Fun in the Winter Sun

I have bragged in the past about the Co-Habitant's wonderous winter commuting skills. But truth be told, is that really so impressive to accomplish on a cushy modern Pashley? Yesterday, he tried riding Rodney - his vintage Raleigh DL-1 with rod brakes - and reports his experience:

In a vintage bike, the freezing temperatures can really effect the brakes and steering. The cold stiffens the grease in the headset, making the steering extremely stiff. Of course you can rebuild the headset, but this takes either skill and time, or money to spend at the bike shop - so it is yet another issue to take into consideration when buying old bikes. Similarly, old brake pads tend to harden in the cold, compromising braking performance considerably. On regular caliper brakes, the brake pads can be replaced with new salmon KoolStops to remedy the problem. But rod brakes are incompatible with the KoolStop pads, so there is not much that can be done really.

So there you have it: a vintage bicycle with rod brakes is great in the snow... unless you need to stop or safely turn. Of course none of that prevent the Co-Habitant from riding it around the neighborhood - though thankfully, he does not plan to commute on it to work.

And we're out there having fun
in the cold Boston winter sun


  1. A bike that doesn't brake well on ice? Sounds like you better get him something else, or your next post may be too exciting.

  2. As someone who rides a modern Azor, which is simular to a Pashley, I would guess that it could a good bike to ride in snow. As long there's not too much of it, because the weight does slow you down. For me that is outweighed by the increased stability my bike offers. Plus, the internal gearing fights off the salt. If you have ice, studded tires would be recommended.

    I've ridden my old Schwinn recently and it handled well on snow and ice. The nice thing about it, is it's easy to get the feet on the ground, if you start slipping on some ice.

  3. I love the ironic reference to the song "California Sun." I love your blog and, as a ex-pat Bostonian, I love all the photos of the Boston area.

  4. Jefe - I agree! Thankfully he has the Pashley and it makes a great winter bike.

    spiderleggreen - The Dl-1 handles well in terms of stability. Just as long as you make smooth turns and don't try to, like, brake or anything. The Delta Cruisers do surprisingly well also.

    MarkSF - Glad you appreciate it! I must admit that I am getting rather envious seeing all the idyllic pictures on flickr of endless rides through the Redlands and such!

  5. Having recently ridden through the snow on my old Raleigh with caliper brakes and KoolStop pads, I can make a few comments to that effect - One is that the KoolStop pads don't help that much, I still found the braking ability was pretty low in the snow. Thankfully, I was going slowly, so I didn't need to worry about it much, I never felt like I was out of control. I didn't notice the headset stiffening up, but it's possible that the headset has been taken apart and re-greased since the bike was made, and possibly even within the last couple of years before I bought it.

    I found the bike to be really stable in the snow, as long as I more or less steered clear of where cars had driven and packed the snow down, and had then frozen over.

    Certainly though, hub brakes are the best option for the snow, as well as the rain. (not to mention internal gears, chain case, stability and weight) As I'm riding in more and more types of weather, I'm just finding more and more ways to support the practicality of the sort of European City Bicycle for transportation purposes. They use them all year, and they know how to moake them convenient for that purpose.

  6. Indeed, indeed!

    Hence the reason I did not even bother to TRY To ride my old (Vintage?) 70s 10-Speed/Single-Speed conversion over the Winter... I wanted to be able to stop ;) Great to see you guys out in the snow even if it is only around your block... the streets, and even the CRBP have been conspicuously devoid of cyclists compared to even November! (This could partially be due to “Winter Break” but I am sure that’s not the only reason)

  7. Braking is so last season.

  8. i would concur with all of MDI's comments about older bikes in the cold: the headsets can indeed stiffen up, and brake pads generally become harder and less resilient in the cold.

    you can replace the rod brake pads with new ones, which will be much more pliable and supple. though they won't compare with koolstops, they're usually a vast improvement on 30-40 year old pads!

