Now that we’re in the midst of the Three Speed October challenge, three speed bicycles are on my mind a bit. This year I am up to three three speeds! I didn’t get another bike, rather, one bike accidentally became one (my Schwinn Heavy Duti.) I didn’t think I’d have that many. For awhile, I thought it was too much. I started to think about getting rid of the Robin Hood path racer. Do I really need this bike? Does a stripped down “racy” bike appeal to me?
The path to the path racer was also accidental. Four years ago, I took receipt of a couple battered three speeds plus a bare frame. These bikes had been living in a garage/basement for probably as long as I’ve been alive and needed lots of love. I got rid of the complete bikes, but I was at a quandary as what to do with a bare Robin Hood frame. It wasn’t worth anything by itself. It sat in my basement for a year. I thought about building up into something quick so I could sell it. Then I thought about how could this frame transform into something else, something that could fit in my bicycle fleet. What could it be? For the answer, I looked to my past.
In 2011, Todd B gave me a 1953 Rudge Sports. It too was battered, but with the help of the Raving Bike Fiend it lived again. I already had a roadster style British three speed, my Raleigh Wayfarer, so I wanted the Rudge to be different. The stripping of superfluous parts made me realize its destiny–a path racer.
Path racers were popular in Great Britian between the wars, when people didn’t have a lot of cash for purpose built racing bikes. They were usually stripped down roadsters with flipped North Road handlebars–these acted somewhat like drop handlebars. They’ve come somewhat back into fashion thanks to Pashley, a traditional British bicycle company, via their Guv’nor model.
The Guv’nor has gotten quite the following over the past decade or so. It’s quite the exquisite machine, made using traditional bicycle construction (lugs and steel). For you film camera enthusiasts: the Pashley Guv’nor is the bicycle equivalent to a Leica. Classy, yet anachronistic. (They also have similarly fervent followings.) It’s a cool bike, no doubt. But it’s out of my price range. Okay, it’s not necessarily out of my price range (I’ve spent more on a custom bike), but it’s more than I’m willing to pay. At the end of the day, the Guv’nor is just a bicycle, as the Leica is just a camera. Tools.*
But I still wanted that aesthetic. So I built up that Rudge as a poor man’s Guv’nor, with flipped North Roads. I rode that bike for a few years. It was fun, but there were issues: rusty beat wheels, cranks not properly aligned, and most importantly, a too-small frame. I sold it in 2014, but I hoped at some point I’d be able to have another three speed path racer. I had been holding out for a nice lightweight British frame from the 70’s, something like a Raleigh International. But those bikes are desirable. Now I had a frame divorced from desire, a blank slate to create something.
With the generous assistance of Steve M, we built up the Robin Hood over a couple months. I had some better parts this time around, collected over the course of the year–alloy wheels, the front with a dynamo hub, Soma Lauterwasser handlebars to give an appropriately vintage look. In December the bike was rideable, and rode it with immense joy.
I currently own a trio of three speeds. There’s of course my beloved 1968 Raleigh Superbe, the classiest bike I own. With its upright riding position, chainguard, and rear rack, it’s my sensible commuter bike. And my Schwinn Heavy Duti became a three speed this year. This beastly bike acts as my hauler/utility bike. And there’s the Robin Hood. Where does that bike fit in? Does it fit in?
I go through periodic “I should cull the fleet” moments, and I had one this summer. On that metaphorical chopping block was the Robin Hood. After all, it’s a purely fun bike. It’s not set up to take loads, the most I can carry is a large saddlebag (Carradice Camper Longflap) and top tube panniers (also Carradice.) Do I need a bike this frivolous, when I now have two other three speeds?
I knew I couldn’t make a decision until I rode the bike again, as it had been awhile. And once I rode the Robin Hood, I knew I had to hold onto it for a little while longer, at least. So what if it’s frivolous? It’s fun. It’s nice to have a bike for pure fun reasons. Besides, since it’s a parts-bin queen, I wouldn’t get much cash for selling it. And I’d probably miss the bike as soon as I did. I’ve done the whole “get rid of a bike then immediately replace it with something similar” thing before, and I don’t want to do that again anytime soon.
So the Robin Hood will stay. It’s going to need a bit of work, though: I’m annoyed by that rear fender, and the hub may need an overhaul. But a little more work to keep this bike going for three or so more years is all part of the process. It may not be as fancy as a Pashley Guv’nor, but there’s something about taking discarded bits and making into a personal thing of your own. I’d rather have that over an exquisite object, any day.
*Ooh, did you wince when I said that?