Lovely Bicycles on a Budget: Vintage vs Modern

[image via niniferrose]  

In addition to the variety of comments posted on this website, I receive lots of questions from readers via email. And if I had to say what the one most frequently asked question is, it would be a variation of this one:
I am looking for a nice bicycle for commuting around town and my budget is $500. I would love to get a new Dutch bike or a Pashley, but I just can't afford it. What would you recommend in my price range? 
Now, I do have a page on this website called Budget Options, and a link to it is prominently displayed in the upper lefthand corner. On that page I keep an updated list of manufacturers that sell budget versions of classic bicycles for as little as $150. I also have a page on shopping for vintage bikes. So, in emailing me the above question, the reader is usually looking for more than to be directed to one these pages. They are looking for my opinion: What would I do with $500? What do I recommend of all the possible options?

Okay, if you really want to know, I'll tell you. But I can almost guarantee that you won't like it and that you won't follow my recommendation. Do you want to hear it anyway? Well, all right. I would recommend buying a vintage 3-speed and spending the remainder of your budget on modernising it. Here is how I would do it:

Step 1: 
Buy a vintage Raleigh Lady Sports in your size and preferred colour. Make sure the frame is in good condition, and that as many components as possible are salvageable. Try to spend under $100 on this purchase, and absolutely no more than $150. It is possible if you do some research and ask around. Even if there is a shortage of vintage bikes in your area, post a "want to buy" ad on your local C-List and chances are someone will dig one out of their basement or barn. Or join bikeforums and a kind enthusiastic soul on the Classic & Vintage subforum will provide you with some local contacts. It can be done if you are motivated.

Step 2:
Buy a modern 26" (ISO 590) wheelset with alloy rims and a 3-speed hub built into the rear wheel (the shifter is usually included). The biggest problem with using vintage 3-speeds for transportation, is that they have caliper brakes and steel rims - a combination that provides inadequate stopping power in wet weather conditions. An alloy wheelset will solve this problem. Several bike shops sell such wheelsets online at reasonable prices: A Sun wheelset from Harris Cyclery will set you back $200. An Alex wheelset from Niagra Cycle Works will set you back $130.  Your local bike shop might be able to order a wheelset from a catalogue as well.

Step 3:
Buy a set of 26" (ISO 590) tires with puncture protection. Schwalbe Delta Cruisers in either black or cream are a good choice, because they look classic, make for a very comfortable ride, and cost only $40 for the pair.

Step 4:
Assuming that you are not skilled in bicycle repair, maintenance or assembly, bring your vintage bike and all the parts to a trusted local shop. Ask them to replace the wheelset, put on the new tires, and give the bicycle a thorough tune up. They will probably end up replacing the chain and some cables as part of that process as well. It should run you about $100.

Step 5:
If the vintage bike you found did not come with a saddle and there is room in your budget, get a Brooks or a lower-priced VO leather saddle. If you are tapped out, look for a vintage saddle, or buy a cheap generic one as a temporary fix until you save up the extra money for a new, quality one.

[image via niniferrose]  

At the end of this process, you will have a bicycle with all the comfort, durability and charm of a vintage 3-speed, but with modern braking power. It should last pretty much forever and should feel great to ride. Yes, organising the bike will be a small adventure - but again, it can be done if you put your mind to it.

Having said that, I realise that most of my readers will opt out. For one thing, it seems difficult and time-consuming. It also probably seems absurd to spend a total of $500 on a vintage 3-speed, when you could go to the store and get one of these for the same price, brand new and shiny. I sincerely understand that. But...

Consider that the second most frequently asked question I get from readers over email is a variation of this one:
Three months ago I bought a [Budget Manufacturer X] bicycle, because my budget was $500. Actually, I ended up spending a bit more than that, because I got the 7-speed version. And Basil panniers. And a Brooks saddle. And cork grips. But anyway, I thought the bicycle looked nice and I liked how it rode when I tested it outside the bike shop. But it's only been 3 months, and now my rear fender is making clunking noises, and my chain has come off twice, and I keep getting flat tires. Also, the bike doesn't feel that great over pot-holes and my hands start to hurt on the handlebars towards the end of my commute from work. My bike shop says that I can update some of the components to fix these problems, but it looks like that's going to cost me another several hundred dollars. I am not sure what to do now. What do you think? 
I never know quite how to answer that one, because at that point the person has already maxed out their budget. Any suggestions? And yes, I am perfectly serious that I get these emails. I respect it when people say they are on a tight budget and I would like to be helpful with solutions instead of saying "save up for a better quality bike". But I honestly cannot think of a solution that I truly believe in other than my vintage 3-speed plan.  I have never received an email from anybody complaining about their vintage Raleigh Sports. 


  1. Thanks for writing this very informative post! I have come away more knowledgeable and it was an interesting read at the same time.

    1. Hi,I don't know if you fix your little problem about your bike!!!If not,e-mail me please!!!!!!!

    2. I have a 30 year old Gazelle city bike that I purchased in Holland and brought back to the U.S. It has been inside all these years. How much would it be worth if I sell it.

    3. I've been looking at Gazelle frames and they ra ge from 27.00 to 550.00
      Call me or write

  2. Some more comments from the mechanic cat:

    If you have your bike shop replace the old brake cables, maybe also consider buying (the orange-coloured modern) KoolStop pads a few dollars more. They will put some bite into the vintage Sports centerpull brakes.

    Also, it may take more than one trip to the bike shop to get the internal gears adjusted just right so it shifts smoothly and does not pop out of gear. You may also need to come back to get the brakes re-adjusted for squeal and other minor issues. Coming back to a shop for these things is if not normal, then at least to be expected.

    Finally, consider replacing the rear cog with a slightly larger one unless you are happy with your gears and don't want to lower them all a bit as a group. If you are not sure, maybe try the bike out near the store and then decide. This shouldn't cost a lot and is easy to do with a hockey-stick chain case bike. They may have to re-adjust your hub shifter after taking off the rear wheel, depending on how knowledgable the shop is with IGH bikes.

    The Pletscher rear rack can be picked up nearly for free if you look around and is easy enough to install. It won't hold up much weight, but is useful. It may not sit perfectly level, though.

    In general, try to pick a store that deals with 3-speeds a lot because they will do things quicker and you won't have to come back as much.

    Lastly, you'll need a rear light and a front light. I use the CatEye battery lights for my bikes without a dynamo, but there are so many good ones now that it shouldn't be a problem. Factor in about $100 extra for bright steady-on lights (personally I hate blinkies).

  3. Great advice in Boston. The problem is that many bike shops in "other" places not only push you towards the bikes they sell but also might not be willing to work on cottered cranks, for example, or might destroy your bottom bracket if they try.

  4. Peppy - right you are. I didn't want to overwhelm readers with too many specifics in the post, but your comments are a nice supplement. For a cat, you sure know a lot.

    Herzog - Ah, details details! Well, I am not saying it is the perfect solution. Just that it is what I would do.

    I guess if I lived in an area where there were absolutely no competent bike shops that could deal with a vintage 3-speed (though again, I would argue that one could make connections on bikeforums and get a reference for a competent bike mechanic in your area), then I would buy a loop frame KHS Manhattan Green for $350 and call it a day. But I would not buy one of the $500-700 bikes, because their quality, based on the feedback I receive from readers and what I have seen myself, is not worth that pricetag.

  5. I agree. Four years ago this solution returned my interest in daily bike commuting; the MTB with slicks just wasn't working. My 2010 improvement has been dynamo-drum brake wheel up front & three speed-drum brake wheel in the back for better all weather riding and improved illumination. When I do it again I will use the new Sturmey Archer kick back two speed coaster brake hub. This does break the $500 limit, but it is worth it come winter.

  6. If a bike shop cannot adjust an IGH properly in a few minutes without you making return trip to the bikeshop, then they shouldn't be charging for something they obviously do not know how to do. That goes even moreso for brake adjustment. That should be done right the first time with no squeals.

