Small-Wheeled Summer

Raleigh 20 Folding Bike

Summer has passed, leaves are falling and cool autumn weather has arrived. Rather than looking ahead to the approach of winter, I’m consoling myself by retreating into memories of this summer’s rides. Since I was a terrible blogger during those months, you can come along for the review.

I did pretty good job of showing all the bikes some attention (I love you ALL, my bikes. I really do). Today’s post looks at my late 70s Raleigh20 3-speed folding bike. The R20 is a really fun little city bike. It’s sturdy, maneuverable and (with the stock gearing) surprisingly fast. This year, I treated the bike to a set of MKS Lambda pedals that came in as a donation at BWN and rolled those 20″, 451 wheels through many kilometers.

Sheltering from a shower.

Sheltering from a shower.

The low height of the Pletscher rack on the R20 makes the bike stable even when carrying a fairly heavy load and I loaded it up on a number of shopping trips. The rack only has two supports, not as sturdy as most current racks, and it swayed a bit under the heaviest loads. I may have been skirting the edge of destructive testing on a few occasions.

That's more than 40 pounds of water - destined to become homebrew.

That’s more than 40 pounds of water – destined to become homebrew.

At the Downtown Farmer's Market with a heavy load of foodstuffs.

At the Downtown Farmer’s Market with a heavy load of foodstuffs.

Back in June, the R20 had as chance to spend an evening in the company of its peers. The Raving Bike Fiend organized a group ride on folding bikes and there were 4 people riding Raleigh 20s of assorted ages. In fact, as nobody at all showed up on a modern folding bike, it turned out to be a vintage bike ride as well. Raleigh 20 Folding Bike


Raleigh 20 Folding Bike


The whole group.

The whole group.

There were two 80s era Dahon V bikes, as well. I have one of these in the garage at home, but I rarely ride it.  Although they do fold up into a considerably small and tidy package, I was never fond of the ride quality and the general creakiness of the folding connections. The steering is twitchy enough that I was sometimes nervous to take one hand off the bars to signal a turn. By contrast, the R20 is very solid and feels much like a regular sized bike.

Dahon V Folding Bike

The RBF demonstrates the fold.

The RBF demonstrates the fold.

This is good advice, as if you do press this button the bike steering will be free to fold. In fact on two occasion, this happened to me while riding my Dahon V, without me even touching the button. Another reason I'm leery of these bikes.

This is good advice, as if you do press this button the bike steering will be free to fold. In fact on two occasion, this happened to me while riding my Dahon V, without me even touching the button. Another reason I’m leery of these bikes.

There were three other old folders, each with interesting features.

Evilleriders Portabike, converted to fixed gear and a veteran of more than one winters riding.

Evillerider’s Portabike, converted to fixed gear and a veteran of more than one winters riding.


Also from Evillerider's fleet,  this one with a two-speed kickback hub.

Also from Evillerider’s fleet, this one with a two-speed kickback hub.


This one has the best name. I forget where it was made. Eastern Europe?

This one has the best name. I forget where it was made. Eastern Europe?

My camera stopped working just after we started riding, so I don’t have any pics from then on. We cruised around the edge of the river valley, stopped at a pub for a beer (where the manager asked the RBF to remove his folded Dahon from the table), stopped at my favourite local playground in Borden Park where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset, and finally did a bit of parkade exploration downtown.

I’d say my R20 has no reason to complain of lack of attention this summer. We commuted and rode recreationally,  through fair weather and foul, by night and day. I will include one parting photo, taken on the soon-to-be-replaced downtown pedestrian bridge on the way home from a friend’s birthday party. In the instrument case is my resonator mandolin.

R20 and mandolin


Thanksgiving 3-Speed Riding

My fellow Edmontonians know where this photo was taken.

My fellow Edmontonians know where this photo was taken.

I wasn’t quite as successful as an early riser on day 2 of my Thanksgiving cycling mission. The Saturday morning ride, followed by a solid afternoon of pedaling around town pulling my son in a trailer (as well as a heap o’ groceries in my front basket), had left me at day’s end as drained of energy as the Energizer bunny running on cheap, counterfeit  batteries. At night, I slept deeply and then through my alarm the next morning, resulting in a late start. My knees were  a little sore for the exertions of the previous day, which is  uncommon for me. I blame the long, slow climb up Cameron Ave with a full load of cargo.

