Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rapide Transit

One day several months ago I met a man astride a beautiful vintage roadbike. It was the colour that first made me notice it - similar to Bianchi's celeste, but metallic and with a bit more green in it. But what really piqued my interest was the unusual lugwork. A quick visual survey of the frame revealed a Raleigh headbadge, a Reynolds 531 decal, and Campagnolo downtube shifters. "That is a beautiful bike!" I said to the owner. We chatted and I took some snaps before we parted ways.

Some time later, we ran into each other again and he said he was looking to sell the bike: "It's too small for me you see, and I have lots of others." "It's too big for me," I said. "But I know someone for whom it's just right." The bike, I knew by now, was not exactly valuable. And I could see a small dent in the top tube. But the price was right and I decided to risk it. Notes were exchanged. Then I dragged the bicycle home and waited with bated breath till my loved one returned from work.


I have been in my "new" relationship for nearly 3 years now. In the course of that time - and much to my delight - my partner's interest in cycling has increased steadily. A lapsed roadie, he was by no means a stranger to cycling. However, prior to meeting me, he had been off the bike for over a decade, so getting back into the swing of things took some time and trial-and-error.

In addition, his understanding of cycling had revolved around sport - not transport. But keen to join me on errands and casual rides without having to kit up, he made a good effort to get into the utility side of things as well. Only problem was, he routinely rejected the bikes I'd nominate for the task. Anything with an upright riding position he found uncomfortable. Anything that felt heavy or inefficient he couldn't abide. And he vehemently disliked "clutter." Racks and baskets? No. Handlebar bag? Hell no. No matter what utility-ready gem I pushed his way, he felt most at ease on his road racing bike. Except that it didn't have fenders, or flat pedals, or any way of carrying stuff. What he needed perhaps was a roadbike - fast and responsive, but with just enough accessories to turn it into a bike he could ride in street clothes and carry things on. So I kept on the lookout for something suitable. What exactly, I wasn't sure, but I had a feeling I'd know it when I saw it.


Introduced to the vintage Raleigh, he approached it cautiously - circling it slowly and with animal-like concentration, almost sniffing it.

"I've always wanted a vintage racer."

And I knew then that, at least on aesthetic merits, the bike had been tentatively accepted.

Following that, the first thing he did to the bicycle was clean it. He cleaned it with meditative thoroughness. The frame, the drivetrain, the wheel rims and spokes - It must have taken a couple of hours. Then, and only then, he rode it - declaring finally: "I like it."


"But you'll put mudguards on it, right? And a bag?"

To this he agreed. After a while a few other changes were made to the bike as well.


The vintage handlebars and levers were eventually swapped for my spare set of Nitto Noodles and Tektros. The decrepit tyres and tubes were replaced with his spare modern ones. The metal road pedals were changed to rubber-grippy flat pedals. And the bike got a new plastic bottle cage. Everything else has remained pretty much the same.


The bicycle itself is a Raleigh Rapide Handbuilt from the early 1980s. And the last part of that model name is crucial: Whereas the standard Raleigh Rapide was a fairly low end model, the Handbuild was apparently a special edition and considerably nicer.


Handmade in England (at a time when standard Raleigh production had begun already to move overseas), it was made with racing geometry, Reynolds 531 tubing,


Vitus dropouts, and a drivetrain which included a Campagnolo rear derailleur and downtube shifters.


While it's not a distinguished or coveted model, the Rapide Handbuilt is not all that commonly spotted "in the wild." And the aspect I find particularly lovely is the lugwork. At first glance, the rounded lug points and the eyelet-lace-like cutouts reminded me of a much earlier style of lugs I'd seen on a pre-WWII Carlton bicycle.


This prompted me to do some digging, and on further research it seems that these likely are Carlton lugs - only from a later period (consider, for instance, this 1980 Carlton Corsair).


Can the Rapide Handbuilt in fact be a rebadged Carlton, I wonder? Judging by some photos I've seen, I think it's very possible. Not only the lugs, but the seat stay caps and the fork crowns of the early '80s Corsairs appear identical to this bike. And they were made with the same tubing. 


But whatever this bicycle's background, the important thing is that its owner rides it, and likes it. And that he does - although not for so much for its lugwork, colour or history, as for the fact it lives up to its name. For this Raleigh is indeed quite rapide

Although noting that it isn't as quick to accelerate or climb as his modern roadbike, overall the husband is impressed that he is able to maintain a speed of 16-17mph average easily on the vintage Raleigh - in flat shoes and street clothes, and in a somewhat more upright position.



