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!

Portland Bike Share – 1st Ride on the 1st Day

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With Portland’s typical giddy fanfare for anything bicycle related, the city’s bike share program went live today.  I had tentatively planned on attempting to test ride one of these bikes today, and as it turned out, all of the day’s mishaps led to my first ride on one of these orange monsters.

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I was down at South Waterfront awaiting an annual doctor appointment which went awry.  My physician’s schedule got seriously backed up so after waiting for too long, I had to reschedule and move on to my next appointment.  But, while I was cooling my heels in the waiting room I had time to download the Biketown app on my iPhone and go through the steps to set up an account and review the process of renting the bike, which at first seemed kind of daunting.  Thankfully, the app worked perfectly so that when I exited OHSU to the street level to feast upon the orangeness surrounding me, it was very easy to enter my codes into this solar powered key pad and unlock the bike from the rack.  Unfortunately, the bike I unlocked turned out to be unrideable.

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The bike’s quick release for the seat post binder bolt would not hold position because the nut on the bolt could not be turned to tighten it.  Lacking any tools, and knowing that I was not willing to damage (further) my knees with a too low seat height, I put the bike back into its rack and forfeited my $2.50 rental fee.  Then, I checked the seatpost QR’s on all the other bikes in the rack and found that they similarly could not be tightened adequately to hold the seatpost, until I finally spotted my ride – an orange monster parked askew with the seat post jacked way up.

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So, I entered my codes again – a very easy process that involves an account number plus a PIN, unlocked the bike, slung the lock into its holder on the left side, tossed my brief case into the front basket (which is very narrow), and started to get underway.  During this process, several cyclists approached me and asked about the steps involved in renting these bikes and how the system works.  I did my best to educate them with the tiny bit of knowledge in my head at the time.

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Then I mounted the 45 lb. machine, which involves pushing your leg above the lowered top tube rather than throwing a leg over and which actually seems harder to do.  Immediately I noticed the terrible handling – a result of ill conceived frame geometry for a bike which is designed to carry its weight on the front.  The bike wobbled around as I got underway, and I felt like a novice cyclist rather than the experienced rider that I am.  Once moving, I was okay, but anytime I put my foot down the bad geometry kicked in and the bike weaved from side to side. But, as with any bike, you can adapt to strange handling characteristics with enough saddle time.  I’m not sure I really want any more saddle time on these bikes, though.  My 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, which also weighs 45 lbs is an absolute gem in comparison, being well balanced, easy to handle, and with an amazingly comfortable, if upright, riding position.

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These bikes, provided by Social Bicycles, aka SoBi, are equipped with a shaft drive and an internal Nexus 8 speed hub.  Having not ridden a shaft drive before, I was curious if I would notice any particular differences as compared to a chain drive.  And, I hadn’t tested the Shimano 8 speed internal hub, so I was also curious how this component would perform.  Since I needed to head over the to east side of Portland, that meant taking the Tilikum Crossing‘s mild but long hill in my work clothes.  These bikes have no bottle cage, so even if I had a water bottle, it would not be readily accessible.  Riding east over the bridge, I was passed by ALL cyclists, and a few called out to ask me how I liked the ride.

I found the shaft drive to feel fairly normal, but the Nexus hub seemed to have a lot of inefficiency in the lower gears.  I only engaged the 4th and 3rd gears of the hub, but those gears felt so compromised that I ended up stomping up the hill in a higher gear so I could avoid the sluggish feeling that the hub offered in the lower gears.

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The Kenda tires were fine and seemed to absorb some road shock, but the High Nelly upright position made my back hurt right away.  The drum brakes required a lot of force to stop the bike quickly, making me think “whoa, Nelly!”.  At least there would be no danger of doing an endo on one of these machines.

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By the time I got to the east side of Portland, I couldn’t wait to scan the horizon for the first orangeness I could spot.  I ditched this bike at a Bikeshare rack along the Max line, and continued the rest of my journey via public transportation, having spent a total of $3.60 to rent the bike, and now spending another $2.50 to continue on my journey.  While on the bus, I sent an email to customer support to alert them to the seatpost QR issue.  A few hours later I received a response letting me know that if you encounter any mechanical issue with a bike, put it back in the rack and hit the “repair” button on the keypad and the bike will be taken out of service until the issue is resolved.

Who are these bikes for?  Well, maybe Nike can answer that question.  Portland is unique in that its Bike Share program is not funded with taxpayer dollars, but rather relies on the millions received from corporate sponsors.

Possibly, these bikes could be useful for inner city users who need a quick jaunt to areas not covered by public transportation.  The apps provided by SoBi worked extremely well for me, so the barriers to use involve not technology, but lack of access to technology.  And that will be my final criticism for this program.  Who is it helping?  Those who don’t really need help at all.