    A bikeshop should always test their work before they ever hand the bike back to you. If they cannot bother to do that, then find another shop.

  7. Pretty solid advice for anyone. I'd do it a little differently, but as you said, this is what you would do. I like the idea of the vintage 3 speed, but I wouldn't make the same choice with the wheels. For the back end I would replace the pads with KoolStop Salmon pads but keep the wheel as is. For the front I would suggest buying a Sturmey-Archer X-FDD dynamo/drum brake hub and build/have built a new wheel, either with the existing rim (if 36h) or a new ISO 590mm 36h rim.

    This solution would probably cost the same or less, with the advantage of a drum brake for low maintenance and an added hub dynamo. The back wheel braking would be a bit poorer, but seeing as it contributes so little to stopping power anyway, it shouldn't be an issue.

  8. Good advice! My 1982 Raleigh Lenton 5 speed with modern alloy wheels is my favorite bike (out of 6 bikes, including 2 modern 8sp IGH's). The bike was free (oh the things people throw in dumpsters), and I spent less than $100 on new wheels, tires, cables, bearings, etc. and did the work myself at the local bike co-op.

  9. One thing I would consider, when rebuilding a bike that way is putting a hub dynamo into the front wheel. I don't know about the US, but in Europe there are cheap wheels (or wheelsets) with a dynamo hub included, and that solves two problems at once: the braking problem you described (I completely agree braking on steel rims is no fun, especially in the rain), and the problem of having a dependable lighting system usable in all kinds of weather. Here in Europe dynamo front wheels are maybe the equivalent of $30 to $70 more expensive than plain hubs, and as this cannot be upgraded cheaply afterwards, I think this is absolutely worth the money.

  10. I've never complained my Raleigh Superbe even if its one size too large for me. It rides quite well with 700C wheels and Continental Top Touring Tires. I paid $300 for it on eBay in 2000 and I spent that much upgrading it. So you can get a good bike for under $1000. If I had do it today, I'd recommend the Public Bike from San Francisco. At $800, its not cheap but its a very good city bike for the money and rolls well on 700C wheels. The point is no one has to spend a lot of money on a classic type bike and there a number of manufacturers around. Electra offers the Amsterdam line. So its a matter of knowing what to look for and if only a vintage bike will do, then eBay/CL is a good bet to find one.

  11. A vintage 3 speed Sports bicycle will have a mild steel frame.

    With alloy wheels, it gives a lively ride. However, it won't go fast.

    If speed is your thing, look for a road bike instead.

  12. "that it is what I would do."

    Ah, yes, well; what I would do and what I would recommend somebody else do might well be two different things. I generally recommend a Japan (Panasonic) or Taiwan (Giant) built Schwinn. These have all the virtues of an English made bike with none of headaches. They're also easier and cheaper to come by most places.

    All they lack is tweediness, but if you release your inner weaboo that shouldn't be a problem.

    1. Tweedyness can be built in. Yes I regret giving my old Raleigh 3 speed away 30 years ago. Yes a Giant Schwinn accepts Brit BBs and 126 or 135 rear hubs with ease. Tweedyness is optional.

  13. good advice. $500 for a carefully modernized raleigh sports is $500 much better spent than a new $500 bike. however, there are some exceptions. you list on your budget options page the trek belleville, which is a heckuva deal, considering that it comes pre-loaded with racks and front and rear dynamo lighting. it's also aurguably better looking and better built than most of the budget options.

  14. It's not bad advice for someone on a budget. I was having a similar conversation with a coworker who was interested in a bike, and I told her to go check out Cambridge Used Bicycles down on McGrath, figuring that just about anything they had would be better than a cheap new bike, and she wasn't prepared to spend what it would take to get something good new.

    In addition to the old three-speeds, a touring or cyclocross-type bike can make a very good commuter, as they are usually designed to take racks, fenders, rough terrain, carry loads, etc. And most of the ones you will find used will easily take most new modern components.

    One thing that needs to be said is that there is no "one size fits all" solution. You have to go with what works for your situation--the local terrain, weather, the distance you need to travel, other uses for the bike, etc.

  15. Absolutely! I think that your recommendation is, in the long run the best. I know that that's essentially what I've done over the last year. Because I chose to find a couple of good C-list bikes and fix them up to my needs, I've actually managed to SAVE money. Enough so that I will soon be able to order my dream bicycle. So, moderate up front investment to get someone something that will serve them well until they can save up for what they really want. It also allows someone to be able to ride for a while and find out what they REALLY want out of a bicycle. That dream bicycle may change.

  16. Very good advice, as usual, Velouria.
    In my part of the country, Montana, three-speeeds are somewhat rare. However, many people have repurposed old steel-framed, rigid mountain bikes into excellent commuters at a minimal cost. A guy who lives up the street from me has his vintage MTB set up with an Alfine hub, full fenders and a trailer for the kids. Older MTBs typically have eyelets, long chainstays and relaxed geometry. My daily commuter is an ancient Schwinn Sierra, my wife's first mountain bike. It's outfitted with Planet Bike fenders a rear rack and street slicks. Simple, reliable and just ugly enough to where bike thieves ignore it.

  17. Anon 3:32 - In principle yes, in reality most shops nowadays probably fall short of these standards.

    Mr Colostomy & Ralph Aichinger - I'd prefer you solution too, and would get a wheelset with drum brakes and a dynamo hub. But I don't think this would fit into the $500 budget, considering the other expenses the person would still undergo.

    NormanF - Oh agreed. The person this type of advice would be for is not shopping for a roadbike in the first place, but an upright city bicycle. Having tried almost all Dutch/English/Danish/German/Italian classic city bikes available today, I would not say that the Raleigh Sports is slower or more sluggish than any of them, in fact it is sprightlier than most.

    kfg & Moopheus - The thing is, that those are mixtes, with a sportier ride quality to them than a vintage 3-speed. The reason I don't recommend them as an option here, is that beginner women cyclists often find them inadequate for commuting in comparison to the 3-speed step-throughs. The step-over is not low enough, the ride is not as upright or cushy, the tires are not wide enough, and so on. Ultimately, it is not as easy of a bike to handle for a beginner.

    somervillain - Funny, the Co-Habitant likes that bike too. For the mens' version, I cannot get over that weird kink in the top tube. The mixte version actually looks nice - but it's a mixte and same comment as the above paragraph applies. I'd be curious to try that bike and examine it up close though.

  18. I think Veouria gives great advice here. She shares her taste for classic European bikes. I would like to add that there are many classic Japanese bikes (Nishiki, etc.) and newer bikes from China or Vietnam that are comfortable and of good quality. Be aware that your first commuter bike will probably not be your last. You will find the fit is not quite right, or you want it geared lower, or all kinds of things. By the time you are ready to buy your second bike, you might have saved enough to get the lovely bike of your dreams.

  19. I usually look for a clean frame and wheels, the rest can be fixed up. New tires, tubes, chain, pedals, grips, brake cables, brake pads, seat post, seat, grips, and original shifter. It helps to have a brother who works at a bike shop.
    The three speed items usually take a while to track down: indicator chain, left & right nuts, fulcrum sleeve, and pulley assembly.
    Once completed the bike is just like new with another 30 years that can be enjoyed cycling.
    Here is my oldest daughter's bike:
    Thanks for the site and keep up the "great work".

  20. Do you know of any ready-made 27" alloy wheel sets for my Raleigh Sprite five-speed? Bike shop is asking and arm and a leg to build me some wheels.

  21. Velouria, are those Raleigh Cameos in the first photo? If so, those are fantastic bikes. I still have my Cameo that I used as my daily commuter while working in Nottingham. It cost me £80 and a few extra for new tyres. Another fantastic element that many people overlook with these old bikes (and that the bike shop pointed out to me when I brought it in for a tune-up) is that the old Raleighs and similar were originally manufactured to be completely repariable. So, if a component malfunctioned, usually it would require repair rather than replacement. Today I think we are so used to swapping out parts rather than replacing that we don't consider how valuable this is both budget-wise and in general. Its fantastic to know that, once you make that initial investment and assuming your bike is in good shape, you can work with what you have in many cases.

