will survive and thrive.

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New front Kool Stop pads – replacing the original Tektros which badly scored my new rims.

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But now, to my chagrin, my newly cleaned and lubricated 7 speed Suntour freewheel is making very odd grinding and clunking sounds.  I have always loved Suntour freewheels, and have never had one fail on me.  After doing some research, Sheldon Brown (RIP) came to the rescue.  He described a situation similar to mine, where my newly lubricated freewheel began sounding clunky under load, and noisy while freewheeling.  I believe the problem may be a loose cover plate.  Meanwhile, I have a fun old Atom 5 speed freewheel from the 1970’s with English threads which I am going to install while I troubleshoot the beloved Suntour. The higher geared old Atom freewheel should make me ride even more slowly.  But, as I said before, it’s not me, it’s the bike.

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28 lb machine ready to hit the road.