Sometime in 2016, a local gent got in touch with me. Because I was a “three speed guy” he asked if I know anyone that would want some old three speeds he’s had since the 70’s? I told him I didn’t know anyone at the moment, but if he just wanted to get rid of them, I’d take them off his hands and find them good homes. So he brought over two complete bikes: One a black 23″ Robin Hood, the other a root beer brown ladies Raleigh Sports (looks to be early 70’s.) Both of them required work, to say the least. I eventually found a taker for the Robin Hood frame, a guy who wanted a three speed project. And I gave the Sports to Emee for future projecting.
But he also dropped off a black 23″ Robin Hood frame:
Now what was I going to do with basically a bare frame? I still had the Wayfarer stripped to ist frame, so I had no discernable need. Would anyone want this frame?
The frame sat in the basement for a better part of a year. I thought maybe the best way to “do something” with this bike was get a set of wheels, do a few other things, and sell for cheap. I had an extra front wheel lying around, I knew I could buy a rear coaster wheel, get a cheap set of tires, etc.
But then I started thinking: What if I kept this bike for myself? But what would this bike be? It couldn’t be just another three speed, too similar to the Raleigh Superbe. I mulled it over for a bit, then it hit me.
I still missed by 1953 Rudge Sports. It was such a cool little bike, done up as my bastardized version of a path racer. But…it had issues. There were no mudguards and the wheels were steel, so I only rode it in nice weather. I may have upgraded those things, but the bike was just too small for me. The 21 inch frame was not optimal. So I sold that bike.
But…what if I made the Robin Hood to be the new version of the Rudge path racer? It wouldn’t exactly be the same thing per se, but the larger frame would fit me better, and I’d also have a brace of some better parts.
Over the course of 2017, I collected parts appropriate to the build. Towards the end of the year (twice in October, once in December), Steve M came over to the house and we got dirty. And a week before Christmas, I had my gift to myself:
Okay, so what went into this bike?
- Front wheel: During the parts search, a 650A (26″ x 1 3/8″) wheel came up on Craigslist for a reasonable price. Not only did it feature a modern aluminum rim (CR18), but it was built around a dynohub! The Sanyo dynohub in this wheel is the definition of basic, but it works. Yes, the modern 100 mm axle spacing doesn’t exactly match the 90 mm spacing of Raleigh forks, but with a bit of brute force (read: cold spacing), it works
- Front fork: When Steve removed the extant fork from the frame in order to overhaul the headset, a prominent bulge was in the steering tube. Since there were no other signs of damage to frame or fork, the likely culprit is an overtightened stem. Still, the safe thing was to replace fork, so the old fork from the Wayfarer came in handy. Yeah, it doesn’t match, so what?
- Front light: I’ve had a basic B+M Lumotec lying in the parts bin for a while. Nothing fancy, but gets the job done.
- Cockpit: I scored a set of Soma Lauterwasser bars in chromoly off of eBay for a reasonable price. I had been intrigued by these bars, a reproduction of a popular British drop bar style from “between the wars” (Jack Lauterwasser was a British racer of that era) that feature a shallow drop, good for a not-so-aggressive hand position while keeping the overall aesthetic of path racer. So far, I like ’em! The stem is a basic Kalloy, the grips the Rivendell cork grips I had lying around (don’t know if I’ll keep), and the brake levers the Velo Orange city levers. I also have two VO Retro cages mounted to the bars via the VO mounts.
- Oh yeah, I got a 50’s era Sturmey-Archer “3 or 4” speed shifter off of eBay. It’s designed for drop bars. I really like the performance and look of these old shifters!
- Pedals: I’m a big fan of MKS pedals. I got a set of Sylvan rat-trap style, the same that I have on the Raleigh Superbe. They do the part.
- Saddle: Of course, yet another Brooks! A B-17 that I had lying around. A more modern (read: longer) steel seatpost I had lying around.
- Rear wheel: This is the original wheel off of the Superbe. It will do for now, but I would like to get the AW hub rebuilt into an aluminum rim for lightness and braking performance.
- Tires: I had creme Schwalbe Delta Cruisers lying around. They do the trick. Plus, the cream tires go well with the black frame! (Since then, I switched the tires to Kendas.)
- Brakes: The modern Tektro 559s do the part. They work fine, and don’t look out of place on the bike.
- Mudguards: I found these chromed fenders in a free pile on the side of the road! I’m guessing they are Wald and were more designed for an American bike, but we made them work, if not perfectly. We also threw on a VO mudflap to the front for added protection. And on the rear, a Spanninga Pixeo rear battery powered light that I had in the parts bin!
So, how does it ride? Lovely! It definitely feels sprightly, even if it probably isn’t. I know, the perfect route for a path racer would be to find a 70’s Raleigh frame made in the Carlton workshop of Reynolds 531 tubing or better. And I can still dream. But this still feels good. It seems to be a responsive machine.
I have to give credit to Raleigh’s engineers back in the mid-20th century for designing such a versatile frame that they pumped out by the millions. While the headbadges and model names vary, for the most part, it’s the same bones. And what other frameset from this era seemed to be right at home with either upright North Road bars or drops? And many during this era would do just that: ride a fendered upright machine during the week, then on the weekend strip the fenders, flip the bars, and go on long rides…or races!
Over the past year I’ve owned this bike, I haven’t done much than minor repairs and tire switches. It’s a fun bike to ride. I’ve kept it the stripped-down sexy machine, resisting the urge to put racks and all that. As such, it can really only carry a big Carradice saddlebag. I’ve used it for commuting, but it’s no errand runner. That’s okay, I have the Raleigh Superbe for that!