It’s been just a little over three years since I got my Robin Hood three speed on the road. It arrived to me as a bare frame, a blank slate. I decided to create a “path racer” style bike, resembling something that might be seen on British roads between the wars. Pashley’s Guv’nor is the modern version of this type of bike. While it’s beautifully built, the price is a bit too rich for me, so I decided to create my own out of various parts. It’s not the prettiest bike in the world, but it’s uniquely mine. I get more of a kick out of restoring something than buying new.
The Robin Hood project was meant to be my “impractical” bike. It’s not a tourer or a commuter. It’s the only bike I own that lacks any racks or baskets. So I can only carry what fits into a rear saddle bag (whether my small Treetop or large Carridice Camper) and Carradice top tube pannier. As it is, the Robin Hood is the bike I ride the least. So I sometimes wonder if I should get rid of it, especially since I have two other three speeds. Then I ride it again and realize that I like this bike too much to part with it for now. And I want to ride it more.
But I realized that the Robin Hood would need some love in order for me to ride it more. It needed the rear fender tweaked, mostly. I found these chrome fenders in a free pile on the sidewalk in the Piedmont neighborhood one night, and Steve M helped me make it work for the frame. But it barely worked, as the rear stays were ziptied to the eyelets. The fenders would move side-to-side quite a bit, causing them to rub against tires. And using my Carradice Camper Longflap would guarantee the mudguards coming out of alignment even more, since the big bag would sit on the fender. So I’d have to adjust the rear fender constantly on every ride. It was getting old.
Luckily my friend Jer was doing some bike work from his home, and one of the things he was advertising was fender installs. Jer used to work at Velo Cult, where he did lots of work on my bikes. Then he moved to River City, and I had him do the great Schwinn Heavy Duti reimagining a few years ago. I asked him if he’d do some “fender whispering” and he obliged. I picked the bike back up last week.
He adjusted the rear stays. There’s still some zip-tie action, but it’s a lot better.
He also changed the position of my front light so that my brakes would be closer to the fork and to give a little more tire clearance.
Oh yeah, he also swapped rear cogs. Instead of the 23 tooth cog, I went with a 19 tooth. Wait a minute Shawn! you may be saying to yourself, Aren’t you supposed to replace with bigger cogs, not smaller? Why yes, in most instances you should. Raleigh and other British makers (in)famously provided fairly small rear cogs with their machines, meaning high gears. In most cases it’s a wise choice to get a larger rear cog to make pedaling easier.
But sometimes that rear cog can be too much, and that’s what happened with the Robin Hood. The common wisdom is to not drop below a 2 to 1 ratio on the drivetrain.* For example, if the front chainwheel is 44 teeth, you don’t want to go bigger than 22 teeth in the rear cog. Going bigger can mean putting too much torque on the Sturmey-Archer hub, causing trouble. And I had a 44 tooth chainring and 23 tooth cog. What seemed to be happening was when I dropped to the lowest gear, the wheel moved in the dropouts and then the tire dragged against frame and fender. Going back to middle or high gear alieviated the issue. At first I thought maybe the nuts were stripping and I replaced them, but it didn’t stop the problem. Jer noticed that the dropouts had “opened up” a bit due to that torqueing, and he adjusted them.
So far I haven’t had any more issues. And yes, my gearing is now higher. I may decide to swap it out with something slightly larger, like a 21 tooth cog. That would be in the “safe zone” of 2:1 ratio. But again, this is my light, sporty, impractical bike. I don’t need super-low gearing for a bike that I ride mostly for fun. The Raleigh Superbe and the Schwinn Heavy Duti have appropriately low gearing for hauling and touring.
For more images of the Robin Hood path racer, see the dynamic flickr album below or click here.
*I will note that the Heavy Duti goes over the 2:1 ratio with its 44 tooth chainring and 24 tooth cog. But the hub is more modern S-A XRD-3 hub and I haven’t had any issues yet.