  9. I took my first ride of the year on my normal commuting bike - the black Schwinn. The path was not completely clear but with some careful very STRAIGHT driving i didn't take any spills.

    The bike performed superbly.

    The Koolstops i have were well needed due to the jogger who wasn't paying attention and the possible kamakaze squirrels on the way home.

  10. Y'all are braver than me. I'd reserve such a bike for warm and sunny days. The steel rims are part of their stopping problem which is why Kool Stops don't help too much. If the Co-habitant gets ambitious, there are "how to" videos on Youtube, but I think he'll not be becoming a Raleigh-in-the-snow fanatic.

  11. Steve A - No, he's definitely not looking to make this bike snow-rideable; in fact (to my dismay) he is seriously considering selling it.

    I agree about the steel rims, but the KoolStops do help a bit even on those. Installing them on my former Raleigh Sports made a big difference in the bike's stopping power in the rain.

    somervillain - I will definitely be buying new pads for my DL-1 when I get around to it. Harris Cyclery no longer carries them and I think the only choice now is ordering online from Yellow Jersey.

    Mark - Yup, I have gotten lots of braking practice due to the squirrels and jogger on the local paths!

  12. Astroluc - Drop me a line at "filigreevelo-at-yahoo-dot-com"

  13. How could he consider selling the DL-1 and rip the couple apart? It's like Romeo and Juliet, except with bikes and completely different.

  14. I know, he's ruining everything! : (
    The main thing is that he finds the bike not quite large enough for him. The 24" frame is the largest you can get (in the USA at least) and he is 6'-6'1", but still somehow I guess these frames run small. I am only 5'7" but can ride his bike in high heels. Who knows though, maybe he will keep it after all.

  15. Astroluc: "I did not even bother to TRY To ride my old (Vintage?) 70s 10-Speed/Single-Speed conversion over the Winter."

    Throw a cog on it. Gear about 60". Use older tires where whatever idiot center ridge thingy they came with has worn down. You'll be fine even with steel rims because you aren't going to be using the brakes much anyway.The only disadvantage is that putting a foot down is a bit of an advanced skill on a fixed. The advantage is the direct drive and being able to feel the contact patch through your feet, which is what you'll use for stopping in the slippery stuff. One of the REAL reasons the old timers trained on fixed (the standard reasons that are cited are really modern rationalizations of an older practice continued, but whose original purpose has been forgotten).

    If you just can't deal with the fixed idea get a coaster brake wheel for winter use. Then your problem changes to worrying about having too much braking power.

    Re older bikes; rebuilding the headset, front hub and replacing brakes blocks is something that should be done at that same time you put the new tires on it and just about as important. In former days I would have said the bottom bracket as well, but new cotter pins are such crap compared to the old ones I now leave them alone as long as possible.

    By their very nature AW hubs always have fresh oil in them (because all the old oil leaked out and turned your wheel into a dust ball), but almost always have badly worn pins and clutch. If you don't push in high gear though you get away with it. It can still be worth cracking it and cleaning it out though, because whatever little bits of metal that have worn off over the years are still hanging out in there.

  16. kfg,

    i completely agree with you about headset, hub, BB and brake maintenance with older bikes. this is my modus operandi with every bike purchase, but only because i have the tools and the space to do so. if i didn't have the means to do this myself, i wouldn't be hauling each of my velo acquisitions to bike shops and dumping $150 a pop unless there were serious signs of wear or functional impediment. it just wouldn't be cost-effective unless the bikes were of significant provenance.

    and re cotters: mark stonich of sells machined cotters that fit old raleigh cottered cranks perfectly, and they're $1.50 apiece. for the vintage collector, it's worth stocking a bunch, with the uncertainty of future availability. these are much better cotters than the crappy stamped ones you will find at any LBS, including the "experts" in vintage bikes.

    re AW hubs... eh, my experience has been that the clutches are only worn on bikes that have been ridden really hard with the cable out of adjustment. of about a half-dozen old AW hubs that i've cracked open, only one had a worn clutch. (side note: a weak clutch spring can also cause the dreaded high-gear freewheel phenomenon). but again, unless you have the means to service these hubs--and few casual vintage velo aficionados do--it's usually fine to just do an oil flush and cable adjustment, and call it good.

    filigree-- i have an hypothesis on why the DL1 seems small for its stated size. :-) did MDI attempt to raise the stem?

