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!

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Drumheller

Last week we had our first snowfall of the season. Although it didn’t amount to much and melted quickly it was like receiving a letter from Winter’s lawyer instructing us to Cease and Desist all summer activities.  Never fear, the cycling will continue as it is an all-season activity. Winter may disagree with me on that point, but the growing numbers of cold weather cyclists will soon convince him otherwise. However, this little snowfall has given me the motivation to finish up my backlist of summer blog posts.

MEC Dahon Origami in Drumheller

The Labour Day long weekend saw most members of the Tuckamoredew household visiting the town of Drumheller in the Alberta badlands. Originally established as a coal mining town, the town is now famous for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, a center of research that hosts a collection of more than 130,000 fossils.  Here’s a friendly word of advice dear readers: If you ever visit the museum (and you should, it’s excellent) try not to do it on a long weekend along with hundreds of other visitors, and most definitely try to avoid dragging a cranky 4 year old boy through aforementioned crowd.

The town sits in the valley cut by the Red Deer river, and as you drop down from the prairie above you enter a fantastic arid landscape, a 360 degree geology lesson. This terrain has been used to good effect in television and movies, notably Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”.  I would like to have spent a good deal of time exploring the area by bike but the family nature of the trip meant a lot automotive tourist activities. Also, the logistics of this trip meant I was only able to bring my wife’s MEC Origami folding bike. I did get to ride it some and tested it out on some badlands trails. I am pleased to report that it performed quite well, even when pulling my boy through rough terrain in a Chariot trailer. The first major stop was of course the museum.

The usual suspects were present in the museum.

My daughter providing a comparison of scale.

In addition to the Paleontology museum we checked out the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, an interesting window into the industrial past. The tour guides were lively and entertaining, regaling us with tales of scurrilous coal marketing, flatulent miners and hard working wild west type antics. I was interested to see the staff gliding about their business on a number of old bicycles.

Tuckamoredew will spot the bikes anywhere…

This is the last remaining wooden coal tipple in North America. The tipple was used to store, sort and deliver the coal to the freight trains. Our guide for the tour through the tipple provided a vivid description of the difficult working conditions for the workers of the time.

A graveyard of old coal mine carts.

Finally, no trip to the badlands is complete without seeing the hoodoos. These striking spires are formed when a cap of hard rock somewhat protects the softer rock underneath from erosion. My daughter showed her paternal genetic heritage by scampering to the top of the valley in my more cautious company. The rough trail to the top was somewhat alarming, with precipitous drops completely lacking any safety railing. I was acutely aware of my transmogrification into concerned parent as it would not have bothered me in the slightest when I was a youth.  I was aghast at the young children being allowed to crawl around the perilous terrain. Yes, I am but a shadow of my cliff-crawling, rock-hopping childhood self.

Hoodoos! These formations were protected from destructive idiot tourists by a fence.

However, there was no shortage of fools climbing about the surrounding terrain. I was one of them and it was the most fun I had on the trip.

Spectacular.

At the end of this busy day I managed to squeeze in a solo sunset ride on the Dahon. The ride was short but lovely and I’d like to visit the area again with more time to pedal. Someday…

TuckamoreDew saying farewell to Drumheller.

The Military Folding Bike

I generally try to avoid re-blogging and instead generate new content of my own. However, my computer is not working at the moment at my ability to blog is seriously limited by the small amounts of time I can sneak in on my wife’s computer.  Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a really excellent WordPress blog: The Online Bicycle Museum. As I have grown increasingly interested in vintage bicycles, this blog has provided endless reading and I highly recommend it. There are numerous “rooms“ in the museum to visit.

It being Remembrance day, I have been reading about the use of bicycles by the military. I was aware that the folding bicycle had its origins in military use. I  had the vague idea that it had first been invented for the use of WW2 paratroopers, but apparently they date back at least to 1900 and were used in the Boer War. The early technology seems to have left something to be desired:

There are, more especially on the Continent, critics who advocate the use of the folding cycle for military purposes. I cannot but believe that these must mostly be people who have never ridden a folding bicycle. It is heavy, lacks rigidity and strength, entails loss of time in folding and unfolding, and even when it has been folded and is strapped on to the back in such a manner, by the way, that it cannot possibly be unstrapped except by the assistance of a comrade, it is the most unwieldy burden I have ever carried.

The advantages claimed for it, even if real, would hardly compensate for these drawbacks; but the advantages are theoretical rather than practical. It is claimed that cyclists when they wish to cross fields, etc., will dismount, fold their bicycles and stow them on, their backs. I was once the proud possessor of a folding bicycle, which I used for experimental purposes, and I can assure you that for half a dozen excellent reasons nothing would induce me to take one on service, or if I did it would never be folded except when the spring got out of order and it collapsed automatically, which is one of its unexpected habits.

THE CYCLE IN WARFARE: ITS POTENCY AS A STRATEGICAL AND TACTICAL FACTOR.
By Captain. A. H. TRAPMANN, Adjutant, 25th (Cyclists) Battalion (County of London) The London Regiment. 16th December, 1908

I assume that the shortcomings were addressed, as these bicycles continued to be used by various militaries. Here are two early folding bikes from the WW1 period , one British and one Italian:

And here is a later example, a WW2 paratrooper`s folder:

I could post many more links here, but my stolen computer time will soon be over, so Ithink I will spend it wandering through the online museum myself.

