Quite recently, I started working at a small bike shop. There is a lot of performance and spandex. Titanium frames compete with carbon fibre for floor space; the only concession to hipster bike culture are two choices for handle-bar mounted coffee cup holders.
But in the back, behind the maintenance shop, hanging silently from the wooden rafters where two old, steel-framed bikes. A Trek and a Raleigh.
I have a bit of weakness for old bikes. Hell, my LeMonde from 2011 is a retro-styled steel frame.
I’ll try to explain the appeal. First, there is the greater appeal of bicycles: the efficiency, the culture, the fitness, and the environmental pluses. Next, comes the notion that “one’s bike reflects upon one’s self”: bikes are personal. It’s something people take a lot of pride in and rightly so. Vintage bikes have some real style, real mystique. I swear this is more than just the hipster side of myself coming through in full force and effect. Biking is a universe unto itself and vintage bikes are a sort of touch-stone holding together the biking community.
So I’m in the process of buying one of the old bicycles, from an ex-cop out of Utah. It’s a 1973 Raleigh Super Course, in green. It’s the perfect show-boat for my daily commute. I’d found my new project. The owner is a retired cop out of Spanish Fork, Utah. Sounds like he’s put a lot of miles on, but has maintained them fairly well.
Here’s how I found it, hanging from the rafters.
Plenty of grime and dust; some light rust; but fundamentally sound. Vintage bikes are definitely an on-going project. The components are largely handbuilt (about as handbuilt as anything gets these days) and hand-tuned. Bikes are both incredibly strong and fragile at the same time. This is part of their appeal.
Certain traits are highly valued in the vintage bike world; but there are plenty of individuals who simply like what they like. Therefore, some bikes are loved but not collectable and vice versa. A Raleigh Super Course from the early ’70’s has some nice traits, but Raleighs of the time are not noted for their quality, nor are considered particularly collectable. For me, this looks like a great bike to
Made with Reynolds 531 steel (desirable), The Raleigh is a twelve speed, operated by shifters on the down-tube. These shifters are so obviously not ideal that they feel downright eccentric. Because you have to move your hand down and off the handle-bars, and thus significantly shift your weight at speed, the effect can be quite thrilling. They are also slightly slow to shift (or so I have found). I love ’em.
A Suntour derailleur is considered a better component (a lovely name in either case) operates a free-wheel style cog-set, (as opposed to a modern cassette. I suspect that this is an upgrade by the owner. The crankshaft is a Stronglight cottered crank. Cottered means a pain to install, maintain and replace; one suspects that the designer had forgotten Ockham’s dictum about simplest being best. The original Brooks saddle and Capella lugs (the decorative bits which hide the welds) are the icing on the cake. Mini fenders add practical protection without making the bike look ungainly.
You can see the Capella lugs, highlighted in gold paint thanks to the owner, surrounding the head badge. Some of the stickers or badges have worn off, and that’s not a great sign, I admit, but it’s not the end of the world.
We’re deep in art, not science, territory here. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I am getting myself into, with this, my first vintage bike. But I’m excited. Anxious. Nervous, even. I have plans: $200 to $300 for the bike, then a gradual program of renewal and remodelling.
I’ll keep you posted.