"But the whole point is that you aren't supposed to go fast on this one!" I say, exasperated that the bicycle's worth is being  measured in this manner. 

"Says who?" he replies with a wink, stroking the downtube shifters lovingly before starting to remove groceries from the saddlebag. 



I think my lesson here is - we can't control what kind of bicycles the people in our lives enjoy riding, and neither can we control what it is they enjoy about the act of cycling. So if it's speed and drop bars he wants - even on a casual bike - good for him, and I won't stand in the way. I am just glad to have found a bicycle he is willing to ride with mudguards, a bag, and flat pedals - keeping me company on errands and transport rides on his own version of Rapid(e) transit. 


28 comments:

  1. Glad the Mr. likes it, it sure is a nice looking bike. Campy bits on a handbuilt 531 frame seems alright to me, that was good fortune running into that fellow selling it!




    Wolf.

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  2. Congrats on the risky adventure of choosing a bike sight unseen for the SO and having it accepted. Well done:)!
    Intriguing and attractive bike BTW. Thanks as always. Jim Duncan

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  3. Nice bike! It looks just rough enough to avoid the trap of preciousness. Still pretty, though.

    I bet he feels his 16-17 mph is just "tootling along", as M. O'Doherty might put it.
    A good 531 frame is just comfortable.

    If he wants to go wider on the gears, the Soma Nuovo Retro cage will likely work on that derailleur along with the appropriate old Suntour or Shimano freewheel.
    That and a new chain ought to set him right up for any climb in Ireland.

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    1. "just rough enough to avoid the trap of preciousness" was exactly what I was looking for : )

      We actually have some spare parts from the bike's era that would widen and lower the gearing, but he doesn't want to change the drivetrain as the native one works remarkably smoothly.

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    2. You did very well indeed, then. Congrats on the great match you've made.

      C "531c is better than sliced bread" K

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  4. Velouria-

    That's a lovely bicycle you have provided your partner, especially since it gets ridden. It looks like a Carlton from the last years of Worksop production re-badged as a Raleigh. Check the serial number on the bottom bracket. If it starts with a W, it's Worksop but an N would indicate Nottingham which was where production shifted after Raleigh closed the Carlton plant.

    Jim

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    1. Ooh thanks for that.

      Starts with a W!

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  5. I believe it is in fact a product of the Worksop facility. I only just recently sold a nearly identical frame built there in 1982. One striking similarity is the use of Vitus dropouts, which seem to be rather rare on Raleighs and Carltons.The only difference that I can tell is the colour (mine:blue) and cable guides on the top tube (mine had stops). I bought that one secondhand in New Zealand some years ago and really enjoyed the unmistakable feel of the ride that only 531 offers. Sadly, it was always a tad too short, so after too many years of it hanging on a hook, I decided to let it go. Nice to see one of its brethren here.
    As always, an interesting read.
    Thanks, Mike in NZ

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    1. Yup, looks like it.

      Since you're in NZ, you might find this fellow's bicycling adventures interesting:
      http://incompetentlyclive.tumblr.com

      {aka Clive from "Roadsters on the Sand"}

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  6. Great find! Hope your partner keeps it for many years; decommissioned race bikes make great beaters. Here (Northwestern USA) a bike like that Raleigh would be invisible parked in a supermarket bike rack next to flashy but crummy WalMart mountain bikes; the drop bars and down tube shifters create a lower theft risk even though the frame's a variety of thoroughbred.

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  7. Nice errand/commuting bike! I long ago decided that, if I were going to spend much of my riding life commuting or running errands, I wanted to do this sort of riding on a nice road bike, and my stable has seen a series of steel (well, there was also an old Sport Touring Raleigh Technium) road bikes of greater or lesser quality adapted to this purpose. Much nicer, IMO, than a "city" or "urban bike."

    BTW: " But what really peaked my interest." Your interest may have peaked, but more typically it is "piqued."

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  8. Smiling at the pedals... Earlier on I realised one of the pedals on my new - old Peugeot racer was disintegrating rather dangerously. Had a shufty in the garage for something to keep me going and it now sports big, black rubbery, sensible pedals from a Raleigh Superbe. Somehow I think the may become a permanent upgrade. Now if I can just figure out how to adapt a Raleigh rear rack to become a Peugeot front rack....