  17. "i wouldn't be hauling each of my velo acquisitions to bike shops and dumping $150 a pop"

    I wouldn't be acquiring velos in the first place if I couldn't do the work myself. As Behrman noted, never buy a used bike. There's no reason in the world to sell a bike unless it's a problem. Some of us can't help but run homes for wayward bicycles however.

    For the cost of a couple of tanks of gas you can buy a basic tool kit. If you go car free for the cost of a year's insurance you can get everything you'll ever need short of frame work. For the cost of a second year's insurance you can get everything you need to BUILD FRAMES short of the facing tools.

    As for the space issue, when you can strip and rebuild your bike by the side of the road not only is your work free, YOU are free - to go anywhere, anytime. That sort of freedom is one of the reasons I ride bikes in the first place. They've made it illegal to watch the northern lights in the city park these days, but they haven't made it illegal to rebuild a hub there - yet. In any case I used to rebuild bikes in my college dorm room; and the only way I could have had less space to work would have been to try it in the closet.

    If you've got enough space to put down a 4x6 rug and sit on it; you've got enough space to overhaul a bike.

    ". . sells machined cotters. . ."

    Ooooo, and pin presses as well. By the time I had decided to buy one of my own I was shocked and stunned to find out they didn't make them anymore; and this one is packable. Thanks for the tip.

    ". . .only worn on bikes that have been ridden really hard with the cable out of adjustment."

    This will happen on any bike that is ridden hard in top gear even if the cable is completely removed, the most perfect adjustment you can achieve. Both the neutral and popping into it are inherent in the design and a clutch spring 4 times stronger than stock not only won't stop it, it won't even slow it down significantly; the forces involved being orders of magnitude stronger than any spring.

    The evidence is highly suggestive that SA knew about this problem before they released it (and of course they were perfectly capable of making hubs without this problem, because they always had and did so again in future), but it was cheap to produce and only a problem for "sporting" cyclists.

  18. somervillain - With his current schedule he did not get around to doing anything else to the bike yet. But you know, I think the stem is not the issue; I think it's the top tube length. From what I understand, these bikes were all made with the same top tube length regardless of size unlike the modern "proportional" bikes, is that correct? The Co-Habitant must have a long torso and feel cramped on it. It would also explain how I - with long legs and short torso - can ride this bicycle and find it comfortable.

  19. kfg said...
    "...never buy a used bike. There's no reason in the world to sell a bike unless it's a problem."

    I can think of some reasons: Sizing issues; don't ride it enough or at all; inherited it/ got it as a gift but don't want it; no longer fits into your "collection"; needed money for something and had to sell it... This is just to name a few.

    My Motobecane Mirage mixte, bought on C-List, was pretty much in mint condition - other than the dust and natural aging stuff that happened to it as a result of its languishing in the owner's garage. Typical story: husband buys wife bicycle. Bicycle has steep seat tube angle, drop bars, narrow vinyl saddle and 28mm tires. Wife tries to ride the bike, she really does - but cannot. Bike sits there in the garage until husband finally sells it 28 years later in its original condition.

  20. Oh, there are a number of reasons for buying a used bike; Behrman was making a point in a work of literature, not offering hardcore technical advice, although the point is sound.

    I acquired my nearly zero miles Peugeot mixte when it was put out in the trash - because ANY French made bike is a problem bike if you aren't in France (Behrman rode a Peugeot, but he lived in Paris). The bike had negative value to its former owner in terms of making it a rider again.

    You would have been better off buying a Japanese made Schwinn (the best bikes for the money ever made anywhere, anytime. Garage queens available for 50 bucks or less), but you wanted a French bike and so mentally denigrate the problems - like having to have a new stem taken down.

