Astute followers of my photostreams (whether flickr, tumblr, or Instagram) may have noticed I’ve spent a decent amount of time on my lovely Raleigh Superbe the past month or two, a bike I still haven’t formally introduced here. (Soon!) The big reason is while I have owned the bike since last September and it’s been “road worthy” since March, I haven’t gotten it fully “dialed in” until just about now. And now that it’s dialed in, just about right, I want to ride the bike a bunch!
There are three significant rideable volcanic buttes on the eastside of Portland: Mt Tabor, Rocky Butte, and Powell Butte.* All of these hills top out around 600 feet in elevation, and are about 200-400 above the surrounding landscape. I’ve ridden most of my bikes to all three of the buttes, but up until now I never rode a three speed to the top of all three. I’ve ridden my three speeds up Tabor and Rocky, but never Powell. Part of it is that it’s the furthest one out. But I think I never did it is that most ways up are rough unpaved tracks that are more suited for fatter tired and more geared machines.**
But is that really so? When the three speed was the only game in town, many folk in the British Isles took them to all sorts of rough and steep places. In fact, “pass storming”, hitting up the highest points in an area, would have been done on a three speed. Now would these folks have done all this “rough stuff” on a three speed if there was a better tool for the job? Probably, though I’m sure there was a certain breed of purist who would have still stuck to something with an AW hub, even if it meant a fair deal of pushing. (And there usually was.) But the fact remains that they DID IT. And why couldn’t I? It’s not like Powell Butte is that high.
After riding to both the tops of Mount Tabor and Rocky Butte on the Raleigh Superbe, I finally made the time to summit Powell on Wednesday. The route I chose up consisted of Holgate Lane (connects to SE Holgate Blvd), which after testing out a few ways up over the years is the easiest way to get to the meadow plateau. While it’s a bit rocky, it maintains a consistent grade of about 6%, which is totally manageable with a low of 40 gear-inches. And while the Panaracer Col de la Vies are by no means “fat”, the 40 mm width and relative suppleness*** of the tires handled the rough stuff pretty good, better than the Delta Cruisers would have. From the edge of the plateau, it was still maybe a mile of winding up the meadowlands to the top, which wasn’t that hard at all. And then the reward: An expansive view, one of the best in the city! I ate a burrito and a beverage, hung out in the splendour, and rode back down a trail as the light faded.
And you know what? It was a fine ride. Sure, it may have been a little nicer with a bike with more gears, and wider tires. But at no point was I “suffering”, well, not suffering beyond climbing a big hill! And while someone who needs to put labels and #hashtags on every aspect of biking may call it #underbiking, but how can you “under” bike when the bike was adequate for what you are doing?
Let’s face it: an old British three speed is a lot more versatile than modern folk think, especially the “sports roadster” class that covers my Raleigh Superbe. It was useful enough to be an upright daily commuter bike for the masses of England, but also got folks into the countryside. And those who couldn’t afford a lightweight “club” bike in addition to a Sports simply removed the fenders and turned the bars on racing day. And there was of course the “pass stormers” mentioned above.
A bike like the Raleigh Sports/Superbe or any British sports tourer, if made today, would probably be called a hybrid. But I’d like to use another term, an all-rounder. Or maybe even another fancier term. You’ve heard the term “country bike” coined by Rivendell’s head honcho Grant Petersen? Well, a three speed sports tourer is a “gentlemens” (or “ladies”) country bike!
*Kelly Butte is sort of rideable, but there is no great view from the top. The new service road on the west side has a view, though, but it’s not “the top”.
**The one paved access road from the entrance at SE 162nd Ave and Powell is pretty steep. It tops off at 12%, a grade I don’t care to do on any bike!
***I said “relative”.