Raleigh 3-speeds. Thoughts and observations on replicating handling characteristics.

Thoughts and observations on three-speed geometry and handling.

(*by ‘handing’ I suppose I am really referring to steering – it’s weight, sharpness, stability and feeling of confidence this imparted)

I jumped on my 1983 Raleigh Superbe bitsa for me short commute today. The first thing I noticed was how differently it handled to my 1959 Hopper which I’ve taken out the last few days. That’s hardly surprising when I look at the bike from the side. The laid back angles and long sweeping curve of the fork give me an idea that the old bike is going to be stable, and feel a tad lazy into the turns. It’s a lovely ride, but heavily biased towards rolling along in comfort, with a goodly weight hanging from the saddle in the obligatory Carradice saddlebag. The modern (in Raleigh 3-speed terms) Superbe handles like a true all-rounder. No drama, no extremes, in fact I don’t even think about it. This bike has the later frame, shared with the Chiltern, Courier etc, my favourite frame because of its integrated mountings for carrier, stand etc, the internal wire routing and the full set of brazed-on cable stops & guides. Oddly though, my late model Superbe feels different from my Courier, even before I upgraded to modern components ( when I found out the difference imparted by alloy rims). I realised however that an inch difference in my hand position moved my weight just sufficiently forward to be noticeable. However it was only felt when switching from one to the other. 

Now we come to the other two Raleigh 3-speeds I currently have in riding order. The ‘67 Riviera and the ‘75 Wayfarer share the same frame too, but theirs is the classic Light Sports Roadster frame which saw Raleigh through from the late 40s to the late 70s. The Morris Minor of bicycles! These bikes, and memories of my 1951 Superbe Sports Tourist, demonstrate how much difference a handlebar makes. The Wayfarer wants to bomb about like a hooligan with it’s all-rounder bars leaning my forward (a feeling my Bob Jackson tourer gives me with its flat, swept back Nitto bars). The ‘51 was the very model of gentle precision, upright and king-of-the-road (it even said so on the bell!), while the Riviera is a boulevardier as it’s name would imply. 

Now, all these bikes are 23” ‘medium’ size, and all run similar tyre pressures, so the variation would seem to be all down to handlebars. Would that it were so, as dear old Robert Robinson was wont to say. 

Recently I have been building a special order bike for my friend, the very fellow who organises the Liverpolitan Tweed Rides. He now owns my old ‘51, and declared it the best handling bicycle he has ever ridden. He wanted that handling in a more modern, less precious bike. I have used a late 80s Chiltern frame, powdercoated black, and with all

The conveniences that brings. I was careful to ensure the following; same dimensions of handlebars and stem. Same type of tyre. Modern version of the ‘51’s alloy rims, everything in fact, within the scope of components. However, lovely though it was, it wasn’t 1951 lovely! Something was’off’. I compared a pair of the nice slender forks from an earlier bike, and noticed a slightly longer offset (or rake, the amount by which the dropout is forward of the steering axis). Ok then, repaint and fit these forks. Better but not bringing back memories of my old bike. I wanted to feel that bike when I rode this one. The fork swop almost felt too sharp and skittish now “like a dog after a cockroach “ as Russ Roca describes a Brompton. Ok, what is still different? Baffled, I decided to do the preliminary assembly. Once that was done, I took it round the block, and to my astonishment, it was perfect! Spot on! What the????

I had fitted the headlamp! 

That was the difference. I removed the lamp, and the dog chased that cockroach again. 

I’ll leave this here.

Whatever happened to The Velocipedium? A much-needed catch-up blog.

34994873714_ab91d54414_oOk, so I begin this blog, full of good intentions of regailing you with tales of derring-do a-velo, then nothing for the whole summer! Well dear reader, there is a very good reason for that, I promise you.

It all started with a Facebook post from an acquaintance in the trade. He did not post to me directly, as I had recently mentioned some plans I was formulating for The Velocipedium’s direction. Those plans included taking on some local premises and building – among other delights – a batch or two of Pedersen recreations. That is still on gthe back-burner, but back to the plot….