    Anyways, great post, I'm always advocating the vintage 3-speed as a wonderful all-around option for any budget. :)

  22. I just bought the new Globe Daily 03 and you have me worried! ;)

    My first 2 bikes after high school were Rudges (both with original Brooks seats) and I loved them.

    So for this bike I was going to go vintage but because I am a very tall woman, I wanted to make sure I could get a frame that was going to be large enough for me. I also have a 50 foot elevation (a bridge) to climb both ways on my commute and I wanted to be able to carry live cargo on the back (my 40+ pound daughter) so a 3 speed was definitely out. Additionally, I needed the bike to be on the lighter side since I have to lift it up my stoop to my back yard.

    Those things: frame size, weight, and gearing let me to buy a new bike rather than go vintage.

    We'll see how it goes. So far so good. And as far as rattling goes, I think you have to tighten those fender screws on the old bikes as well. I hear plenty of old Raleigh & Rudges, rattling on the road. I'll be taking my new bike in for some fine-tuning in a couple of weeks as the cables naturally loosen, etc.

  23. Anon 11:39 - Have you tried Yellow Jersey for the rims and the wheel building? Their prices are good and they can just send you a complete wheel.

    MFarrington - If you click on the image, it will take you to info about the bikes. They are a Raleigh Cameo & Superbe.

    cb - I have ridden the Globe Haul and found it pretty good, except on stretches of cobblestones. I certainly don't think the scenario in my second "email" is inevitable, just that it happens enough for readers to write me about it. There is one manufacturer in particular, name starts with an E, that seems to pop up more often than others in these complaints. Re the fenders - it's not just bolt loosening, but things like stays braking or the fender itself cracking.

  24. it sounds like this discussion has veered from "lovely bicycles" on a budget to "commuter bicycles" on a budget. several points have been brought up about recycling/repurposing "vintage" mountain bikes and japanese road bikes as modern commuters. i've done both: repurposed old mtn bikes (which do have some great qualities, as mentioned by MT cyclist above), and old japanese road bikes. i have had very pleasing results in both cases. in the case of old japanes road bikes, many of them had very good build quality and make great city bike conversion candidates. and in the case of old mtn bikes, they often can be found with very high end parts for next to nothing, since they generally aren't on the radar of most people looking for good old bikes to rehab.

    cb said: "I also have a 50 foot elevation (a bridge) to climb both ways on my commute and I wanted to be able to carry live cargo on the back (my 40+ pound daughter) so a 3 speed was definitely out. Additionally, I needed the bike to be on the lighter side since I have to lift it up my stoop to my back yard."

    cb, this sounds like exactly my situation (need for gearing, cargo hauling ability and ability to be lifted up steps). this is why i'm always making a big point about bicycle weight. this is also why i'm a proponent of vintage mtn bike conversions: the can carry a lot of weight and have very wide range gearing.

  25. oh, and since this discussion has veered to converting old bikes in general, here are two pictures of bikes converted for all-purpose urban riding / commuting. the first is an 80s mountain bike, the second is an 80s japanese road bike (originally a touring bike):

    both have smooth, supple riding, puncture-resistant tires, comfortable upright riding position, wide-range gearing for tackling any kind of hills, full fenders, front and rear racks with large front baskets, robust cantilever brakes, and of course lighting and bell. and neither weighs more than 33 lb!!! :-)

    if aesthetics or vintage appeal is below to budget, comfort and utility, in terms of priority, converting one of these babies might be the way to go.

  26. somervillain said...
    "it sounds like this discussion has veered from "lovely bicycles" on a budget to "commuter bicycles" on a budget. several points have been brought up about recycling/repurposing "vintage" mountain bikes and japanese road bikes as modern commuters."

    Exactly. Most women who write asking about bikes on a budget would ideally like a new Gazelle, Pashley, Retrovelo or Velorbis - but can't afford them. So they would like to find an equivalent on a budget. I don't think a converted mountain bike or mixte roadbike would be an equivalent. But a vintage 3-speed yes. And it's not just about the looks. It's about the ride quality, the internal gearing, and the upright position.

  27. All sage advice, Velouria.
    You are providing an invaluable resource here.

    I will pipe in a bit on a few specifics:

    For an inexpensive seat, the Amsterdam model
    sold by Electra is a good choice. It's made by Velo in Taiwan, and it slightly more comfortable than a Brooks or Wright's mattress saddle. They are less than half the price of a VO saddle, and can be sold off quickly on Craigslist or E-Bay to fund a better one. Plus, they look decent. And the springs creak just like a Brooks! (grin)

    Having tried a Trek Belleville Mixte, I can say that it is slightly tighter in road feel than a Raleigh Sports, but is quite mild-mannered compared to any other mixte I have ever ridden. It's definitely a utility bike, and a very well appointed one. (Except perhaps for the saddle and pedals, in my opinion.)

    If they made one in my wife's size -she's 5' 10"- she would own one already-we were that impressed.
    The Men's variant looks weird, except that it is seemingly derived from a British design of the 1920s- the Rollfast company made a roadster with a top tube shaped that way.

    Corey K

  28. Corey - Really? I have never seen a Rollfast with that type of kind in the top tube, could you point me to a picture?

  29. Although my first "adult bike" had 26" wheels, I much prefer 27". At 5'7" I feel much more comfortable on the bigger wheels, plus it's easier to find colorful tires in the roadie size.

    I also find myself largely recommending mixtes over cruisers to new bikers, who maybe aren't quite sure where their new bike will take them and need something versatile for adventures.

    I'm a staunch advocate of vintage bikes, although my Venice neighborhood is filled with beautiful Linus bikes from their store on Abbot Kinney that always catch my eye!

  30. $500.0 for a restored 3 speed seems like a wiser purchase than $850-$1000.00 for a new Abici or Bella Ciao 3 speed.
    What do others think?

  31. This was basically my exact experience with buying an Electra Amsterdam. My Raleigh Sports has cost me WAY less money (thankfully, the guy who had it before me even put alloy rims on), WAY less trouble repairing it, and it's 60 years old.

    The Amsterdam was fine - if you only ride it twice a month. With daily use, it quickly degenerated and I had to rebuild the rear wheel with a new rim (was breaking spokes), put new tires on (flats all the time), replace the generator and headlight, both of which wore out or broke, put a new kickstand on that would actually hold the bike up, etc. At the end of everything, I probably spent close to $1,000 on the three speed Amsterdam.

    I won't be making that mistake again - it's quality all the way for me, especially for an object which IS my means of transportation. If it breaks, I'm out of luck.

  32. Velouria: "those are mixtes"

    Wha'choo talkin' 'bout?:

    For the AVERAGE person looking for a good bike on a BUDGET that bike is superior to an English bike in every way except Englishness. Standard parts, standard tools, everything available through ANY bike store or junkyard.

    Pay $50 tops for a garage queen, $10 is not unheard of - a little WD-40 and your investment might well be done. Nothing to change unless you insist on a Brooks saddle.

    So this is what I ride, right? No, I said what I'd do isn't necessarily what I'd recommend. I actually wrote these comments while taking a break from working on a vintage English bike.

    Couldn'ta done that with a Schwinn, because I would have been riding it for the past two days already.

    NormanF - "3 speed Sports bicycle will have a mild steel frame . . . it won't go fast."

    Wanna race? Say city hall in Albany to city hall in Northhampton, across the Berkshires?

  33. I had the same decision to make about a month ago. Fix up a vintage 3 speed or buy a new bike. The cost of upgrading a vintage 3 speed wasn’t worth it to me. So I bought a Kona AfricaBike 3. I got a good utility bike, and supported a great cause all for $450 CDN. So far it’s been awesome.

