Thursday, January 8, 2015


Three months ago, I wrote about what I thought would be my ideal commuter bike.  I am excited to say that the project is now underway!

Gilbert is a Raleigh Superbe built in Canada in 1979.  Precisely, the hub was made in July and the frame in October, as the serial number states.  The original Dynohub is also still there and probably in working condition.  

This is the bike that I've been preparing to pour my money into and make perfect for myself.  It has been suggested a few times that a Reynolds 531- framed bike would be a more worthwhile investment that I'd enjoy.  It does sound like something I'd enjoy and I will do that project later.  I could probably carry the hubs over from the Superbe and return it to stock once I get a 531 frame.  For now, Sun CR-18 alloy rims, a Sturmey- Archer X-FDD drum brake Dynohub, and an X-RD5 drum brake 5-speed rear hub are on their way.  Later, I'll be putting on a larger 20-tooth rear cog to lower the ratios and probably cream Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires which have received good reviews.  I also read Sheldon Brown's article about wheel building and decided I'd give it a shot.  I'm nervous, but hey, there's a first time for everything.  

I rented a U-Haul F-150 (more on that later) on Monday to travel to Monroe and pick up the bike, along with some other bargain bikes that I am preparing to flip in warmer months.  The price was lower than I'd previously seen, yet still not what I'd consider cheap.  However, since it was the best deal I'd seen yet and the only one to have a Dynohub, I jumped at it.  The quality of these Sports roadsters started declining in the early '60s after having peaked in the late '50s and it is generally suggested to avoid anything made after 1978.  It's pretty clear why upon a close inspection.  Although I don't have any close-up photos, most of the brazes are either oozy or incomplete.  It should be fine though since Gilbert is to be a daily rider and not a museum piece.  Parts will be replaced and I feel less guilty modifying a less-valuable bike.  Maybe I'll learn how to braze just in case.  I am still expecting the smooth-yet-solid ride that I so love these steel sports roadsters for.  

The Raleigh Superbe was essentially a Sports that came with more standard equipment; think of the Mercury Sable and the Ford Taurus.  You can option up a Sports to be a Superbe like the first owner of my '58 Sports did, but that'd almost be pointless (too many people doing that to Fords is why Mercury is no longer a brand).  Besides the Dynohub, Superbes came with front fork locks that can be re-keyed if the key has been lost like it was here.  I'm not sure if it's really necessary for me, given that I'll be locking up both wheels and adding special locking nuts to the front wheel.  I wouldn't want anyone walking off with the new drum brake Dynohub that is on its way.  

The original headlight lens looks very clear and the bike seems to be in very good overall shape.  It's pretty much rust free and doesn't have many severe chips in the paint.  The kickstand was a piece of junk and was among some of the parts here that were no longer made in-house like on my '58. Being newer and Canadian-made, both wheels have the standard 36-spoke pattern rather than the 32/40 pattern of older English bikes like my old Sports.  The brake calipers here were some of the smoothest-operating, most symmetrically-clamping units I'd ever owned.  Into the parts bin they go! I wanted to ride the bike with its original setup while I waited for the parts to arrive, but things were just far enough out-of-whack that it would have taken too much work to enjoy it for only a week.  These were mostly things like loose or missing bolts.  Plus, it had finally just started snowing and Ann Arbor freaked out and showered all of its roads in salt, as it always does.  Disgusting.  I wouldn't want to have to clean that off before modifying the bike.  

I started disassembling the Superbe the next day and while its fenders were off, I photographed it in a vintage "path racer" setup for fun.  I am leaving the bars upside down but the fenders will go back on.  However, the first thing I noticed - not that I hadn't though about it earlier - was the headlight being too high in its stock position.  

I have two options, shown above.  I flipped the little clamp over to lower the headlight so the difference in the two photos are whether the bracket is right side up or upside down.  With it being right side up, it can't be aimed up any higher than it is in the photo.  It might be okay, it might not; I'll have to look at the beam once I have it all put back together.  I think it works and looks better with the bracket upside down like in the photo to the right.  I am paranoid that the headlight will slip off, but there are easy ways to get rid of that possibility. 

The crank was thankfully easy to clean off and the bottom bracket and fork bearings were bone dry - thank goodness I didn't start riding it was it was.  It's good that minimal cleaning was needed, though.  Yes, the bearing race is dented somehow, but I don't think it will be an issue.  There's no way for me to disassemble and re-assemble the bottom bracket with my current tools so I'll just put some oil in there and hope for the best.  Unlike my '58 Sports, this bottom bracket doesn't have an oiling port.  

While the bike was apart for cleanup, I filed the rusted parts where the paint had chipped off and mixed green, gold, and a surprisingly high amount of black paint to try to match the color.  Nails work well as paint spoons that release a drop with each pour.  I used an old bike spoke and a Hot Wheels box to mix and then some pieces of rope as brushes.  

The paint isn't as close of a match as it looks in these two photos.  I'm not sure if this is a thing with oil based paint, but it wouldn't consistently mix.  Ever.  Most of it ended up being more gold than it was supposed to be.  Oh well, at least the metal is protected.

This is how Gilbert sits right now, impatiently waiting for the new parts.  You might be wondering why I looked for a Dynohub if I'm going to be replacing it anyway.  Rest assured, I will not be throwing anything away and I am hoping that the AW and Dynohub will find another bike that I can enjoy them on.

Bonus: This is what you get when you have two "craftsmen" living in the same apartment.  One of my roommates builds and details model trains and one of his spray paint cans got clogged so I offered him a pin to un-clog it.  The valve then got stuck open and we both stood there for a few seconds in disbelief until he told me to get a bag to put the can in.  He ran down the hall and chucked it down the garbage chute.  So, to add to the oil stains from my bikes, the hallway carpet in front of our place now has silver paint.  What a shame, it was a nice apartment!