Saturday, November 21, 2015

The $500 3-speed: Challenge Accepted

Coinciding this recent article by Lovely Bicycle, my current roommate (the friend who commissioned the '76 Schwinn Varsity last year) had me build a 3-speed on a student's budget. Normally a single speed/fixed gear rider, he had borrowed my Raleigh Sports one day and immediately fell in love with vintage 3-speeds. Off I was on Craigslist, sniffing around for a diamond in the rough.

No sooner had I hopped online when I found a 1965 Hercules 3-speed (made by Raleigh) for $40 located about a mile from our apartment. The previous owner noted a problem with a loose and/or noisy bottom bracket, for which I already had a '69 Raleigh Sprite frame to donate parts.

I had no cotter press so I used the old shade-tree mechanic's method of removing pins by backing the nut out bit by bit while hammering the pin through. It turned out that the left side adjustable cup was installed backwards in a way that it did not thread into the bottom bracket shell. While the cotter pins of the Hercules came out with little effort, the ones on the Sprite were already destroyed by the previous owner which necessitated a visit to the local bike shop. The Sprite also donated two bearing balls. Re-using the original cotter pins on the Hercules has not caused any problems so far.

Overall, the bike was in amazing shape for its age. The paint was just slightly fogged over but was rust free with intact decals. The pinstriping was nearly unscathed. Some of the original consumable parts were still there, such as a very dry-rotted Dunlop front tire as well as the cloth rim strips which were still quite nice. The rims were shiny and the hub internals showed very few miles. The only rust removal done was of a bit of speckling on the underside of the handlebars.

Total elapsed time on the construction of this bike was less than 6 hours. My friend also liked the appearance and seating position of the upside down handlebars of my '79 Raleigh Superbe so he opted for that change. The original chain guard was gone, which he didn't mind, and we lowered the gearing with a 20-tooth rear sprocket.

I toed in the brake calipers with an adjustable wrench to reduce chattering. Other modifications include a Linus headlight, Kool Stop Continental brake pads ...

... a Crane brass bell, the clamp-on grips I used on my Superbe at first, and the Brooks B72 saddle I had on my Sports for a short time. The original stainless brake cables were still better than the replacements I had so we left those on. Also, the shifter and cable look to be from the late '70s and are the only non-original parts that the bike came to us with aside from the rear tire.

So, back to the title of this article. $500 is the benchmark for a dependable 3-speed and rightfully so, as discussed in the Lovely Bicycle! post. All in all, the entire bike with all of the modifications was $180. This included new tires, tubes, handle bar grips, chain, bell, brake pads, removal of bottom bracket parts from the donor bike, a 20-tooth cog, and a bargain Brooks saddle. The post had not yet been published when I completed the Hercules, but I later started wondering how much this bike would have costed if I built it up my way.

I would have added an alloy rear rack with a Wald 582 basket or pannier attached, just as I did on the Superbe. That would be roughly $50 total. Additional braking power and weight reduction could be achieved with new Sun CR-18 alloy rims, another $70. Including those items, the price would have risen to about $300. According to other writers, new spokes would not be needed if the originals were in good shape since the inner rim diameter of the Sun rims is close enough to those of the originals.

This leaves $200, perhaps to be used for the labor of a trusted bike shop. I could be wrong, but I doubt it would exceed that by much, if at all. This was still an easy build considering how clean everything was. We may have gotten lucky on the saddle and the price of the bike, but I'd say that $500 is still a very realistic budget for building up a vintage 3-speed as a dependable daily commuter.