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.


Chris said...

I do a multi-modal commute too. I started off driving most of the way in, and riding just a mile or so, but as I got more comfortable with the ride, and the weather got nicer, I drove less and less. (I am driving a little more now that it's winter). I started once I found this full-size folding bike - it fits in my trunk, and it rides so well, I can ride it even when I do a 5 or 10 mile day. It is by far the most versatile bike I've ever had.

Dave said...

Hi Chris,
In better weather I'll be doing the whole thing (~18 miles) by bike or driving part way and biking in about 6 miles or so. I find a post work bike commute is just the thing to shake off hours spent in front of a desk. I find the little trip back to the car on the Raleigh is not enough.

I checked out the folding bike link you provided. Very cool. Are you a Boston commuter? I really got going on bikes when I lived (and commuted) in Boston.

Andy in Germany said...

I'll be interested in how you change the brakes: I'd loe to get a bike like that but out hills and weather make caliper brakes a rather didgy idea.

Dr. C said...

Looks nice. I too have a soft spot for the Twenty. I had one of my own for about a year until I ended up with a Brompton. The Twenty was tremendous fun to ride but the Brompton made it largely redundant. Rather than keep it but barely use it, I decided to give it to my father, who had been complaining his old bike was too big.

I have recommended the bike to plenty of other people in that time too, and they all seem very happy with their Twentys. As for the brakes, I have done several modifications to the Twentys I've worked on; I added drum brakes to my own and my neighbour's, dual pivots calipers to one I sold and Kool Stop salmon pads to the original calipers on one I restored for a workmate. All of them worked pretty well, although I personally have a bit of a soft spot for drums, they will not make the bike lighter at all. Some fairly average dual pivots with decent pads should work well on your new rims and also reduce the weight of the bike.

Another tip to make it a bit lighter is to replace the pedals. Raleigh appeared to favour the use of lead in the pedals used in the bikes of that era.

Groundshine said...

hA! My brother has a Twenty - he removed every heavy part and rebuilt with all light stuff - still a boat anchor! I also purchased a brown Twenty on Ebay... although it is a BSA not a Raleigh... and it doesn't fold! All stock with front generator hub... I like those tires and rims.... what are they?

Dave said...

Hey Dave,

Yes, the Twenty IS amazingly heavy, but hey, nobody said loosing weight was easy.

The rims are BMX Kin Lin rims I got from Freeride in Montpelier for 10 bucks. The tires came with the bike --Duro.

Since I set myself up with a generator light on my regular bike, it feels like something's missing not to have them on my other bikes. I'm actually thinking for this bike to build up the front with a SA X-FDD, which is a combo drum and dynamo hub.