  34. Velouria-

    Boy, did I ever mis-speak! it was a Runwell, not a Rollfast. I think Runwell was either an Elswick or Armstrong made bike:

    Note that it is a lugged frame rather than a butted one, and that the tube is a reinfocement, but serves the same purpose-to allow for a lower top tube while still giving the stiffness of a diamond frame, perhaps when making deliveries.

    The picture came from the C & V section of

    I believe the owner rides it several times a week.

    Color me embarrassed,

    Corey K

  35. somervillain, funny you say this:

    >>this sounds like exactly my situation (need for gearing, cargo hauling ability and ability to be lifted up steps). this is why i'm always making a big point about bicycle weight. this is also why i'm a proponent of vintage mtn bike conversions: the can carry a lot of weight and have very wide range gearing. <<

    Now that my husband and I both have our Euro-styled bikes (his an Electra Ticino, purchased new from CL for cheap), we're going to take his late 80s Salsa frame and have it powder coated and rebuild the bike into an upright xtracycle that we can both ride when we have serious cargo.

    Julianne, I think the Linus bikes are beautiful. Too bad they only come in 3 speeds and one frame size.

  36. As the owner of seven vintage three-speeds, four of them Raleighs, (and all of them ridden frequently) I have found no need to upgrade the wheels. New tires are helpful, certainly, but I have not encountered significant braking issues.

    Now, if I were to ride a Superbe or Racer or Sports with alloy wheels, I might realize what I'm missing and change my view. Ditto for riding in a hillier town such as Boston. But for now, I'm convinced that a well-preserved Raleigh is often pretty close to being ready-to-ride.

  37. ACK...this post was the final nail in the coffin to make me lean toward canceling the pashley britannia i have on order. it's suuuuch a beautiful bike, but it will arrive in january...and i'm a fair-weather, when-it-suits-me rider.

    i'm now on a hunt for a vintage raleigh...specifically with a loop frame. if i'm getting another bike, it's gotta be a pretty, english/dutch style...the vintage mixte i already have is fine, but it's not as PRETTY.

    i've spent hours scouring craigslist and ebay for a vintage raleigh loop frame...time to join some forums!

  38. Mr. Haramis - I think it depends on what you are looking for. Unlike the "budget bikes", Abici and Bella Ciao are of very high quality, in my opinion. The frames are hand made in Italy and lugged. Their ride quality is excellent (albeit with different personalities) and they are considerably lighter than the Raleigh Sports. I would also say that the design is more elegant (except for Abici's unicrown fork - sorry!) Plus, unlike the vintage 3-speeds, they are new, with shiny paint in a colour you can choose. Are those qualities worth $350-500 extra? I think it is up to the individual. For me, the Abici is a "no" because of the fork. But the Bella Ciao is worth it.

    gwyneth colleen - Beware that most vintage Raleigh loop frames have rod brakes, so that is another fun factor to deal with. I added a coaster brake to mine, but it isn't an easy process.

    Corey - Wow, what a bike! Never seen that one before, thank you for sharing. To me it seems like a stretch that the men's Trek Belleville was designed based on that, but it would be interesting to find out. Incidentally, I stopped by a local bike shop today and test-rode the mixte version of this model - report forthcoming!

  39. ". . .unlike the vintage 3-speeds, they are new, with shiny paint in a colour you can choose."

    Of course that's why God invented powder coating shops, but there is the issue of disassembly, including the headset and fixed cup, and then getting it all back together again, but you get proper bearing servicing for "free" into the deal.

    Or you could just release your inner Jackson Pollack on it's arse.

  40. if someone wanted to modernize a vintage raleigh loop frame bike, i think it would be possible to ditch the rod brakes and steel 28" wheels, and replace them with alloy 700c wheels and rim brakes. it would mean replacing the stem and handlebars, the wheels, and adding new brakes and brake levers. if the bike itself could be found for under $200, the upgrades could be done for $300, putting the total at $500. challenging, but not impossible.

  41. somervillain--I know it'd be possible to modernize a loop frame bike and I know there are brake issues in wet weather etc,, but oh--that would break my heart! Call me foolish, but I'm absurdly attached to both the look and feel of those steel rods and rims. That said, I also have enough bikes so I can swap them out depending on conditions and to be honest, I'm usually too wimpy to ride much if it's pouring rain.

    I was so pleased to see this post--I'm generally a big cheerleader for the quality, elegance and economy of the old Raleighs. So far I've spent between $20 and $200 on the basic purchase price of my bikes, with a wide range of maintenance and repair costs, but nothing outrageous. I have been tempted by the Trek Belleville--of all the vintage-styled bikes it seems to hit the mark the most closely and seems to get rave reviews for it's performance and practicality. Sometimes I wish I could find all qualities in one bike, but I do think it's impossible and maybe not even desirable--happier to have a small and varied stable. And gwynethcolleen--if you're really smitten and feel like a road trip, there's a guy in Maine selling a beautiful loop frame DL-1 for $150...

  42. sarah: i normally agree; i like all the chrome intricacy of the rod brake linkages, and would never consider upgrading my 1951 DL1! however, the DL1 was produced over many decades... into the 1980s, and most don't hold much historical value. so for someone who wants a classic loop-framed bike but with modern, efficient components, i say go for it! i'd even give an approving nod to stripping the frame, fenders and chainguard and powder coating them a non-original color...

    and that 1971 one on CL is perfect for such a conversion (the price is right!). oh! better yet! one could use the little holes in the frame left behind from removing the rod brake rocker arms (at the top and bottom of the downtube) to run dynamo taillight wiring inside the frame!

  43. sarah...really? could you send me the info? gwyn [at] surf [dot] co [dot] nz
    after doing a little more research, i'm afraid that a dl-1 is going to be too big for me. :(

  44. oh nevermind sarah...i found it on CL. :-D

  45. Very timely. I just bought a vintage CCM mixte. The frame holds me perfectly, but I need new everything listed in this post. To address some of the comments about what happens if you aren't in Boston.... Well, you get a vintage mixte for $3. It goes with my vintage Raleigh touring bike for $20 and my vintage I-don't-know-who-made-it-but-the-lugs-are-amazing road bike I bought for $5

  46. "Incidentally, I stopped by a local bike shop today and test-rode the mixte version of this model - report forthcoming!"

    I look forward to it! I think you'll find the colours much better in person than on the web.
    I am also curious as to whether you felt the same way about the saddle as we did.

    As for the 1920s Runwell being close to the 2009-10 Trek Bellville in overall shape, maybe it's one of those "everything-old-is-new-again" sorts of things. I think the overall geometry is rather close.

    Corey K

  47. Velouria - Pleasepleaseplease, pretty please review a Trek Belleville?!?!

  48. kfg - Yes, but once you add powdercoating and disassembly/reassembly, that $500 vintage bike will become a $800+ vintage bike.

    Corey & Herzog - I will publish the test ride report in a couple of days, as I like to mull on my impressions first. But you can see the pictures here.

  49. First, since I've never posted here before, I wanted to say how much I have enjoyed your blog. I have literally poured through every post and can't tell how much I have learned, enjoyed and appreciated!

    I've had many (mostly vintage) bicycles throughout my life, but after getting spoiled by easy cycling while living in the Netherlands eight years ago, I just couldn't brave the traffic on the streets of my hometown, San Francisco, again until recently. When I decided to get a bike again though, I didn't want to invest too much in what could be a failed project and luckily found just the right "starter" bike on Craigslist for only $30, an AMF Roadmaster single speed from the '60s with a coaster brake. My handy husband cleaned and tuned it like a pro and with new tires -- and a crocheted seat cover that I made -- I was ready to go.