MEC Dahon Origami Folding Bike

The household bike fleet has had a new arrival, a shiny new Dahon folding bike from Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Origami. This bike replaces my wife’s old bike, an 80’s vintage Dahon V. The old bike had made her a fan of small wheeled bikes, liking their small size and nimble handling. The old Dahon however was a rickety specimen and not a particularly good bike overall. We had considered some of the higher end folding bikes but considered that this one would best suit her needs and our budget. On Mother’s day she gave one a test spin and was quite taken with it. The two they had in the shop were on hold but they had two more in stock not assembled. We paid for one and the MEC bike shop had it ready by Tuesday. This is a momentous occasion. It is the first time I have ever purchased a bike new from a shop as I am more of a used bike kind of guy. It was nice that the bike came with some instructional documents and a two tubes of  paint for touching up scratches.

The specs according to MEC are:

  • Centre hinge allows lightweight aluminum frame to fold back on itself.
  • 20 x 1.5in. tires provide plenty of cushioning.
  • ProMax V-brakes are powerful and easy to maintain.
  • Nexus 8-speed internal hub allows rider to change gears whether pedalling or not. Gear range suits most city riding.
  • Folded size is approximately 34 x 67 x 64cm (13.3 x 26.1 x 25in.).
  • Adjusts to fit riders from 125 to 188cm (4ft. 10in. to 6ft. 2in.).
  • Designed to support a maximum weight of 105kg (230lb.).
  • Seatpost telescopes into the frame.
  • Handlebars telescope and fold flat.
  • SunTour pedals fold against crank when not in use.
  • Comes with a canvas carrying case, fenders, and a rear rack.
  • Manufactured by Dahon to MEC specifications.
Weight 11.9kg (One Size Fits All)
Frame Dahon R-series custom-drawn 7005 aluminum
Fork Dahon Integrated
Stem Dahon Folding
Seatpost BioLogic w/pump
Headset Dahon Fusion+
Handlebars Dahon Flat
Grips/Tape Velo Ergo
Brakes ProMax V (V-brake rim)
Brake Levers ProMax V aluminum
Shifters Shimano Nexus Revo
Derailleur (Front) N/A
Derailleur (Rear) N/A
Crank + Rings Dahon aluminum
Bottom Bracket Dahon
Pedals Suntour folding
Hub (Front) Dahon Mini
Hub (Rear) Shimano Nexus 8-speed
Cassette Dahon 13T
Chain KMC Z410
Spokes Stainless
Rims Dahon aluminum
Tires Dahon Roulez 20 x 1.5in.
Collar Dahon Covert
Saddle Dahon Comfort

I took the bike home using my Chariot child trailer. Folding the bike was easy enough to do without consulting any sort of instructions. It doesn’t fold particularly small or quickly but this is not a feature we will be using often. If they were easier to find we might have purchased a small wheeled bike that doesn’t fold at all. Still, it is definitely an improvement over the old Dahon which was a beast to fold. The center hinge does seem stiff to me but is quite solid.

In short order it was unfolded and ready to go. My wife took a short spin and was very pleased. Later that evening I snuck off and took a short spin myself and I

Ready to go!

Unfolding.

can report that this is quite a nice little bike. It is very solid with no flexing or creaking, has a nice tight turning radius and is overall very zippy (technical term). It is SO much more rigid than the old Dahon. I quite like the internally geared hub. It is shifts to lower gears very smoothly, almost unnoticeably. The shifting to higher gears is more obvious but still smooth. Being able to change gears while stopped is certainly a commuting advantage . I haven’t taken the time to figure out the gear inches or to test it on hills but so far the gear range seems spot on for urban use. It has a number of other nifty features that I’ll  detail in the photos below.

Home from the Famer’s Market with a load of groceries.

Loaded Panniers.

This week-end my wife borrowed  a set of my panniers and went on a shopping trip to the Farmer’s Market downtown. The rack is quite small and my feet had heel strike problems with the 40L panniers when I was testing them out on the bike . My wife, on the other hand, has much smaller feet (size 5 1/2 AA) and had no such problem. The origami proved quite able on this utility trip and she hauled home lots of groceries and some bedding plants. It is worth noting that we have been having uncharacteristically windy weather here in Edmonton and she was able to power through the headwind.

Time will tell how this bike holds up an performs but so far, so good. My wife says it makes her feel more like a real cyclist though she does miss the smaller 16 inch wheels of the old bike. I’m looking forward to trying out more myself and I’ll be sure to post any new observations here.

UPDATE:  I have discovered that to incorporate the built-in pump the seatpost is a larger diameter than is normal. This made it harder to fit a rear light to the post using the light’s provided mounting clip. In the end I had to find a longer bolt.

UPDATE (May 2013): MEC has put this model of bike on clearance for $550.00 which is an absolute steal. If you have been considering it I recommend snapping it up while supplies last. 

The old and the new.

The brake lever has a nifty little integrated brass bell.

Fenders and rear rack with cargo bungee.

The cargo bungee hooks into this little slot on the rack.

The pedal in the folded position. The pedals are a little clunky looking for my taste but they work just fine. (EDIT: These pedals are fairly slippery when wet)

The seatpost contains a built in pump.

Here’s the pump. The flexible hose is nice but it doesn’t have a quick release. I haven’t used a screw-on pump since I was a kid. Or maybe there is a part missing.

I do love a double legged kickstand.

A litte magnet doohickey for holding the frame together in the folded state.

Showing the chainguard.