About those wheels: originally I intended on getting some thorn resistant tubes, since the Sturmey-Archer/rear rack combo makes removing and mounting the rear wheel more work than it should be. But Bikeworks didn’t have any.
So I changed the front tire and tube, but when I got to the rear, I noticed that some of the spokes were sticking through the rim, and the rim strip was woefully inadequate.
I began the quest for thorn resistant tubes again. The key thing to note here is the wheel size: 26″ x 1 3/8″. It’s the specific Raleigh/British size. Now there are many bikes that have 26″ wheels, but the “Raleigh size” is very distinct, as they are 590 mm in diameter, whereas the common 26″ (the one normally used on mountain bikes) is 559 mm. They are not interchangeable. The Raleigh size 26″ x 1 3/8″ goes by other names too, either E.A.3 or the French 650A.* For more than you’d ever want to know about different 26″ sizing, go to Sheldon Brown’s pages here and here.
The Raleigh 26″ x 1 3/8″ is pretty much a “dead” size, and no modern bike uses it. So this means that replacement tires/tubes/wheels is a bit tricky. I still figured that there should be somewhere in this here fancy-bike burg of Portland that would have a British sized 26″ x 1 3/8″ thorn resistant tube available. But I didn’t relish riding around in a fruitless quest, so I placed some phone calls to the usual suspects first. That was fruitless, except for one shop that insisted that they’d have some something that would work for it.
When I got there, the mechanic gave me a 26″x 1.5″ tube. When I expressed some misgivings that this tube would fit the peculiar British sizing of the 26″ x 1 3/8″, he insisted it should “give” enough to get in. So I got it and brought it home.
And of course it didn’t fit.
So the next day I made the call to the big bike tire warehouse in town. If anyone would have it, it would be them. The phone call went down like this:
Me: “Hello, I’d like to see if you had a thorn proof tube for a British sized 26″ x 1 3/8″ tire.” Them: “Oh, that’s a pretty rare size. You’re going to not have a lot of options for tires in that size.”
“I know that. But I’m actually looking for a tube.”
“Oh, you said tire.”
“No. I am actually looking for the tube, not tire.”
“Well, I thought you said tire.” (At this point I wanted to shout out, “Okay, can we move on?”) “If you really want it to be flat proof you should get a tire liner.”
Now I was getting frustrated. The question that I asked should have been answered with a simple “Yes, we have it” or “No, we don’t.” So I had to explain to him the whole situation with the wheel, spokes poking, etc. After the explanation: “Oh, we don’t have that size in thorn resistant.”
Why couldn’t he have said that a minute ago?
With the thorn resistant tube option all but dead, I put another strip of rim tape over the rim liner, mounted the tube and tire, and hope it will hold.
Which leads me to worry whether all this fuss and bother that I’ve put into the bike, and will be putting into the bike, is worth it. I got the bike for way cheap and realized that all the additions in the restoration would add up. But…is this bike worth it? I haven’t really ridden it yet, so I can’t tell. It seems to fit OK, but it’s hard to tell how it will really feel until I fix it up and put new bars on it.** Will I find out I don’t like it?
It all leads back to those wheels. They are fine for now, but they’re at the end of their life, and can’t be fixed. There will probably be the inevitable broken spoke, which will lead me for the hunt for a new wheel. Currently the options are find another used wheel or find the rare new machine built wheel. Both will be steel wheels, which is something I don’t want. To get alloy rims, I’ll need to buy the rims separately and then get a hand-built wheel, which costs $$. A $30 bike turns into a $300 bike. And if I wanted to resell the bike, most people aren’t likely to care about the fact an old ’70’s Raleigh has hand-built wheels. The Univega Safari that I sold last summer also had hand-built wheels, and even during the height of summer it was a struggle to sell.
Ah well, nothing to do right now but proceed forward and see how it all comes out.
*Interestingly enough, Schwinn used 26″ x 1 3/8″ tires, but they were different (and incompatible) with Raleigh. Schwinn’s wheel diameter was 597mm vs the English 590mm.
**Sorry Carl, even though scads of Dutch city bikes have fused together handlebars and stems, I want something different.