Friday, October 2, 2015

The $500 3-Speed: Possibilities Five Years Later

Almost exactly 5 years ago (wow!) I suggested that those looking for a city commuter bicycle in the $500 price range consider a refurbished vintage 3-speed, in leu of what was then available new for the same cost. My reasoning was, they would be getting a product both higher in quality and pleasanter to ride than the then-available alternatives.

Today, the economic landscape is changed from what it was 5 years ago. Nevertheless, the $500 figure remains amazingly stable as the budget those looking to buy their first city bike quote me. Luckily, the bicycle industry has changed as well. More options for budget priced city bikes are available now than there were 5 years ago. Is it still worth it then, to attempt going the vintage route? Here are my updated thoughts on the subject.

In 2010, there were several 3-speed style city bikes on the market in the $500 price range. One factor that made me reluctant to recommend them, was the negative feedback I was getting from readers about these bikes. Complaints included everything from discomfort, to shoddy components and craftsmanship, to the bicycles rusting immediately if left outdoors. Behind the scenes, I had conversations about this with several bike shops and manufacturers - their reactions ranging from assuring me they were working to address the issues, to pointing out that their target market did not have expectations to use the bicycles as actual transportation (Erm, enough said!).

Brooklyn Bicycle Willow
Today, reader satisfaction with lower-priced, store-bought city bikes seems to be considerably higher. In particular, I have had excellent feedback about the Brooklyn Bicycle Co. Willow, the Civia Twin Cities, the Pappillionnaire Sommer, and the Bobbin Bramble and Birdie - all priced if not exactly at $500, then at least "in the $500s" for the 3-speed versions; often including a rear rack. For those who can stretch their budget an extra $100, there is now even a US-made option from Detroit Bikes that is not too far out of range.

With choices for easy off-the-shelf purchase of decent low-priced city bikes available, there is really no need for the hassle of hunting down a suitable vintage 3-speed, then bringing it up to standards. Still, some might prefer to go that route for several reasons. There are those (myself included) who find the ride quality of vintage 3-speeds superior to anything of equivalent style on the market today. For others, it's about aesthetic preferences. Others still are attracted to the "character" and history of a vintage bicycle compared to anything modern. And then there are those why simply crave a DIY project! All of these are perfectly valid reasons to go the vintage 3-speed route. But will $500 still buy you a refurbished one in 2015?

When I started this blog it used to be that in cities like Boston, a complete 1970's Raleigh Sports bicycle could be found for under $100 without effort. Some years later, prices soared to the point of ridiculousness. But today I am glad to see they seem to have come back down a good deal. This morning, for instance, I found a decent specimen for $115 - not a bad starting point.

In my original post on the subject, the $500 total price tag included outfitting the vintage bicycle with modern wheels (for the sake of improved braking power in the rain), modern tires (for puncture-resistance), as well as possibly a new saddle, and a rear rack if it did not have one already. According to vintage collector and dealer Nick at the Curious Velo/ Three Speed Hub, the same can be accomplished today. In fact, the bicycle pictured in the first and in the above photos (built out of this frame) is one he has fitted with a modern wheelset (Sturmey Archer S-RF3 hub at the rear) and a few other upgrades, as an exercise in whether it could be done within a $500 budget. His conclusion was that, while prices have of course gone up since 2010, it is still possible to buy wheels, tyres, new cables, and pay a mechanic to do the work, within this tight budget. In fact, he will gladly build up such a bicycle out of one of his English 3-speed frames for anyone interested.

There are issues to watch out for when building up a vintage bike with modern parts. Wheel compatibility is the obvious one. Be aware also that installing modern hub brakes instead of rim brakes on these bikes has been known to result in bent forks (the brakes are too strong!).

Personally, I have actually found it best to ride the vintage bikes with as close to the original builds as possible. In particular, the old wheels feel nicer to me than modern ones. But of course if someone feels unsafe with "vintage" braking power in the rain, you can't really argue with that. At any rate, the wheels, as well as most other components, can be upgraded.

Increasingly - and rather amazingly - shops all over the world are popping up that are not only willing to do this kind of work, but specialising in just that: refurbishing vintage bikes with modern components. There is now even one in Northern Ireland (Fellow Bicycle Co. in Belfast), which I hope to visit soon. Between this option, and the improved quality of "budget" bikes on the market, the quest for a lovely 3-speed city bike on a $500-ish budget is not as hopeless as it was 5 years ago. That's an update to my previous post I am happy to write.

56 comments:

  1. I bought my 3-speed Schwinn new for $400 4 years go and it's still running fine (Except the gear changes are not as smooth as they used to be thanks to our salty Boston winters).

    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/12/coffee-with-sugar.html

    One thing all sub-$500 city bikes lack is a good saddle and it was the first thing I replaced on my bike. That raised the price to exactly $500 and after that modification I have to say it is the most comfortable bike I have ever used. The build quality is what you would expect from a $400 bike but surprisingly, it runs quite well, rain or shine, including our 0F winter weather.

    Having said that, now I would rather spend much more money and buy a bike with a better-sealed 8-speed Alfine hub and a generator hub (possibly also with a belt drive and disc brakes).

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  2. I was interested to see your post as not long ago I purchased an early 1980's Raleigh Cameo. It is currently at my excellent local bike shop to have a proper check over and the usual new tyres. Other than a tyre change, it looks to be in very good condition. The Cameo was not one of Raleigh's high end bikes, it was turned out in the tens of thousands and anyone can find half a dozen for sale at any time on that well known auction site. Astonishing, therefore, that this ordinary little 35 year old bike rides so nicely and is in such good condition after 35 years. Looking at it closely I would say it has been neither particularly abused nor pampered over the years. But it looks good and it rides like silk. Braking is ... interesting ..., but typical for bikes that age, it's how we wore out shoe leather over the summer holidays!

