Raleigh Twenty Stowaway

The Sturmey Archer AW hub which was used for the pictures taken to make the hub servicing guide which formed my last post was from this Raleigh Twenty Stowaway; the folding version of the classic Raleigh Twenty. This Twenty belonged to a friend of mine and I was servicing the hub before selling it on her behalf. Prior to servicing the hub, I had done just about every conceivable bit of maintenance on this bike including front wheel, headset and bottom bracket bearings, a complete disassembling, cleaning, greasing and reassembling and replacement of the tyres, tubes, chain and saddle. As a result of this, the bike rides just like a brand new bike, despite being from 1976.
Raleigh used the ‘Stowaway‘ branding on some of their folding Twentys (in addition to several unrelated models).
The main hinge in the frame is perhaps inelegant but very sturdy.
Difficult to see on the picture, but the rear reflector is branded as Sturmey Archer.
Pletscher rear rack, complete with a rat-trap for carrying a newspaper.
Sturmey Archer AW hub, as featured previously.
The original Sturmey Archer grip shifter, controlled by rotating the entire grip to switch gears. In practice it works better than I expected.
Raleigh TwentyR-20‘ branding.
Seat-tube decal.
The Raleigh‘ Nottingham headbadge.
Brand new Raleigh Record tyres, as originally specified with the bike.
The Raleigh Twenty design has undoubtedly passed the test of time. It is a shame that the equivalent models subsequently made by Raleigh have failed to match the comfort, handling and practicality of this model. Clones of the Twenty do exist, although they have their drawbacks including price and the use of V-brakes on the UK model. There is nothing to stop Raleigh bringing back the Twenty properly, a good, small utility bike could be a good addition to their range. A few concessions to modern manufacturing techniques and componentry could be made, such as a welded frame (rather than brazed) a unicrown fork (rather than lugged). These minor sacrifices could easily be offset by a few improvements, such as dual pivot caliper brakes (or drum/coaster brakes), 406 mm aluminium rims (allowing a greater choice of tyres and the ability to stop during rain) and a proper headset (rather than a nylon bushing at the top of the head-tube).
After courting the ‘sporting goods’ and ‘bicycle shaped object’ markets extensively for the past few decades, perhaps it’s time for Raleigh to look back on one of the models which once made them great, and bring it back.

Ten bike parts & accessories due for a comeback

Progress is generally accepted as a good thing, but sometimes new trends, materials and components come along which don’t have all the advantages of the things they replace. This is especially true in the world of bicycles. I present here my top ten bicycle technologies and accessories which I feel are due for a comeback (some of which are already enjoying a bit of a resurgence).

Hub Gears

The innards of a Sturmey Archer AW hub I am currently working on. Even in this state, the hub is still working.
My first experience of hub gears was in Belgium, on a hire bike used for a bicycle tour of Brussels. The bike was equipped with a Nexus 8-speed hub which offered a similar range to my 24-speed derailleur-geared bike of the time. I instantly appreciated being able to shift gear when stationary, the possibilities for enclosing the chain and the increased durability from sealing away the gears inside the hub.
Two of the Three bikes I now own have hub gears.

Drum/Roller/Coaster Brakes

Image courtesy of Ecovelo
The same bike in Brussels had the most basic model Shimano Roller brakes. These were weaker than the disc brakes I was used to at the time, but once I had gotten used to the reversed brake levers (left-hand front, as is common in countries with right-hand traffic) I came to like the idea of trading a little stopping power over discs for a great deal more durability. Being sealed away in the hub means that their performance is independent of weather conditions, unlike rim brakes. For a bike you depend on to get around, drum brakes are a great option.
The Raleigh DL-1 has similar front and rear Sturmey Archer drum brakes.

Briefcase Clips

Briefcase clips were a common feature of rat-trap pannier racks here in the UK in the days of mass cycling. Naturally in The Netherlands and Denmark they are still relatively commonplace. A small loop protrudes from the side of the rack into which a briefcase handle is placed. The spring-loaded rat trap is then lowered, and a small protruding rod from it holds the briefcase in place.
Whilst briefcases are not as common as they were, I regularly use the clip on the DL-1 for plastic carrier bags when I have been a bit over-zealous with the grocery shopping, or for my U-lock when I have no space in my regular pannier.