    Now that I've been out on the streets a few times, I'm wondering what took me so long to get back on two wheels, and already have plans for another, better bike. Of course, the Pashleys and new Dutch bikes were tempting me, but then I started thinking about what I really wanted in an ideal bike and came to the same conclusion you did above. I like a frame with a little age to it, but also wanted features like a three speed hub with a coaster brake, either a drum or more reliable than vintage caliper brakes on the front, and cream tires, and I realized that the best way to get these was to build my own on a vintage base.

    So, hopefully, after reading your great advice and all the support it has received, the person who asked the question about the $500 new bike will reconsider and choose a more creative and ultimately more satisfying route.

    Thanks so much for all the inspiration!
    (PS. I'm using my husband's blog as my link, because his is much more bicycle focused than mine.)

  50. I agree in principle with your advice about buying a vintage Raleigh Sports as a budget option to a Dutch or Italian city bike-- mainly because, I love vintage bikes more than I should, and I love to tinker. I think, though, the vintage option is also best suited to people who are comfortable tinkering in general. Since being able to adjust the gears, adding oil, adjusting brakes will save the bike owner a lot of time and money at the LBS-- and, as others have noted, many of them are not very good at these simple tasks either. For people that are not so inclined, it would be advised to save another $500 and get the new one.

  51. I also think that a vintage Raleigh Sports is a nice alternative to a modern Dutch or Italian city bike, and not only for budgetary purposes.

    As its name indicates, the Sports is sportier, if not sporty. It has more responsive steering and somewhat quicker acceleration, which makes it easier to handle in traffic.

    And, paradoxically, it may be easier to find parts for a Sports, or other vintage Raleighs, simply because they were in production for so long and almost every bike shop in the universe has parts salvaged from bikes that were wrecked or abandoned. Some Dutch and Italian bikes may use some proprietary parts.

    When I had a Raleigh Sports, I rebuilt the wheels with Sun CR-18 alloy rims and replaced the brake pads with salmon Kool-Stops. These changes, along with modern cables, greatly improved the braking.

    The CR-18 takes the same spoke length as the steel rims that came with the Sports. I simply taped the new rim to the old one and, after I unscrewed each spoke from the old rim, I moved it to the new one.

    If you replace the rims, I recommend using the old spokes unless they're rusted, broken or bent. That's because modern spokes have are usually thinner and have a shallower bend than the spokes on the Raleighs, and the Sturmey Archer hubs are made for those older spokes. If you use modern spokes without spoke washers underneath the heads, spokes will break under normal usage.

    Whatever you do, you should replace the old brake pads, as they are probably dried or drying out. Ditto for the tires. And there's a good chance that the cables are rusting or gunky inside the housing, so those should be replaced. Plus, modern cables are much smoother than the old ones.

  52. It's a perfect idea! Why wouldn't more people do this? Really, people balk at this?
    A new or custom lugged steel bicycle costs a fortune. There are endless lugged steel bikes out there.
    Some people go as far as to put modern rear and front derailleurs on their old raleighs(technical skills allowed) with modern gearing. Instead of a 3 speed you could go for a 5 or 8 speed sturmey archer hub which are much less than the shimanos.
    I have a 5 speed raleigh which I got for $50 and is mint. The only thing I changed was the rear cog set to a shimano mega range so I can get up hills. I hate to change anything else on the bike. However I would not hesitate to find a lovely green raleigh sport and spunk it up a bit. I actually regret spending so much money on my surly-wish I had just gotten a beautiful frame instead.
    the only impediment is that the whole vintage bike thing has spiked the price up so much and then it becomes hard to even get to a bike before it is sold. You are lucky to be in Boston with such a fine glut of beautiful bikes and Old Roads to boot.
    Oh, and even new bikes start to break and after one winter the parts are going to be a mess, so you are still going to have to put lots of hours and labour into cleaning parts, replacing the new is easier than old argument has no legs. Trust me. If you have a bike, you need to learn to tinker a bit, be able to do basics or have a handsome handy husband at your disposal!

  53. Japanese bikes are English standard. That's why you need to use old Raleigh parts to fix up a Raleigh. The parts aren't English standard, they're proprietary.

    When a Dutch bike uses a proprietary part, it's probably a Raleigh.

  54. Why not have both new and old at the same time?

    This new old stock Sports that's been on NYC CL is killing me. Someone who cares should definitely have it.

  55. neighbourtease - Wow, with dynamo lights and locking fork, too. I think the price is steep, but the bicycle is amazing.

    Justine - your tape-the-rims-together method is genius; we need to try this!

    Heather - That is a good point about parts breaking even on new bikes, those in the "budget" category especially. I daresay that the parts on a vintage 3-speed will actually be more durable.

  56. Velouria: If you or Co-Hab tries it, just be sure to align the valve holes on each rim. And dab the threads of each spoke, and the insides of the ferrules in the spoke holes of the new rim, with some light lubricating oil.

    Also--I agree with your comment about the parts quality of vintage three-speeds vs new bikes. I commuted on a Breezer three-speed and wore out or broke almost all of the original parts within a year. I had a similar experience with a Dahon Vitesse I used before the Breezer.

    Kfg: You're correct. Raleigh bottom brackets and headsets are indeed proprietary. However, those parts are pretty easy to find because so many of those bikes were made for so long.

    Some current bikes do have proprietary parts, or parts that could just as well be proprietary because of their odd dimensions. As an example, the bottom bracket might be English threaded. But the crank might still have an odd dimension or require an odd spindle length or diameter. And, on many of those bikes, the chainring is permanently attached to the crank. So, if you wear it out, you have to find a new crank, which isn't always easy.

  57. Nice post. My husband is interested in getting a vintage bike and doing some modernizing. I've seen some pretty lovely rebuilds here in town, some of which have also been repainted. Maybe a good project for next summer.

    For someone who wants a quality bike, I'd recommend saving a bit for a better quality bike with the features that are important to the rider. My husband purchased my Breezer Uptown 8 for a for around $1100 and it came with exactly the features I prioritized. I didn't have to add a thing (and Schwalbe tires!).

  58. You are exactly right. I love my green 1960s Raleigh 5 speed - I just need a new wheelset, as you recommend. (I cannot brake in the rain, at all.) But this cheap local ebay bike -- now outfitted with luscious creamy delta-s tires, cork grips, and Brooks saddle -- is now a lovely ride, yet I don't have to stress parking it in Chicago, since it's not particularly showy. And I didn't spend a ton, and can save up for something fancy.

  59. In response to the "why wouldn't anybody want to do this" comments, I just want to say that I understand their reasons.

    When I was shopping for my first bike, I vaguely knew that my parents had a Raleigh Lady's Sports in my size. But it did not even occur to me that I could restore and seriously ride this bike instead of buying a new one. I think for a lot of new cyclists it just does not seem plausible that a 40 year old bicycle can feel and function better than something they can buy in a store today.

  60. she rides a bike said: "My husband purchased my Breezer Uptown 8 for a for around $1100 and it came with exactly the features I prioritized. I didn't have to add a thing (and Schwalbe tires!)."

    interesting. when i first started commuting to work four years ago, that's the bike that was at the top of my list. i was very impressed with the build quality and with the included accessories (full chaincase!). in the end, i opted to update my old 80s mtn bike which i bought for $25. in the end, i am glad i made this decision, because i later realized that the breezer the bike shop tried to sell me was way too small for me (i wouldn't have known at the time), and once i had become more cycling aware, i would have been stuck with an expensive (to me) bike that was not the right fit.

    also, like velouria mentioned, at the time i considered the breezer, i didn't realize that old bikes could be rehabbed and modernized. despite my life spent tinkering on all things mechanical, i had been a complete outsider to the entire bike cosmos-- to me bikes occupied a mental category closer to appliance than to precision, customizable machine. i'm really glad i didn't opt for the $1100 breezer and instead put $200 into my $25 mtn bike, because it initiated me into the world of bikes and cycling in which i have become thoroughly immersed. i wonder whether i would have been drawn to restoring and collecting vintage bikes the way i have over the past four years had i bought that breezer...

