Thursday, 5 July 2012

The trouble with Raleighs

I have never had any luck with Raleighs. My first was a Raleigh Chopper Mk1 back in the 70's. It was rubbish but I rode to Tamworth and Halesowen from Sheldon on it, later while at secondary school I heard about others who had bought their bikes at component level, the concept was lost on me. I knew I wanted bigger gears but was told they weren't available and that I should learn to pedal faster - another reference to real cycling. My next bike was 26" wheel racer bought from my brother's girlfriend (she was tall) it wasn't very good but when eventually I moved my daily commute from 8 miles there and back to 12 and 14 miles and then graduated to riding to Birmingham to visit family (45 miles each way) I knew I wanted something better. At this point I had picked up various bits of cycling information from work, I was surrounded by hard cyclists (Peter Coulson among them) and the values seeped in as well. I bought a second hand Dawes Galaxy from a workmate and put some miles on it, enough to know this was streets ahead of anything I had come across before. It was too big for me but after considering having a frame built, I found that a new Dawes Galaxy with a triple front chainring and caliper brakes would fit the bill; >22 years later I still have it and tour on it. However Oakley Cycles of Northampton tried to push a Raleigh Royal or something similar on me, but I wanted the Dawes. I too was made in Birmingham. That was 1988. And so it remained until I started to fancy a change and looked at other bicycles, what I ended up with was random and governed by circumstances rather than intention. I bought a £10 bike from the local tip badged as a Raleigh Scirocco, turned it into a fixed gear in 2004 it was a harsh ride and heavy, the frame alone weighed 6 pounds. I bought another Raleigh, a hybrid, another £10 but with a 531 sticker. When I got it home and stripped it, it must have been sitting in a river - the internals of the frame were the rustiest I have ever seen. Most of the frame was returned to the tip but the forks were surprisingly good; 531! I used them on the fixed gear and it made a vast improvement. I bought another Raleigh, 531 again, this time for £5 it had beed driven over or crashed. The forks were chromed and rusty, after blasting and powder coating they ended up on the Archie Wilkinson. The crankset was sold on ebay for £2.50 and the tubes are on my shelf for the day I get the oxygen bottle filled and can start brazing them into something unusual. The next Raleigh was a mountain bike, 531 frame tubes and probably plain gauge, £10 from the tip; the stays and forks were only cromoly but it was a nice bike and used regularly until some twat opened his door without looking. I went up in the air and landed on my right elbow. It hurt for 18 months, the damage done to my trapped hand and other bruises on my leg and hip went away much more quickly. However when the bike hit the road it landed on the rear left hand cantilever and broke the braze joint from the pivot to the bracket, I hadn't noticed and only claimed for bent bars. I advise everyone go with the ambulance chasers, dealing with that insurance company was a most unpleasant experience and in particular one obnoxious, aggressive person. I wish I could remember his name, I could lambast him from the safety of my keyboard but blogs weren't invented then; "Was the jacket new? We don't replace worn jackets".  Also report the accident to the police, you have been injured and there is a requirement under UK law to do so. In this case after initially admitting liability to me, he  changed his story to his insurance company. The police involvement persuaded him to change it back. That broken cantilever pivot and the dings where his door edge hit the bike frame meant I only got £10 for it on ebay, I still have the wheels, they went in the rusty bike and are now intended for the John Fern. Raleigh trouble doesn't end there, if you refer to the A S Gillot entry, that was a sheep in wolf's clothing, another 6 pound (heavy) frame, and a lot of money wasted. One Raleigh wasn't trouble; I bought a Raleigh Zenith, a ladies' framed bicycle with 27" wheels and very low mileage - again for £10 down the tip. It was a 501 frame and in contrast to a different situation, I had no qualms about gutting it. The wheels went into the R. E. W. Reynolds and were a perfect fit. I have yet to reuse the chainset but most of the other bits will go onto the Clubman - but before I get to that let me tell you about the Raleigh Record Ace. I spotted this on ebay, it was my size 21", with a £120 starting bid or buy it now for £150. No choice really, why save £30 and lose it - so I bought it. The seller said he had had lots of calls querying the frame number or this finicky detail or that finicky detail you know what people are like. There were no stickers and that's what threw them. Were they blind? It jumped out at you! I bought it and was delighted. At last a deal! I rode it round the block, but wanted to change some bits that didn't suit me, the stem, saddle and gearing. Here's the dilemma, it was a low mileage, immaculate (some surface rust under the paint - I notice a lot of 80's bikes have this rust problem, even my Dawes Galaxy and that Zenith I mentioned earlier) - but more importantly 100% original! I was torn, what was I supposed to do? I chose to sell it on ebay and let someone else benefit rather than muck it around. How stupid am I?  Where did I get this philosophy?  Years of looking at restored bicycles while others are changing theirs willy-nilly and stripping them for parts. I could have made money selling it for parts, or if I had kept it and made the changes I wanted I would have a lovely bike now which suits me. This will not happen again. Another Raleigh I bought was a very old one, it was striking when I saw it and bought it even though I could see problems. I had it blasted and powder coated in matt black, rode it round for about a year and sold it due to the harsh ride. It had borrowed wheels from a donor bike in Birmingham, (which is still hanging there), a Wrights saddle I paid £4 for at the tip, and some leather-faced brake blocks recovered from the Shayler, I think (they are the only way to stop a bike with steel rims). It went on ebay collection only for £40; the powder coating cost £25. I'm glad to be rid of it. The Raleigh Clubman frame and forks came off ebay for around £65 and had been restored although not professionally, the transfers are nice, it's from around 1959 but (there is always a but with Raleighs) the rear mudguard mounting brackets are broken both sides. I will do it up as a fixed gear, but I am pretty sure I will sell the Clubman. (Sold it 2015 for £85 having rebuilt a pair of wheels, bought new tyres, restored original pedals and cranks and other sundries), Finally and I hope I have learned my lesson, though I doubt it, I bought another Record Ace, this time with no emotional baggage or anything else, a frame and forks only for £29 plus postage. The forks weren't 531 and the frame when I examined it had been in a front end smash, hence the non-matching forks. And it was too big for me. I sold it for £19 but kept some bits, I can reuse the leather Brooks handlebar tape and maybe the front derailleur. I just remembered have bought and sold two Raleigh Stowaways on ebay, I didn't lose on either, in fact I made money on the second.  I was inspired by the Sheldon Brown article on them and wanted to do something similar, but didn't; they gave a harsh ride and I didn't want to waste time and still be left with a harsh ride.  (I remember advertising the first one and an objectionable ebayer with a number of 0 (that's zero, he only registered to raise objections and has not bought or sold anything) called bromptonbicycle messaged me and threatened to have my listing removed because of keyword spamming.  I had used those two words in the ad saying if you can't afford one of those consider this it's really cheap.  Since it was not in the title it's not spamming but I was not going to argue I just wanted to sell this folding bicycle.  However it did create a bad taste in my mouth and soured my opinion of Brompton enough for me to avoid their products entirely; I suspect that whoever gave him that task has also done their company's image no good at all with others).
So in conclusion, I  really should avoid Raleighs (and Bromptons) completely in future. See here.

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