John – we will call him John, for that is his name – had been approached by the owner of an old-established shop near him, asking if he wanted to buy the business. The owner had bought the place 12 years ago, mainly for the property, but his sole employee was retiring. Unwilling to take on the running of the shop, he was closing the doors.

The shop was something of an institution in the Lancashire mill town of Oldham, having been founded by the legendary Harry Skidmore (who emigrated to Canada in 1939 and ended up working on the Spruce Goose, for howard Hughes and living to over 100). Now the shop was a week away from vanishing, like so many others.

Skidmore’s is a great name for a bicycle shop, especially one which became the go-to BMX hangout during the first and second BMX booms! So…..

I saw John’s post, asking if an experienced shop mech/manager was looking for work or a business. I asked, and was put in touch with the owner. What transpired is that four days later – just three days before the shop was to close forever, I held the keys to Skidmore’s Cycles of Oldham!

As one might expect, the shop is a little tired, to say the least. Not in a dusty, old wooden polished Alladin’s cave cozy vintage sort of way but in a stained Raleigh-blue carpet, musty, 90s lycra, tired old stock that needs dumping too many pink dolly seats worn out tools kind of way! However, unimpressed though I was by the downstairs shop, there was a bonus. A BIG bonus….

Upstairs, there are  two floors, the old victorian shopkeeper’s accomodation, complete with old fireplaces and vintage wallpaper, and, if not actually stuffed, then certainly replete, with  meat-and-drink for any vintage bike geek. New Old Stock! As a former Raleigh dealer, Skidmarks (to give it its local nickname) had hidden treasures….


Many hidden treasures…..


yes, that really is a NOS Raleigh Superbe! Here it is after being rebirthed…


…but more of that later, is a separate post.

34994963014_8843d0b625_oMany hundereds of original factory decal sets have since been sold on ebay. They paid a few bills, I can tell you!

35703084601_69e75a82c9_o.jpgNOS frames…..

34994941324_694e4d6e8d_oPiles, literally piles, of NOS World Tour & Raleigh tyres in the old sizes….

35703129741_1456d8f268_o…and the tiny workshop included a wall full of ex-army WW2 drawer units. containing untold mysteries!

35835396125_1cca84c61c_o…and the odd strange spelling!

So, in short, the last six months has seen me working all hours to revive the fortunes of the shop, while also going through the old stuff, with each day involving a 120 mile round trip commute. I began by train, riding the final 8 miles from Manchester Oxford Rd (or 7 from Victoria) on one or other of my touring-geared bikes (it is uphill all the way, then an intense downhill blast homeward, entailing low gears and good brakes.) but then Tory Britain’s privatised-for-thier-mates railway closed the main line to the coast, so it was necessary to purchase a car.

Car-haters skip this paragraph…

Technically it’s ‘another’ car, but the big posh car was not going to be ruined (and ruin me with running costs) on this daily grind. I needed something economical and reliable, which could also carry stuff. My search for a reprise of my beloved old Citroen Berlingo proved fruitless, but I kept seeing Ford Fusions in really good condition, for almost no money. 1.4 litres, cheap spares, easy maint, bomb-proof reliability. Hello ‘Shroom’, a mushroomy-goldy metallic beige Fusion 2, with a few elderly previous owners, (The Fusion is definitely an old fogey’s car!) and never having ventured far from the Ford dealer where it was maintained regularly. £550. Yes, five hundred and fifty pounds! Now fitted with a bike carrier, permanently, the car has covered 13,000 miles in a few months, doing duty also as a bike-chaser (picking up purchases country-wide) and tweed ride bike transporter. No oil or water used, Average 50mpg, not missed a beat, and the heater & stereo are both excellent!

To bikes again….

The shop now has settled into a rhythm, with the customer base shifting towards the commuter and transport cyclists, and their maintenance needs. I still sell some kids bikes, but am letting the stock run down. Now i have closed for the midwinter break, and will be doing a minor refurb and major restock before opening again for 2018.

The Velocipedium is being slotted into this new era of Skidmore’s, with the shop being given an old-school vibe, and a dedicated corner for ‘the old and interesting stuff’.

