A review after really using something for a while
In the spring of 2012 I purchased a black step-through
framed Raleigh Classic Roadster and have been riding it quite regularly since.
I wrote up a short review a while afterwards; that review has had a fair number
of hits and responses from people looking for just this sort of bicycle (or,
who also purchased it and wanted to share their experiences).
thought it time to write a status report on how this bicycle (which I’ve named
Hugo) is holding up, what its strengths and weaknesses seem to be, and how I
have modified it over the last year.
bicycle is generally well made. I have a fairly hefty build, and the bike’s
design and build quality meet the requirements excellently. The steel frame is
nicely welded and looks to last a long while. This is the first thing I look
for in a bicycle. I have only had one disappointment in this area. Due to a bad
batch of wire, some spokes broke on the rear wheel, necessitating a rebuild.
various component systems are adequate to very good. The brakes, while not of
the highest caliper (sorry about that), function well in the rain—something
that I was most concerned about. The Shimano three-speed internal hub system
has proven flawless thus far. I did end up replacing the pedals (more about
this below), but the crankset seems quite nice and sturdy. Considering that it
is mass-produced, much of the bike has a certain elegance about it.
After a year, would I
purchase this bike again?
[As you can tell, this is not an extremely sophisticated
blog, and I don’t take Great Photos. I am just an ordinary person who advocates
using a bike for basic transport where possible. The pictures used to
illustrate this section are taken of my bike “as is,” with no attempt to
The Classic Roadster (I’ll abbreviate it as the “CR” from
here on out) is Raleigh’s successful effort to update and improve on the famous
“Sports” line of 3-speeds made by this company in the decades following WWII,
up until the early 80’s.
The CR is a well-designed bike able to serve as basic
everyday transportation. It is not meant for touring (though I have heard it
used for such) or racing. It will not make your heart beat faster because of
its associations with famous cyclists, hipster culture, or the chance to wear
lycra. It is really just a steel-framed 3-speed bike, solidly but elegantly
constructed, that wants to be ridden at a leisurely pace on a regular basis.
Like the Sports of old, this bike has a pretty upright
riding posture and a smooth feeling ride…probably even a bit more so. Unlike
that venerable Nottingham steel workhorse, it has functional brakes (even in
the rain). This, alone, was worth its moderate cost. I like being able to stop
Because of the size of the front and back cogs, the CR is
rather lower-geared than the old model Sports. This can be remedied by having a
slightly smaller rear cog put on at little expense. Since I don’t need the
speed, I’ve left it just as it came.
But, I’ve done a fair bit of modification to this bike by
way of additional components in order to make it truly useful for utility
cycling through the year. There is in fact very little left on my eventual list
of additions/upgrades to do. All of this seemed quite worth it, as the basic
bike is so well constructed and thought out.
The seat that came with Hugo was covered in a materials
suggesting that at least one Naga’s hide had gone into it. The basic construction
was, shall we say, not ergonomic to my anatomy. I intended to purchase a
leather saddle of the type I had for years on my old Raleigh Sports, and was
given one this Christmas. Riding short distances is great thing for breaking in
a new Brooks saddle—and I am enjoying the process. It does mean I need to bring
a seat cover with me to places, though—both for keeping the leather dry, and
discouraging any “sticky fingers” regarding that saddle.
The CR comes with quill pedals, which seem a bit out of
character for it. They are OK as pedals go (less slippery in the rain than I
expected; I only beat up my shins once on them). The main problem was that they
were wearing away the soles of my shoes. I am very much a utility cyclist of
the “old school,” bicycling in the clothes I wear through the day. My leather
street shoes were getting pretty badly mauled by the cleats on the pedals. When
one of the reflectors fell out of my left pedal, I took it as a sign that it
was time to get a new set. Fortunately, this is both easy and economical. $17
later I had a fine set of metal & rubber platform medals that aren’t
slippery at all, don’t threaten my shins, and are very kind to my shoes.
We all have our points of vanity, and one of mine on a black
bike is natural rubber tires. They look nicely antique and compliment the frame
elegantly, I think. The tires that came with the bike were fairly skinny (I
think 30mm)…certainly a bit skinnier than I liked. I found some of the few
remaining Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires around (via Amazon…I gather that this
tire line is no longer being made). These are not only well-made tires in
natural rubber, but also a bit wider (35mm), cushier, built to take a tire
generator’s wear, and come with a very visible reflective strip on the
sidewall. They were quite easy to put on. Their only drawback is that they get
dirty from the brakes in the wet winter, but an occasional cleaning restores
things right as…well…rain.
A utility cycle just about requires a rear rack. I found a
Topeack model that was both sturdy and came with a “rat trap” spring clip for
quickly securing things like rainwear. The rack attached nicely to the eyelets
built into the bike’s fork and frame. It also has a mounting for my rear light,
allowing me to take it with me so as not to “lose” it when locked up for an
extended period of time.
The CR doesn’t come with lighting, which is a pity, as it is
essential for most likely users. Fortunately, remedies for this problem abound.