For Sunday’s ride, I decided to dust off the tweed jacket, and take my 3-speed Raleigh 20 for a leisurely tour of the more Southern end of the river valley. I know that some  readers are now shaking their heads sadly at my choice of bicycle. Perhaps a 3-speed isn’t the best choice on a day when one has sore knees? I am happy to report that my knees felt fine and that I rode my bike with immense enjoyment (in accordance with rule #3 of The Society of 3 Speeds). I did, however, walk up a couple of hills.

As always, the R20 was a delight to ride, handling nimbly and moving faster than one would expect from its appearance.

A quick photo stop at the home of our province's inexplicable political dynasty.

A quick photo stop at the home of our province’s inexplicable political dynasty.

The Legislature grounds are looking fabulous.

The Legislature grounds are looking fabulous.

I headed across the mighty High Level bridge. This is one of my favourites of many straight lines of sight that my linear city offers.

I headed across the mighty High Level bridge. This is one of my favourites of many straight lines of sight that my linear city offers.

While cycling past the university I encountered a number of these unusually labeled stations. Although it would be nice to find out what they are referring to, I am hesitant to google the phrase "naked loner" .

While cycling past the university I encountered a number of these unusually labeled stations. Although it would be nice to find out what they are referring to, I am hesitant to google the phrase “naked loners” .

By this time, I had decided that my destination would be the Fort Edmonton Footbridge as I’d only been there once before and that was a couple of years ago.  I dipped down into the river valley and eventually found my self at one one Edmonton’s much discussed public artworks, the Talus Dome. Although the artists claim that it’s supposed to represent the accumulation of stone at the foot of a cliff, I think that any mechanically inclined cyclist will immediately recognize that it is actually a pile of giant ball bearings. I don’t mean that as a criticism and I’m keen to see the bike they could be installed in. I wonder if Park Tools could supply an appropriately sized SBC-1 on special order.

The Talus Dome. Note the R20 for scale.

The Talus Dome. Note the R20 for scale.

The dome offers an excellent opportunity for efficient narcissism: eight self portraits with one click of the shutter.

The dome offers an excellent opportunity for efficient narcissism: eight self portraits with one click of the shutter.

From the dome I headed onwards towards the Footbridge, taking the lovely gravel path down by the river. The R20 was perfectly at home riding the rough stuff.

Down by the river.

Down by the river. Wait…is that talus at the base of the cliff?

The Fort Edmonton Footbridge, Edmonton's first suspension bridge: a granidiose structure for the amount of traffic it likely gets.

The Fort Edmonton Footbridge, Edmonton’s first suspension bridge: a grandiose structure for the amount of traffic it likely gets.

A walker gives a sense of scale.

A walker gives a sense of scale.

The bridge is a pleasant place to sit quietly and watch the river flow past. The designers have thoughtfully provided excellent facilities for doing so.

The bridge is a pleasant place to sit quietly and watch the river flow past. The designers have thoughtfully provided excellent facilities for doing so.

Tea n' Tweed.

Tea n’ Tweed.

After the stop at the bridge, I headed for home. I wasn’t sure what time it was but I felt that I was likely running late so I did my best to pick up the pace. Where possible, I clicked the R20 into third gear and zipped right along. A lot of people feel that the stock gearing is too high, but I actually quite like the option of digging in and going fast.

I made a small error in deciding to explore a few new trails on the way back and was confronted with a no bicycle sign. Not wanting to backtrack, I found a trail that wasn’t marked and went onward. This lead to a large field that was absolutely swarming with people and dogs. There were more no cycling signs here so I detoured onto a large trail with no prohibiting signage.  Unfortunately, there more swarms of dog walkers here so I got off and walked my bike. The dirty looks I was getting from some of the people made me think that I was still in no bike territory, so I gave my chirpiest “good-morning” greeting to everyone I met. Many of of them replied in a guarded, terse manner. Hey folks, I’m walking my bike AND I’m wearing a snappy jacket: surely that counts for something. As I left the trail upon reaching the Hawrelak Park bridge I glanced back over my shoulder and saw, yep, another no cycling sign.