  61. I agree that it is ideal to save up, but if we are talking about spending $1,100, that is an entirely different price category. A Pashley, Gazelle, Velorbis, Batavus, Abici and Bella Ciao can all be had at that price. Sometimes people feel that it is impossible to save, or are simply not willing to spend over $1,000 on a bike, given their other financial priorities, and $500-600 is a price beyond which they are not willing to go.

    What bothers me, is not the budget itself. But the fact that a less expensive bike often ends up leading to that same $1,000 spent once you add upgrades and accessories. For example: If you buy a $600 bike, but add a Brooks saddle, better seat-post, a rack, lights, nicer grips, dress guards, panniers, basket, and puncture-reistant tires, the total will easily pass the $1,000 mark. The higher-end bicycles usually come complete with these things for a similar price. So what the person is really doing, is spending the same amount of money on a lower-quality bicycle with nice accessories. And in their mind, they still think that they spent $600 on the bike...

  62. Has everyone heard of PUBLIC bikes? They make classically styled urban commuter bikes, and come with matching chain guard and fenders. They just introduced an under $500 step-through, which is all steel. Very cool.

  63. Your blog reinvigorated my love of cycling after a nasty fall. I'm now totally fixated. I have a Pashley which I adore, but I want to get a spare for friends to ride. Wondering if you have any experience with or opinions on 10-speed Raleigh Cameos from the early 80s? They are here in Australia in abundance and I can't find anything about them... Thanks again for your blog.

  64. I agree that a vintage Raleigh can be nice and have owned one (a '54 Superbe with 4 speed SA hub). The issue I had with mine was the proprietary Raleigh threading and bold sizes. Does anyone know when Raleigh decided to adopt standard metric threads? I confess that I have not read through all 60+ threads, so apologies if this has already been covered.

  65. This is totally what I suggest to new buyers... I would change one thing though - if they are lucky enough to find a vintage S-A 3-speed hub on their vintage purchase, keep it and have it laced into a new aluminum rim. They don't make 'em like they used to!

  66. Is 65 remarks some kind of record?

  67. Steve - I have a few in the high 60s and a couple in the 70s, though I can't remember which posts.

  68. Velouria:

    I have a pair of Gazelle Sports Luxe (his and hers) single speed coaster brake bikes that I am "modernizing"... These are absolutely gorgeous; green with gold pin striping. (They have cottered cranks, so I'm guessing they're probably from the early 70s). My goal is to keep them as original as possible, but make them more rideable for everyday use (including climbing hills). I'm building new wheels with 3-speed and dynamo drum brake hubs. The skirt guard frame on the ladies bike is intact, but the plastic guard itself has withered away. I would really like to cover it in something unique; not necessarily the original clear plastic. Do you know of any sources where I might find a skirt guard to fit? If not, I may attempt to make my own. (BTW, love your Gazelle). Thanks,

    Bobby Birmingham

  69. I like your suggestions. Alternatively, I also recommend buying a vintage 27" wheeled Japanese bicycle, almost anything from the mid '80s with cro-mo main tubes or better where the paint's in good shape. I think you really can't look at it from the perspective of "what's the collector's value of the old bike?". Unless its any extremely high end (Miyata 1000 Touring model for example) an old bike even in almost new condition won't be worth anywhere near the standard $100-$150 asking price. But if you look at it from an "if I spend $200-$250 fixing up an old bike in good shape, what could I get new that would compare?" perspective, you can get a very good value.

  70. Thank you so much for this article! I read it this morning and found my black 1972 Raleigh Sport on Craigslist shortly after! I brought it home for $140 and will start saving for my new wheels and tires!!

    1. Do you have any updates? It would be fun to know how closely, or not, you followed this advice and how it has turned out for you!

  71. I've been reading your blog over the past couple of weeks (only just found it) and am loving it. Thanks for all your thoughtful posts on bike culture, quality, and romance! I especially appreciate your attitude that biking is a viable form of transport for everyone, not just those who are avid cyclers - as someone returning to bicycles after a 16 year hiatus, your blog definitely helped me feel more comfortable with the idea.

    I headed over to Old Roads at the Cambridge Antique Market after one of your posts reminded me of them, and there was a 1954 black beauty Raleigh Sports that was my size. I felt like it was fate, and couldn't pass it up. So far I may not have to do any of these upgrades (they do a great refurbish job at that shop), but I like your suggestions and am considering them. Thanks again!

  72. Despite the fact that I live in an alternate universe called New York where everything costs twice as much as it should, I find myself growing envious – and a bit skeptical – of some of the price ranges listed here for vintage Raleighs. Unless you are very lucky I'm afraid the admonition to pay "absolutely no more than $150" increasingly doesn't ring true around here, particularly if you're looking for taller sizes. The popularity of vintage 3-speeds has exploded around here...Just a word to the wise since NYC tends to be a belleweather for these types of things, get 'em cheap while you can.

  73. Thanks for all the great info here! Is there a general rule of thumb to follow to easily figure out what size RS frame will fit? I'm 5'6'' and don't know if 21 will work, if another size is better, of if there is wiggle room since clearance is not so much of an issue with this style bike. Thanks!

  74. ...and for goodness sake, make sure the stem isn't frozen. If you can't adjust the stem hight, walk away.

  75. I bought a vintage 3 speed Speedwell Classique for $90, and got new tyres but there's still rusty wheel spokes. It feels nice to ride but the brakes would not be great in the wet. I like the bike and now think I could upgrade it as you've described. My problem is my partner bought a new Schwinn Cream for Christmas for me. Its lovely and shiny and I like riding the new bike. But I don't know whether the vintage will be a better bike in the long run, perhaps it would be worth fixing up and keeping. But it seems silly to spend the money when I now have a new bike. Is the Schwinn a good bike in your opinion? What do you think of Speedwell Classique, is it similar to the Raleigh Sports?

  76. Great blog! I recently picked up a 1970 Schwinn Ladies Suburban 5spd. It's in fair condition, but I can clean it up. I actually thought it was a newer ('80's) model and wasn't too concerned about making it a usable bike, but after running the SN, found it was a '70. Now I'm conflicted on changing it or keeping it original. Even with a resto, it's still not a valuble bike, but I tend to be a purest. Any thoughts?

  77. I just wanted to thank you, Velouria. I had a (un)comfort bike that I just sold on craigslist with a gazillion speeds that I never used. After reading your blog and falling in love with dutch bikes I am following your advice. This week I found a ladies Raleigh sports for $65 from a character on craigslist. I am now on the way to building a decent bike. I have a long way to go but at the very least we will have a decent bike on a budget.

  78. Thank you, Velouria, for this post! I've been intrigued by bicycles for a few years now, and, being the green person I attempt to be, wanted something used. I found a 1978 Raleigh Womens Sport on Craigslist for $40 in Dallas, and can't wait to follow some of your steps to get this thing up and rolling. Your advice is great, and mimics what bicycling friends of mine say, "If it's lasted this long, it's not going to fall apart."

  79. To top of the wonderful weekend, my husband took me and my dear rusty-wheeled new friend to the local bike shop. After roughly $220, she will be cleaned, tuned, new saddle, new tubes, tires, lines, and brakes. Needless to say, I CAN'T WAIT. Thank you for the advice on here. I am SO excited to get my Raleigh up and running. I'll be sporting to and from work in a week. :)

  80. Anyone know where to get complete wheel sets (as mentioned) in the UK? I can't seem to find them anywhere. Ideally I'd like roller brakes and 3 or 5 speed gears.

  81. Nick - you could contact They could probably build a suitable wheelset for you.

  82. Thank you for the very helpful post! I just picked up a Raleigh Sprite ( for $40 at Edmonton Bicycle Commuters. I am fixing it up and have encountered the delayed braking issue with the steel wheels. I would recommend anyone getting into cycling on a budget check out their local Bicycle Co-op. Not only did I get a cheap bike from mine, they will also help me to learn how to fix my own bike and provide cheap vintage parts!

