Monday, January 4, 2010

Little Green Bike: Trying the Raleigh Twenty

Behold the glorious Raleigh Twenty: a famous and handsome ancestor of the current generation of folding bikes. I spotted this bicycle outside of Bicycle Bill in Allston, MA and could not resist stopping by to try it. It is in excellent cosmetic condition and the price they are asking for it is very fair. Had I come across it a couple of months ago, the bike would probably have been mine, but at the moment I can't afford it. Still, we had a good time together while it lasted.

The Raleigh Twenty was produced between 1968 and 1984, reaching its height of popularity in the mid-1970s. It was Raleigh's answer to the more complicated and expensive Moulton. The name "Twenty" comes from the 20" wheel size, and it existed in both folding and non-folding versions. These bikes came in a range of colours, but the classic Raleigh green is my favourite. This particular model was produced in 1972 (according to the hub) and is a 3-speed with the typical Sturmey Archer AW hub and caliper brakes.

As you can see, this one is the folding version. The lever on the horizontal tube is used to fold the bike in half. The levers on the seat tube and head tube are used to retract the seat post and handlebar stem. I did not try to fold it up in the store, but you can see some images of it folded here.

I had seen Raleigh Twenties in person before, but this was the first time I examined one closely and rode one. As first impressions go, it is certainly a charming bicycle: The handlebars look like antlers and somehow the bike seems to be always smiling. Just a friendly little reindeer, waiting for you to ride it...

The Twenty is large compared to current notions of a "folding bike". To me it felt more like a children's bike or a bike for a very short person. It is also quite heavy, and so I don't think it would really be functional as a folder in the sense that you could easily carry it around on your person after folding it up. However, I think it would be functional for travel: When folded, it could easily fit into the back seat of any car or, I imagine, into a large suitcase for airplane travel. It will also take up considerably less space in your home than a full sized bike. You could store it in a closet or behind some large piece of furniture.

What the Raleigh Twenty lacks in compactness, it makes up for in performance. Sheldon Brown described it as a bike with 20" wheels that performs like a 26" wheel Raleigh Sports. I agree with this assessment. Had I kept my eyes closed, I would not have been able to tell the difference between the ride on my formerly owned Lucy Threespeed and this bike. Somehow the small wheels do not feel small once you are riding the bicycle.

But what really makes the Raleigh Twenty functional as a "regular bike" are the extras: It is fitted with fenders and a large, sturdy rear rack. It was popular to affix baskets and panniers to this bike and to use it as a grocery-getter. It accommodates both front and rear loads comfortably and was even marketed as "The Shopper". All in all, I would recommend the Raleigh Twenty as a fun, simple and useful town bike, especially if you are on the shorter side and are having trouble finding bicycles that fit you. The fact that it can be folded up for travel is an extra bonus. Of course in addition to its practical benefits, the Raleigh Twenty is quickly becoming a cult collector's item. However, don't let that stop you from riding it!

36 comments:

  1. Hmmm, interesting... I've been eyeing these up on ebay for a while. I was wondering how they perform, as it seems the ideal bike for city living when you're short on space...

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  2. It would have to be one huge suitcase to get a Twenty in it...and I am sure the airlinew would gleefully and cheerfully hit you up for some serious overisize and overweigh charges.

    There are many ways to lighten a Twenty up to make it easier to move around, alloy rims, seat posts and a different saddle are the quick and dirty ones.

    Here is probably the best site of the web for Twentys. There are enough links provided to keep you reading for a while.

    It is amazing what can be done with the bikes.

    Aaron

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  3. M. - It is exactly that. If you have the funds, I'd grab it.

    Aaron - Shhhhh, you ruined it! I was hoping to convince the Co-Habitant that I "need" the Twenty, because I can put in in my suitcase when I next fly to Europe for work.

    Thank you for the link; oddly I had not come across that one yet. The history page is particularly interesting.

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  4. those vintage folders are so cute, it makes me want to ride them just for the thrill of it!!! there are also some really cute vintage folders from italian and japanese bike makers, but the raleigh twenty and brompton have amassed real cult followings. there is something particularly elfin about the twenty!

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  5. A friendly little reindeer! Such a great description. I got a picture of a middle-aged man riding one through Hyde Park in London while walking his dog. It's that kind of bike :)

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  6. What a sweet bike - especially if the performance is what you say. Hmm... it could fold up behind the sofa... I'm sure you'll find the funds somewhere. As you say, it could go to Europe for work with you :-) Oh, and GREAT colour!

