A Month on the Raleigh

January and much of February sucked for riding. I’m glad it’s almost spring. In the 35 day period of 1/7/11 to 2/10/11, I didn’t set foot to pedal of my main commuting bike, the 2005 Cannondale Roadmaster 400 (a flat bar road bike, or performance hybrid, if you prefer), or my road bike, and there were 6 days where I decided it was better to walk than ride. The rest of the time, I rode my 1968 Raleigh Sports. I bought this bike for pretty much this purpose, so I can’t complain too much, and as a matter of fact, it was nice to have over a month riding just the Raleigh. I feel like I really got to know it.

If you don’t feel like going to my original post about the Raleigh, I shall summarize: It’s an old, heavy steel bike, with a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed IGH (internally geared hub). That is, it doesn’t have a derailleur. After seeing the derailleur on my Cannondale get clogged with ice and snow for the last 5 winters, I thought that an IGH might be the way to go. I bought the bike in July, and mostly saved if for rainy days. My idea was that this way, I’d be saving a little bit of wear and tear on the Cannondale.

There are a few small problems with my Raleigh:

First, it lacks a front fender. Fenders are kind of nice to have, especially for one’s “rain bike.” The lack of a front fender means that when I am riding through heavy rain or slush, it gets picked up by the front tire and dumped on my feet and ankles. Luckily, I’m usually wearing boots and rain pants, so this isn’t too bad. Still, one of these days, I’ve got to put a front fender on this thing. I think there might be some suitable fenders at Recycle-A-Bike. Once RAB’s new shop is all set up, I’m making it priority number 1.

Second, it doesn’t have a rack. I’ve grown to really appreciate the importance of a good rack and pannier system to successful bike commuting. Sure, you can just throw on a backpack, but in the summer time (and most of the spring and fall for that matter) that just means you are going to get all sweaty in the backpack area. Finding a rack for the Raleigh might be a little more difficult. There are some expensive options out there, but this was a $75 bike, so I don’t really feel like investing much money in it. I have actually spent more money on accessories for the bike than the bike itself cost ($50 for a new saddle, $20 for  a cup holder, 2 X $5 for front and rear light mounts), and I’m sure I’ll need new tires (and probably new wheels) for it eventually. In the wintertime, back sweat isn’t much of an issue, which helps confirm my choice for this to be my winter bike.

Third, the frame is a little bit small for me. This means I’m leaning forward  more than is intended for the frame, and I have the seatpost jacked so high that I can’t comfortably put my foot down when stopped. Nonetheless, like Rumsfeld would say, you go to work with the bike you have.

I would almost say that there is a fourth small problem with the bike: the gearing is less than ideal (it’s too high). I live at the top of a hill, and the quickest route home involves grades in the  7 to 12 % range. The lowest of the Raleigh’s three gears is not low enough to really handle these grades, and even downhill I’m never going fast enough to adequately use the highest gear. This could be changed by swapping out a larger cog, but I don’t really have the patience for that right now (frankly, I’m afraid something might fall apart if I try to remove the rear wheel). I say that it’s almost a problem because after a few weeks of riding the Raleigh exclusively, I became accustomed to its gearing. First, I picked a less steep commuting route. This added a mile to my commute in each direction, but that’s just bonus miles. Secondly, I just got used to using only the two gears. On my Cannondale, I’m shifting the rear derailleur all the time, often skipping gears as I accelerate down a big hill.  I don’t know if I’ve just become acclimated to it, or my legs are becoming stronger, but when I ride the Raleigh and don’t have dozens of gears to chose from, I don’t really miss it.

The upright posture has been a nice change of pace as well. Matt from BikesCanWork.com thinks that the upright posture is ideal for city riding, while I do see it’s advantages, I find it a little bit harder to look behind me, and in general I feel less agile on the Raleigh than I do on my Cannondale. At this point, the Cannondale almost feels like an extension of my body. I have very precise control of the Cannondale at very low speeds, which is nice for riding in traffic. When I ride the Raleigh, it gets a little wobbly as I get slower, and if I look behind me, I inevitably turn a bit in the direction I look.  As I approach a stoplight, I often swerve a little bit before putting my foot down.  These tendencies have lessened as I racked up more miles, but I’m not sure if they will ever go away completely. There is a certain feeling that I get while riding the Raleigh, like I’m not in a hurry. This is probably good, because there is no way to make the Raleigh hurry. It just wants to keep you going slow, and with all of the snow we had in January and February, this isn’t such a bad thing. In the 35 day period, I got in about 90 miles on the Raleigh, with the longest single ride lasting about 4 miles. I don’t think I’d want to ride this bike for much longer than that, but I think that it’s weight, paucity of gears and upright posture have made for a good change of pace, and maybe even a bit of a winter training regimen.

With the recent warming trend, I’ve been back on the Cannondale for the last week or so, but looking at tomorrow’s forcast, it looks like I’ll be dressed like this…

… and riding the Raleigh.

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3 responses to “A Month on the Raleigh

  1. I would say the cheapest, most practical solution to the gearing issue would definitely be buying a new house that is not on top of a hill. Let’s get to work on that.

  2. Pingback: Spring is Here! | Car-Free in PVD

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