Friday, July 10, 2015

The Holy Grail of Transportation Bicycles

This post was supposed to be titled "Raleigh DL-1: A Man Sure Can Dream" when I planned to write this article a couple weeks ago. I was then going to spend the majority of the post drooling over the '73 Tourist that Lovely Bicycle! used to own, talking about how historically significant these rigs are, and planning what modifications I would make with the DL-1 that I would someday own. Due to a roller coaster of events, the aforementioned title is no longer fitting and I'm not even mad about it! Why? Well, I introduce to you:

My very own 1975 Raleigh DL-1 Tourist! It's so long that it almost doesn't fit in my usual "photo frame area." Surprisingly enough, it lay comfortably in the back of my friend's '07 Ford Escape with the front wheel turned 90 degrees.

I wasn't even looking for one when I found this; rather, I was trying to get an idea of the price for a Raleigh Sports fork because of the likelihood that I'd need one in the future. I eventually found what I was looking for but the DL-1 suddenly popped up at a surprisingly low price.  I've wanted a loop frame DL-1 for a while now but had pretty much come to terms with the fact that I would likely not be able to afford one for a long time.  At least, I figured that with the current living arrangements, adding a gigantic dinosaur to my stable wouldn't be the best choice. Anyway, I pondered for a bit, looked at it sideways, upside down, backwards, and then thought, "why not?"

The photos online showed that the bike was in at least decent shape, but once I saw it in person, I was even more surprised.  This bike was all-original down to the tires and brake pads and looked like it was rarely ridden and always stored indoors.  Besides being sightly faded at the top of the rear fender, all of the pinstriping and decals were intact.  Much of the paint even had its original luster.  Check out the "Raleigh Roadster" lettering on the tires.  They are not terribly dry-rotted but I should probably replace them anyway.

The Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hub is dated March 1975.  Apart from some slight bearing adjustment and re-packing, it doesn't feel like it needs any major surgery. I mean, I'll still take it apart anyway because why not.  The standard 46/18 tooth gear ratio is aggressive for a 26"-wheeled Sports.  Match it with 28" tires instead and it's almost un-rideable.  Almost.  I took the DL-1 for a quick test ride after a few tweaks and it wasn't actually that bad.  It did have that magical acceleration that classic Raleighs seem to exhibit.  I will be swapping out the 18t cog for a 22 though and that will give me an identical cadence to that of the 46/20 cogs on my 26" wheel Sports.

EDIT: It has a 17t cog in the back.

Of course, you can't talk about an old English roadster without mentioning the rod brakes! When the bike was made in 1975, this technology had already been obsolete for 40 years. They are usually a pain to work with and are next to useless, especially in the rain.  On the plus side, once adjusted, they are extremely tough and low maintenance. I personally love the appearance of these, if anything.  They're just so cool!

While the front brake seemed well-tuned (or at least it hadn't fallen out of factory adjustment), the rear was missing one pad and the other one was on its way out.  It wasn't a concern though since I was already planning to order the pink Kool Stop replacement pads.  I had already thought about this, but if I really do feel the need for additional braking power, I could either put in a coaster brake hub or a drum brake hub actuated by the old rod linkage.  The difficulty would be finding a 40-hole compatible hub. With the coaster brake, I could keep the look of the old rod brake but with the drum, I wouldn't have to worry about my pedal position at a stop light.  At the moment, a brake conversion is not high on my list of priorities since I have other wet-weather bikes I can depend on.

The famous heron head badge peeks out from behind the brake rods.  Also, I am amazed at how well-preserved the tail of the bike is.  I expected it to be pretty banged up and scratched from having been smacked into things, but it's almost flawless!

I still can't believe I have my own DL-1 Tourist.  Considering how little it needs and how much enjoyment I will get out of it, I think I got a great deal.  Although I did ride it around the block after a few tweaks, there are a few things it needs before it is fully roadworthy.  I'll be giving it a good cleaning, a new KMC chain, a 22 tooth rear cog, Kool Stop salmon brake pads, and a Greenfield kickstand. What? This gigantic bike didn't come with a kickstand? I know, I was surprised as well. Anyway, I have put a nicer mattress saddle on since these photos were taken but I'm trying to score a vintage Brooks for cheap. I will clean and re-pack the bearings and the rod brake joints will get a bit of oil.  While those parts arrive, I am still trying to decide whether to get a few more miles out of these tires or to replace them right away.  I mean, wheel removal is pretty annoying on these rod brake roadsters so I would like to avoid doing it multiple times; I just wouldn't want to waste these tires since they still have quite a bit of life left in them.  The one thing I am wondering most about is that I would definitely like to have a rear rack, but I hear racks that actually fit and look good may be kind of rare and/or out of budget on this continent.  Dutch racks may be an option. If only I could get my hands on those beefy steel ones they still use in India ...

Images from Raleigh of Denmark

Something I wanted to mention while still planning this post originally was the fact that DL-1s, in a sense, are still being made today.  This was THE bike to have in mid-20th century England if someone wanted a solid, dependable commuter and apparently it has not completely fallen out of favor yet. The actual DL-1 was made from the 1940s to the 1980s, closely based on a design that came from the 1920s. I think the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy has worked well here, as Raleigh has been making the Tourist for almost 100 years! Since "Dutch" or "English Roadster" utility type bicycles remain popular in northern Europe today (make no mistake, Dutch bikes and English roadsters are totally different animals), I can see why the market for these is still there.  The features don't differ much from those of modern Dutch bikes: high handlebars, laid-back frame angles, internal gear hub, full chain case, drum brakes, and steel fenders.  Apart from the much-more-effective Sturmey-Archer drum brakes, these modern Tourists don't differ much from the classic ones, either. They even retain the old 28 x 1-1/2" wheel!  I would like to see a side-by-side comparison of the frame geometries, features, and whatnot.  If I had all the money in the world (hence the old title), I'd like to have a 5-speed "Tourist De Luxe Herre" to go with my classic loop frame.  I can imagine these are very nice riders, yet the prices are extremely reasonable.