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 17T cog gives a gear inch range of 52 – 93.  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.

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!

Pdx Commute: 1950 Raleigh 3 Speed!

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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!

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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.

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The Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub, combined with the 46 tooth chainring, has a gear inch range of 42 – 75.  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.

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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.

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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…