    A couple of years ago I bought a £260 bike at one of the large chains here in the UK. You could bend the components with a bit of pressure with your thumb - rubbish bike! After a month of riding, everything was going out of alignment, falling off or rattling. Complete waste of money.

    There are many, many vintage bikes for sale on the auction sites that just need a good look over by a competent bike shop and some reasonably priced upgrades, in return for which I believe they will give many years of good service and - importantly - they are so much more comfortable to ride than their modern day pretenders!

    Food for thought indeed ...

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    1. I'll vouch for the Cameo. When I was studying in Nottingham, I picked up a late 1970's one off of a popular used goods resale site for around the equivalent of $100 USD. The bike served as a daily commuter rain or shine for two years and, when I returned back to the US, it came with me. Something that stuck with me was the comment the mechanic made about how the bikes that were manufactured at that time were never designed to have any of the parts replaced, but merely adjusted. This is what made the bicycle particularly reliable for me, and I have many a good memory of cycling along the canal paths into the city.

      I eventually sold the bike to one of the readers of this fine blog several years ago and I hope he is still enjoying it as much as I did. They are quite common in the UK, but I have so far never seen another one on this side of the pond.

      My current vintage find was a 1960 Rudge which I picked up in a junk shop in Poughkeepsie for < $100. Great bike, but I need to figure out what to do about the more-or-less non-functioning brakes. I've definitely seen a number of good quality bikes pop up around Boston/NY/DC. Brooklyn, on the other hand ... :)

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  3. Out of curiosity I just looked on my local craigslist for used bikes. Not surprised at all to see most bikes sold for under a hundred dollars including some classic Schwinn Suburbans from the 70's in both three and five speed versions. One for $45 and the other for $75. A '73 Raleigh Sports three speed for $75 and many many more….I only looked at the first couple dozen out of a couple thousand listings. Used bikes are everywhere and cheap. Some are ready to go as is and some may require some adjustments and updating. To have a solid bike around for short transportation duties seems quite easy.

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  4. Velouria, your blog has been such a solid resource, it's why I recently bought a very nice "faux vintage" Electra Ticino (on sale for under $600) instead of buying an ordinary comfort bike as my off-season "city bike."

    You opened my eyes to a whole world of beautiful yet practical old and new bikes. Thank you!

    Yes, I wish I had an internal geared hub like the example bikes, and it is possible to find them or build them up within the $500 target price. It can be done, especially in the fall, when bike shops have an excess of new-old stock to move and maybe a stable of worthy steeds they've taken as trade-ins over the summer. There was a very nice Detour Deluxe at my LBS, with Dynamo hub, fenders, rack, and drum brakes for just under $600, but it was the wrong size, alas.

    Also, shops that rent bikes usually sell off the fleet at the end of the riding seasons - bargains can be had on city bikes there, too.

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  5. Interesting that you bring this up now...

    Just this week a friend came to my house to photograph some of my old Raleigh 3spds(I always have at least a couple looking for good homes) for someone he knows in Charllottesville who is apparently restoring or refurbishing these old bikes as a going thing. It would be interesting to find out what sort of price he gets for them when he's done bringing them up to what I understand is a better than new standard while using the original parts as much as possible. Very likely a multiple of $500 but if you didn't have to make a profit...

    I've been fostering 2 His/Hers sets of Raleigh Sports that I didn't want to see "Divorced", if you know what I mean, one set from 1948 with Dyno Hubs and original Lights, toolkit and manual and the really nice original Brooks B73 "Ladies" saddle, and a 1965 set of 5spd. Sports in Green missing the saddles and grips and one of the color matched Raleigh racks. These are great bikes but need the sort of parts and labor you can't get at just any shop so get passed over as "Too much trouble and expense" to work with. It would be nice if someone would be willing to spend $300 or $400 apiece to whip them into shape and take them back out into the world where they might do some good.

    Anyway, I agree with you about how well they ride, they are still just bicycles and not "magic carpets" in any sense, but my, what nice bicycles they are.

    Spindizzy

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    1. I live in Charlottesville. The market here is inflated and the customers cheap. There have been three or four of those going things in recent years. They all seem to go back where they came from after a few months of thinking theirs was different. Plus the campus has a new bike share that doesn't look half bad, although that's probably overpriced too. Very boutiquey and artisanal down this way and willing to go out of business if they can retain twee cache.

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    2. Sounds about right, I just hope this guy keeps it going long enough to find these bikes new homes(and give me just a little something as well) before reality works it's magic on his evil plan...

      Spindizzy

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  6. Obviously, where you live is a huge factor in finding a suitable candidate, but with some resourcefulness and willingness to be flexible, I don't think it too difficult a challenge to come up with a very worthy bike for <$500. And that would give you something much better than the low-quality to be found at the big-box department stores.

    Of course, I can't think of anything better than an old Cro-Mo mountain bike for commuter bike duties. Handlebar/ saddle/ tire swap, and you're good to go. And they're usually ridiculously cheap. Nobody wants rigid mtn bikes anymore.

    Along the "city bike" route: I've taken to using old ladies' models of road bikes and "3-speeding" them. They alway end up looking better and are more functional, in my opinion. And for some reason, you can pick up an old ladies' roady for change. $20-25 per bike is so easy to find, it's silly. I take the derailers off (and sell them/ use them elsewhere), sort out the crank, and swap wheels to either single speed or see if I can find a 3 speed set for reasonable money (perplexingly, 3-speed men's bikes are non-desireable here, so I can just buy one and flip-flop components from the ladies' roady and now have 2 "desireable" bikes). Even with throwing in the occasional bit of Velo Orange bling, it's still pretty easy to stay under $500 and have a stylish and sturdy ride that has a lot of character.


    Wolf.

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  7. Velouria,

    Begging to differ, as one who owned a 3 speed back in its heyday, why would anyone waste their time! Every Stormy-Archer equipped bike that I know of was 1.) geared to high and 2.) unreliable. Most of the frames are high tensile steel, 1040 straight gauge tubing with chromed steel rims. Find a descent ten speed frame and go from there. These bikes were a pain when they were new, and the brakes were a bad joke! Thankfully, even a cheap Chinese bike works better than these things. I don't wax so nostalgic that these bikes illicit any interest from me, move on!

