The Raleigh 20 & The Society of Three Speeds

When I used to stop cycling during the winter I’d always keenly anticipate the first ride in spring. Getting back on the bike after the winter hiatus was always exhilarating.  Now that I cycle year round I miss having that first ride. On the other hand, I now get to look forward to the first ride of the year when I don’t have to use the winter bike. For the past few years my bike of choice for that ride was the 2008 Kona Jake CX bike, a happy blend of road bike and mountain bike. It’s a good choice for spring riding: zippy and rugged.

This year I had something else in mind for the first spring ride. Today I took my 70’s Raleigh 20 3-speed for a little trip to Bikeworks North to make a few changes to the ol’ folding bike. 3 speed bikes have been on my mind lately as I had recently received an enrollment in The Society of Three Speeds. Shawn Granton, the society’s self-appointed president for life, mailed me a membership package containing a number of buttons and stickers featuring his always great art. Receiving this bundle of goodies in the mail was a nice surprise that cheered me up on what had been a sort of lousy day (thanks Shawn!)

R20 &b the Society of Three Speeds

The three rules of the 3-speed society are:

  1. I will endeavor to promote three speeds as a viable means of transportation.
  2. I will not denigrate three speed bicycles and will not allow others to disparage these humble bicycles.
  3. I will ride my three speed bicycle with pride and immense enjoyment. If I have not yet procured a three speed bicycle, I will do my best to obtain one posthaste.

I can confidently state that I will uphold the rules of the society. I have two 3-speed bikes and have ridden many kilometers on them, both commuting and for the pure enjoyment of the ride. Readers of this blog may recall not only the Raleigh 20 already mentioned above, but also the 1965 CCM Continental. Both bikes are equipped with the Sturmey-Archer internally geared hubs that seem to tick along reliably doing their job for decades.

I picked up the R20 last year and spent some time in the early summer getting it road worthy and set up to my satisfaction. You can see my blog post showing its original condition here. Through the later part of the summer and early fall I put at least 500 km on the bike a lot of fun doing so.

The R20 had a number of peculiarities to consider when setting it up.

The bottom bracket is of unusual dimensions and requires heroic measures if you wish to set it up to accept a modern square taper crankset. Although  I have access to the tools to do this job I decided leave it unchanged as the original crankset was in perfect condition and featured a nifty heron design on the chainring. Unfortunately, this means having to deal with the crank cotters whenever I want to service the bottom bracket. Completing that chore for the first time was tough as one of the cotters was well seized in place and pretty mangled by the time I removed it.

The R20 has an unusual headset, a sort of combination of a threaded and threadless headset. It also lacks top ball bearings and instead has a plastic bushing. I had read that this results in stiffer steering,perhaps a deliberate choice of the designers who may have wanted to dampen the quick steering associated with many folding bikes. When I first tried the bike I found the steering to be unpleasantly stiff. There is modification that you can do to replace the original headset with a 1″ threadless headset, resulting in better steering. Before going to this extreme I tried simply greasing the bushing and lower ball bearings and correctly setting the compression. Afterwards,I found the steering to be much easier: quick and responsive. For my purposes, no headset modification was required.

The one major change I made was to replace the steel rims with alloy rims. This is a good upgrade for old bikes, resulting in a lighter wheelset and better braking. I ordered the replacement rims from ebay and laced them onto the original hubs. I used Sun CR18 presta rims and drilled out the valve hole to accept schraeder tubes. After buying the bike and paying for the rims I was feeling a little cheap so I reused the old spokes. This is generally considered a bad practice but in this case the old galvanized spokes seem to be holding up just fine so far. They were a bit too long for the new rim,but a few minutes with a die-grinder shortened them adequately.

I also made a number of smaller changes to the bike.

The original saddle was horrible, so last year I replaced it with a salvaged foamy “comfort” saddle. This was OK, but today I swapped that one for a Brooks B66S that I picked up back in December via a Kijiji ad. Much classier and quite comfortable so far.

