55) 1955 RaleighRead Now
Status: Belongs to a Client
Made in England
Frame & Fork: Raleigh Industries 2030 High Carbon Steel Tubing
Sturmey-Archer 1960 Internal 3-Speed rear hub and 1959 front dyno hub (original had 1955 3-speed rear hub with dyno)
One day my good friend, Rob, mentioned that he had an old Raleigh and wondered if I could restore it. His Dad bought the bicycle soon after returning from the Korean War and not long after Rob was born in 1951. He rode it in the 1950’s and Rob's earliest memory of the bike was when he would have been around five years old. Rob's Dad was a career military man, a Brigadier General in the Canadian Army when he retired. He was the Commander of Camp Gagetown in New Brunswick and then was transferred to Vancouver as the BC area commander. That was in the early 1960’s and around then Rob inherited his Dad’s bicycle and through his teen years rode that bike all around Vancouver. In his late teens, Rob upgraded to a 10 speed that was a lot more efficient for riding to work and back. That bike was a Flandria and was a big step up from the old three speed. Rob hung on to the old three speed and brought it to Wells, BC with him where he spent eleven years. Towards the end of his time there Rob moved on to a mountain bike. His brother-in-law, who also lived in Wells for a time, was without a bike so Rob gave him the old three speed. He rode it for a few years then gave it back to Rob when he moved. The Raleigh was pretty worn and tired at this point but Rob hung on to it. Finally at his home in Kelowna, Rob thought the Raleigh had reached its end and he turned it into a garden ornament. His wife Shari planted a rose bush in front of it and it looked quite lovely. Shari stayed in the house after they separated and after a few years the old garage was in very rough shape and had to go. The bike and rose bush were against the wall of this garage so Shari transplanted the rose bush and she asked Rob if he wanted the bike back. At this point Rob had seen a few of the bikes I had restored and that’s when he approached me and asked me if there was any hope for this bike. The bike was unrideable. The handlebars were seized perpendicular to their appropriate position, the chain was rusted solid, the wheels had disintegrated and it was completely covered in rust. It looked like it was ready for the scrap metal bin. I told him that if I could get it apart and if the seat post and bottom bracket weren't seized, it might have potential. I really wanted to bring this important part of Rob's history back to its former glory so I agreed to take on the project.
It typically takes me 20 min or less to disassemble a bike. This one took nine hours! Almost all the parts had to be cut off the bike with a grinder or hacksaw because they were rusted solid. The bottom bracket, seat post and handlebar were all seized in the frame and took many hours to finally get out of there. Most of the parts weren't reusable so I started looking for a parts bike. I found a 1960 Raleigh in Oakland, California, only a few blocks from my aunt's house where I was visiting last fall. It was also in rough shape, with lots of rust, but at least things moved. Between the two bikes, I was able to get enough parts to put this one together. Every single bolt, washer, nut and part had to be polished to remove rust. There were complications all along the way and I thought about giving up many times. Nothing went together easily and everything took 10x longer than it should have. For example, I couldn't find bulbs that would work for these 1950s bicycle lights. I ended up replacing all the wiring and using LED lights in place of the bulbs. They look vintage on the outside but they're modern on the inside. The bottom bracket usually takes only a few minutes to install. This one took many hours as the original was too rusty, the parts one had a bent spindle, the threads were so rusty the cups wouldn't thread in enough to snug up the bearings, a new one I ordered was a few mm out and didn't work with the chain guard, etc. At one point, I had the bike all together and it looked great but the rear brake, rear hub and bottom bracket wouldn't work properly and the chain wouldn't align properly. I wanted it to look nice but it needed to work well, too. After many frustrating days, bloody knuckles, broken tools, and lost sleep, I finally got it not only looking great but working well, too. Would I do it again? Let's just say this is the last time I take on the restoration of a garden ornament. Do I regret it? Not one bit! The look on Rob's face made it all worth while!
2/25/2023 12:15:00 pm
I am inspired to leave a comment as I am the very fortunate owner of this bicycle. Anyone looking at those photos of the bike before Mike began would totally understand if he had given up or not even started in the first place but he decided to take on this project. A real tribute to Mike’s perseverance and commitment, he has turned it into a real showpiece and something I will pass along to my family one day. I currently have it on display in my living room and it makes me smile every time I walk by. I’m looking forward to spring and taking it out for a ride although when I brought it home I did take it for a test ride in the parkade of my condo building and not only does it look really good, everything works perfectly, just like new! I couldn’t be happier and looking forward to taking it for a ride outside when the weather improves!!!
2/25/2023 04:40:54 pm
I am beyond impressed with the quality of your work. Rob is my brother and I remember the bike well, both from it's original glory days and it's final tour of duty as a garden ornament. Thank you so much for restoring a family heirloom to it' original condition. Your talent, commitment and dedication have sent out ripples of joy through the family.
3/1/2023 10:13:39 am
This is such a fun story from start to finish. I'm the brother-in-law who was mentioned in the history of the Raleigh bicycle. When Rob offered the bike to me, I was glad to have it and happy to "keep it in the family". (Rob has passed along a couple of his other possessions over the years.) During my ownership, I enjoyed riding the Raleigh; in my childhood years, I had owned a CCM semi-racer with the same 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gears that this bicycle has. It was a nice reminder of my younger days; owning a Raleigh then was like a status symbol for a ten-year-old. After I moved away from Wells, I bought a new 18-speed mountain bike and the Raleigh sat unused until I offered to give it back to Rob. That's when it became the garden decoration that eventually was restored. It looks great, ready for the next generation to enjoy.
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Mike the Bike