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    1. Yeah some people feel that way about vintage 3-speeds. I don't think you can argue with preferences one way or the other. All we can do is discover what we like out of available options, ride and enjoy.

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    2. Worked in a busy shop from '74 to '84 which carried Raleighs, sold many and repaired lots. Gotta agree they were a general pain in the ass (I'm speaking only of the three speeds, their ten speeds were lovely). Their wheels and brakes were especially bad but also the ride unpleasant compared to other bikes at the time. The shop would make available all the bikes we sold so mechanics could get a sense their characteristics and components. Raleighs were not favorites unless it came to pulling out our assortment of hammers ;) It seems there's a romantic appeal to some bikes for whatever reasons or maybe it's the idea of vintage for some. I do, however, prefer used bikes over new ones and being comfortable overhauling them makes it easy to convert something old into something new…and way cheaper, too.

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    3. The gear ratio is easily changed by swapping out a cog. Might need to add a link to the chain, but seriously, I've been riding 3-speeds since youth and never had any of the problems you describe. Maybe because I was willing to tinker with them and figure out what was going on?

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    4. I recently rebuilt a 1962 Raleigh Gran Sport to better than original, all new bearings, modern brake pads designed for steel rims, all new Jagwire cables, new freewheel and chain. This bike came with the then state of the art Dunlop Special Lightweight steel high pressure rims, and Campagnolo gears, I replaced the spokes with new DT double butted spokes. I replaced the rock hard original saddle with a new Brooks Swallow.

      I owned one of these bikes new and my "new" is clearly better than new. I replaced the short aluminum GB stem with a longer steel GB, giving a much more comfortable ride.

      I have ridden it quite a bit, and it is not even close to modern standards.

      The frame is made from Raleigh "High Tensile Steel" and lives up to its "gas pipe" nickname. The ride is rough and unforgiving. The bike is a 23 inch frame, but the bars are only 38cm wide, so it feels very pinched. The crank arms are only 165mm, ridiculously short by modern standards.

      Even with plastic mudguards, it weighs in at a amazing 30 pounds 12oz on a Park Tools digital scale (I read all the time where many think their old ten-speeds weigh far less, but the Park does not lie) This compared to my all steel frame PAKE which comes in at only 22 pounds for a 60cm frame, with 38mm tires.

      My PAKE set up all carbon, with a steel frame, modern DT wheelset, and a 1x11 Sram gear train, rides so much better in the city it is simply not a contest. The PAKE with 172.5 Sram cranks, etc just feels right, the Raleigh not so much.

      What the Raleigh is -- it's BEAUTIFUL. http://www.rangefinderforum.com/rffgallery/gallery/23628/med_U23628I1439151962.SEQ.4.jpg

      But beauty is not comfort.

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    5. Do you go on all the bicycle blogs and tell them they're wrong in a nasty tone? What the hell, dude.

      1. That's easily fixed. Seriously it cost me like $20 to have that rear cog swapped out for one with a few more teeth.
      2. Mine has been plenty reliable. My Raleigh Sports has a SW hub from 1961. The bike has a lot of wear and tear and clearly has been used for most of its lifespan, and that SW hub still does the job reliably and effectively, with a pleasant "tickety-tickety" sound to boot. I've repeatedly compared it to steel sewing machines of the same era--keep it lubed and clean and it'll keep going nearly forever.

      Regarding your other points: I've owned a ten-speed made about a decade later than that and it wasn't that much more pleasant of a ride. It was almost as heavy, and I had far more troubles with the derailers. True on the rims though--I had the front one swapped out for a modern alloy because it rains where I live for a good portion of the year.

      I bought a Linus mixte 3-speed in 2012. It's mostly hi-ten steel, and it's not that much lighter than the Raleigh. I just didn't want to force a rear rack on the poor thing, and the Linus came with one. They're both beautiful, functional bikes, thanks.

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  8. Rather than replacing perfectly good steel wheels, braking in the wet could be fixed by getting the right brake pads. Fibrax in the UK sells a special pad specifically for steel wheels. Uses laminations of rubber and leather. Now if only someone in North America would distribute them... Would save those of us with vintage bikes a lot of effort and money, compared to switching wheels or rims. One other approach - on my Raleigh 20 folder I just replaced the front 20 inch wheel with an aluminum one. Provides vastly increased braking and such wheels are readily available at very low cost. Most of the braking is provided by the front wheel, so leaving the rear wheel as steel is not a big deal.

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    1. I wonder whether Fibrax pads were used on the sole rod-brake bicycle I rode which actually stop in the rain! Kool Stops in the US are excellent as well, improving braking power in all weather conditions.

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    2. The Fibrax leather composite pads are available in the US from Yellow Jersey, Arlington, Wisconsin. Also one of the best sources for anything 3spd or rod brake.

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  9. My main bike I have had for 37 years which got a major make-over this last winter at the same shop the Pope's new bike has.
    Needless to say, it has always received much attention.
    But my winters in Florida find a Craiglist bike in my size ( a major challenge) of about 20 years vintage for about $150 and
    then months of fun on E-bay fitting it out with vintage, mostly NOS Campy stuff or whatever I find. I do all my own work,
    screw up mightily sometimes , but have always a nice ride which looks elegant (I do put lots of miles on). I love polishing
    the Bejesus out of old parts until they sparkle. But the ride has to be right and so far it works.

