Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Oldest To Date: 1948 Raleigh Sports Restoration

So I walked into the Re-Use center, picked up a beautiful blue 1975 Raleigh Sports, and bought it ...

... and one of the workers commented "well somebody knew what he wanted. Hold up, I've got one of those that you might want to look at." So Kay took me to the back of the shop and the first thing I noticed was the full chain case.


There were Ann Arbor registration stickers all over the bike dating from 1959 to 1964 so he figured it was at least that old. I wiped just enough grime off the hub to reveal the date. I was awe struck; it was the oldest Raleigh Sports I had ever seen in person. Apparently this bike rolled into the recycling center a few weeks prior and Kay was quick enough to save it and claim it for himself. After a bit of ooh-ing and aah-ing, he ventured an offer: "Say, uh, what if I asked you to fix this one up for me?" So that day, I went home with two bikes in my car.

The bike was in great shape for being almost 70 years old. The brakes and shifter cable were properly adjusted. Most of the areas surrounding the drivetrain were covered in a thick layer of oil and dirt, which no doubt helped preserve it. All of the screws "down there" came loose with no trouble, save for (unfortunately) the bottom bracket cups. The brakes were also rust free and required nothing more than a quick cleaning.

The chain case, as expected, was a whole different animal. I removed the rear wheel, pushed the chain out of the way of the front chain ring, then removed the crank. I then had to cut the chain because it was so old it had a different kind of pin that I couldn't push out.

Right away, I started spotting some interesting differences between this bike and the newer Sports models that I have. First, the front fork blades on this one have a round cross section, rather than an oval section, making the fork crown noticeably wider. There was a "Raleigh" stamping across the back of the steerer. Also, the front dropouts are squashed and slotted rather than brazed inserts, and the front fender stay is thinner than the rear with very flat, thin eyelets on the end.

There was a sprinkling of blacked-out parts that are often present on older bikes for whatever reason. Chrome plating was already common in 1948, so these black parts may have been leftover wartime pieces. Left hand ball cup on the hub, right axle nut, seat tube clamp, and various cable clamps and pulleys on the frame were black. Also, this 1948 hub had a threaded driver rather than the standard 3-spline. I think this was a time when Sturmey-Archer was making the switch to 3-spline cog compatibility, as I've seen a 1948 hub with the 3-spline driver as well.

The lugs are also different (shown here as being a pre-1955 design) and the seat stays are not only capped like all pre-1963 Sports, but noticeably thicker at the top than at the dropout. Not pictured is the very faded "Raleigh Sports" decal on the seat tube, oriented sideways to be read from the non-drive side.

After blowing the bike apart and cleaning up the oily mess, I polished the paint for about six hours. The shine came back beautifully in most places. With old bikes like these, the quality of painted and plated finishes are often times of such high quality that parts that appear to be weathered or covered in surface rust can be easily restored to almost-new condition. A few days later, I went back to the wheels and spent another six hours polishing those with Quick-Glo. The original stainless spokes with "R" heads were still glossy, their finish preserved by the same coating of dirty oil.

The chrome tip on the front fender was missing, so I took the one off my 1969 Sports-turned-cargo-bike, removed the gray paint, and clipped it on. No rattles. I also noticed that the front handlebar was bent inward on the left. Was it dropped on its side, or was it hit by something?

The hardest part during this project was getting the new chain on. I had to turn the bike over, thread the chain in through the back of the case and push/pull it through with an old spoke. I then put it on the chain ring, cranked it over, and repeated the process on the other side. It may have taken a few tries.

And after that was done, I put the spoke through the chain and a screw hole on the chain case to prevent it from falling back in while I installed the rear wheel. Tricky stuff, but worth it. Thank goodness I didn't also have rod brakes to deal with. Even without the pie plate, the case keeps the chain so clean that chain service and replacement will rarely be a problem.

I really only had to replace the brake cables (with knarps to substitute for double ends) and pads, chain, and lube. Kay supplied his own saddle which was a well-preserved Middlemore. I have never seen this brand before and know nothing about it, but I guess they were pretty decent judging by how this one rides.

The bike came with a monstrous kickstand, connected to the axle, that added another level of deterrence to theft of the rear wheel (as if the chain case wasn't enough). The sad part is that it crushed the frame a little bit over the years.

Kay had mentioned that the bike would look better without the registration stickers, but didn't confirm when I asked him a second time. I felt like they added to the history of the bike so I left them there. A friend of mine has a 1977 Peugeot UO-8 with stickers dating from when the bike was new, all the way to present day.

I think the story is finished for now so here's some eye candy.

At one point in time, somebody replaced the original shifter with a late '50s unit.

The bike leans quite a bit with the kickstand down and the spring is weak. So far, I haven't really been able to trust it.

I think the front part of the fender was bent to the side at one point because the area between the fork blades is a bit crunched up.

I test-rode the bike to class and even with the stock 48/19t gearing, it was surprisingly quick to accelerate. The rear end felt slightly more harsh over bumps than my other Sports, maybe because of the thicker seat stays, maybe because of the low quality tires, or maybe because of the lack of springs in the saddle, all of which are things that I am no longer used to on my Raleighs. The front end was a bit smoother, possibly because the round fork blades had a smaller front-back length. I'm simultaneously surprised at how my sensitivity for this kind of stuff has increased, and doubtful, thinking that it may just be a placebo effect. Either way, I'm glad that such a great bike was rescued and put into good hands.

EDIT 10-13-16: Due to a funny twist of events, Kay ended up selling the whole bike back to me on the same day for a very reasonable price. Looks like it's here to stay! Some modifications I have planned are a Sturmey-Archer Dyno-Four rear hub, a period-correct light set and battery unit I have in storage, a double legged kickstand, better tires, and a large rear saddle bag with a support rack.