    Think of the savings next season when I have the skills to tune up my own bike! (winter biking is a different kind of adventure in Edmonton, I'm not quite ready for).

    Thanks Velouria!

  83. I just got the damnedest bike. It's a Fuji Sailor. It is shaped like a classic Dutch bike, down to the spring loaded kick stand. It has a small metal basket, full chain guard and rear disk brake. So far, I haven't been able to find anything online that looks even close to this. Most of the writing on it is in Japanese, although I can make out Shimano on the pedals. The frame is on the small side, so it could have been marketed for a child, or possibly for the Japanese market. I believe it could well be from the 60s.

    I've wanted a Dutch style bike but just can't afford to spring for a new one. This one was $50. While it needs work, it will be the perfect bike for me to hack around with while I get into shape to do more riding. It's definitely not intimidating. I'd say for folks to keep looking. There are sure some interesting bikes around these days!

  84. I entirely endorse your suggestion to "go vintage". However I feel that your recommendations on upgrades will put the project out of many peoples' financial reach.
    I wold recommend that if you have a Raleigh Sports or equivalent you leave the wheels alone and replace the brake blocks with modern Koolstop pads or similar. This will certainly give an improvement in braking. My other recommendation (again if you have a men's Raleigh product) is to reduce the gearing as their stock ratios are WAY too high. I have a Gents and ladies' Raleigh and found that with an increase in rear sprocket from 17 to 21 teeth transforms the Gents model and all three gears are much better suited to most folk rather than the bottom two. The ladies' version comes standard with a 20 tooth rear sprocket which is OK. The same problem exists with the 406mm Raleigh Twenty. I have two of these and have replaced the 15 tooth rear sprocket with one of 17 teeth again with the same improvement. Shimano Nexus sprockets are readily available and are secured in place by a circlip which can be removed and replaced with a flat screwdriver.
    As a matter of interest I manged to acquire both Raleigh Sports for nothing. I was just "helping out" someone to clear out their garage!
    For anyone interested, I made a short video of the two sports conversions on YouTube.
    They are both beautiful bikes.
    If the link doesn't work the tite is "An old Couple of Raleigh Sports; Male and Female"

  85. This comment has been removed by the author.

  86. After nearly a year of trouble with bicycle dealerships in my state not carrying the types of steel step-through frames I was looking for and having problems with buying/shipping from elsewhere (bike shops and craigslist alike), I finally stumbled over a vintage (1965-70's-ish) Hercules of Germany ladies' bike during a road trip. Between this guide and the recommendations of my local independent bike repair shop, I came out with a very functional, fun; extremely affordable and well-riding bicycle.

    The bike, as it was, was $75, and I spent $290 fixing it up (New heavy-duty whitewall tires, new back wheel, chain, Brooks washer grips, and switching the original Sachs shifter/hub for a more modern Sturmey-Archer set due to one of the smaller components of it being difficult to replace), with a little more allocated for a Brooks saddle when I find a nice pre-broken in one, and a handlebar basket. So those skeptical of going the vintage route even after Veloria's great breakdown because of the time and cost concerns: It can absolutely be done and the results are worth it.

    Aesthetically, it's not what many would consider the "prettiest" bike on the block--and I'm sure quick iPhone snapshot doesn't help--but I love the colours, literally winged wing nuts, and lug work. I call it Homely Bike. Excuse the dangling saddle accent--I can't bring myself to remove it just yet because it's been working as the most perfect impromptu water bottle holder in the world.

    1. Upsetting to think you ditched the Sachs gears - arguably the best component on the bike - for want of a small component. The Sachs dreigang is the finest three speed hub ever made. What piece was missing? You could recoup some cost by selling it?

  87. I was looking to buy a bike for my wife when she showed me this funny blog. The only reason to buy a vintage raleigh is because you love tinkering with stuff and have the time and patience for a play toy. You can easily buy a new Raleigh Sprite for $340-400 and it will be just as good, or better, than the other recommended bikes on this blog--the Abici or Bobbin.

    The only difference--is aesthetics. The vintage, Abici Bobbin or even Bella Ciao might look a little cuter, but that will cost you. If you are willing to pay $600+ for looks then it is a reasonable thing.

    But to pretend that there is quality to be had by buying an Abici or vintage rather than a Sprite is a is a symptom of being a bourgeoisie airhead.

    Anyways, this is coming from someone who has owned a bicycle manufacturing factory long ago...not some smiley faced bike rider who swoons over lugged frames--so my opinion is bound to be different

  88. Earl, I don't see a Sprite among Raleigh's current offerings. And I disagree about the quality of old (Nottingham-made) Raleighs. I'm a master mechanic of bikes, and the old Raleigh 3-speeds are some of the most reliable and durable bikes on the road.

    Veloria, I want to tell you that I have referred many people to this post of yours. It is among your best. Thank you.

  89. Hi everybody !
    I am desperatly searching for help. We have a Raleigh Cameo bike since ages, and we scratched the decals under the saddle, with a padlock.
    I would like to reproduce this decal, to give a new fresh start to this beautiful bycicle. Unfortunately, I don't have a good picture of it. Does someone has this bike? Please could you send me some pictures of this decals ?
    Thank you for your help !

  90. Virginie,

    Try Googling Raleigh Cameo decal, or Raleigh Cameo in Google photos. Not familiar with that model, you can find some older bike decals on Ebay, perhaps elsewhere online, perhaps a shop that might have new/old stock-good luck.

    There is a link during the write up of this restore:

  91. I know you love all things bicycle so i thought I would tell you about the gorgeous old city bike I just found on the thai/cambodian border in a border market. Lugged steel frame, single speed freewheel, rear drum brake, front caliper brake, 26 inch wheels, 26x1.75 tires, sprung seat,solid steel completely enclosed chain guard. It has been completely refurbished and repainted in a modest burgundy. And the price was $40.00 US!!! There were literally dozens of these bikes in this market and local shops were buying them by the truckload!! What a gold mine!. I'd love to send you a picture of this bike but I can't figure out how to do that here and I don't see a "contact us" address.

  92. I've been reading your blog for some time now, it got me interested in bicycles again, so i decided to start restoring and customizing old Swedish bike since i live in Sweden.
    I opened a blog to document the process, i don't go into very much detail, but i can answer technical question if someone is interested.
    I mostly post pictures of before and after restoration, and some videos of me at work :)
    Hope you enjoy it :)

  93. This is exactly what I did with my 1976 mens 3 speed Raleigh. Picked it up for 20 bucks at a goodwill, replaced the tires and tubes, had my local bike shop do a tuneup and it's now my main source of transportation!
    I did a blog post about it with a little bit of Raleigh history as well on my blog 2Rummage4

  94. I am looking for a vintage bike, but I don't know if I should put 26" or 28" wheels on it. I am 5' 1/2" tall. I am looking for a mixte frame (19" or 20"). Which size wheels would you suggest. And could you explain what the difference would be (aside from the weight difference). Thanks!!

  95. Your 3 speed vintage upgrade idea is definitely sound. My wife wanted a nice bike to ride 2 miles to work. I avoided the initial cost of a ladies 3 speed by restoring a lovely 1960s chrome AMF Hercules 3 speed gathering dust in my mother's garage. I cleaned and rebuilt the Sturmey Archer AW 3 speed hub, replaced all the cables, restored the Sturmey Archer 3 speed twist grip shifter, replaced the saddle with a cheap women's cruiser saddle, and installed Schwalbe Delta Flyer whitewall tires. I didn't replace the chrome steel rims yet (where can I find polished aluminum rims that look right on a vintage English 3 speed roadster bike?). With an easily-removable wicker basket in front, the bike is stunningly cute and my wife likes riding it. :)

    As for where to find old ladies 3 speed bikes? In the Denver/Boulder area, you can try Community Cycles in Boulder -- it is a bicycle co-op that accepts old bicycles as donations. Occasionally, you will find vintage 3 speed bikes there which have been repaired and restored. In Philadelphia, check out Via Bicycle on S 9th Street. It is a treasure trove of vintage bicycles for reasonable prices.