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  10. Not a fan of buying a bike new. I've had great luck, with just a minimum of knowledge, buying used. I actually enjoy polishing and cleaning (wax on, wax off) and enjoy the results even more. It's pretty therapeutic in a zen-like way. I've bought several US made steel bikes from the '90s and "refurbed" them, ridden them for a while, then sold them for a fair profit. It's a good deal for me, for the original owner, and the new buyer. The original owner declutters, I get to fiddle around, and the new person doesn't have to. Buying used gets much better quality than new. I've "upgraded" now to a handbuilt frame with only one prior owner. She's already looking pretty nice and, with a bit of gearing changes, may be my last bike. But I said that last time. Those bikes you mentioned above are not close to the quality of the older US made bikes, imo.

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  11. Any reason it's "vintage" and not used? Some great used bikes can be purchased secondhand.

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    1. Well the vintage bikes are usually used and second (or third) hand, so these things are not mutually exclusive!

      Vintage referes to an era, typically pre-mid 80s. And the type of bicycle many of my readers are looking for (a basic upright step-through 3-speed, comfortable, durable, and easy to ride) was made in large quantities from the 1950s until the end of that era, with almost no changes to the design. Once you get into the 90s and later, it's mountain bikes and "hybrids" you are seeing on the used market. And while those can certainly be adapted to serve as utility bikes (after all, almost any bike can) they are not the type of bicycle discussed in this post.

      Of course now that it's 2015, you can buy a used non-vintage city bike, made after 2008 or so when they started to become popular again. They don't come up too often though, and their condition might not be much better than that of a 1970s English 3-speed!

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  12. Coincidentally, I've noticed that Bikes for the Rest of Us has a post up on a similar topic.
    Worth checking out for anyone interested:
    Can A Decent Bike Be Found For $200-300?

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  13. The Fibrax pads with the leather were available in the U.S. from Mel Pinto imports that's where my shop used to get them. They changed ownership several years ago so I don't know if they still bring them in. Unfortunately Fibrax no longer makes the "special" rain cheater pads for rod brakes anymore, just the caliper brake pads are available. I have them on several bikes and they work great. I have a set of the discontinued rod brake pads on one of my Raleigh DL 1s and they make it livable in the wet.

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  14. As much as I love vintage bikes, I keep selling the ones I buy and fix up because they just don't ride as comfortably as modern bikes. Its far too hilly here, so you'd have to transport a 3 speed to flattish areas to ride. Every 3 speed I've owned, I've sold because of limited road access. However, I will venture to buy a 7 or 8 speed, preferably one with a derailleur, as we don't get snow. These bikes still won't get me up the steepest city hills but I can get up more hills comfortably. I was lucky enough to buy a Giant Via 2W with 7 gears and a derailleur last year. It's all chromoly steel and cost $525 before taxes. It isn't made this year but there are some other options. Breezer has some $500 range chromoly steel bikes - the Downtown models, for example. I've ridden a Downtown 8 that rode nicely, fit nicely, and was a bargain, especially once marked down at the end of the year. If you don't mind heavier steel, Raleigh has a nice looking 3 speed classic roadster and both Linus and Public bikes currently have a sale on 3 speed roadsters. The Electra Loft 7D or 7i is a nice looking aluminum swoop frame mixte in the $500 price range. I don't know how any of these would hold up kept outside.

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  15. I have 6 vintage bikes but in 2008 I found myself in need of a true beater bike for commuting at night. I hated myself for doing it, but I got a new Chinese-made aluminum-framed Fuji Crosstown 1.0 with fenders from a very sad guy who's bike shop had to close up because of the recession. Found it on Craigslist and he assembled it for me out of the box for $230. It has been a terrific bike, perfect for urban commuting, parking it all day in the rain, getting banged up on Caltrain. I have never ridden it for fun and I look like a dork when I see myself reflected in a store window, but it gets ridden daily and I prefer it early in the morning, dressed for work. It has taken a beating and delivered!

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    1. Actually, I traded in a bike I can no longer ride because of a back injury for a 2014 Fuji Crosstown 1.3. It's heavier,about 33 lbs, has front shocks and 26" x 1.75 city tires. After replacing the seat post with a non-suspension post and adding fenders, it's a comfortable ride over our bumpy city streets. Not a speed bike. The hydroformed top and bottom tubes look like a black cat arching it's back. Its the only year Fuji made this style. It does get some looks. Kind of a funky, good looking all glossy black bike.

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  16. What Velouria said about original. Yes. Absolutely. Original parts work. Original parts fit. Original parts are 100% compatible with original. Original parts are easier to work with.

    Upgrades almost never are. Original is as good as it gets. Part of the misunderstanding on the value of original is that many cyclists have formed their mental image of 3spd from 70s bikes that just weren't all that good. That lost much of what value they had being badly assembled at the LBS. That were always abused and never maintained. But you can't put lipstick on a pig. If it's not worth fixing, and fixing it right, it's not worth the upgrades either. Except that they are usually downgrades.

    I've given up refurbishing vintage transpo bikes. There is no market. If it takes next to forever to find a buyer in a metro area of 7 million, the one guy who is interested could probably do the job himself. What does sell is vintage frames 'upgraded' with expensive rafts of new part. The most common error - perhaps I should say universal error - is fitting modern wheels while paying no attention whatever to the dimensions of the frame. A classic Raleigh 3spd has front forks at 94mm wide and rear forks at 114mm wide. Ramming a modern 100mm front hub or a modern 130/135mm wheel into the forks is done by all the 'upgrade' vendors around here. Basically customers pay shops to vandalize nice old bikes. The right way to do the job - coldset the frame and align it - is so time consuming and expensive it's just not happening. The effort of doing a respace and align job right does make the cost and effort of finding NOS service parts suddenly seem much more reasonable.

    When I refurb an old bike I do it right. The bike is right when I sell it. Then, in most cases, the buyer throws out all the old parts I laboriously salvaged or paid for and pays a hack to fit the bike with junk modern parts. That's why they sell so cheap. The market makers think an old bike is just a frame with a bunch of old parts getting in the way..

