Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raleigh Twenty

My 1971 Raleigh Twenty

I rebuilt this wheel with a new alloy rim laced to the original Sturmey Archer hub

The cottered crank fixed to the oh-so-cool Raleigh heron profile chainring. See those herons?

My first introduction to the Twenty was at a talk given by John Allen a few years ago who seemed quite proud of his bike and gave it a promenant place onstage alongside him

About two years ago I somewhat rashly purchased a folding bike through eBay called a Raleigh Twenty. The idea was that I would bring this thing with us on an upcoming trip to Florida as luggage and have a reasonable bicycle while on vacation rather than be victim to whatever the local rental places might have to offer.

As things go, it wasn't practical to bring the bike and I highly doubt if I could have folded the bike compactly enough to work as baggage. Also one of the crank arms had been bent in shipment; it was rideable but not ideal.

So, for the last couple of years the bike has hung from the rafters in the basement waiting...


I recently began a job in Montpelier that requires me to walk 4-5 blocks distance from where I park to where I work, which is just long enough to have to add time to the commute. Thinking about the situation I suddenly saw where the Raleigh Twenty could fit into my life! The next time I drove into work I brought the bike with me, conveniently folded and placed in the back of our car. Upon arrival, I swiftly removed the bike, unfolded it and biked the short distance to work. Voila!

The Raleigh Twenty gets its name from it's wheel size--a 20 inch rim. This model of bicycle was made from the late sixties up through the mid-eighties and at one point in the seventies was Raleigh's biggest seller. As modern folding bikes go it is something of a tank and does not fold all that small, but it is a bike with a great heritage and a really fun, stately, retro-groovy vibe that I am completely enamored with.

Since I've started using the bike I've been researching how to put this charming object on a diet. It weighs more then my intuition expects when I go to pick it up. Everything that might be alloy today on a bike is steel on this thing, such as the wheel rims, the seat tube, the fenders, the handlebars, etc... Even crappy bikes today have lighter components then this thing does. Steel rims, in addition to being heavy are also notorious for poor braking, so that's where I've focused my first effort at revamping the bike.

I acquired some cheap yet fine BMX alloy-rimmed wheels from a local bike coop called Freeride in Montpelier. As luck would have it BMX sizings often overlap with the Twenty and I was able to dismantle one of the rims and re-lace it with the original hub from the Twenty front wheel and create a lightweight wheel that provides improved braking surface. Having never before built a wheel, I was quite pleased with myself and somewhat surprised at how easy it is. Buoyed by this experience I carefully measured the rear Sturmey Archer three-speed hub and ordered spokes so I can build up a rear wheel with the original hub laced to a better rim.

These new wheels are a great step towards improving the Twenty's weight and stopping power. Next up will be switching out the brakes. I'm going to start with the front (since that's where 70% of the stopping power happens on a bike) and perhaps work on the rear after that.

Some people go really far with re-habing their Twentys, but I want to retain as much of the original look and feel as possible while improving the weight and function at the same time.

Sheldon Brown was a big fan of Raleigh Twentys.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter Riding

This has been a mild winter and to my surprise I'm still riding my bike. In fact, on New Years Day I pedaled to the top of the Appalachian Gap and then back home--not something you'd ever expect to do in January.

When I lived in Boston I rode year 'round. Since I biked to work every day my ability to dial in what clothing to wear could be adjusted with small changes day-t0-day. These days I am a little less able to intuitively "know" what to wear on a chilly, cold, or really cold day.

Its been ranging from the twenties up through the thirties the last few weeks and I've found I can be pretty comfortable on my bike right down through the mid-twenties. I haven't tried biking in anything colder, at least not recently.

One weak point has been --you guessed it-- my toes. In hindsight, I should have relied on previous experience sooner, but for whatever reason, I've been lacking the imagination to try out different solutions.

My typical warm weather shoe on the bike tends to be a pair of Converse sneakers. They are great for many reasons, and recently I've been reluctant to give them up when the weather gets cold. To counter the cold I've been doubling up on the socks and then donning a pair of neoprene booties. I'd say this has worked somewhere in the range of poor-to-moderate.

Back in my Boston commuting days what I did was wear a pair of roomy slip-on loafer-ish leather shoes that allowed for a couple of thick pairs of socks without constricting my feet at all. I found this worked extremely well and the shoes passed as office-acceptable so I was good to go from bike to work.

I have a pair of similar shoes and last night I decided to try my old method. Wallah! It worked great and I was completely comfortable for the seven or eight mile ride home in the dark with temps around 26 degrees.

Beyond the question of feet, I wear two thin long sleeve wool undershirts, a sweater over that, and then always have my plastic neon yellow shell. I love wearing knickers and last night had my Ibex knickers with long thick knee socks and then a pair of corduroy knickers over those. If it were to be a longer or more serious ride, I would have had wool instead of corduroy but these worked fine last night.

Another experiment has been wearing a ski helmet and goggles.

With respect to the goggles, I didn't know my face could be so comfortable. It is though your face is in a small climate controlled room looking out on the world. The downsides were the tinted lens and the perspiration that built up as I climbed the hill out of the village. Also, I find they limit my ability to glance back over my shoulder to see if a car is coming since the walls of the goggles block that sight line. Regardless, the goggles are a definite thumbs-up.

The helmet is fun, and works well with the goggles, but seems not quite as versatile as a standard bike helmet with a hat underneath. Ski helmets are meant to keep people warm who are not necessarily generating a lot of heat and I sense it would be easy to get too warm with the helmet. It does have removable vent covers and ear flaps, so maybe taking those out and putting on a hat would be a good solution.

Its been a thrill to be able to bike right up through the fall and into winter!