Saddlebags

A Carradice saddlebag on a Raleigh Wayfarer. Image courtesy of Urban Adventure League
I am hoping to join the saddlebag club soon. Saddlebags were once commonplace, but declined in popularity with the decline in transportation cycling in the UK. Like panniers, they place the load on the bike rather than the rider, reducing the amount of effort required for carrying and preventing the risk of a sweaty back which comes with backpacks. They also offer advantages over panniers; the load is more central and less likely to affect balance and they do not require a rear rack, only a saddle with bag loops such as a Brooks.

Wool

Wool is great. I’m not a big fan of having special clothing just for cycling, I’d rather wear something which is practical both on and off the bike. In the colder months wool is ideal for this, it is warm, it breathes and it absorbs a decent amount of moisture without feeling wet and it doesn’t readily hold odours.

Chain Cases

A completely enclosed chain on a Pashley bicycle. Image courtesy of Let’s Go Ride A Bike
When dérailleur gears are no-longer used, the possibility of completely enclosing the chain is opened up. A chain guard has the advantage of protecting the rider from the chain, meaning no more trouser clips or rolling up your trouser leg. A chain case offers this advantage whilst also protecting the chain from road filth and rain, leading to a longer life and reduced maintenance.

North Road Handlebars

Most of the bikes on sale in the UK come with either riser or straight bars, as seen on mountain bikes, or drops (resembling ram’s horns), as seen on racing bikes. These bars offer a moderately aggressive (straight) or aggressive (drops) riding posture suited to sport cycling. For everyday transportation, they are not the best choice for everyone. North road handlebars (and similar variants) offer an upright riding position. The advantages of this include; comfort for the rider, increased head height (ideal when negotiating traffic) and rider weight is shifted back (reducing the possibility of going over the handlebar under heavy braking).

Steel

A lugged joint between a top-tube and head-tube on a steel frame. Image courtesy of Rivendell
Aluminium has become a very popular frame material in recent years, due to the pursuit of ever lighter bicycles. It is light and stiff, making it an appropriate material for frames. The different properties of aluminium mean that it is desirable to use oversized tubing, which makes the frame particularly light and stiff. Despite this, many feel that steel produces a better quality of ride, the reduced stiffness of the narrower tubing used in forks seems to allow more of the vibration from the road to be absorbed and dissipated before it reaches the rider. This perception is of course completely subjective, but is something worth considering. Other advantages of steel include the possibility of lugged construction, which I find to be aesthetically pleasing, and the relative ease with which a steel frame can be repaired in comparison to an aluminium one.

Relaxed Geometry

I read somewhere that most of the bikes which have ever been manufactured are of the same basic design as the English Roadster or the Dutch Bike. In the UK however, this design in geometry have fallen out of favour. Whilst the roadster is enjoying a bit of a resurgence due to the popularity various models of Pashley Cycles, the relaxed roadster geometry is mainly only seen on bikes marketed as “traditional” or “heritage” bikes. The geometry of these bikes makes them ideal for everyday transport for the average person’s needs. In addition to the models make by Pashley, I’d like to see some more designs based on this geometry available in UK bike shops.

Dynamo Lighting

A topic I have written about extensively, dynamo lights are a great option for an everyday transport bike, where an “always available” lighting solution is very desirable. Most people are put off by memories of cheap bottle dynamos driving terrible filament lamps, but modern hub and bottle dynamos are much better. Combine these with modern LED lighting technologies and you have the perfect dependable lighting solution for an everyday transport bike. No batteries, no fuss.
What bicycle components and accessories which have fallen out of favour would you like to see coming back?

Spotted in Manchester #2

Another round up of some of the more interesting bikes I have spotted recently around Manchester

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A lovely old step-through bike. The manufacturer appears to be “Torino,” but the lettering has faded with age.

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3-speed hub gears made by Sachs, which was bought out by SRAM quite a while back.

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A bottle dynamo and Union lamp to round it off. There is a tail-light on the rear mudguard too. It looks like this bike has been in service for a long time. Thanks to the component choices, it appears it has a good few years left in it too.

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A Thorn tourer, especially notable for its Rohloff Speedhub, an impressive piece of engineering containing 14 evenly spaced gears. It is not everyday I park next to a bike with a rear hub which is worth more than any of the bikes I own.

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I saw this Brompton parked up one lunchtime, completely unsecured. This seemed off for a bike designed to be folded so it can be taken inside easily. My faith in humanity was boosted when I came back a fair few hours later to see it was still there.

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I saw this fully loaded randonneur bike outside EBC, complete with a Brooks saddle and the seldom-seen (in the wild) Euro-style trekking bars.

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@wordsnfixtures bike which I believe I have seen a few times around Manchester.

