|The whole (English) Enchilada, now well into its fifties...like me.|
A few weeks ago I was able to perform the necessary surgery (in what, I assure you, was the most jury-rigged of repair shops) to revive my 1963 Raleigh Sports—named Walter—and put it back on the road.
This involved the changing of a cotter. I happened to have a spare Raleigh cotter from the right period and was blessed to be able to improvise the cotter press using a c-clamp and a curious oversized nut I’ve been keeping around for years (now I know why, I guess). After some dicey moments, the cotter popped out of the crank arm and I was able to put the new (old) one in its place. Walter’s original stem and handlebars were also pretty damaged, so I swapped out the identical parts from a parts bike I have on hand and, hey presto, I was ready to go.
Well, it was a pretty slow "hey presto"…but it did eventually get going.
I purchased this bike from its original owner in about 1977. It was one of a his & hers pair…now I wish I had purchased both of them (though at the time that would have seemed crazy). It was pretty beat up when I purchased it, and I put quite a few miles on it until about 1980 or so, when I got my Peugeot UO-9. That bike ended up demonstrating that my back requires an upright position when biking.
While I was proving this to myself, Walter hung from the ceiling in the garage over at our coastal cabin, roughly until 1993. Amazingly, when I took it down to see how decayed it was, I found only a little additional surface rust, most of which came off with steel wool. Though the Brooks saddle wasn’t in the best of condition, everything else (especially the Sturmey-Archer 3 Speed Hub) worked. Even the tire tubes held air. From 1993 until 2007 this was my daily-use bicycle while I served as the priest in a small town in Northwest Oregon. I went to church, parish and community meetings, bible studies, and pastoral calls on this quite often. Along with my straw hat, it was my “signature” around town.
While there, I had the cotters replaced at the local cyclery. They put modern, non-Raleigh cotters in, one of which failed immediately (this is the problem with the standard cotter…they aren’t the right shape for Raleighs, which, of course, used a proprietary shape and taper).
Eventually, the left crank had such an amount of “flop” to it that it was unusable. It was this problem, along with the nearly nonexistent brakes in the rain, that made me decide to look into a new bike. That put me on the odyssey leading first to my Gazelle Dutch bike and then (when that one and my knees didn’t get along), to my new Raleigh Classic Roadster (the bike I use most). But, all the while, I wanted to get Walter back up and running, at least for leisure cycling.
The old Sports design was slightly more aggressive than Raleigh’s traditional roadsters, with a more efficient geometry generating a bit more speed. The Sports remained quite comfortable to ride, though, finding a good balance between styles for the average cyclist. The three speeds allowed for a wider variety of terrain, and the sturdy steel frame was reasonably light. I still very much appreciate this bike’s gearing, though not everyone agrees with me on this.
After having had a derailleur bike, I came to conclude I liked the ease of operation of an internal hub gearing system better, especially in town. With Walter, just a few drops of oil in the hub a couple times a year seems to be enough to keep things shifting incredibly smoothly. I wonder if the Shimano Nexus 3 Speed system on my newer Raleigh (named Hugo) will prove as durable.
|The rather sober down tube decal of this period Raleigh looks nice...but the paint is far less attractive in real life.|
Walter was my third bike, but cycling has always been in my life.
When I was very young, mom would put me in a special infant bike seat on the back of her single-speed blue bike (these are some of my earliest memories) and take me along to go on errands or some light grocery shopping. I loved it. Mom took some flak from a few people who then (as some do now) thought it was too dangerous to be putting a young child on a bike. She would have none of it. With dad often needing the one car they could afford at the time and with our town being quite flat, she wasn’t going to be marooned at home out of fear or other peoples’ opinions. I still credit her with planting in me the desire to cycle as a regular part of life.
My father also biked to work often at one point, using a green 3-speed with the handlebars dropped (just today I saw a bike in a cyclery’s storage shed that is almost exactly like the one he had all those years ago). As with so many things, what you see growing up can have a major effect on you throughout life…for good or ill. I learned that cycling was enjoyable and practical.
|The green 3-speed in the middle of the photograph is essentially identical to the one my dad rode in the mid-late 1960s. I just saw this bike today while out and about and thinking about this post.|
My first bike was a solid rubber tire affair my parents purchased from Montgomery Ward. It was kind of them, but I didn’t like that bike. It's true...I didn’t have to worry about flats. However, the solid tires not only made for a bumpy ride but (oddly) much more difficult steering.
My second bike was a used Schwinn Typhoon with balloon tires (I guess I was making a statement based on experience) and large metal rear baskets. This was the bike that taught me to love cycling. In addition to my own explorations and visiting friends, mom would sometimes send me to the store with a list, some cash or (later) a signed check made out to the store for me to fill in the total amount (that was another era, obviously). I could get two full grocery bags in those baskets. I guess these were my first utility cycling experiences.
|The white fender tip, though rather beat up, still gets one's attention; glad to see Raleigh has brought this back in some of its new "heritage" models.|
Eventually I wanted something larger, faster, and more adult…thus the purchase from a friend’s father of the already old-fashioned Raleigh Sports. I popped the baskets on the back and continued my travels, though by now I extended them pretty much all over town—the city library and the classical record section there being my favorite destination. This was the bike that accompanied me through my early and mid-teens, and confirmed in me the belief that bicycles are one of the few entirely good pieces of technology.
|The heron decal is badly abraded, but the old bicycle still bears the marks of classic Nottingham style...|
As I entered my later teens, I began to think about longer distance cycling and ended up trying the touring bike style so popular then. The research and work I put into raising the cash for this was significant…but the result was a dawning awareness that my back wasn’t like other peoples’ backs: I never liked the crouched position required by drop handlebars. I also learned that I really am just a utility cyclist, not a sporting, racing, or touring type.
When I returned from seminary in New York City and wanted to resume cycling as a parish priest, Walter seemed the obvious choice: solid, practical, upright, and English (I am, after all, an Anglican priest). Thus, the renewal of my relationship with this fine, albeit antiquated, form of bicycle technology.
|The basket is not beautiful or original...but oh, so practical. I've brought Holy Communion to many folks this way...|
The brakes don’t work well (and never will), making this a fair-weather bike for me; yet, it will always remain the bike that brought me into adulthood and the upright cycling mindset this blog is about. I'm grateful to have it still...and to enjoy these waning warm and dry days wheeling about on it.
|On to more adventures (but not in the rain) on my trusty "steel steed" from England,|
made about the same time I was!