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  7. A very cute bike, I love those old folding bikes. Most people use it everyday though, and not for traveling purposes. I don't think they are very comfy for that though.

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  8. Somehow I knew that the New Year would bring another bike obsession to the fore...

    (cheesy grin)

    I am impressed by the Raleigh Twenty bikes, the more I learn about them. You do find them on Craigslist occasionally here in the Bay Area, usually under $200.

    I have another freebie bike in the basement awaiting restoration...a 1972 ROG Pony, bought in Yugoslavia that year by my neighbor. It's rather like a cross between a Raleigh Twenty and one of the early '70s Bianchi folders. Same hinge system, Weinmann brakes and rims, Sturmey AW hub, integrally mounted Union dynamo light system, and shiny aluminum fenders and chainguard. It is all steel and probably weighs about as much as the '60 Hercules sports.
    It is really quite fun to ride, and should be worth the new rims and seat and the de-crudding efforts. I'll be sure to post pics when the effort is underway.

    Off to Europe again soon?

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  9. It's cute, but 20-inch wheels make me feel like I'm in a Shriner's parade. I just have to suck it up and pay the travel fees for a 58cm ride.

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  10. Carinthia & Corey - Surprisingly, I was serious about not getting this bike. See, I do have self-discipline, kinda sorta. And I am glad to report that as a result of this post it will most likely go to a very good home. I hope that works out.

    Please do post pictures of the Yugoslavian ROG Pony! And yes, I will probably be in Europe again soon; maybe this time for a month or so.

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  11. Bike envy! Someday I'm going to find one of my own.

    And your new banner - very nice!

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  12. @ anna,

    The Twenty (and some other folders) are actually surprisingly comfortable. I have had my Twenty of a 40+ mile ride with people on "normal" sized bikes. It was as comfortable as my regular full sized Raleigh Superbe. Interestingly enough it was of 2 Twentys on that ride.

    Aaron

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  13. Emma - Thank you!

    Aaron - That's the feedback I have heard/read from many owners of the Raleigh Twenty, that it feels just like the Sports or Superbe. Pretty impressive.

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  14. My daughter rides a Twenty, as I did as a child, nothing tempts me to try such a petite looking cycle again !

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  15. I was lucky enough to find one a few months ago - 60 bucks later and it was mine :) How could I say no? Vintage British bikes are rare as hens teeth in my neck o' the woods.

    It needs a bit of tune up work, but overall it's in remarkably good shape under the decades of grime. It'll be back on the road come springtime. Right now the snow is a bit too deep for those wee little wheels.

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  16. I had wanted a Twenty for a long time. At the Fall Hershey car show a few years back, I spotted a blue (fairly rare color) one with drum brakes (even rarer) at a space in the swap meet. Of course it wasn't for sale. The owner brought it along to ride around. He didn't know much about it. This happens a lot at the show and I was prepared for this. I had a very clean Raleigh Stow Away at home (similar bike to the Twenty only with 1 3/8" tires) that I never really liked. I offered my shiny bike and some cash as a trade and a deal was struck.
    Twenties are a lot of fun and I found out that they're also a good bike to use to teach someone how to ride. A co-worker had never ridden a bike before and I got "elected" to teach her. The low, stable Raleigh was a perfect mount and after a few tries she was cruising all around the (empty) parking lot.

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  17. Another hidden advantage to the Twenty is it's amazing ability to fit a wide range for riders. I am 6'-2" with long arms and legs and normally ride a 65cm road frame. I can make the Twenty fit with only the addition of a longer seatpost. The best part is my bride is all of 5'-1" and typically rides a 41cm frame. We can both ride the same Twenty with only a minor tweak of the handlebar tilt.

    Aaron

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  18. how exciting! I just won a twenty on Ebay in the UK, it looks just like the one in the store, same colour and everything. Can't wait to go and pick it up!

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  19. It's funny how these bikes are all the rage at the moment. I can safely say that they are definitely NOT children's bikes and I detested mine!
    This was my unfortunate experience of one:
    http://sheffieldcyclechic.tumblr.com/tagged/raleigh%20rsw

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  20. Oh my... I just picked up one of these a couple weeks ago! Take a look: http://www.veloscene.net/2010/01/my-new-raleigh-twenty.html Same color and everything. It is in mint condition like yours.

    If you are wondering about the funky bracket on the head tube where the lever is to lower the handle bars... it's to mount a "torch" onto! Not working yet, but I'm going to get it going somehow. The square-ish light has a spot on the back that slides onto the bracket. The lens even has an "eyeshade" over the top reminiscent of a Volkswagen headlight cover.

