Friday, June 15, 2012


Well, they do say that change is the only constant in this life....

My return to regular urban utility cycling coincided, nearly, with my '63 Raleigh Sports beginning to have some serious problems with the left crank and the spindle in the bottom bracket. Coupled with the poor braking capability (nearly nonexistent in the rain, which does tend to be an issue in these parts), it was getting to be time look to something else. The parts in question are often difficult to find and increasingly expensive...though I am on the look-out for them if you hear of anything!

I had the opportunity to see and ride a splendidly-equipped Dutch bike and immediately took to its fully-upright riding position, as well as its solid construction and excellent components for all-weather cycling. At first all was delightful. Then, gradually, it became clear that my knees are more "English" than "Dutch." The slack seat tube angle on the Dutch bike meant that I could not get up out of the saddle to "pump" when taking off or going uphill, and in general I found that this position was not agreeing with my legs. I tried many different suggestions to remedy the problem, but what made the issue clear was that when I got back on my old Raleigh (after what turned out to be some temporary repairs), the problem went away. Hmmmm.

So, after much consternation, I learned how to use Craigslist and sold my still very new Gazelle. In the meantime, I read about and tested some bikes with the geometry I had learned was more to my liking. I learned a lot. There are a great many options out there now, and it gets a bit overwhelming after a while. But, when it came right down to it, I was looking for something that rode like my old Raleigh.

Eventually, I decided to go to the Raleigh web site and see what they were producing. I had heard that after a time in the bicycle "wilderness," this firm was making good bikes again...though pretty different critters from those with which I was familiar once upon a time. I clicked around their catalog and then suddenly came upon it: their relatively new three speed Classic Roadster. Good heavens.

There it was: an updated version of good ol' Walter (my old Sports). My street testing had shown me that I would never want to go back to a derailleur system for in-town biking. The Raleigh was a three-speed (not Sturmey-Archer anymore...but Shimano's system gets good reviews). The handlebars and riding position puts one pretty upright...even more so than the Sports did, really. The bike came with a decent chain guard (I do miss the full chain case on the Gazelle, though) and fenders (I'm making some mud flaps for them, as they are a bit short). Best of all, the new version has brakes that really work. JalapeƱo! This model year one of the colors was a nice glossy black (perfect for a clergyman), and the whole package came in at 31 pounds -- that's about twenty pounds lighter than my Dutch bike. Raleigh had also changed the gearing from the old days, making the entire thing geared down a bit...which is nice for the type of biking I do. All-in-all, I had to test-ride one.

This meant a trip out of town. The cyclery I went to in Portland had one. Using a free afternoon, my wife and I journeyed up to the Metropolis and test rode it. I'll write more about this later. Suffice it to say I was very pleased with it. I was prepared to leave it up there and journey home, considering it all. But, my kind spouse asked me my review: I said it seemed ideal. She said: "Then let's buy it." So, we did.

I've been out on it as much as my travel schedule and needs permit, and I must say that it seems just right.

The reason for this post is not just to tell people that a fairly poky middle-aged guy has purchased a new bike. It is to remind myself and anyone happening on this blog that sometimes we make mistakes in our bicycles. Things don't always work out as planned...and that this can be correctable and result in both some useful learning and some insight. My Dutch bike was "top of the line" in most respects. My new Raleigh is a good bike, but not nearly as luxury. It is, however, probably more in line with my needs and my particular build. While not as fancy, it is more practical. I'm simply not that fancy a person. To have stayed with the Gazelle would have been more about pride than practicality--and that is not what the life I'm committed to is about. Change was needed and accepted. That's a truth applicable to everything in life.

I have not yet named my new "steel steed," but am thinking about it. Until then, I'm plying the streets of our town on the Next Generation of Three Speed human-powered transport, and my knees are much happier.