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    1. I recently sold a nice 'garage queen' early 80's Japanese-made sport touring bike I'd picked up earlier in the year but later realized was just a bit too small for me. It had full Shimano 600 (even the toe clips were Shimano 600 and the original brake hoods were miraculously in great shape) and even the crank set teeth were as unworn as the day they were made. The brakes had decent stopping power as-is but I swapped out some new salmon kool stop pads and replaced the cables and otherwise it was good to go. In response to my ad one man attempted to bargain it down by suggesting he'd "have to" replace "the whole brake system, the rear derailleur and maybe also the front derailleur to bring it up to speed" Huh? I rejected his offer and felt like saying 'these parts are in pristine working order and are a complete set! If you don't want vintage why are you looking at this bike?" It's not like it was in a rough mechanical state and only worth buying for the frame! At any rate, it ultimately sold at full asking to someone who seemed much more enthused about its great original shape.

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  17. Your article is timely for me as about a month ago when I was trying to distract myself during a long, and to that point fruitless, job search I decided to see what kind of off the shelf 8 speed IGH commuter I could find that was in that Vintage English 3 speed style, I live in Seattle and 3 speeds wouldn't cut it with the hills I need to traverse, and I found a number of selections in the $800 range. I also contemplated the idea of taking a vintage Raleigh 3 speed and fitting with an 8 speed IGH rear wheel results here http://ryansrebuilds.blogspot.com/2015/09/throwback-commuters.html

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  18. OK! For those of you who really detest these older bikes I would suggest you go to your local bike shop drop the $2000 or so and buy one of those super high end bicycles and ride off into the sunset. I started with a 3 speed hub bike in the 50’s when I was 15 years old and it was just fine for me at the time. These old bikes ride as they were designed for, 36 spokes that smoothed out the rough roads of the day, heavy steel frames that absorbed road chatter, and brakes that were ok for what the bike was used for. I doubt that most users went faster than 12 or so MPH, faster when going down hill. These bikes were intended to be used for shopping, going to the library, going to school, going to work and in modern times the local coffee shop or just cursing around. It is always a fun project to find and restore and older bike to have just for fun times in town. If I want to go fast and scare my self, I have a really nice 1999 Lemond Zurich with an all new 105 group to ride.

    Just one more fact, have you ever noticed that no matter how expensive or how light your current bike is, some one always comes by and just keeps on going leaving you to wonder what the heck.


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  19. I'm really surprised, with all the riding you've done, that there have been little or no posts on repairs to bikes which have been damaged while going about their day to day business. I'm thinking about this notion of bikes for under $500 and what five hundred dollars means for many of us and also what transportation riding means for many of us. Have you never damaged any part of any of your bikes while riding? Is this an issue with vintage bikes? I've a huge story behind this but time does not allow me to lay it all out. You give out lots of advice on ride quality, or impressions, most of which goes over my head, but when it comes to getting something fixed and what might be the cause of the problem in the first place, you share little for those of us who buy into your notions of bikes….Any insights?

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  20. During my mad bike accumulation period just a few years ago, I won a Raleigh Sport women's frame on ebay for something like $12, not including shipping. I have slowly been acquiring parts, most notably a set of NOS fenders in the matching coffee color. I now just need wheels and tires in order to get it back on the road. For some reason, three-speeds aren't too popular where I live, so selling it locally might be a challenge. This bike may end up with a family member, assuming she wants it.

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  21. What perfect timing for the post. I currently have a Rudge Sports up on the stand undergoing a full refurbishment. What makes it even cooler is that the buyer has taken some local bicycle maintenance classes and is totally hands on involved in the rebuild. One thing that has certainly not changed in the 5 years is the amount of work involved.

    As for some of the points raised in comments and in your post I would like to add a little or put forth some alternative thoughts. I agree the lighter alloy wheels might not feel quite the same but they do offer better breaking. One big caveat though is you are likely going to need to get wheels built or have a workaround in buying a wheel set. I have yet to find any new front wheel offer a 90mm front hub spacing. The new ones are all 100mm and while pulling the forks out is possible it is not something I would do as it would mean the drop outs could be compromised. I just would not do it. I did figure out a workaround and if anybody needs to know just email me, no secret. The second thing is you need to make sure that the axle width is 5/16ths for Raleigh, etc and not 3/8, this 5/16ths axle is also required the workaround. I can have a wheel set built using existing hubs to alloy wheels for less than a wheel set costs new, so it isn't really an issue. On the fact that the hubs are unreliable and geared too high. I'm not convinced but I am biased. The Sturmey Archer AW hub was first introduced in 1937 and has pretty much gone unchanged since. Sure the shell is different now and all of the parts that were compatible from the 30's through the 80's might not work on the modern variant but are readily available and cheap. But here is the thing, other than 2 years in the late 50's when Sturmey Archer tried to reduce cost and introduced the SW hub, not good and so they switched back, the AW has been in continuous production for 78 years. I don't feel that is because of reliability issues, I think that has to be one of the greatest engineering feats for longevity in the industry. Yes, they are geared too high but by adding a larger rear cog, say a 22 tooth you would vastly improve the gearing and that would run about $10 or less, per eBay tonight.

    As for the Raleigh brakes, rarely a fan! They can easily be upgraded to dual pivot long reach calipers for relatively short money which offer better breaking on both steel and alloy rims. Kool stop continental brake pads make a big difference too.

