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.