I have an as yet to be named new to me bike!
She’s an early 1970s/late 1960s Raleigh Superbe 3spd. Made in Nottingham, England but found her way to me via kijiji.ca. She was purchased by the previous owner at the Trinity Bellwoods vintage bike show & sale (7th photo down in the post is a picture of my Superbe!) Dandyhorse also has a nice article about the show, one year I hope to actually remember in time to book that day off work! So, after a week of commuting the previous owner found this was not the right bike for her. I can so totally relate to that! Finding your perfect bike is a tricksy business, especially if you are new-ish to bikes. You can read all the reviews, press releases, fancy bike blogs and test ride until your arse is black & blue, but none of that will give you a true sense of a bike till you have ridden it for longer than the roughly 20 minute ’round the block test ride you can take at a store. Unfortunately, there isn’t to my knowledge any sort of bike service like this unless you have a super nice friend who is willing to lend you their bike, so we muddle through as best as we can and hopefully learn a few things along the way.
When I first started looking for a bike I was smitten with the look of the English 3spds, but my lack of bike mechanical knowledge at that time led to my incorrectly thinking a new bike would be less hassle as I was learning how to negotiate city riding…this turned out not to be the case. As with all things, in hindsight, I should have just bought a damn vintage Raleigh from the get go!
Since that first Trek loop-frame bike with the front shocks & 26 gears, I have run through a series of bikes as it took me a while to figure out what I like in a bike. Road bikes, I discovered, are definitely out! The riding posture is all wrong for me & I feel rather vulnerable on those thin tyres. (By the by, if you know anyone looking to buy a vintage road bike, I have a Norco Avanti that could use a home that will appreciate it!) Through a process of elimination, I discovered I like a nice lugged step-over frame bike with a 3-6 speed internal hub & rear rack for my panniers that allows me to sit comfortably, see where I am going & by consequence allow the observant motorist (yes that is a dig!) see me. In a nut shell, a vintage English 3spd has what I want. These bikes are amazingly stable due to their weight (not too heavy or too light) and a very sturdy build! Like English vintage cars, their mechanics are particular yet straight forward in their maintenance. The Sturmey-Archer internal hub does require a little bit of thought when shifting gears; you need to stop pedaling, shift gears, then start pedaling again. Not sure why, my Dad could explain it, all I know is that’s how you do it unless you want to rebuild/replace your internal hub.
My as yet to be named bike is in pretty much original condition (the tyre pump is not stock & am uncertain about the headlamp), she has a few scratches on the paint, but for a 40+year old bike, she rides better than the modern 3spds of similar design. The grips will need to be replaced & I have already ordered a set of new/old stock (NOS) or what is sometimes called “dead stock” grips via Ebay. The Superbe came with a dynohub that powers a front headlamp & rear light. The electric wires & rear light are missing so I am currently on the hunt. Although, I wonder if my Dad doesn’t have something suitable squirreled away…& yes, this fascination with English built modes of transportation is most likely a genetic condition of which my Dad & I both suffer, but really let’s be honest, we don’t see it as a fault & it’s our respective partners who are probably the ones suffering by having to put up with us!
While giving the bike the once over for any serious damage, I noticed the front wheel lock…with the key snapped off in it! Drag! A quick perusal of youtube provided me with a few “how to remove a snapped key” videos & ebay pointed me to a seller in England with NOS blank keys from the Raleigh factory which he can cut to fit the lock! I just have to send him the serial number stamped on the side of the lock! How cool is that?!
I might add a Handbag Hugger to the front instead of a basket. They just make more sense, look classic & don’t throw off the steering like fully loaded front baskets can. The saddle which is original, is quite cracked so I have replaced it with a similar style saddle I had in the garage.
Vintage English 3 spd bikes have quite a few advocates online, the most well know is Sheldon Brown who sadly died in February 2008. His website, which is still being maintained is an amazing wealth of information for the care & maintenance of your English 3spd along with other cycling information. He was also a huge fan of the Raleigh Twenty and wrote extensively about them too! Lovely Bicycle has a great review about the Superbe and even more importantly she has a brilliant post with advice for buying a bike on a budget. I recommend reading that post if you are considering buying a bike, as you will end up with a far better quality bike by following her $.02 than if you were to buy a modern 3spd bike.