    I still feel they are a great city bike and I just enjoy them. As for ride quality, I defer to you as you have more experience on other bicycles but since you are of the same opinion it is all good :-)

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    1. Interesting you should mention the SW - my '58 Raleigh Sports came with that and it has been working flawlessly (which is very rare!), though I did rebuild it to make sure it was fine. I actually am running a wheel with an AW on the bike currently because I ride the heck out of it. The SW is smooth and silent and is very nice if it's functional, plus the wider gear range helps with hilly towns like mine. I just don't want to break it. Apparently they tried to switch to the SW in the '50s because the AW has four planet gears whereas the SW has three - they figured it would be easier to center the sun within 3 gears (think about it as building a 4-legged table vs. 3 legged) and they also used unsprung crescent-shaped pawls to reduce the number of parts. With less parts, the hub was physically smaller and lighter as well as cheaper to make but because of the poor manufacturing tolerances back then, the pawls never were the exact same size and caused problems with engagement and such. If you've disassembled an SW as I have, you'd laugh at how beefy the AW's parts and planet gears are compared to the SW's. I now know why the AWs last so darn long!! ahah

      As for reliability issues, I think you're right - the old AW hub is a great example of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" because it is a great hub. 99% of the time if someone says their 3-speed doesn't work, it's just because it's out of adjustment. They don't literally break, but if they are ridden out of adjustment too long and the clutch keeps slipping off, the mating parts will become chipped. Also, there are tales of people standing up to grind up a hill in 3rd gear and because of the axle flexing under stress and the clutch being only held by spring tension, the clutch will work its way out into the "neutral" zone and cause the rider to tumble off. I'd say that might just be improper usage though because how often is something good for everything ... That being said, the AW is my favorite piece of drivetrain of all time because I am more of a commuter cyclist than anything.

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    2. Dual pivot brakes are not compatible with vintage wheels or bikes. The pads of a dual pivot move inexorably towards center, there is accommodation for wavy wheels. The high spots on the rim get ground thin pretty quick. Doesn't matter how nice you build your wheels, they only really want modern rims and precisely aligned frames. For that matter rim life of modern wheels is much shortened by dual pivots. Vintage won't take it. Vintage wants vintage brakes. Plenty of good choices besides Raleigh steel brakes. Although I can get most Raleigh steels to skid the tire pretty quick. The modern pads are fine.

      As to V's tale about the brakes that break frames -- I first heard that one about thirty years ago. Still haven't seen that notorious brake or that notorious frame. If a brake gets slammed hard the wheels skid and that's the end of it. There's only two or three square inches of rubber on the road. The limit of force a brake can create on a frame is capped quite low.

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  22. It's unfortunate how these old Sturmey Archer hubs got branded with this reputation for being "High Geared". The hub itself has only a range of three widely spaced RATIOS of input to output RPM, the gearing is provided by the GEARS. If you don't like the wide spaced ratios you start with you can easily have a set of higher or lower wide spaced ratios. Change em to whatever you want if you want. There's no shortage of choices, hell, you can put a 30 on it if you want to use an old Shimano freewheel sprocket and spend 10 minutes with a file or pay a real mechanic for 10 minutes of her time to remove 3 of the nubbins that engage the splines on the old Shimano freewheel body. Choices in the 18 to 22 tooth range are as available as cheap sunglasses and don't require much more effort to locate. If you want to really get creative with the gearing you can always change the front sprocket as well, more or less like every other bike on the planet.

    As far as the "breaking" performance of Alloy vs Steel rims, the Steel rims win every time, but I realize what people really mean and agree...

    OK, I'm all done whinging for now.

    Spindizzy

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    1. "It's unfortunate how these old Sturmey Archer hubs got branded with this reputation for being "High Geared"."

      You beat me to it. It's not the hub, but the rear cog + chainring combo the manufacturer chose to use with the innocent hub. And it's not specific to vintage bicycles either. The otherwise lovely Bella Ciao I am fork-testing right now came equipped with a brand spanking modern Shimano Nexus 3-speed, but was geared so high I practically broke my knees riding it into town in 1st gear. Presto change-o rear cog to 21t, and the gearing is just right. Would have been even nicer with a SA hub IMO, but ah well!

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    2. So, those who complain of the high gearing may, in fact, get it but that's besides the point. If one finds an old bike with a three speed hub and a too large of front chainring or too small rear sprocket there's an issue. It means finding replacements which, for many, is a headache.

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    3. Standard gear is, was, and always shall be 48x18. The use of 46x18 was formerly reserved to cycle trucks, pedicabs, invalids, and, of course, Americans. Only since the decadent 1950s has the rot become general.

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    4. Pesto change-o sounds like magic. What did you have to do to get it changed? What was the cost? Did you do it yourself? There are many issues involved in making something old, usable for the current rider. I absolutely think it's possible to find a reliable used bike and make it safe for transportation riding for under $500. There's no need to buy a new car in order to transport oneself from house to job, or run errands, and the same is true with bikes. If you're suggesting that a mid-range bike made in the 70's might have some magic quality that current bikes lack, well, I dunno….I don't understand magic.

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    5. Here we go again ... 3 speeds are TOO high. Bloody hell . Middle gear is supposed to be just that, flatland riding.
      This week I just happened to find a used Batavus my size at the LBS seller of city bikes. I've been looking for something to hang my SA 5w wheel on. I lifted it up and sure enough it weighed 50 lbs. I then expected it to be geared stupidly low. Well, 20 secs later I was wizzing out at 15 mph. I kept shifting 1, 2, 3 to no effect. Couldn't tell the difference. After a while I got used to the upslope in 3rd gear. The weight had absolutely NO effect ... Cloud 9.
      The seller was most likely saying this bike is SO SLOW.... Well NO wonder. God, what stupidness.

      So anyway it is still at the LBS. The dropout is 120mm and I think best not to try wishbone such thick tubes to 132mm. It was a steal at $400 too.

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  23. Velouria, you must have read my tweet or my post titled "Should I Try to Bike Year Round on My Vintage Bike?" hahaha! :) Five years ago, I followed your advice and bought a 1969 Robin Hood off Craigslist for $200, which had been in someone's mom's attic since the 70s, so it was in mint condition. I put on new brake pads and tires, changed the cog from 18 to 21 and added two chain links, added a rear rack, and added a large Wald basket for my commute, shopping, and other errands. I ride it on days when I don't need to take the kids anywhere (for that purpose, I bought a cargo bike, the Yuba Boda Boda, which you tried out and wrote about -- that was fun, thanks!). I appreciate the perspective you bring to this question after watching the industry change over the past five years! The advice I have gotten so far on the post (http://josette-the-voice-within.blogspot.com/2015/09/should-i-try-to-bike-year-round-on-my.html) is to not bother upgrading my vintage bike for winter riding but to save it for nice days.