While I was riding through Hawrelak a passing cyclist asked me what model of bike I was riding. It turns out that he, too, had an R20 that  he was thinking of fixing up. I took the oppourtunity to praise the little bike and to defend the three speed hub as a practical bit of equipment (Rules #1 and #2 of the SOTS).However,  I am embarrassed to admit that even when directly asked if I was a member of a cycling club, and even though I was wearing an SOTS button and riding a bike with an SOTS sticker, I STILL forgot to mention the Society of Three Speeds. I hope that there aren’t  some sort of demerits awarded for such a lapse. I’ll do better next time.

Musical R20 Ride

Last night I loaded up the Raleigh 20 with instruments and alcohol and headed out to a friend’s birthday party to play a few tunes. The instruments of choice were the Republic resonator mandolin and my beloved Sandner waldzither-to-cittern conversion. The beer of  choice was Muskoka Summer Weiss.

Musical R20

Musical R20

The 3-speed R20 performed its job as beast of burden with aplomb, it’s zippy maneuverability undiminished by the low-slung load.  At the party guitars, whistle, fiddle and recorder were also present. Tunes were played, songs were sung (not by me!) and beverages were sipped. The post-midnight ride home was warm, quiet and peaceful. I coasted through a group of muted late night revelers in the Mill Creek ravine, seeming to amuse them with my helmet light. I do love fair weather night riding, one of the great things about the approaching summer.

Midnight Musical R20

Midnight Musical R20

Folding Bike Sunday

I haven’t been spending much time reading or posting blogs here at WordPress for a week or so.There has been no shortage of bikey activities, though.

Yesterday, was the big Spring Bike and Bake Sale at both Bikeworks locations. I was at the North shop and we  pretty much sold all the tuned up bikes and several as-is ones. The repair stands were pretty much fully occupied throughout the day, as well. I brought my camera to take a few pictures of the event but I was kept so busy bouncing back and forth between patrons that I totally forgot to use it. I heard that it was crazily busy at the South shop where they had many more bikes ready for sale. Now we have to get busy building some more. With spring having finally arrived ( no, really,it has) I’m feeling pretty excited that the cycling activity is picking up here in the city. I’m looking forward to a busy season at the shop.

Today, with the arrival of warm weather in Edmonton, my wife got the MEC  Origami out for her first ride of the year. For this relaxed, neighbourhood trip, I decided it was appropriate to take my 3-speed Raleigh 20. It was a pleasant, though cool, day for cruising around on our small-wheeled bikes.

MEC Origami


Raleigh 20

In accordance with rule #3 of the Society of 3-speeds, I rode my bike with immense enjoyment.

In accordance with rule #3 of the Society of 3-speeds, I rode my bike with immense enjoyment. 

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!

Tire Talk: NOS Winfield 451 (20″ X 1 3/8″)

It can be tough finding new tires for some old bikes. There have been quite a number of wheel sizes over the years and for those which have fallen into disuse manufacturers may be making few or no replacements at all.  In our household fleet we have two bikes that fall into this category: my 70’s Raleigh 20 folding bike and my daughter’s 80’s Norco Squire junior road bike.

Not going anywhere on these tires.

The Raleigh had its original tires when I bought it. I wasn’t riding anywhere on these.

The Raleigh takes 20 X 1/38 (ISO 451) tires and the Norco takes 24 x 1 3/8 (ISO 540). These fractional sizes are not compatible with the readily available 20″ & 24″ decimal tires ( eg: 20″ X 1.75). New tires do exist for both sizes as they are still used on some recumbent bikes or BMX racing bikes but bike shops in my city don’t stock them. I found one set of 451 BMX tires but they were pretty knobby, not what I had in mind for my Raleigh. I didn’t find any 540s at all. I could order replacements online of course, but they aren’t necessarily cheap and shipping can be steep. I have enough project bikes in the works that I don’t like spending any more than I absolutely have to.