I also replaced the tires today. The original tires were beyond use and the only replacements I could find at Bikeworks at first were a set of grey wheelchair tires.These were in pretty doubtful shape themselves,with the wire bead showing through the cracking rubber at several points. I rode these tires for hundreds of kilometers last year and though they let me get the bike on the road, I was always aware that they could fail at any time. The tires I put on today are NOS tires that I discussed in this blog post. They are in excellent condition and I like he looks of the black tires on the bike more than the grey ones.

I added a rack to the bike. I used an old Pletscher rack that I had on hand. A small modification was necessary as the rack was made for a larger wheeled bike and so I had to shorten the stays. I cut them to the correct length and pressed new flats on them using the hydraulic press at work. Then I drilled new holes and was it was ready to install. Pletscher racks aren’t suitable for carrying a lot of weight but I have used this one on successfully on numerous grocery runs so far.

Pletshcer rack modification

All in all, the bike has shaped up nicely. The brakes still need some attention as the stopping power is less than great. I almost ordered some Tektro dual pivot long reach calipers but decided that I will first try a few more basic measures first like replacing the cable housing and cables. Eventually. In the meantime, I’ll still keep racking up the kilometers on this trusty ol’ 3-speed folder..

Raleigh 20

Happy Spring Riding!


Spring Cycling (Edmonton Style)

Spring Snowstorm

This is what the second day of spring looked like here in Edmonton. During the mild weather of late February and early March I was getting used to riding on asphalt again. Dreams of zipping about on summer bikes were starting to overwhelm me. No worries about that happening soon. I am fully back in winter cycling mode.

It was a pretty good spring snowstorm that settled in on my fair city on Thursday. The morning ride to work was through an idyllic winter wonderland. The snow was falling heavily but had only accumulated a couple of inches deep. It was such a perfect winter morning (pardon me, spring morning) that I was tempted to call in sick at work and spend  the day cycling. Instead, I dutifully toiled the day away on the huge backlog of work while frequently glancing out the window at the ever deepening snow. During my lunch break I went out for a quick ride around the industrial neighbourhood and had a lot of fun.

The ride home promised to be interesting. The radio was reporting the closure of major roads and many accidents. There was a 100 vehicle pile up on the QE2 highway with as many injuries. One of the trucks was hauling a load of cattle that had to be moved from the scene of the accident. I can only imagine the chaos. It took 12 hours for the police to get the highway open to traffic again. The news reports presented such a dire image that our boss shut the shop down 2 hours early and sent us home.

I am pleased to report that my ride home was tranquil and pleasant. My route was through lightly traveled residential roads and the MUPs. Close to a foot of gorgeous white powder had blanketed the city streets. In these conditions you just stick to the low gears and churn steadily and slowly along. Sometimes, the back wheel acts more like a riverboat paddlewheel than anything else. On the rare occasion that a motor vehicle approached me from behind I pulled over to the side and let them pass. On days like this you can’t be sure that drivers have control over their vehicles. On most occasions the motorists gave me a friendly thank you wave for the courtesy. It’s nice when cyclists and drivers can get along like this.

As approached my usual entrance to the trail system I found that the way was completely blocked by a car that had slid down into the trail.. I stopped to talk to the woman in the car to see if she was OK. She was fine and told me that she was calling for a tow truck but was on hold. Later that night I heard on the news that people could expect to wait for up to 6 hours for non-emergency tows. I wonder how long she was there

The ride through the ravine was beautiful. I was the only cyclist and I saw very few pedestrians. It was a real pleasure to break fresh tracks through the deep snow. I stopped frequently to snap photos and shoot a little bit of video. I only had to resort to pushing my bike at a few spots. All the while I was happy to not be in a vehicle creeping along the main roads through the glacially slow traffic.

As I neared home I found that the trail by the LRT tracks had been plowed. This was a very happy way to end the ride. I arrived at my house wobbly legged and drenched in sweat but quite content.

