Sure, at first glance this is just another filthy Sturmey Archer hub. Those who know bicycles will see that it's an AW model, which identifies it as being from a vintage 3-speed. But look closer still. Anything unusual? If you have a good eye, you can see the words at the very bottom of the hub: "Patent applied for". Patent applied for? Why, this must be one of the earliest Sturmey Archer hubs ever made! What bicycle can it possibly belong to?
Meet my "dirty little secret". She was given to me about a month and a half ago, but I kept quiet, because I am not yet certain what I will do with her. From a historical point of view, this is an amazing find: an early Raleigh Tourist in all original condition; year of production most likely 1936. This early Raleigh is the predecessor to the DL-1 Lady's Tourist I so love, but there are some notable differences between them. This early bicycle has a geometry that I find somewhat puzzling: The seat tube is quite long (almost the same size as on the 22" DL-1), but the wheelbase is extremely short, making for a crowded "cockpit" with very little room between the saddle and the handlebars. This makes the bicycle seem much too small for me, even though the saddle height is just right for my size. I would love to know the reasoning behind this construction.
A very early Sturmey Archer 3-speed quadrant shifter. This preceded the trigger shifter that we are used to seeing on the handlebars of vintage 3-speeds. On diamond frame bicycles, the quadrant shifter was mounted on the top tube. On this bicycle it is mounted at the very top of the "loop" tube. Aside from some fading due to age, this beautiful shifter is in perfectly preserved condition. The whole bicycle, in fact, seems to be frozen in its original state, save for a coat of surface rust. The rod brakes are attached via braze-ons on the inside of the fork (as opposed to clipped on, as became the standard on later models) and function extremely well. The chrome on the handlebars and rod levers is in excellent condition.
The original chaincase is entirely intact and dent-free. Notice also the holes drilled for skirtguards in the rear fender! I wonder what sort of guards this bicycle had when it was being ridden 70+ years ago.
The rear reflector is glass, not plastic.
And I believe the pump is original as well, though the handle has split open. It is engraved with a Greek-themed motif. Aside from the split pump, other aspects of the bicycle that are damaged beyond repair are the melted rubber grips (see first picture) and the cracked tires. The wheels themselves look extremely rusty, but some have suggested that they might be salvageable by a soaking in an oxalic acid bath.
The bottom line however, is that I am at a loss about this bicycle. Under the circumstances in which it was given to me, it was pretty much impossible not to take it. But I have no idea what to do with it! Even in its present state, I could probably sell it and make a bit of money, but the thought of doing that makes me sad. I could restore it and probably make quite a bit of money, but that's sad as well. Plus it looks like I will be having a very busy winter, and restoration projects might prove impossible with everything else I already have on my plate. Perhaps I should look into donating it to a museum? In the meantime, this 1930's beauty is being kindly housed by Open Bicycle. For anybody local who is interested, the bike is available for public display (but it is not for sale). Ideas for what to do with it are most welcome. Perhaps it would make a good winter bike? (I kid, I kid!)