I have a belt-and-suspenders approach to bicycle lighting,
largely because I’ve experienced having a night ride in the rain when my
battery-powered lights died. So, I took my old Union bottle generator lighting
set from the 1970’s and put it on Hugo right away. Though I rarely use it, it
provides the security of modest emergency lighting at the cost of some drag.
Finding light bulbs for it is getting a bit tricky, though.
Mostly, I use a variety of LED lights that work better than
most modern generator systems I’ve seen. On the front, I have a relatively
inexpensive CyclePlanet “Beamer” that flashes, so that I may be seen by
oncoming traffic. This light, however, isn’t worth beans to see by. After
reading various reviews, I selected a Serfas as a primary light, and
wow…it works. For the sort of riding I do, I couldn’t imagine needing more
power than this (though they are available). It comes off the handlebars very easily…which is important,
considering how expensive it is. Makes a good flashlight, as well!
On the wheels I have two spoke-mounted flashing LED units;
together with the reflective sidewalls, they make me quite visible at night.
The CR came with a bell…but I didn’t notice it for a long
while! It is built into the left brake lever (you can see it in the photo, if
you look carefully) and is a nice touch. It is a bit quiet but really quite
sufficient, as most people don’t notice a bell even if you throw it at them,
what with earbuds, legalized marijuana, overstressed lives, &c. I have
another, louder bell, but am considering taking it off, as it needs
occasionally oiling and the one built into the bike is maintenance-free.
My old Raleigh Sports long had a wire basket on it. When I
purchased the CR, I had a black Wald basket installed at the same time, and
have already had a great deal of use out of it. I often take Holy Communion to
people at home or in the hospital, and place it in the front basket while I
travel. When not doing so, I sometime take off my coat, gloves, and hat when
they get too warm and stuff them between the bungee cords to secure them while
riding. I attached the flat bungee cord to the front of the basket to hold
letters I am going to post on the way. I often keep my locks in the front
basket, as well.
This gets a lot of comment from people, of course. Living in
the Pacific Northwest, it almost seems essential, though. I actually don’t have
coffee too often when riding, but when I do, this holder keeps it in easy
reach. Because the handlebars that came with this bike are rather narrow, it
took some shimming using pieces of rubber to make this work, but it seems quite
sturdy now. I am thinking of rigging up an umbrella carrier using this holder
for the top portion (based on one I saw online). We’ll see…
Yes, you read that correctly. I have an extra one of these
gadgets, and since the garage door has no outside handle & lock, it is
rather nice to be able to actuate it from the street. I just put it in some
plastic wrap and cable-tied it to the basket. It has worked fine since. I
sometimes put a toothpick in the top for post-lunch dental hygiene purposes….
The CR comes with fenders…something essential to this sort
of bike. They are really quite attractive and have proven sturdy, with only
some occasional straightening of the stays and tightening at the fork
attachments needed. The front fender is, however, rather shorter than it should
be. When I would ride in the rain, the bottom bracket, chain, and lower rear
fork stays would get quite dirty from the front wheel splash (my shoes weren’t
really the issue, oddly enough). To remedy this, I have fashioned a prototype
mud flap attached with cable ties for the winter season. I am likely going to
make the “final product” a bit longer, and will also make a flap for the rear
wheel. A certain amount of DIY in utility cycling is almost expected, I guess.
When I purchased the CR, I found it came with no kickstand,
so I found an old one I had on hand and bolted it to the bike. It isn’t
elegant, but it works…and this design doesn’t crush the chain stay tubing, either
(something that cannot be said for many kickstand designs out there). It just needs a
bit of oil from time to time and keeps on keeping on.
I am always trying to figure out how I could put together a
more fully-enclosed chain case. This is something I found very attractive about
my previous Dutch-style bike. Keeping the chain dry, lubricated, and protected
from grit extends its life and keeps it from getting grease on one’s clothing.
The chain guard that comes with the CR
is certainly adequate (and adjustable), but it doesn’t cover enough of the
chain to work in an ideal manner. Finding a way to cover all but the far rear
of the chain would be the best solution (full coverage involves some real
complexities by the rear hub). I don’t have an easy answer for this, as there
are almost no aftermarket options available out there. I suppose this will only
change when bicycles are seen by more people as basic transport, not status symbols
or sporting goods.
Another characteristic of a Dutch bike is the skirt- or coat-guard. These help keep one’s clothes from getting caught in the rear wheel
spokes. If made of a sheet of plastic or canvas, they also keep mud from
spattering on one’s clothes and panniers. This is another project I still think
about applying to Hugo, especially in the winter. I’m thinking cable ties will
come in handy here once more….
I might try these in order to see if they make less black goo
on the rims and tires during winter. I know, I know...its a bit Obsessive/Compulsive...but it is pretty harmless.
I write this to any who are interested in this bike with a recommendation that you consider it carefully. It won't work for everyone (which bike does?), but it probably could serve many people who desire a bicycle for truly practical purposes quite well. If you have any questions about this review or the bike in general, don't hesitate to contact me.