A while back I heard that Bikeworks South had received a donation of some less common fractional tires. Back in the summer I had found a set of grey wheelchair tires there that fit the Raleigh. They worked fine but were in rough shape and didn’t look great on the bike. Maybe there would something better now.

Tucked among the hooks of used tires I found a mismatched set of 540s for my daughter’s bike. Nice. The real find, however, was a set of unused 451s still in the original wrapper. The plastic wrapping was yellow with age but the tires inside were in perfect shape and the rubber still seems supple. I’ve never heard of the Winfield band and I assume they were nothing special. It did tickle my brain’s nostalgia center that they were from Woolworth,a department store long vanished from the Canadian retail landscape. I haven’t mounted them yet as I won’t be riding the Raleigh until the unimaginably distant end of winter. I’ll provide an update then.

Still in the wrapper with tags attached!

Still in the wrapper with tags attached!

Winfield 20 x 1 3/8 Tires

I think I will like the combination of the flat center strip with the side blocks. You can jut see the dynamo strip on the sidewall,  an option that lots of tires don't have these days.

I think I’ll like the combination of the flat center strip with the side blocks. You can jut see the dynamo strip on the sidewall, an option that lots of tires don’t have these days.

Stormy Thursday

Not golf ball sized, but pretty dang big.

Growing up on Canada’s East coast I had heard stories of the storms of golf ball sized  hailstones that sometimes fell out in the prairies. This sounded  dramatic as the largest hail I ever saw on the coast was about the size of a grain of rice. Since then, in the decade or so I’ve lived in Alberta, I’ve seen a few decent storms with pea sized hail. Last Thursday I was “treated ” to the most impressive downfall to date.

Towards the end of my workday ominous looking clouds implacably rolled over the city. In a remarkably short time the sky darkened until it looked like nightfall, dark enough that our building’s outside lights switched on. The radio announcements of a severe thunderstorm warning seemed gratuitous. Not much work was getting done as we milled about peering at the sky. I was hopeful that the storm would break before I had to leave for home as I didn’t relish the idea of getting caught in it.

The storm was intense and short. We had closed all the big doors as the winds started gusting and shortly after there was the deafening din of the hail pummeling the building. Although I watched it from the comfort of secure shelter I’ve spoken to a few people were caught outside. Not fun. On the bright side, they get some serious bragging rights. Within half an hour the downfall had settled in to a light steady rain. This was a much better situation for cycling home in.

On the way home I snapped a few pics. As luck would have it, I had forgotten my good camera and was forced to use my antique cell phone. Fortunately, I had filled the phone’s hopper with coal and the boiler was whistling nicely (soon I will upgrade to a newfangled internal combustion phone). I was pleased that the Raleigh 20 handled the rain, fallen debris and flooded roads with aplomb. I like this bike more each time I ride it.

This is summer?

Herons and Hail

Branches and leaves battered to the street by the hail clogged the storm drains.

Once at home I discovered the house to be intact but the garden mostly flattened.  Most disappointingly, almost all the apples had been  knocked from our trees and were looking very bruised on the ground. This was a sore blow to our great cider making plans. All in all, not the worst storm of my time in the prairies, but definitely the largest hail. I popped a few of the bigger stones into my mouth and crunched them. I assumed they would imbue me with the strength a of thunderstorm and a heart as icy as the hail. I will let you know how this works out.

Bike ‘n Busk

Pedaling to busk.

There hasn’t been much busking talk here lately for the simple reason that I haven’t been busking at all. This is the quiet time for big event busks. Hockey is finished for the season (at least as far as the Oiler’s are concerned) and football won’t start for a while yet. Furthermore, there haven’t been many concerts that fall on days that I am free to play.

Last night , I was able to busk the incoming crowd of the Johnny Reid concert. A lot of the time I don’t really know who the hell the performers are these days and I have to look them up on the internet to decide if the concert is worth showing up for. Wikipedia told me he was a country music singer with several Canadian hit songs. Hmm.  It didn’t sound promising. If he’d had international hits I’d be certain of a big crowd. On the other hand, Albertans love their country music. A quick trip to Ticketmaster lad me to believe that the show was almost sold out. Yay!