Riding through beautiful snowy Mill Creek Ravine.

Riding through beautiful snowy Mill Creek Ravine.

aking these photos while plowing through the snow with one hand on the bars and one hand holding the camera was....not easy.

Taking this photo while plowing through the snow with one hand on the bars and one hand holding the camera was….not easy.

Having taken the effort to snap these photos I'd hate to not use them on the bog.

Having taken the effort to snap these photos I’d hate to not use them on the blog.

One more...

One more…

Be careful where you set your bike down. You might not find it again.

Be careful where you set your bike down. You might not find it again.

Spring Snowstorm

I went for a short walk in the woods.

I went for a short walk in the woods.

Back on the roads for some contrast

Back on the roads for some contrast

Home again with a smile on my face.The winter beard earning its keep.

Home again with a smile on my face.The winter beard earning its keep.

Busking the St.Patrick’s Day hockey game.

I had great hopes for the Sunday afternoon busk. I’d be playing celtic music on St.Patrick’s day for a crowd of possibly inebriated fans. Disappointingly, the crowd response was lackluster and though I left with more cash than I arrived with the total was nothing to write home about.

As I didn’t take any photos at the busk to use in the bog I  recorded one of my busking sets when I got home. Only one take,so not perfect (but that describes my playing when busking). I was struggling through computer problems when editing the video so the resolution is not what it should be, but I have no energy to fix it. Because I’m a contrary sort,  the tunes are a mix of Scottish and Irish despite being for St.Patrick’s day.

The tunes start slow (sort of) and get fast. It’s a nice long group to play as the crowd flows past. Played on my Flood-Tone mandolin made by American luthier Thomas Flood.

Space Available March – Lord Seaforth Strathspey – Walker Street Reel – Humours of Tulla  Reel – The Banshee Reel – Temperance Reel


The Daylight Savings Conspiracy


Each year, in the spring, the residents of many countries set their clocks ahead one hour for daylight savings. We do this unthinkingly. Perhaps we gripe a little about losing an hour of sleep. The fore-thoughtful will console themselves with the knowledge that in the autumn they will enjoy an extra hour of time in the day when the clocks are turned back. The hour has not been lost, it has merely been temporarily placed in our daylight savings.

This idea of a daylight savings deserves examination. Where do we place this hour of our lives for safekeeping? Is it the temporal equivalent of hiding it under our mattress? Or is it more a like a savings account at our bank?  These questions strike to the heart of the conspiracy. It is my belief that the hour of time is deposited in a savings account and yet WE DO NOT RECEIVE ANY INTEREST PAYMENT on this deposit.

How could this have passed unremarked for so long? Firstly, the authorities distract us with claims of the benefits of daylight savings time. It reduces the amount of energy used to light our homes, they say. This part of the conspiracy stretches all the way back to the 1700’s when Benjamin Franklin suggested that people could economize on the use of candles by rising earlier in the morning. Benjamin Franklin died in 1790. Do you know who else died in 1790? Adam Smith, author of the Wealth of Nations and godfather of capitalist thought. I need not spell out the sinister implications of this fact.

Furthermore, the first time daylight savings was instituted was during World War I,as Germany and its allies supposedly tried to reduce the use of coal. As we all know nations often use the pretext of war to pass measures that are not of benefit to the citizens but to the oligarchs.

Another benefit stated for daylight savings is that it permits greater use of the evening daylight hours for recreation.This populist sentiment is an excellent distraction and seems valid at first glance. However, an experience from my youth calls it into question. In 1988, when I was teenager, my home province of Newfoundland experimented with double daylight savings: clocks went TWO hours ahead in the spring. That summer the sun didn’t set until midnight. The greatly extended sunlight hours hampered our efforts to conduct transactions behind the corner-store, getting adults to buy beer for us. The covert acts of transporting and consuming this beer also became difficult. Alcohol consuming parties around beach fires were not the same in the seemingly perpetual sunlight. Our recreation was in fact negatively affected by daylight savings.