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  24. As always, great article! When I saw that blue Raleigh with non-color-matched fenders and no chain guard, my first thought was "IS THAT THE ROBIN EGG BLUE ONE FROM ... " Yes, it was. Thanks for confirming, heh

    Also, I have a '58 Raleigh Sports that I rescued from the dump (and then gradually in no particular order), completely restored and outfitted with a rear rack and basket and Delta Cruiser tires among other things but kept the steel rims - every single upgrade and nick-nack added up, it comes out to be $420.88. And I feel like I could have saved money here and there if I planned it out did the work at once. I feel like your $500 price point is very reasonable (of course, you know it is). Regarding a previous comment, 48/21 gearing on this one, or 46/20 on the other 3-speeds, feels perfect for me in the hilly town I ride in. Aside from braking in the wet, this is a very fast, comfy, practical bike for me and is my favorite out of them all.

    I later built up a '79 Superbe with new SA drum brake hubs (70mm), Sun CR-18 rims, etc. I did hear about the fork bending issue and I have been careful about braking but I have had to panic stop several times and the fork still seems okay. Fingers crossed it stays this way. This was more of an exercise to see what I could build as opposed to practicality because the price came out to be almost twice the aforementioned budget and it doesn't even include labor because I did it myself. For the record, I think the Raleigh green paint/cream tire/upside down handlebar combo is quite the looker but would not recommend such pricey upgrades for an old 3-speed. I love them how they are to begin with and the marginal improvement was not worth the price (though I do not regret building this).

    My roomate who is used to fixed-gears and 10-speeds rode my Sports and fell in love with it so I found an aesthetically-near-pristine '65 Hercules for him for $40. Needs the usual new tires, chain, cables, brake pads and other consumable parts and then some BB service but I'm estimating that it will stay below the $200 mark. Granted, the person who sold it didn't know what she had and we're not giving it alloy wheels but my buddy will be getting a lot of bike for very little coin.

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  25. As an alternative to Sturmey Archer there is Sachs Torpedo Dreigang. It´s made of steel and very reliable. You can fit SRAM or Shimano cogs on it. My question to Velouria is if Sachs had any representation in USA?

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  26. In my part of the UK, we still have rubbish tips where cycles are piled into steel containers (I presume) to be taken away for scrap. It's possible, if you get on well with the tip operators, to get frames and whole machines free or for the price of a pint of beer. Bikes also appear in street skips (sort of dumpster things) occasionally.
    I feel as if I ought to adopt all these poor orphan machines, but I haven't got the room, worst luck. However, it's possible to get a decent machine together quite easily. Apart from a bit of maintenance and repair, and old bits off other machines, often the only new items needed are brake blocks, cables, tubes and tyres, and a saddle. Unless the saddle is a new Brooks, the cost of the spares is usually no more than £75-£100 ($115-$150).
    By the way, your photographs are always exceptionally good.

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  27. What would be the next meaningful step up from the $500 level ?
    And what does the higher price buy ?
    More refined geometry , better materials , build , parts ?
    Can you name some brands and models ?
    BTW, nice photos !

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  28. This summer I bought a beautiful black 1962 Sports, made many changes that you recommended 5 years ago, all for well under $500. This was easily done in Providence, RI. I would love to find a decent skirt guard, but may be forced into crocheting my own. I should have changed the pedals, but I liked the vintage pair. Thus far, that has been my only mistake. Having the pedal brake off while riding up hill is an experience. Thank you for your wonderful recommendation. I love the bike while my husband loves repairing it and remembering his cross country trips and days as a messenger in Boston.

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  29. Bikes for transportation can easily be as cheap or as expensive as one wants. Maybe you could talk about some of the strategies for making it cheap -- sadly, I already know how to make it expensive :-( My son got by for six years via bike simply by using craigslist. Not sure how many miles he put on each bike but he certainly managed to live and work in Boston for next to nothing (I did enjoy hearing some of his stories of getting around the city and back and forth to work with less than perfect conditions and equipment). On the other hand I went custom, after saving up for several years, and bought my ultimate transportation bike. Upfront cost was high but so is the upkeep after those same six years. I'm now replacing my second rim from rim brake wear, two chains, one cog and one sprocket, one set of brake hood covers, handle bar tape and lots of brake pads….Man!! I don't want to remind myself of the cost of all this but each wheel has been a couple hundred dollars and easily that for worn out drive train, then tires and other minor upkeep items for nearly 20K miles of nothing but transportation riding and that's some serious change! Some people don't blink at this expense and truthfully, I remind myself that I'm not paying for gas, insurance and upkeep for a car so I shouldn't complain but money is money and when one has little income it matters. High end and handmade is not heaven. I'm not sure who your readers are, maybe they're all high end people who can afford some of the fashionable features you often blog about. I started to follow your work simply because I think bikes are amazing and can make life better for all -- no matter how much money they have. But some things need to be laid out for the sake of transparency when comes to costs. Thanks.

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  30. Very nice post indeed ! I'would argue for a the 500$ vintage solution too. with the same budget you can get a new one with, if your'e lucky, even a shimano 7sp nexus hub, but obviously the frame 'll be a gaspipe hi-ten. I'm not meaning the basic all-day city bike must be a cro-mo raced-tubes one, but if you look closer, the pre-80's bikes are ususually nice framed, at least the one that lasts until now. A nice city sturmey archer 3sp with reynolds tubes was not that rare at this era, and it's much nicer than a lot of "vintage-looked-new-bikes" you can find - well, at least, it's my opinion. It depends also where you stay, and if the LBS at the corner offers some attractive old bikes or frames. And the point of compatibilty may be also a hudge problem. Upgrading an old bike with NOS or new standard parts to improve it could get into a deep and long researching project, without talking of diy ability to set the adaptations. But anyway, old frames and parts are still very interesting.

