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.

Pdx Commute: 1950 Raleigh 3 Speed!

Brooks roll up bags

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.

Brooks roll up bags

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…

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist C Model

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1951 Raleigh Catalog

Here is an all original 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist Ladies model.  The above photo shows its condition after much cleaning and mechanical work.  The bike includes the original frame pump, plus a Brooks B-72 saddle and a rear Dutch carrier (both upgrades from the base model shown from the 1951 catalog above).  The frame serial number dates to 1949, and the Sturmey Archer hub shows a 1950 date, so I have concluded that this is a 1950 model. The price in British pounds indicated in the 1951 catalog translates to about $850 in today’s dollars, suggesting the bike’s quality and also the massive depression in bike retail prices concurrent with the advent of mass-produced aluminum frames built in China (more on that in a separate post).

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This “All Steel Bicycle” really is ALL steel.  The rims, cranks, handlebars, chain guard, stem, steatpost, fenders and rack are steel.  It weighs 45 lbs!!!

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The original black paint was very vibrant after cleaning and polishing – an example of the quality that was part of Raleigh production values.  The rear rack is a Dutch after-market model of the same era – but its paint has chipped and faded over the years.  The original rubber block pedals show wear, but were in perfect mechanical condition and were easy to overhaul.  The Sturmey Archer shifter was designed to be used with a 3 or 4 speed hub.  It’s a bit fussy, and combined with the tuning of the cable tension on the rear hub took some time to perfect the shifting so that the hub did not freewheel under hard effort (not a pleasant experience while climbing).  The rear fender displays a 1962 bike license from New England (plus indications of a mishap years ago).  When I purchased this bike I learned that the original owner had ordered the bike from the Raleigh factory in England, had it shipped, along with her husband’s bike to New England, and there the two of them toured all over the countryside on their Sports Tourist models.

Raleigh steel rims – matching serial numbers front and rear

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Rust on internal portion of rim

The wheels, with matching serial numbers front and rear, were seriously rusted.  It literally took days of cleaning to get the majority of the rust off the interior and exterior of the rims.

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Sturmey Archer AW 1950 3 speed hub

I call this 1950 Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub,  the “self-propelling hub”.  It may never wear out.  Combined with the massive inertia of the steel wheels and steel cottered cranks, once this bike gets going, it keeps going.  While it does take a certain psychological mindset to ride this 45 lbs machine up the steep hills in my neighborhood, the bike bring smiles to all passersby, and amazes me with its ability to absorb road shock.  The upright position is a little bit Wizard of Oz, but that adds to the fun.

Recommended by kitties worldwide.