Friday, March 28, 2014

The Call of the Robin's Egg Blue

Raleigh Sports in Robin's Egg Blue
When I first saw the turquoise hued frame, I assumed it was an aftermarket repaint - not an unusual state of affairs around these parts. But drawing nearer, it became obvious by the amount of wear and tear that its colour was original. An early '60s Raleigh Lady Sports, in robin's egg blue. An iconic colour in the bicycle industry, to be sure. Just not iconic to the English 3-speeds of that era - a breed better known for its sombrer palette of oxide greens, matte blacks and root-beery coppers.

Raleigh Sports in Robin's Egg Blue
At some point all bicycle lovers experience that feeling of "Man, I am way too into this." For me this happens about once a week. And yet, it never gets old. "I've never seen one in this colour," I whisper, my heartbeat quickening. 

Raleigh Finish Selection for Export, 1960s
In response a 1962 Export catalogue is swiftly produced, its pages flung open to a rainbow-like spread of finishes. A dazzling range of powders and pearls, the likes of which most have never seen on an old 3-speed.

Raleigh Finish Selection for Export, 1960s
Let alone the "flamboyant" and the "smoked" finishes.

So, if all of these colours were offered, why did so few Sports models survive in anything but the usual shades we're familiar with? No one can say for sure. But most likely the dealers were risk-averse, and stuck with the original green/black/copper palette they already knew would sell well. If a more unusual colour ended up in circulation, it was likely because a customer special-ordered it.

Raleigh Sports in Robin's Egg Blue
Such was the case with the frame I was now admiring. The original owner special-ordered the finish, and requested for the handlebars to be flipped when building up the bike. For the decades it was in use, she rode the bicycle with its original parts (notice the elegant grip repair method) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Raleigh Sports in Robin's Egg Blue
It is amazing the way colour can change a bicycle's personality. Looking through my photos of the frame, a friend immediately commented that in robin's egg blue the Lady Sports looked "lighter and faster" than its traditionally-hued sisters (having lifted it, I assure you "lighter" is not the case). Another said "I thought this was a Betty Foy at first!" 

No doubt the robin's egg blue played some role in the wild popularity of Rivendell's mixte through its 2009-2012 production. And the 2011 Surly Cross Check (I am told people are still phoning bike shops on a hunt for that year's model, just because of the colour). Possibly it is the most common colour I've noticed for frame repaints for road and city bikes alike. There is just something about it, and the associations it evokes (blue skies? seaside holidays? Easter candy? vintage Vespas?), that strikes a cord. Seeing it so unexpectedly combined with a '60s Raleigh Lady's Sports was a nice treat, for which I thank, once again, Nick of the Three Speed Hub

27 comments:

  1. I want this! Will it be restored?

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    1. Eventually I'm sure, or sooner if someone specifically wants to buy it. Get in touch with Nick via the Three Speed Hub website.

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  2. I also thought it was a Betty Foy at first glance :)

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  3. The perfect spring post, like a hopeful crocus breaking through.

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  4. Is its a sickness that I can't look at a frame like this without wanting to gently take it apart down to the frame, clean it up and rebuild it into a functional bike? I am currently working on a Ladies Raleigh Sports 3 speed in a classic "rootbeery" copper color, I must say I much prefer that lovely robins egg blue. Hope someone resurrects that frame.

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    1. Somewhat similar for me, in that I have a matchmaking (human + bike) compulsion, which also involves fantasies of how exactly that bike would be altered or rebuilt for the owner.

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  5. Your friend Nick has posted some wondrous archives. I know where I'll be for a few evenings. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you. It has been some work but also a pleasure in sharing. I have a fair few more to get to and cannot imagine stopping collecting them so the catalogues will always be a work in progress. I am hoping before the week is out to break the 200 mark, fingers crossed.

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  6. Among the uncommon 3-speed colors I've seen more reds than blues out here in the SF Bay Area. Most often a Phillips or Hercules bike, but some Raleigh or TI brands, too. A fair number of red with cream headtube liveries, now that I think of it. Still, enough blues to jog memory.
    That blue *is* cool. I seem to remember that Ford sold more baby blue Mustangs than any other color for the first few years, and Fender Musical Instrument Co has had guitars available in that color since 1964, too. They still sell very well. Something about it, indeed...

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  7. My wife has a 1966 Dunelt in a light blue, but not Robin's Egg Blue. I've only seen blue on a ladies' frame. Both colors remind me of two similar commonly available GM colors in the mid 60's. My usual ride is a bronze green Superbe of 1968 - I much prefer the darker green it has morphed to than its original glory.