    And any 28 year old bike, even one still in the box, needs a complete rebuild and all of its rubber replaced. The cost and trouble of this has to be held against simply buying a new one and riding it away - with a warranty.

    If you can't do the work yourself this can be prohibitive. Even if you CAN do the work yourself it can prohibitive - especially if it's a French bike. I'm going to have to pop 60 bucks just for a crank puller (For some reason I never worked on Stronglight outside of a shop setting back in the day).

    So the primary reason for buying a used bike is because, for whatever reason, you have to have THAT bike; and they don't make them anymore (if you find something you like buy two, because they'll stop making them) - so you put up with the problems and get on with it.

    Someone's got an XO-1 on ebay right now that's close enough that I could just pick it up in person. The reserve is $1000, the Buy Now $2200. He's got no bids. It's nearly mint. I'd like the bike, I have the money, but I'm not going to bid.

    Because I can buy a one brand new for that kind of money (although it will be labeled "Sam Hillborne" rather than XO-1).

  21. kfg said...
    "...And any 28 year old bike, even one still in the box, needs a complete rebuild and all of its rubber replaced. The cost and trouble of this has to be held against simply buying a new one and riding it away - with a warranty. "

    I agree with you. The only reason I bought in the past (and would buy again) any vintage bike, is if it is impossible to get a modern version of said bike with the characteristics I like remaining. I bought my Motobecane mixte because there are no modern lugged mixtes with twin lateral stays. VO has recently begun making one, and at a very reasonable price too, but there are some things about the design I don't like. In the end I did end up getting a new mixte - a custom frame by Royal H. Cycles - because I essentially wanted a comfortable touring bike and the Motobecane Mirage is not built like one. When my custom mixte is built up, I will sell the vintage Motobecane and will probably brake even or lose a bit of money. It was worth it for having ridden it all Summer and Fall.

    Same reasoning with my Raleigh DL-1 Lady's Tourist: You just can't get that bike today. The Pashley and the Dutch bikes are not the same. The DL-1 has a magic geometry that seems to be heaven-sent for my body. But if Mike Flanigan manages to pull off his experimental project of building a DL-1 replica? And slaps some beautiful deco lugwork on it? Well, I'll probably be weeping and selling all my possessions to buy it. Well, maybe not. But you get my point.

    As for the Sam Hillborne... Interesting that you bring that up. I will mysteriously leave it at that for now.

  22. " . . .there are some things about the design I don't like."

    Things I miss - lugs; 120mm rear axles; quality single pivot side pull brakes; straight crank arms; racing bikes that aren't sized for midget baboons; and don't have some wacko new bottom bracket "standard;" enough spokes; quill stems; friction shifting - from the down tube.

    Things I don't miss - hubs gears with "neutral"; patching and gluing sewups.

    Things I'm glad about - The resurgence in wide availability of high quality one speed stuff.

    "Sam Hillborne... Interesting that you bring that up."

    What; you think that was a coincidence? Tube? Tootpaste. Toothpaste? Tube.

  23. kfg, i forgot to mention that in my earlier post-- yes, mark stonich makes a *wonderful* cotter press to go with his machined cotters. i have it. i also have his excellent fixed cup tool. it confounds me why more LBSs don't have reasonably inexpensive tools as these for specific needs that aren't too esoteric. even the LBSs that are purported vintage bike specialists now resort to bludgeoning cotters with sledge hammers. do vintage bikes deserve such barbaric treatment??!!

  24. ". . . do vintage bikes deserve such barbaric treatment?"

    Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I've only been working on BMA/6 and Taiwan "Raleigh" level cottered crank bikes of late, as my Robin Hood was stolen years ago and I haven't been able to snag a replacement. I'm afraid I'll probably just end up throwing a Sunrace Sturmey on a Chinese aluminum U frame. More money for less swank, but it'll go.

  25. try biking in North Dakota in the winter. It's a whole different monster than the NE.


Post a Comment