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  31. I am in agreement with about rebuilding/restoring a vintage 3 speed bicycle. I have completed several that I have sold, given away or kept. Don't just limit yourself to the Raleigh Sports though. Raleigh, Hercules, Robin Hood, and department store branded Austrian-made 3 speeds are excellent candidates for city bikes as well.

    Dale

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  32. A timely post...

    It just so happens that I am commuting (and more) on a psuedo-vintage 3-speed (I say that because the bike itself is from the 90s but in a vintage style). Every time I jump on it I wonder why this style of bike fell out of fashion in the UK as they are the PERFECT town bike.

    (Actually, I know exactly why they fell out of fashion - fashion itself being the reason).

    My Raleigh Chiltern cost me £30 plus the petrol to pick it up from 20 miles away. It appeared sound at first but further examination revealed it had been bodged. I've fitted alloy rims, a new Sturmey rear hub, Brooks B17 and Brooks plump grips. I've also freshened up the brakes and cables. It ride beautifully - and stands out in a "not appealing to thieves" kind of way. I was semi-proud that one of the young-uns commented that it was "exactly the kind of bike" he would have expected me to ride (I am on the only person at work who rides this style of bike, by the way).

    Anyway, the bike has cost me £250 or so all in and doesn't need any more money spent (although I might get a modern seatpost). It's a much nicer bike than any of the retro-influenced 3-speeds you could spend £3-400 on UK prices), and I am sure it has years of life left in it.

    I ride it in normal clothes, and all my junk sits happily in a pannier. The only thing I would change would be a slightly lower bottom gear because I can't get it up the steepest hills locally without a struggle. This could probably be amended with a smaller chainring/larger sprocket as I have yet to "spin out" in top.

    Despite the many merits of the bike, I know it will remain an unusual choice. The UK is obsessed with "sporting" bicycles and most of the people I see commuting around me are riding something completely unsuitable.

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  33. Please insure your "bargain" vintage purchase is not stolen. When calling the seller demand either proof of ownership or a meeting at a local police station where an officer can verify whether the serial number has been reported as stolen. Criminals will immediately hang up!

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  34. Thanks for your post. Although I'm a bit late chiming in, I would like to add my 2 cents. I was gifted a 1980s Schwinn World Tourist coaster brake ladies bike from a friend who was not riding an longer.

    I found the bike as originally built not that comfy after replacing the original 27" tires. A friend suggested trying out 700c wheels/tires. He had a set lying around from a bike he upgraded that I could use.

    After riding on the loaner 700c-35 wheels/tires, I found the bike was a great ride as my daily commuter and much better than my fat tire hybrid/grocery getter I use on weekends.

    I slowly proceeded to upgrade the Schwinn here and there with a 3 speed hub, front wheel with dynamo hub, a Brooks B67s saddle for an awesome ride, alloy handlebars to replace the rusted originals, lighter pedals replacing the block ones and so on -- all knowing that the frame is not worth much for these Giant built Schwinns.

    However, I don't regret upgrading this bike that still has the original crank, chain guard and chain. What a great ride this bike is.

    I lock it up at the train station every day with 2 high end U-locks. And the parts can all be switched to another bike should I decide to one day upgrade the frame.

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  35. Thanks for your post. Although I'm a bit late chiming in, I would like to add my 2 cents. I was gifted a 1980s Schwinn World Tourist coaster brake ladies bike from a friend who was not riding an longer.

    I found the bike as originally built not that comfy after replacing the original 27" tires. A friend suggested trying out 700c wheels/tires. He had a set lying around from a bike he upgraded that I could use.

    After riding on the loaner 700c-35 wheels/tires, I found the bike was a great ride as my daily commuter and much better than my fat tire hybrid/grocery getter I use on weekends.

    I slowly proceeded to upgrade the Schwinn here and there with a 3 speed hub, front wheel with dynamo hub, a Brooks B67s saddle for an awesome ride, alloy handlebars to replace the rusted originals, lighter pedals replacing the block ones and so on -- all knowing that the frame is not worth much for these Giant built Schwinns.

    However, I don't regret upgrading this bike that still has the original crank, chain guard and chain. What a great ride this bike is.

    I lock it up at the train station every day with 2 high end U-locks. And the parts can all be switched to another bike should I decide to one day upgrade the frame.

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  36. What a splendid website! I have been getting quite sentimental about the Sturmey-Archers I used to own almost 40 years ago. At the time I was not so impressed - a 220 lb teenager riding a double 52, 40 chainwheel driving a double 24, 16 cluster puts enough torque through an AW to crush pawls, break cogs and damage that star clutch thing. I repaired my own Sturmeys till one day I got sick of the whole exercise and bought a nice reliable 10-speed (that I still have).

    And I have just got my third vintage bike running, a 10-speed wide-ratio transportation bike to go with my first 10-speed and an entertainingly unforgiving 12-speed competition bike that will not see its 30th birthday again. I also have a couple of full susp mtbs, an old competition machine and a semi-cheapy from this century with a lot of reliable commuter miles. Both are comfortable and one is actually fast.

    Except for the comp mtb, nothing is valuable, but each is pleasant to ride. Each is interesting. Each is different enough from the others to be entertaining and interesting. And importantly, none have been upgraded in any significant way, except for the addition of big flat pedals that work so well with work boots. The 10-speeds have friction shifters and the original ratios.

    I can get bikes from a repair place I know. I will try not to get the next hub gear bike that comes through, but how hard will I try? I managed not to get a corncob roady ( I live on a pretty serious hill) but it was close....

    Bike bikes bikes - how thoroughly enjoyable they are! But the law here in Australia requires me to wear a helmet, and my head gets very hot, dangerously hot when I ride. Even on the flat. I can't really ride slowly and now I weigh 240 or so lbs.

    Anyway, enjoy. And to finish with a funny thing I saw on the internet, "Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a bike, which is almost as good".

    P B

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