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A basic but practical unknown transportation bike, lacking a front brake but otherwise conforming to many of the things I feel a good transport bike should have.

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LC’s Pashley Princess Sovereign, Vita.

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A roadster with a personalised coat-guard.

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A rather beat-up but lovely Crescent roadster-like bicycle, with brown tyres and an elaborate chain-guard design.

As always I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any other nice and interesting bikes around town.

Old Dutch

Before I found the Raleigh Tourist, I came across the Batavus Old Dutch online.  I have recently had the chance to have a proper look at one up close, parked up outside work.  The bike is priced around the £350 mark, which is quite reasonable considering some of the components on the bike.  On closer inspection however, some of the component choices of the Batavus are quite baffling.

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The bike has the usual mudguards, chain case, skirt guard, rack and dynamo lights you would expect from this kind of bike.  The saddle appears to be a pretty basic affair, the frame is nicely lugged, although I think that the seat tube angle is a bit steep for this kind of bike.

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The Old Dutch comes with a SRAM 3 speed internal hub gear with coaster brake.  It is odd to see SRAM internal hub gears on a bike in this price range because of the three main manufacturers of internal hub gears (Sturmey Archer and Shimano being the other two), SRAM are by far and away the most expensive.

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Presumably because of the expensive rear hub, Batavus decided to cut corners on the front-end of the bike:

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The front end of the bike has a rather uncharacteristic calliper brake instead of a drum brake, and the dynamo is a bottle dynamo rather than a hub dynamo.  I am curious as to why Batavus would choose such an expensive rear hub only to pair it with such low-end components on the front.  For the same money as this set up they could have used a Sturmey-Archer or Shimano 3-speed coaster brake hub on the rear wheel and a Sturmey drum brake and dynamo hub on the front (or a Shimano roller brake and dynamo hub if they wanted to go down the Shimano route).

Having seen one of these bikes up close, I am quite glad I ended up finding the Raleigh Tourist instead.

Kona Africa Bike: Longer Term Review

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have replaced my Kona Africa Bike with a Raleigh Tourist De Luxe.  The Kona is currently awaiting a bit of maintenance and a clean-up before eventually going onto eBay.  I used the bike every day for about 3 months and was generally happy with it, but decided that a Tourist De Luxe at the price I saw mine at was too good to pass up.  I have decided that the Africa Bike deserved a second review covering its use over a longer period of time than my first review.

The Good:

1) The original single-speed gearing was very pleasant to use and didn’t give me any trouble, although it made riding longer distances and climbing hills more tiring.

2) The replacement Nexus 3-speed gearing was excellent, with enough range to increase the distance the bike could comfortable cover.  I particularly enjoyed the ability to gear down when stationary, along with the general smoothness and reliability of the transmission.

3) The coaster brake.  Both gearing systems came with a coaster brake, the first one I had used since being on holiday in Germany a few years ago.  Coaster brakes prevent you from back-pedalling which can be annoying when setting off, however the advantages of the coaster brake is in its simplicity, essentially being a chain-actuated drum brake.  It was quite liberating to be able to slow down gently when approaching traffic lights or to modulate my speed without the need for a brake lever.  I feel there is something quite intuitive about coaster brakes and may put on on the Tourist if I ever convert it to a 5 speed.

The Bad:

1) The basket.  The folding basket was brilliant, it made me appreciate baskets in general and I liked being able to carry a few things within easy reach and sight.  The problem with the basket was that it squeaks, a lot.  The squeaking got worse when two of the metal wires which make up the basket snapped.  This happened within 3 months of use.

2) The rear rack.  Whilst it was sturdy and I agree with the rationale of integrating it into the frame, the tubing was thicker than that on my Yuba, at around 20 mm it made carrying most panniers impossible.

3) The frame geometry.  The bike was comfortable to ride for distances less than about 25 km, after which it became uncomfortable, mainly due to the difficulty of putting power down onto the pedals.  This was a result of the hybrid frame geometry; mountain bike like seat and head-tube angles but with higher and closer handlebars.  This means that your quads do all of the work, all of the time.  For me this meant riding more than 25 km started to get uncomfortable, although I did manage over 50 km on it a few times.

The Kona Africa Bikes (One or Three) are ideal bikes for people who want to make journeys of about 15 km each way at the most.  This probably covers a great deal of what most people want from a bike, and probably all of it for some people.  As I found myself wanting to travel further by bike, whilst remaining upright, I decided that this wasn’t the bike to do that on.  The bike has many good qualities and hopefully it will end up with a new owner who it is fully suitable for.