  96. I really must stop reading your blog! Every time I read, I see another lovely bike I want to own.

    I just bought a brand new, vintage-style bike, and you have me scouring Craigslist for a Raleigh 3-speed. Suddenly I've just gone from having 1 bike to owning 3.

    Seriously, though, thank you for the well-written blog, honest opinions, and wealth of information here.

  97. Hello fellow Bostonian,

    Over the last 3 months, I've gone from not having biked since I was a kid to biking to work regularly. And unlikely as you expected, I've followed your advice and purchased a well maintained 1963 Raleigh Sport for $150. Your advice was spot on. It's so perfect for riding and so stunning that I park it next to my desk and admire its beauty regularly.

    Now comes time for the upgrades and I need some advice in 1 areas: BRAKES.

    As expected, the steel rims aren't great in wet weather. I could change the front rims to aluminum alloy as you suggest or I could install drum brakes in the front (and keep the steel rims).

    - Which do you think is a better choice given that I want to ride it in light rain and light/medium snow? On your winter riding posts, you suggest drums strongly so I'm not sure whether I should pick drum or allow rims.
    - If drum, do you have any suggestions on make/model?

    Since the rear brakes aren't as important as the front, I was thinking of keeping the steel rim as is. I've replaced the brake pads to the red Kool ones. This is mostly a financial choice. Your expert reaction welcome.

    Thanks for your help! And thanks for your blog. I've been reading it regularly although this is my first comment.

    1. If i might interject a bit, as someone who has done just what you're mentioning, if you go with the drum brake, get a shimano drum brake/dynamo combo on the front and then get dynamo lights so you don't have to worry about batteries, taking them on/off all the time, etc.

      I personally went with new Sturmey Archer hubs, and they caused me endless trouble, i had a terrible experience with them.

      The drum brake will definitely provide stronger braking than the current brakes, even with new alloy rims (at least, that was my experience).

      Anyway, hope that's helpful.

    2. Thanks Dave. Thats timely - I was looking at "Sturmey Archer XL-FDD 36h 90mm Dynamo Drum Brake Hub" mostly because they are easily available and some people talk about using it.

      Can you expand - what kind of trouble did you have with you SA? Was it 90mm or 70mm and did that have anything to do with the troubles? And have you used Shimano and have had no trouble with it?

      I'll probably go with the dynamo in the hub - whether or not I get the lights right now. The good dynamo lights seem prohibitively expensive.

      Looking forward to learning more about your experience.

    3. I had the 70mm fron brake dymohub, and the three speed rear drum brake hub. The rear hub would have problems with gears slipping and would periodically become very draggy. My bike shop pulled it apart probably 5 times, and worked with Sturmey archer, even getting new parts, and were never able to resolve these issues.

      The front hub ended up destroying my bike by locking up completely and bending the fork.

      I haven't used the shimano hub myself except on a couple of loaner bikes (so not enough to really comment on durability), but i have heard good things in general about shimano hubs from people I trust to know what they're talking about (such as Henry, the owner of WorkCycles in Amsterdam). I have used a shimano front hub with a large drum brake, and the braking power was amazing, you could easily skid on a 40lb bike.

      Anyway, best of luck with the work, i absolutely loved my Raleighs, they were amazing bikes to ride.

    4. Awesome. Thanks so much for the details. Will stick to Shimano and avoid SA. I love this old english 3-speed.

      Anyone else have thoughts on whether I should go with drum+steel rims or callipers+steel rims? Would love to hear more thoughts/experiences.


    5. Oh dear. Dave, I just outfitted a Raleigh Superbe with an X-FDD front hub and X-RD5 rear. I have read about problems regarding the rear hubs so I knew it would be a bit of a gamble, but the front is what worries me. When your hub seized up, what exactly happened - did you have to bail or was it at a slower speed? Do you think it was a result of the fork dropouts not being completely parallel and bending the axle and generator part?

    6. I was just pulling out from a stop sign, and a car coming from the right, which also had a stop sign, ignored their stop sign, so I had to jam on the brakes to stop, but I wasn't going very fast, so basically I just had to do a really quick dis-mount, after which I noticed that my bike wouldn't roll anymore, so I had to basically pick it up and carry it over to the sidewalk. After examining it, I noticed that the fork was bent at the spot where the brake arm was attached to the fork. I had had so many problems with both hubs, and the possibility of finding the exact same fork to replace this one was slim enough, that I just decided to sell the bike rather than try to replace the fork and replace both hubs, rebuild both wheels, get new brake levers and a new stem and handlebars (mine had rod brakes, so the stem, bars and brake levers were all inseparable) - it would have just been a mammoth project to rebuild the bike from there, so I sold it to someone who wanted to do it.

  98. Wow...zillions of comments here....
    I have three three-speeds, one of which I'm going to use for the parts (fenders, handlebars etc.).
    One is an original 1972 Raleigh, less the seat, still has the original tires and rock-hard brake pads on it. Got it free through my local FREECYCLE site.
    I'll go with those leather/faced brake pads since I'm broke (steel rims). I have gumwalls for it, got them at an auction with a lot of other tires for $5 total.
    The seat (I'd love a nice leather one) is going to be a cheapo sprung plastic one for now, salvaged off another discard bike.

    The shifter cable needs replacing. So, cheap bastard that I am, I'll probably have all of $35 into this by Spring time.
    As I salvage bikes all the time for the asking, and donate others to Bikes Not Bombs, I'm doing OK for now.
    Still, a larger-frame 3-speed wouldn't be bad.....

  99. I have REALLY been enjoying your blog while I'm on the search for a city bike after being bikeless for some time. :) Given my budget, I am going to go your route of finding a vintage Raleigh 3 speed and working over the winter to modernize it.

    My question is...I note on your modern vs vintage guide, you suggest a Raleigh Lady Sports. I have found a ladies Robin Hood for a GREAT price. Will the same modernization work with that bike as well or do I really need to hold out for a Lady Sports :)

    1. I realize this is an old comment but I guess just as an fyi, Robin Hoods were made by Raleigh. Scroll a little ways down here and you'll see other names that essentially the same bike could be sold under. If it matters to you, Raleigh was the only one that featured the dimpled fork crown. Good luck on your project!

  100. If you have found a restorable bike at a great price go for it!
    The initial price paid is a significant chunk of the total project cost.
    I suggest getting the bike working with existing parts and ride it for a spell. Then you will develop a set of priorities on which parts to upgrade and accessories to buy. Keep any old parts which may interest a future buyer. Remember you are merely the custodian of the bike!
    Tyres can be restored. I use Meguiar's Hot Shine Tire Spray. Two generous coatings works wonders. Even forty year old tyres may have life left in them. Any additional mileage helps spread the project cost. When replacing inner tubes make sure you get the collared-type which prevent the tube moving inside the tyre.
    Good luck with the project!

  101. Dang, this is pretty much exactly the advice I'd give someone to consider as well. As you might remember saying, I really fell in love with my '58 lady's Sports the moment I got it and after having tried a few other types of bikes, I still love the Sports frames for all around commuting. That being said, I just finished restomodding a '79 Superbe two days ago and predictably spent well over $500. Maybe almost twice that. After a few test rides, I'm loving it and of course if I end up liking it less in the future, I can carry the components onto a different frame and return the Raleigh to stock. In case anyone was wondering, drum brake hubs with Sun CR-18 rims weigh the same as AW or Dynohub with the original steelies.

  102. Hi Velouria, I've been checking out your blog for a long time, and finally used your advice to buy my "first bike", an '80s Speedwell 3-speed ladies step-through, which I brought home last night! It's nothing fancy or particularly collectible, but should be a good starting point (and inspired this post: Thanks so much for sharing your down-to-earth experience and expertise, and for enabling others to get into trying something new!


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