    One must sympathize with any business trying not to present too much differentiation and carry inventory for a fickle public. This was fine when American cars came in a dozen different colors and one ordered what one wanted from a showroom (not a huge lot) often in the city or downtown, then waited patiently two or three months for it to be made to order, color-wise and otherwise. But people now expect instant gratification - they expect to walk out of the shop with the product. I suspect Raleigh North America's business was more of the walk-in and ride-out than the auto business then.

    I think Lee Iacocca once said that sometimes he got sick of betting the company on whether the public wanted to buy orange convertibles in three years.

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  8. "... blue skies? seaside holidays? Easter candy? vintage Vespas?"
    Perfectly said.

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  9. I bet that bike is usually black.

    It knows it's chances for rehabilitation and another 10 or 15 years of living indoors are deteriorating right along with it's increasing rust and congealing grease. Along comes one of the age's foremost appreciators/advocates/snapper-uppers of the last age's better quality mid-priced consumer durables and it just goes all chameleon, squinches itself up into ROBIN'S EGG BLUE and hopes it's going home with you or me or somebody like us for a complete overhaul, a re-paint and some hammered Honjo's.

    I've drug home rusty 70 year old rifles, water damaged mid-century Scandinavian furniture, vintage alarm clocks, Trumpets with crushed bells, rusty skeletons of Model A Fords and bikes. Holy Cow, the bikes.

    About 5% of them get repaired and returned to some sort of glory, some others get triage, stabilized in a sort of managed fossilization so they can wait till the stars align and it's their turn, some others get moved on and enter the lottery again and a bunch eventually just get scrapped, recycled or broken up and stuffed into the woodstove when I find I can't walk through my basement without bending into an exaggerated "S".

    I hope that neat old bike gets adopted and ridden but I have gotten to the point where if it's unfortunate enough to get smelted down and turned into a half-shaft on a new Dodge 4x4 I can deal with that. There'll still be some old Raleigh's around for another century or two and anyway, maybe this one used to be something even cooler before it got picked up in a scrap drive during the war, and turned into a typewriter before taking another turn as this nice bike.

    Not sure if the Hindu's are right about people but re-incarnation certainly applies to bikes. Circle of life, let em' go...

    Of course, now that I've written all that crap I have to admit I just brought the absolute sweetest old Raleigh International home yesterday...

    Spindizzy

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    1. In this day and age when old 3-speeds are being dragged out of basements by the dozen, the bikes must do what they can, so I would not put it past them. We do know chameleon finishes exist. For instance, Mercian's purple-green flip flop finish. Why not a black to blue morph?

      There is also the rumor of BSA, in its last days before the Raleigh take-over, having been in the R&D stages of developing a finish that rendered bikes invisible at will. Supposedly that was scrapped by the 1960s. But was it?...

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    2. That flip-flop is available from Prismatic, as are some incredible candy finishes. I put a link to an expert Powder Coating artist in another post. Contact me for the reference if you'd like...

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  10. I had a good friend whose father bought her a robin's egg metallic blue Raleigh right around 1960. I thought it was a 'normal' color and wondered why I hadn't seen more of them. Now I realize how special it was. Thanks!

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  11. Coincidentally, only last week I came across this lovely Raleigh Wisp mixte restoration, not the original colour but refinished in an identical shade of robin's egg blue to the Lady's Sports – and she called it... Robin! :)
    Raleigh Mixte: Robin – Flickr Photoset:
    http://www.abbrv.co.uk/2X7

    (Barely related to the Lady's Sports, but loosely related to the above, I also found this yester... Och, any excuse to let you see it! :)
    AJ's BlogCycle Vintage Peugeot Mixte:
    http://www.abbrv.co.uk/7JF
    Loveliest restoration I've ever seen. Whoever 'AJ' is, he's a clever fellow, and whoever 'L.M. Jones', his client, is, she's a lucky lady – I can't usually suffer the word 'kudos', but for once it seems appropriate. Well kept secret, though – no comments under the blog post – but so beautifully done.)

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    1. G'day, Andrew (AJ) here . Thanks for your nice comments about the Peugeot. This bike was a present for my mum. She loves it (keeps in the house) but rides it fairly often too and usually gets a few comments when she's out and about on it.
      Cheers, Andrew

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    2. Funny enough my internet provider won't let me access AJ's blog until I change my account's "graphic content" settings (an elaborate process here, so I keep forgetting to do it). It must be pretty powerful bike p0rn indeed!

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  12. As much as I love my green Raleigh 3-Speed, this one is even more beautiful!