  1. I remember when I was in the market for a new bike - it was so confusing. I wasn't even really sure what I wanted, except that I knew I wanted a folding bike because my apartment is so small. I too made a purchasing mistake. I didn't research properly at first, and I bought a small-wheeled folding bike. I test rode it, and I didn't love it, but I was assured that I would get used to the ride and the handling. After about a week, I still wasn't feeling it. It was twitchy, and the small wheels meant I felt everything. I almost even fell off going over a larger pothole. Not the bike for me.
    Then I found out about Montague bikes, which are full-sized folding bikes. I did a test ride, and it felt just like riding my old bike. Like you, I prefer the internal gears, so I got the Boston 8, which has the Shimano 8-speed, and I could not be happier. I'm so glad I decided to get rid of the small-wheeled bike...I don't know what I was thinking there!

  2. Thanks, Alex. I've been away from my blog for a bit, but wanted to respond. The Boston 8 looks like a great solution to your needs, so congrats on finding the right thing in the Bicycle Jungle. Like you, I have felt a bit frustrated with myself for my purchase of a bike that didn't work out. The simple fact of the matter was that I didn't have the experience or the guidance to get the right type of bike at first. It is a bit like finding a car that suits one's back and legs...a short test drive just won't do the trick. I was so enamored with many of the aspects of the bike I was purchasing that I didn't know how to "read the tea leaves" about the problems that would ensue with this particular design. In purchasing this new bike, I had a lot more to draw from in making the decision. At least it was a much less expensive learning experience than a bum car purchase! Blessings on the journey...

  3. When my wife and I first got into cycling for transportation, we bought Electra Amsterdams, his and hers. They were nice, until we started riding them more than around the block, at which point lights started falling apart, spokes started breaking, and we realized that the geometry that allowed you to put your foot flat on the ground while sitting on the seat meant that you could put almost no power into the pedals (even more extreme than a Dutch city bike, almost kind of semi-recumbent).

    After a while, I ended up purchasing a 1953 Raleigh Sports on Craigslist, which totally opened my eyes, it was brilliant. Unfortunately, I did have the crank spindle break on me, and it was never quite the same after that, due to cotter issues (though I did make it rideable). At the moment, I've got a heavily modified Raleigh DL-1 (Royal Roadster) from about 1980, which is kind of my dream bike. My wife has a WorkCycles Secret Service. Both of those bikes have been brilliant, and really fill all our daily transportation needs (along with walking and public transit).

    From my experience with new Sturmey Archer hubs, you're probably better off with the Shimano, honestly :) Unfortunate, as the 4-speed SA hub on that 1953 Raleigh Sports was the best hub I've ever ridden, I loved that thing. Worked perfectly at nearly 60 years old, was completely solid.

    Could I ask where in Portland you got the Raleigh? Curious to see it in person :)

  4. Yes, the old SA hubs were often (not always, as I know from one model) excellent. My '63 still works flawlessly. I've never known it to misbehave, except when I have not adjusted it properly after removing the rear wheel. The Shimano doesn't feel as "solid" as the SA, somehow, but has been fine thus far. I'm pretty used to the twist shifter, but like the trigger model better. Somehow, I remember better which gear it is in with that form of indication. Maybe the muscle-memory will kick in for this one, eventually.

    I purchased the new Raleigh at Metropolis Cycle on N. Williams (the only place around with that model on hand). They were very helpful and easy to work with. I'm going to post a piece sometime about how different cycleries handle folks like me...people neither in the "sport" camp, nor really "hardcore" (yet?) about transportation cycling. The employees at Metropolis were very easy-going about it all...just your "friendly neighborhood cyclery" sort of feel about it.

    I have been amazed by how completely my knee pain went away once I changed back to this frame style. I was beginning to worry that age was catching up to me on this...but not yet, I guess! When I was out today on an errand, I could not help but notice how natural and easy this pedaling position is, especially on the moderate hills I deal with.

    Your DL-1 does look great...I'm only a little envious ;-) I miss having a full chain case, but I guess that's just not in the cards right now. We will see how things go this winter. I'm just one mud flap away from being "ready" for the rains--though I prefer not to think about that just yet.

    Keep in touch!