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    1. The original pedals were fine on this bike, but they were those one-sided, narrow and pointy road pedals made for toe straps and he found them uncomfortable. New pedals are these here - and they're definitely staying.

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    2. If your Sig. O. is happy with the rubber pedals, by all means, stick with them.

      I ultimately could not subject my beautiful white rubber Lyotards to the winter salt and all around grime on Chicago streets so switched to flat VP Harriers. Not nearly so elegant as the Lyotards but much lighter and grip to your shoe like no ones' business.

      http://www.vpcomponents.com/product/vp-harrier-altitude/

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    3. Those look good. In general I've noticed platform pedals have upped their lightweight & grippiness game quite a bit over the past few years, which is welcome news all around.

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    4. They certainly have - and in addition there are some pretty slick looking models - re the 'grippyness', with the ones I am currently using, even hurtling along stony single track and wash-board bush trails I never lose contact with the pedals.

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  9. Vintage Raleighs bring back so many memories for me. When I bought my Raleigh Super Course 12-speed in the early 80s, I was sold after being told that it was one of the last frames to roll out of the Carlton factory. (I preferred its ride vs. the US-built Trek that I tried, by the way.) Yet, based on this post, it appears that frame building continued at Carlton some time after that. As you probably know, Raleigh's manufacturing shifted to the U.S. for some time, then eventually to Asia. It's an interesting story of a proud brand. Also, the Rapide is not a model I've run across in the U.S. And, I still have the Super Course. It's my fixie.

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    1. The frame is likely an '82, which would make it among the last ones as well.

      It was the unfamiliarity of the bike that made me pay attention to it. In New England over the years I had spotted nearly every model of Raleigh imaginable, but never a "Rapide." The colour and lugs did not look Raleighesque either. The excitement factor of such little dramas and mysteries is quite high in my little world!

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  11. Congrats on your eagle eye for spotting that lovely 74 degree parallel frame. A real find! If you have not already found the information you need about the bike, try the following, (1) There's a good article about the complex history of Raleigh bikes the Classic Lightweights site, run by the Cambridge Vegetarian Cycle Club. (2) There is some info, albeit rather scant, about vintage Raleighs at the Classic Rendezvous site. (3) Finally, have a look at the 1982 Raleigh catalogue -- http://classiclightweights.net/united-kingdom/raleigh/raleigh-catalogues-etc/1982-raleigh-racing-catalog/ -- where you will find a picture of your bike and its specifications. By the way, I think the metallic eau de nil finish is tops! Regards, The Fossil

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    1. Thanks, catalogue now being appreciated by the bicycle's owner.

      Funny to have this bike in the house. My own interest in Raleigh is limited to their early roadsters and the "Lightweights" don't really pull at my heartstrings. But I do like the look of this one, especially the lugs. Was surprised to see the colour described as "fern," but it is a beautiful shade.

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    2. I'm pleased you've found the information useful. I agree that most Raleigh sports bikes from the 60s through the 90s were mainly paint and decoration -- cheap, ordinary machines. However, the bikes produced by the SBDU factory in Derby, of which yours is one, were altogether different machines. These were derivatives of the extraordinary bikes suppied to the TI Raleigh (Dutch) team managed by Peter Post. The TI Raleigh team dominated Continental professional cycling for a decade and was arguably the most successful professional team ever assembled. Post would have demanded the highest standards in frame design and construction and there is no doubt that he got that from Gerald O'Donovan and the SBDU. So, even if your bike is not the top model from '82, it is a piece of cycling history with a real pedigree. Regards, The Fossil

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  12. Velouria-

    You didn't see Rapides in New England because they were a European/non-North American model. The equivalent for the US and here in Canada was the Raleigh Super Course. Same frame specs, different graphics and equipment specs. Very nice in either incarnation.

    Jim

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  13. I'd like to have seen the "before" snaps from your initial encounter with the bicycle.

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  14. I very much like that Raleigh's handsome proportions.

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  15. This bike has your stamp all over it….It's interesting when one buys a bike for their spouse…Tricky territory.

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  16. really brilliant story,bike and outcome ! very lovely,indeed! thanks for sharing it !perhaps,i will stumble upon such a pony!

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