Here, we have a 1969 Raleigh Sprite frame loaded with modern, standard-dimension, standard-threaded parts. Be prepared for a long-winded explanation of how the idea came to be ...
Over a year ago, I had just finished taking a final exam when I saw someone hanging out on the lawn with a mid 1960s Hercules 3-speed. I walked up to compliment her on it and realized it had all new wheels with a Shimano Nexus 7 hub. She said it was her mom's old bike which her dad had given new wheels.
I saw the bike a few more times after that and was able to photograph it. Shortly after, on a different occasion, I bought a '69 Raleigh Sprite frame that was bare except for the fork, headset, bottom bracket, cranks, and chain guard. The original Sturmey-Archer S5 twin cable 5-speed hub was sadly gone; the previous owner had in no doubt sacrificed this bike for it. I really only wanted the leftovers for the fork so I would have a spare, and I tore everything else down for later use as well. For almost a year, I had a bare Raleigh frame sitting in the living room doing nothing. That is, until I went through my old photos and suddenly had a desire to imitate the Hercules I saw months earlier.
Left: 1936-2000 AW, hollow axle with chain shifting mechanism.
Right: 2015+ RS-RF3 with solid axle and rotary shifting mechanism
Rewind. Before I had the thought to start building, I had the winning bid a fairly new Sturmey-Archer RS-RF3 3-speed internal gear hub at a very low price. For those who don't know, this hub is the "new and improved" version of the S-RF3 which is the alloy shell version of the modern AW which itself is the new and improved version of the beloved classic AW that was standard equipment on almost all vintage 3-speeds. The hub is shifted by a rotary mechanism, hence the R prefix, which means none of the shifting mechanism protrudes past the dropouts. Benefits of this are that the rider doesn't have to worry about smashing the indicator chain if the bike falls to the right, the cable and wheel can be moved or removed without having to readjust cable tension, and that the axle can now be solid for extra strength and rigidity because the mechanism rotates around the axle instead of being pulled through it. .
Armed with a bare frame, a modern hub, and a new idea, I started gathering parts to do yet another classic Raleigh restomod. I bought a Sunlite fork and headset to replace the old one that I still wanted to keep separate. My initial thought was that I could build it up with standard 26" (decimal/mountain bike size) wheels, get rid of all of the Whitworth threaded 26 tpi components, and use it as a winter commuter but as the parts pile grew, I started second guessing the idea of having so much invested in a winter beater that wasn't actually a beater. However, I had already gone too far into this project to back off so I figured I could put it up for sale afterward and just ride it until another owner came around.
During spring break, all of the bike racks outside the architecture school were blocked off for construction. I was one of the few people hanging around there finishing projects so I figured I could bring my bike upstairs and just park it next to my desk. One of my former (and possibly future) professors walked up and found my '79 Superbe in all of its muddy, salty glory, still built up as my first Raleigh restomod at that time, and we started chatting. Long story short, she was kind of thinking to replace her Public C7 ("I mean, it's a good bike and there's nothing wrong with it, but I just don't love it, you know? I had a Raleigh in England and I loved that one ... " Trust me, I know that feeling!). So, I told her about this project and said that when it was done, she would be welcome to try it out to see if she liked it.
Months later, when all of the parts had finally arrived, I started stripping the frame and repainting. Having learned my lesson with my first restoration on the old Sports, I did not sand all the way through the original paint. Because rattle can paint is not as strong as factory lacquer, I figured if the new paint was going to get chipped, it would be better if it didn't go straight to the bare metal. I stuck a toilet paper tube in the bottom bracket, which I had Paul re-thread to 24 tpi to take a standard sealed cartridge, so the threads would not be clogged with paint. I did all of the work in my balcony and had the whole family helping out, holding parts and supplies while they dried in between coats. Thankfully, the only overspray that happened ended up being on my work stand. I used scratch-filler primer, Duplicolor GM Gunmetal Gray Metallic, and a matte clear coat.
As a side note, I had recently found Paul's shop, On Your Left Bikes, in a neighborhood just south of campus when I was out cruising. He had several vintage 3-speeds for sale and was also extremely knowledgeable. He had an old Raleigh-made Rollfast that he called the "New Old English" because he had built it up with alloy cranks, stem, handlebars, and Sun CR18 rims along with a new S-RF3 hub and sealed bottom bracket. This is how I found out he could re-thread my bottom bracket for me.
My friend Corinne, who recently got into bikes, came over to help with assembly and learn a little about the old and the new. It was interesting because I come from the world of vintage bikes: old grease, proprietary parts, and loose balls, whereas she was more accustomed to dealing with high-end, brand new road bikes.
First things first, the classic Raleigh bottom bracket is 71 mm wide and new bottom bracket cartridges only come in 68 or 73, so I bought a 73 and used a 2 mm spacer washer on the drive side. For one, putting it on this side helped hide it since it had a huge outer diameter, and it also helped push the chain ring further from the frame.
It wasn't surprising at all when initial assembly did not go as planned. After all, the whole bike was a parts salad. The 110 mm axle on the bottom bracket I bought was too short and the chain ring touched the stay, so I ordered a new Shimano UN55 that had a 118 mm axle. After I solved that problem and put the chain on, I found that the chain rubbed on the arm that held the shifter cable because this particular hub came with the attachment for completely-horizontal track dropouts, not the one for sloped dropouts. After I ground down the bit of the arm that could be ground smaller, I took it for a ride and the alloy 170 mm crank arms proved to be way too long (especially with the smaller wheels) and also extended outward too much, so the pedals hit the ground even through mild turns. So, I ordered some vintage-looking steel 165 mm cranks. These cranks came with a pie plate that was riveted to the chain ring so I had to drill them all out to get it to fit under the old chain guard. On the second test ride, the new cranks worked beautifully. Because of shipping time, this small process in itself took about a month so I was glad to get that over with.
