Behold my beloved Raleigh DL-1 Lady Tourist! Lovely as usual, is she not?
Ah, but some things about her are not at all "as usual". Can you tell that the lady has had major surgery? Probably not, and that's the beauty of it; her classic roadster features have been left intact.
But oh, what's this here? Why yes, it's a Sturmey-Archer S3C coaster brake hub! And with it, the bicycle has been magically transformed to an unmatched state of fabulousity.
For those unfamiliar with the saga: The Raleigh DL-1 is basically the holy grail of vintage "Roadsters," particularly the lady's loop frame. These bicycles are elegant, comfortable and surprisingly fast. There is only one tragic drawback: They were made with rod brakes, which is a braking system that is not the greatest even in dry weather, and completely ineffective in the rain. I got my DL-1 last summer and it has been my preferred bicycle ever since, despite the poor braking power. Still, I hoped that someday a conversion to a more effective braking system would make it perfect. Imagine my elation that this day has come!
If you are wondering how we did this, I will first say that it is definitely a "don't try this at home" project unless you are mechanically inclined, or have a spouse who is. But to summarise: You will need to get a 3-speed coaster brake hub and to have a new wheel built around it. You cannot put the coaster brake hub in the old wheel, because these hubs were designed for a different number of spokes. If you are planning to keep the original rod brakes (which you have to, unless you want to replace the handlebars), the new wheel needs to have a 28" rod-brake rim. These are distinct from regular rims, in that they have a special notch for the rod brake pads to grip. Yellow Jersey sells these rims, and they can also build you the wheel if you send them the coaster brake hub.
And that is what we did: I got the hub from an acquaintance who happened to have one (and who sent this monogrammed reaction arm clamp to go with it!), and had the wheel built by Yellow Jersey. Upon receiving the new wheel in the mail, we stayed up half the night attaching it to the bike. There are various little nuances that made it, shall we say, challenging - but it is doable. I will post a more detailed account on Boston Retro Wheelmen soon; for now I still have PTSD from the process. But let's be frank: A mild case of PTSD is a small sacrifice for the miracle of a secret coaster brake on a classic rod-brake roadster!
After the coaster-brake wheel installation, I spent the following day riding the bike everywhere; it was difficult to get me off of it! I tried hills, high-traffic routes, bridges - all kinds of situation where the brakes would be put to the test. I even got stuck in the pouring rain on my way home from downtown Boston - which was not intentional, but perfectly timed for testing the brakes in wet weather. If you've been reading this blog, you know I like coaster brakes, and this one performs fantastically. Upon back-pedaling, it comes to a soft (non-jolting) but reliable stop, making hand braking completely unnecessary, other than for preventing the bicycle from rolling when stopped at a traffic light. One funny thing about this hub, is that it is very-very loud: a steady ticking noise when pedaling, amplified tenfold when coasting. Well, at least they can hear me approach!
It did not take me long to get used to the DL-1 having a coaster brake and to adapt my braking patterns accordingly. With the rod brakes, I used to plan my stops in advance and I feared rain. Now I am free from worrying about such things and can fully enjoy this wonderful bicycle. There are other ways of installing effective brakes on the DL-1, like attaching the rods to a rollerbrake hub or replacing the whole rod system with standard brakes and conventional handlebars. But I chose the coaster brake, both because I like the system in itself, and because it allowed me to preserve everything about this bicycle exactly as it was - making it my very own Coaster Roadster.