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!

A 1940’s/50’s Mercier Meca Dural

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This French Mercier bicycle has captured my attention.  It is made from duralumin – the same stuff blimps were made with – by Meca Dural using a unique procedure to join the tubes with aluminum lugs and wedged steel internal expanders.  The Meca Dural company produced aluminum frames from the 1930’s through the 1950’s on behalf of a number of cycling manufacturers, Mercier being one of them.  A Mercier Meca Dural is included in the Embacher collection (which was sold in its entirety at auction, earlier this year).  The blackbirdsf site also has photos of a variety of duralumin frames of various manufacturers, including Aviac and Barra, as well as Meca Dural.

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This Mercier Meca Dural is a “ladies” bike with a step through frame, although it is not a mixte frame as it lacks the set of extra chain stays typically used to stiffen the frame.  Depending on many factors, this may or may not be a good thing.

The bike features a Stronglight crankset with 46 teeth, CLB 700 brakes with useful and ingenious quick release mechanism, Atom hubs, Samir Saminox 700c rims, Huret plunger/pushrod derailleur, a 4 speed freewheel, and a serial number on the left side rear drop out – 16822.  Here are some photos of the components:

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Huret derailleur with plunger/pull chain mechanism – for 4 speed freewheel.

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Stronglight 49D crankset

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Tank pedals

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Atom hub with Huret wingnuts

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Very nice CLB 700 brakes

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Mercier headbadge, with upper round Meca Dural headbadge missing

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Crankset lettering – Louis Verot chainring with 46 teeth, bottom bracket connector bolt

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Rear drop out with SN 16822

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Beautiful lug design which includes cable routing braze-ons

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Ideale Leather Saddle, Model 80

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Alloy porteur bars, CLB Guidonnet levers, Sufficit grips, Luxor headlamp, Dural Azur stem

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Luxor 65 headlamp

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Samir Saminox 700c steel rims

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Bottom bracket lug, joined below with bolts

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Hammered Le Martele Lefol fenders, hammered rear lamp.

Mercier fork

Steel fork with lugged chrome fork crown, amateur paint job, Stronglight headset

The bike has a number of issues which will affect the restoration process.  The steel fork was horrifically spray painted gray  – so the paint will need to be removed.  Upon closer examination, I have concluded that the wheels are not original to the frame.  There is a 1975 date code on the Atom hub, and not only that, their diameter suggests that this bike was built for 650b wheels and not 700c – the fork crown and rear brake bridge daruma bolts foul the 700c tires.  Clearly the bike was built for 650b wheels, which I confirmed after measuring the CLB 700 brake reach.  And, some features are missing –  the fenders show that the bike originally had a rear and front rack, and the fork mount dynamo is absent, as well as the original chain guard.

Even so, I am looking forward to restoring this machine and to its first test ride, as I want to experience the feel of the aluminum frame and steel lugs, and to judge the frame stiffness for myself.  Stay tuned!

My 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist

1973 Jack Taylor

I seem to be on a 70’s Brit-bike craze!  But it has lasted a while, as I have had this Jack Taylor Tourist Mixte for about 8 years.  At the time I purchased it from Hilary Stone, he thought it was a 1960s model.  After the bike safely made its crossing over the Atlantic, I disassembled it for cleaning and was able to read the matching serial numbers at both the rear dropout and the steerer tube more clearly, and have now dated this bike to 1973.

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The build quality of this bike is classic Taylor brothers, with incredibly smooth brazing at all the joints.  It is made, of course, with Reynolds 531 double butted tubing, and features Campagnolo dropouts, hand-hammered fenders, through-the-frame dynamo wiring, and those beautiful and colorful Jack Taylor logos.  The Taylor brothers followed the practice of building their mixte frames with a single sloping standard diameter top tube fillet brazed at the seat tube with the two extra mixte stays of fairly narrow diameter.  Having ridden all kinds of mixte frames, I have to say that this method is likely not the most ideal in terms of adequate frame stiffness.  On this bike, the head tube feels somewhat independent from the rest of the bike.  Mixte frames are best, in my opinion, when built with twin lateral sloping down tubes that extend to the rear dropouts, or if a single tube is used, extending the mixte stays beyond the seat tube also helps keep the frame adequately stiff, such as this design by Peter Weigle.

Stronglight 38T drilled

Sachs Orbit hubStronglight crankset

This is one of the few bikes I have ever ridden that was geared too low for me.  It was set up with a Stronglight 99 crankset carrying a single drilled 36 tooth ring (pictured first), mated to a Sachs-Fitchel Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub with a 6 speed cassette ranging from 14 to 28 teeth.  The hybrid internal hub is meant to take the place of the front derailleur (or add to it, if you are Sheldon Brown and want 63 gears), and it provides a direct drive, and one lower gear that is about 25% lower than the direct drive.  So, with this set-up, the lowest gear was around 24 gear inches – wow!  Unfortunately, the gearing topped out at 65 gear inches, and that meant that I didn’t have much in the way of a comfortable cruising gear, much less any way to power up to speed on a sprint.  Since I didn’t want to change out the Stronglight 99 crank, I replaced the 36 tooth ring with a 38, (pictured second), and that helped a bit.  Even so, I rarely engage the lower internal hub gear, as I really don’t need it, so I ride this bike as a 6 speed, for the most part.

1972 Jack Taylor

The photo above shows its original configuration as shipped, but it is very likely that the Sachs Orbit hub set up was not part of the original build, but was added later.  I don’t think these hubs were made until the 1980’s, and the 27 inch (yes, not 700c) rims do not match, with the rear being a Weinmann and the front rim remaining unbranded and probably the original wheel built by Ken Taylor.

This is one big mixte!  The seat tube measures 54cm and the effective top tube length is a whopping 55cm.  With its large wheels and big frame, it cuts an imposing  shadow.  The bike came equipped with no-rise French-sized mustache bars shimmed into a Milremo stem.

1973 Jack Taylor Tourist

So, I changed out the bars and stem to bring them closer to me using a tall no name stem with very little reach and some Soma Mustache bars.  I also swapped out the Madison leather saddle, which was pretty worn, with the Ideale Model 75 saddle pictured above.  Unfortunately, while looking very pretty, this leather saddle, though vintage, is still hard as a rock and needs some breaking in.  Here are photos of the rest of the components:

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Suntour V-GT rear derailleur

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Mafac cantilevers, of course.

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Milremo front hub with very stylish wingnuts.

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Soubitez dynamo

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Constructeur racks front and rear, mounted only to the fenders.

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Seat stay brazing, nice and simple. The paint now looks great after weeks and weeks of cleaning and polishing.

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This photo was taken before cleaning and polishing.

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Original French mustache bars. SunTour Stem mounted shifters.

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Another broken reflector

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She’s a beauty!  I commuted on this bike for a few years, but haven’t ridden it much lately, as I still have not made ergonomic peace with it.  With spring coming, I think I will dust if off and see if I can’t make this ride a bit more comfortable for me.