Another problem I ran into was that the old Schwinn-approved Weinmann brakes I intended to use did not have enough reach for the smaller wheels so I ordered a pair of Tektro R985a calipers. The funny thing was the the fronts and rears that came together were different; the front one as shown here was a dual-pivot, and the rear was a single-pivot that had less reach and therefore didn't work. That one went to another Raleigh with its old wheels and I had to buy another rear caliper for this bike and ensure that it was the longer, dual-pivot one that I was getting. These brakes, however huge, are actually quite nice. Power would probably be mediocre to someone who is used to modern brakes, but these are far better than the ones on my other old bikes. They were easy to dial in and just feel nice to use.
Cable routing on this bike was more than a little annoying. As I mentioned before, the "shifter cable anchor arm" or whatever it's called that came on my hub was meant for track dropouts, so it protruded downward in an ugly way. At least it doesn't get in the way of the chain anymore. Also, for the rear brake, old calipers could usually be converted between "men's" and "women's" models by swapping the anchor bolt and adjuster between top and bottom, but as is visible in the previous photos, the adjuster on these calipers needed to be on top and the anchor needed to be on the bottom. The design made no provisions for swapping them back and forth however easy it would have been. So, I had to route the brake cable up the seat tube and back down again. I really don't like when brake cables are routed this way on step-through frames, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cable housing was not as mushy as I thought it would be.
Since this old frame was loaded with new parts, I thought I could get a bit creative with the details. The old headbadge was riveted poorly so I removed that and stuck on a more modern aftermarket one. I'm not sure if these were actually used on production bikes. The tail also received a modern decal.
The downtube decals are my favorite part. Again, these are modern, I think, and the script is just so nice. And for the seat tube, I took a 2030 tubing decal that would have been on a 1969 Raleigh just to keep it true to its roots.
I added an early '70s "Sprite" sticker on the chain guard just as a reminder that this wasn't a standard Sports in its previous life, even though it's not a 5-speed anymore. Lastly, the "Made in England" decal on the top tube which came with the 2030 sticker also keeps a bit of its old identity. All of the decals here were applied before I sprayed the matte clear coat just to keep them from being too shiny.
A few last touches I made were battery powered lights mounted to the bike since I know not everybody is willing to throw down the cash for a Dynohub like I am. I added mud flaps, a kickstand from a different 1969 Raleigh, and an alloy seat post.
Just as a final rundown of what I did to bring this bike up to date, for those who are curious ... So I had the bottom bracket tapped from 26 to 24 threads per inch and used a new Shimano UN55 73 x 118 mm sealed-bearing bottom bracket with a 2 mm spacer washer. Square taper 165mm cranks and Diamondback Bigfoot BMX pedals were used in place of the old cottered cranks and rubber block pedals. The rear hub, as previously stated, is Sturmey-Archer's most modern 3-speed, the RS-RF3. Rims are alloy instead of steel and have a 559 mm bead seat diameter, rather than the old 590 mm, 26x1-3/8 English size. I bought the front wheel pre-made and had someone assemble the rear for me for the first and only time so far. The front wheel is generic, and the rear is an Alex DM24 rim with my usual choice of DT Champion stainless spokes. Panaracer Tour 26x1.75" tires with reflective strips are fat and smooth and provide extra visibility at night. Fenders are old-school Raleigh from 1979 but those didn't need to change. The Tektro R985a brake calipers, despite their length, are stiffer and better than the old Raleigh ones because they are aluminum alloy and not steel. I used a new Sunlite fork with the standard 24 tpi headset. The 1980 Takara stem has an 85 mm run and a standard 25.4 mm clamp diameter instead of the old English 23.8, so I was able to use the modern alloy Velo Orange Tourist handlebars that I had briefly on my Superbe. Aside from that, every single nut and bolt, including the ones holding the chain guard on, are standard thread (yes, those used to be Whitworth threaded as well). The thought here is that if I am no longer in town and my professor has to get this serviced at a regular shop, they would be spared from the trouble of sourcing vintage proprietary parts.
So, how does it ride? Actually, surprisingly well. And by that, I mean of course it rides well, but it's very similar to an old 3-speed. I had my doubts in the beginning because the Sunlite fork had significantly less rake than the old Raleigh fork, plus I used a stem with an extra long reach, but for one, the fatter tire dampens road shock and slows the handling, and the long stem and the more swept-back bars put the hands back where they are supposed to be on an old 3-speed. About the tires, yes, I do believe they are heavy enough to affect handling. As someone who puts puncture protection before lightness when selecting tires for commuter bikes, I was surprised to have noticed the difference. That being said, they ride smooth over the horrible roads here and I still did not have difficulty keeping up with traffic. Aside from the weight of the tires, I actually like the handling of this bike more than that of my other old bikes because the hand position is the same, but the higher trail makes steering more responsive and also more conducive to riding hands free - not that I ever do that or suggest doing that in traffic, but it was noted. The RS-RF3 hub was the smoothest shifting hub I had ever used. My only complaint is that Sturmey-Archer doesn't make old style trigger shifters for the rotary series; the trigger shown here has two paddles and is just a tad less natural to use. When you're coasting, you can't tell which gear you're in just by feeling with your finger. Lastly, I can't say all of the weight reduction involved in this build actually affected the ride quality that much, whether it's because of the tires or just because it's still an old Raleigh (read: in stock form they accelerate like they weigh half as much), but the bike never felt truly heavy or cumbersome as my Schwinn does sometimes. It cruises along swiftly and comfortably, and that's what it was made to do.
EDIT: It's for sale here