So, my cycling has been limited to the commute, and occasional organised tweedy occasions. A highlight came in September, with The Velocipedium September Saunter, which I will outline in a separate post. Other forthcoming posts will cover some of the NOS bikes, and a few of my own recent acquisitions which may interest those of a similar persuasion to myself.


Into the saddle….. the pre-history of The Velocipedium.

Welcome to the first post of The Velocipedium’s blog. To begin, I have decided to give a little of the back-story behind the new project – to introduce myself, the Velocipedinarian, and give an idea of why a geekish, lefty, slightly grumpy middle-aged chap has decided to spend his working life on the humble bicycle. Imagine we are in a pub – let’s make it a lovely old English inn, with log fire, beams, the whole horse-brassed cliche. We have cycled here of course, on lovely classic-style steel steeds, which are now being admired outside. The pints of ale have arrived at the table, and you have asked the question. Here we go….

Several decades ago, I drove rally cars for a living. My leisure time being spent playing with vintage cars and motorcycles. My first love however had always been the bicycle, having learned at a young age that I could escape my home town under my own steam, and go where I pleased into the big wide world. Then, the bicycle awoke my love of nature. Now, it keeps me healthy and saves me money.

In the early 1990s I returned to that first love, having dragged a vintage Raleigh roadster from a skip. Copies of the iconic ‘Richard’s Bicycle Book’, and ‘Encycleopedia’ fertilised the seed, and my path chose itself.

The Velocipedinarian in 1992, riding the 1950s Raleigh that started it all. Dragged from a skip and restored as a runabout. It’s interesting how the image of “off-duty morotcycle geek 1992” would look perfectly acceptable in Hackney or Manchester circa 2016!

In the early 2000s I was a daily visitor to my local city dump, in York, for my one-man bike repair and recovery business, BikeRescue. The staff even put aside anything they thought I might like to buy, for the price of a beer or two. Then the Government changed the rules, and we scavengers could no longer ‘remove material from the waste stream’ without a Waste Carriers Licence and a Registered Recycling Premises. “OK” thought I, “I’ll do that”, and I morphed BikeRescue into the UK’s third-ever Community Interest Company. When I moved on, some years later, BikeRescue had become one of the most successful bike recycling schemes anywhere, with 5000 sqare feet of workshops, a city-centre shop and ‘Cycling Hub’, and a dedicated team of staff & volunteers processing over 2000 bike per year.

Collecting bikes for refurb with the old VW camper – before BikeRescue even got its frst van.

Nowadays,I still enjoy building and modifying bicycles to suit my preferences and needs, and those of my family and friends. For me it’s a creative endeavour as well as an ethical mission, and I have enjoyed refining my skills, expanding my knowledge, and owning, riding & handling such a huge variety of pedal powered marvels.

Each bicycle is restored and reimagined to suit the rider. With a belief in sustainable mobility, recycling and craftsmanship, I create bikes that are comfortable, practical, easy to use and maintain, and visually distinctive. A functional work of art that reflects its owner. My taste has been described as “Amsterdam meets Tweed meets Rivendell” (the last being the bicycle manufacturer, not the fictional location!).

I typically start with a quality steel frame or complete bike, and an idea already formed, of what I want to create. I then build the bike up using an eclectic mix of vintage and modern components, finishing off in my, or indeed your, own personal style.

Occasionally I will build a bike from scratch, if there is nothing in existence from which to create my dream. I have been building frames occasionally since 1997. My first two being a recumbent and a tandem – a baptism of fire!

I also buy interesting projects and parts. A lifetime of skip-diving and scavenging has stood me in good stead, and delivered some amazing finds. Some of these, and bikes that have passed through my hands, can be seen on my Flickr site, linked on this page.

Since last year, I’ve started to sell many of my large collection via ebay, word-of-mouth and social media. The bikes have been extremely well-received, and so the result is this, The Velocipedium.

Some of the current fleet, on display at a vintage event in 2015.

Please contact me if you’d like me to build or source a special bike for you…