Monday, November 14, 2011

It's New! It's Old! It's Vintage!

Apologies for the delay in posting for the maybe five people who read this. As it turns out, starting a blog at the exact same time you start a new job (after almost two years unemployed!) isn't such a great idea. Really going to have to get on a regular posting schedule soon!

But anyway, big news: I got a new bike! I shouldn't have really been trawling Craigslist's bike section, but I did and came upon a vintage three-speed Raleigh Sports at a price I could afford. After hemming and hawing for a few days, I finally realized that I couldn't not at least look into it, and shot the owner an email.

Parks and Recreation: lessons for life.

The bike lived in my old stomping ground of Towson, at one of the soulless apartment complexes that are so numerous in suburban Maryland. I was late to my appointment, because the road I had to take didn't have sidewalks and drivers in MD speed like hell so I was a nervous wreck. (In fact, the lack of sidewalks in a lot of places there is one of the reasons I decided to start cycling!) But once I got on the bike -- well, after me and the bike's owner went to a gas station to fill the tires -- everything felt a lot better.

I'd been wary of the steel-is-king mantra, believing it just to be a scam to sell expensive steel-frame bikes to suckers. But wow, it's true: steel is better on potholes, cracks, grates, and all the other road inconsistencies that you get in an average city. During the test ride, I deliberately rode it over some extremely shitty potholes, and ones that normally would have put my heart in my mouth were little more than gentle waves. On an aluminum frame, you feel everything, and while I don't dislike aluminum as much as other bike enthusiasts (sometimes you want to feel the road!), I can't deny that steel is in many ways superior for a city environment.

The internal hub feels far different from a derailleur. The "junk in the trunk" effect took a few minutes to get used to, but it makes the bike feel a lot more stable. It's much harder to climb hills on this bike, but that was only an issue for two hills I encountered on the way back from Towson, and will not be an issue with any hills in the city. (I also imagine my riding style and my legs will learn to compensate for the extra rear weight.) I do notice it has a tendency to drop out of gear randomly, usually when I'm trying to shift while pedaling (the opposite of a derailleur, which can only change gears while you are pedaling). But these are just minor inconveniences. On the plus side, my chain hasn't fallen off once; it falls off at least every tenth ride on my hybrid, leading to hands that are stained black for at least the rest of the following day. But then, I tend to give the gears on my hybrid a workout, using all seven on the same two-mile ride.

The bike is in seriously beautiful condition for its age. The blue paint isn't faded or patchy at all, looks like it just came out of a showroom. The only rust I see is a slight bit around the back fender which considering the bike is from 1973 is a goddamn miracle. I wonder if this thing was even ridden at all! The Brooks saddle isn't a "real" Brooks, i.e. leather, but it is super comfy and I don't plan on changing it. And while I'm not usually a person who notices or cares about little details on bikes, I admit to loving the lugged frame and little chromey details on the fenders. And that reflector on the back fender! Everything on this bike is adorable.

So cute I could explode!
Things to add: lights! Right now I put my little clippy lights on at dusk, but I'm probably going to spring for some kind of generator system (at least in the front) as the bike is set up for it with a headlight bracket. I may also get a rack, but not unless I can find one that doesn't look out of place on a vintage bike. This may just become my city commuter, with the hybrid as a grocery bike plus a bike to ride on rails to trails and other recreational rides where I have to drive the bike to the ride spot. (The Sports doesn't have quick release wheels, so no car rides for this baby.)

So, yeah, buying this bike was pretty gratuitous but we all need to do something gratuitous for ourselves every so often. I smile every time I look at it, even when I'm not riding it. And I've already gotten a few compliments, which is something I care about even though it's sorta shallow. Basically, if you have a few Jacksons to spare, treat yourself to a vintage bike. It's still cheaper than a month of gas.

A good view of the front. Hello there!


  1. This is a beautiful bike! And yeah, steel is real. When I borrow an aluminum bike I can feel the difference, i.e. every bump in the road. I hope we cross Baltimore bike paths soon! Are you hitting the Bearings Bike Project fundraiser on Friday?

  2. I don't even know what that is! I just moved here in August, haha. But after Googling, yeah I might come. I definitely want to hit up one of the ladies' rides sometime. I'm still trying to psych myself into attending a Critical Mass.

  3. A bit late to the party, but:
    Welcome to the cult of old British three speeds! Good score there!

    I've found that while these bikes are pretty great as they are, there are a few things you can do to them to make them a bit better:
    1) install a larger rear cog. Old Raleighs tend to be geared high, so putting in a 20 or 22 tooth cog can make it easier pedaling.
    2) install better brake pads. The salmon colored Kool Stop pads (Continentals) do good with the steel rims.

    There are also some pretty decent tires available in the not-that-common 26" x 1 3/8" (aka 590mm or 650C) wheel size these Raleighs come in. I like my creme colored Schwalbe Delta Cruisers!

    1. Yeah, changing the rear cog is something I plan to do once I start taking this bike to work, along with installing dynamo lighting. Right now I'm taking my hybrid to work just because it's a lot easier to climb the elevation back through Baltimore on my way home on it, plus I don't have a rack on this bike yet (and don't know if I'm going to put one on). Can't wait to use it for commuting at least part of the time though, I just feel so awesome when I ride it. :)

      In theory, cream tires are a pretty accessory, but I do wonder how people keep them clean!