    I would love to find the original air pump that mounted on the back of the seat tube. If you (or anyone) comes up with a source for these, I'd love to hear about it.

    charles

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  21. For those of you that wanted to see one of these in a suitcase, take a lot at this modified Raleigh Twenty.
    http://home.comcast.net/~cheg01/r20.html

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  22. I will be picking up a green Twenty tomorrow for $75. It even has teh original air pump. I currently ride a Dahon Jetstream P8 so I am very familiar with modern folders. I am looking forward to seeing how the old school fodler does.

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  23. G'day! The Raleigh Twenty really is a wonderful little old bicycle. A Mate of mine when to England a little while back and he reckons that he saw at least two of them every time he went out. I own both a folding and non-folding version, both from the mid-1970's. I'd like to obtain a couple more - they're a real hit with beginner cyclists. Their small wheels and low step-through frame and cheerful appearance make them look less intimidating than full-sized bicycles. They're also brilliant because they can be adjusted to fit anyone from 4'11" tall up to 6' tall.

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  24. I love the Twenty what is the average price they sell for? I may be able to get one from someone but I don't want to overpay.

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  25. Price largely depends on condition. The better the condition they tend to command much higher prices. I limit myself to $100 for them, but if one in excellent condition with original carry racks and the shopping bag came up I wouldn't hesitate to part with $200 for it.

    FYI I bought my folding twenty as a frameset only for $65 and my non-folding twenty complete for $75.

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  26. I got a Raleigh Twenty in Red today :)
    Picked it up from eBay - it's in great condition, but already I'm thinking of customisations that I'd like to make to it...!

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  27. www.raleightwentytolife.wordpress.com

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  28. A work in progress...

    http://www.facebook.com/GroodyBros?v=photos&ref=ts#!/album.php?aid=234246&id=185783299918

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  29. I have both a Twenty and a Dawes Kingpin and the Kingpin is the better bike. It rides better and the cables are fed through the frame. Dawes was a superior maker in the UK.

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    1. i own 2 daws kingpin 4 raleigh twenty 2 nos and i prefer raleigh to daws raleigh was the conplete shopper

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  30. i have a 1966 folding bike made in notingham england. but the handle bars fold

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    1. Likely a Moulton, a higher end folder by a company purchased by Raleigh, which provides the inspiration for the more affordable and much more popular 20.

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  31. I had a raleigh twenty when I worked at a raleigh bike shop in the late 60s - 70s. Always wanted another. I found one in horrible condition a year ago and restored it. I took a yard sale trek 20 and used most of the parts. Lightened the bike considerably. Turned out to be a wonderful little bike. Fun to ride.

    mike

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  32. THE OLD RALIEGH 20 ALSO FED ITS CABLES THROUGH THE FRAME.

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  33. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A 20 FOLDER AS THE NONE FOLDER FITS WELL IN MY PEOPLE CARRIER WERE I HAVE FITTED FOUR OF THESE GREAT BIKES, THINK OF THE TWENTY AS A VERY VERSATILE BIKE THAT YOU CAN TAKE SHOPPING AND RIDE WERE EVER YOU LIKE BIKE, IT WONT LET YOU DOWN AND YOU WILL, WEATHER PERMITTING, WANT TO RIDE IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. I HAVE STRIPPED PRIMED SPRAYED, REASSEMBLED FIVE OF THE GREAT BIKES AND THE END RESULT AMAZED ME. BACK ON THE ROAD THE BIKE PERFORMED AS I EXPECTED IT TO THE MANOEUVRING, SPEED, COMFORT. ROAD WORTHINESS AND WELL BEING SHONE THROUGH THIS TOUGH BIKES OVERALL PERFORMANCE. THE FREE WHEELING IS SECOND TO NONE AND THE QUICK SHIFT STURMEY ARCHER GEARING EASY TO USE ON THE FLAT AND HILLS. NIGHT RIDING IS EASY WITH FRONT AND REAR LIGHTS MADE FREE WITH A REAR HUB FITTING. TO CONCLUDE THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST BIKES I HAVE EVER WORKED ON ITS BEEN A PLEASURE TO RIDE AND I THANK RALEIGH UK FOR MAKING THIS ONE OF ITS BEST EVER QUALITY BIKES, IT WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME TO FIND ONE BETTER IN ITS CLASS.

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  34. I'm so excited that I got one yesterday! $40! Very clean. The handle bars weren't original as well as the saddle and pedals.It feels like a real solid bike.I can't wait

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