Ticketmaster, you deceived me.

Although the crowd was smallish they liked our music and were fairly generous. This busk finally proved a theory that I have been forming for some time now. The Edmonton country music crowd likes tunes in major keys in 4/4 time. Marches and reels? Yes. Strathspeys? Somewhat. Minor keys, jigs, slip jigs?  Not so much. Waltzes? Sure, but I only know one.

I rode the Raleigh 20 to the event. My idea was that it is small and I’d be able to take inside with me and not have it take up a lot of room. This worked like a charm. Although I plan to swap out the strange delrin headset bushing, on this occasion I was glad of the stiff steering as it compensated for the weight of the instrument case I was carrying. It was a pleasure to take the little bike out for a jaunt but I still need to tune it up a bit. One of the pedals fell apart on the way home. That’s alright though, because those original Raleigh ball bearingless pedals are awful and I was planning on replacing them, anyway. I’ll be writing more about that soon.

The Raleigh 20

Not even winter can stop the inexorable growth of my small bike fleet. Last week saw the arrival of a circa 1977 Raleigh 20.

Circa '77 Raleigh 20

There has been an awful lot written on the internet about the Raleigh 20, so I am feeling serious lack of motivation to write much here. In brief, the R20 was a small wheeled (20″) utilitarian bike produced by Raleigh from  ’68 until ’84. Some were folding bikes and some were solid frames. There were even a few tandem 20’s produced. Although certainly it was certainly a good seller for Raleigh it was not a prestigious bike. However, in the ensuing years the R20 has come to have something of a cult following. This can largely be attributed to the late Sheldon Brown, bicycle guru and internet writer on all things bicycle. Sheldon was a R20 fan and spread the word of the bike’s virtues. The R20, unlike many of the folding bikes from the same period, was very solidly built and handled much more like a full sized bike. The well made frame is a boon to anyone wishing to modify and modernize the R20. The internet is awash with examples of modified 20s.

I’ve been interested in folding bikes for some time now. Several years ago I bought an ’80s era Dahon V. In many ways, that was a very bad bike, with a rickety, creaky ride and twitchy steering. However, the folding capability and the ride was good enough to make me want to keep looking for a folder that suited me. There are some fantastic folding bikes being made these days, but the good ones are rather expensive. I really couldn’t justify one for the small amount I would use it. When I read about the R20, it seemed to suit both my budget and my functional criteria. Since then I’ve  been patiently waiting for one to show up for sale locally. When I spotted one for sale last week on Kijiji I snapped it up.

The folded R20 arrives home by trailer on a snowy January night.

The bike is in quite  good condition and appears to have seen very little riding. One advantage of the “coffee” paint colour is that the few scratched rusty places don’t stand out. It will still need a bit of TLC to get it into smooth operating condition. As near as I can tell the components are all original. The tires are almost certainly original and will have to be replaced before I can even take the bike for a test spin around the block. Unfortunately, this bike has 20 X 1 & 3/8″ wheels and tires that size are uncommon around here. Luckily, when I was at Bikeworks today I scrounged up a used pair that will do for now. I think they are actually wheelchair tires.

Not going anywhere on these tires.

My plan right now is to ride the bike for a little while before deciding on any upgrades or modifications. I really like some of the modified 20s I’ve seen online but the bike has a lot of charm just the way it is. One change that many people make is to replace the cottered cranks with the square taper variety. However, I do like the Raleigh Herons on the chainring so I may not go that route. Wheel upgrades? Improved headset? All these decisions will have to wait for now. There is a great resource for all this information over at “The Raleigh 20“. The internet certainly is a boon for these sorts of projects. Without it I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. For a great example of how far you can take a project like this check out this page by a fellow Edmonton cyclist the Raving Bike Fiend.

And now I think I’ve spent enough time writing about this bike. Instead, I will be spending some quality time in the garage pulling wrenches and hopefully some time riding shortly thereafter.

I love the spinning Herons!

Yet another Heron! This one has an eye.