    My mother owned a French bike in exactly this color when I was a little girl. I wish I knew what it was, but sadly she has passed away and the bike is long gone.

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  13. Yes, it will be restored. Although the color was available for export the origins of this bicycle are all British. It was bought by a close family friend from new and had been used during her time at school and university and then after. From there it was loaned to anybody in need. Although it had not been used for some years the owner had held onto it. Every year when I go back to the UK in August I always make a point of popping around to see the owner and her husband. I take my two sons with me and we chat and catch up over coffee and biscuits. On one trip a couple of years ago I was invited into the garden and they rolled it out of the garden shed. They were worried that it might be a little too far gone or beyond salvation or that I would not be interested. They had still wanted to offer it to me just in case. The wheels were beyond saving unfortunately as were the white plastic Bluemel's fenders, one held to the fender brace with a piece of string, possibly the same as that shown on the grip. I could only imagine what a sporty affair it must have been back in the day. It didn't have a chainguard and I'll have to make a call and ask if it ever did have one, my thought is not. If you look at the cranks you will notice that the crank arms are fluted too, also an upgrade. Inverting the bars was a more common affair than you see nowadays and I am a bit of a fan of them, not sure if I will keep them inverted or put them the right side up. How could I resist such a gift and challenge. I packaged it up and shipped it back here to the US, more for sentimental reasons than the worth of shipping back a Raleigh Sports. There is one other little interesting aspect to this bicycle, although clearly a Raleigh Sports, it actually has the same locking fork mechanism that is found on the Superbe models. How cool is that.

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    1. Seven pages of metallic blues!

      http://www.prismaticpowders.com/powder-coating-colors/

      Applied for a very reasonable cost by a custom-shop artist:

      http://www.ams-powdercoating.com/

      $100.00 to $300.00 for a typical frame and fork, depending on color choice and amount of prep.

      He's done a number of bikes for me, and a bike fiend in Baltimore, and a number of shops and riders around the Northeast... he's quite good.

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    2. I should add that I'm not affiliated with AMS Powdercoating in any way, Andy is, indeed, a friend, but he does a fantastic job for a very reasonable price, and I thought this lovely bike community would like the resource. Forgive me the shameless plug.

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  14. Whenever I see something like this old bike, I can’t help but wonder about the life it’s had, and the adventures it might have been on. But on this occasion my eye was drawn away from the bike, and to the pages from the catalogue. I love the colour descriptors. What a way to categorise the ranges!

    It would have been fun to listen in on the conversations in some of those old, long established, family run bike shops that were once so common in the English Home Counties at that time…….

    “Can I be of any assistance to the gentleman?”

    “Looking for a bicycle for my daughter, don’t you know"

    “A ladies frame sir? For your daughter sir?. Certainly sir. I’m sure we can accommodate. Now.. as to ‘finish' sir, have you anything in mind sir?”

    "Finish old boy? Not sure I follow…”

    "Yes sir FINISH! … or COLOUR…. if you will”

    “Oh I see, haven’t given it a moments, old boy I’m afraid. They’re mostly all the same, eh what? Black and……er…. whatnot?”

    “That might well have been the case a few years ago sir, but in these modern days, there are a great many options available. Perhaps as many as a couple of dozen sir”

    “Dozens, you say? My gosh! How on earth is one to decide?”

    “Well... if sir will permit me to make some enquires about the young lady….. I might be able to assist sir in deciding?”

    “Capital idea! Fire away old boy. Fire away!”

    "Well sir, if one was to try and ’sum up’, as it were, the young lady, would one be inclined towards ‘shy little flower’ or ‘OUTWARD going lady’ sir?"

    “Ah yes, I see. Well of the two……………..”

    “Yeeees sir…….?”

    “I think one might lean more towards ‘shy little flower’ “

    “Ah HA! Well in THAT case sir, I would strongly suggest something from our ‘NON FLAMBOYANT’ range... JENKINS! The catalogue for the gentleman if you please! Quickly boy! A gentleman doesn’t have all day!"

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  15. What was their domestic selection of finishes like, I wonder. Perhaps all the bright colors were for the benefit of the American market.

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    1. I have not seen the UK catalogue from the same year, but that selection of finishes is actually very English - though typically found on Lightweights (roadbikes) and not upright bikes. I am guessing that at some point (maybe in the late 50s?), they started offering all the colourful roadbike finishes as an option for the roadsters and sport roadsters as well, both domestically and for export.

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  16. I have a Cross Check in that blue and get compliments on it and questions about it ALL the time. It's un-decaled and I have Soma Oxford bars on it, and different tires, so it looks very unlike a cross check :)

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