There are numerous other arguments I could make use to make my case but for the sake of brevity I will move to my conclusion. We deserve a proper rate of return on the hour of time that we deposit in our daylight savings. I am not a greedy man, and so I suggest a modest interest rate of 5% for the period of deposit. This would mean that in the autumn we would receive back 63 minutes for our personal use. This is fair and equitable.

I do not claim to know who is currently benefiting from the interest on our daylight savings. I do know that they will not surrender this profit without a struggle. I have been advocating this change for several years now (primarily through Facebook status updates) but I have made no progress. I now hope that my blog readers will join me in this crusade for temporal-economic reform.

(Regular cycling blog content shall now be resumed.Thank you for your patience.)

How not to break in a leather saddle.

No saddles were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

No saddles were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

There are a lot of opinions on the best way to break in a leather saddle. I’m no expert. I have 4 leather saddles that I bought used and all but one of them were already broken in. The one that wasn’t broken in was a decades old NOS Wright’s W3N. It was quite dried out, hard as a rock and completely unrideable. While I was trying figure out how to bring it back into usable condition I did a bit of online reading on the subject.

For new saddles, the consensus seems to be to not do anything drastic. Break the saddle in by riding. Don’t oversoak the saddle with oil because once the oil is in it’s there to stay. Don’t mess around with the tensioning bolt until the saddle starts to sag after many years of use. Overall, the more gently you treat the saddle initially, the more years of use you will get out of it.

A while back I picked up a number of old cycling books from a second hand store. One was from 1980, “The Bicycle Touring Book” by Tim & Glenda Wilhelm. It’s a pretty good book, and deals out thorough (if sometimes outdated) advice on bike touring. It also has the following peculiar advice on breaking in leather saddles. The bold text emphasis was added by me.

First, place the saddle either directly in the hot sun or near a 100-watt light bulb. Do not put it where your hand is not comfortable with the heat. Turn it over after about half an hour. When the leather is as warm and soft as it is going to get, tighten the nut under the front of the saddle…Tighten the nut to the point where the saddle is drum tight, but don’t overdo it and tear the saddle from the rivets.

Next, while the saddle is still warm, apply some sort of leather oil (neatsfoot, mink, Huebard’s shoe grease) to both sides of the saddle. Keep the saddle warm and apply oil until the leather won’t absorb any more. If the saddle loosen’s, tighten the saddle’s adjusting nut again to keep it taut.

Once the saddle is saturated, keep it in a warm place for 10 to 12 hours – in the sun or under a warm light. Now, find a comfortable place to sit and beat on the top of the saddle with a 12-ounce to 16-ounce ball peen hammer. Use the round ball end. If you don’t have a ball peen, use a rolling pin, section of pipe or any smooth rounded object. Beat on the entire surface but concentrate on the rear portion and along the top edge of the saddle where it folds over. Let the hammer do the work; you don’t have to pound hard, just continuously. How long? How soft do you want your saddle? The more you beat, the softer the saddle becomes.

If the saddle loosens up a lot, tighten the adjusting nut again. This process takes a few days to complete because your arm gets too tired. Do it while you watch TV or walk around the block – that will give the neighbors something to talk about…

Now test the saddle for flexibility. Most tourists like their saddles to flex a little; loosen the adjusting nut to accomplish this….You don’t want it drum tight either. Your saddle is now ready to ride.

It reads like a list of everything you are not supposed to do to a new saddle. Not to mention things nobody would consider necessary to warn against, such as hitting it with a hammer for two days. I think it might be useful if you need the saddle to be ready RIGHT NOW and aren’t concerned with having it wear out in short order. With these saddles typically costing at least $100.00 I’d like them to last as long as possible.

Has anybody out there tried this method? If so, I’d love to hear how it worked for you and how long the saddle lasted.