A little over a year ago, and not for the first or last time, I found my attention lapsing at work. I didn’t have a lot to do that morning and by the time lunchtime finally rolled around my train of thought had, inevitably, drifted almost completely towards bikes. After clicking around for a bit I ended up passing my lunch hour reading about Sheldon Brown’s love of the Raleigh Twenty, a hefty steel bicycle from the 70s with twenty inch wheels.
Although I had no intention of actually buying a Raleigh Twenty, when I looked on eBay to see what they’re worth there was one that struck me as especially pretty. A sucker for a nice shiny bike I popped a bid on it. Of course I had no intention of actually winning the auction – for one, the bike was in Lincoln and I live in Sheffield, and don’t drive. I was confident though that the act of bidding would, at the very least, add a little bit of excitement to my afternoon.
A few hours later and surprisingly I’d managed to find my motivation. My new found work ethic was to be short lived though, as I was soon interrupted though by an email telling me that I had, quite unintentionally, bought my first Raleigh Twenty. With hindsight I think that my bid was probably a little high, but it was much too late to dwell on that now. My hands tied, a short time later I hopped on a train to Lincoln to collect my new little steel steed.
I brought a few basic tools with me to Lincoln but was relieved to find that the bike was in good condition. Everything seemed to be there and the seller, who owned a small second hand shop, had even taken it upon himself to replace a broken quick release for me. Most of the original parts of the bike were present, including the dynamo lights (which not all models had) and it looked in pretty good nick for such an old bicycle.
Apparently there was only one previous owner and it had been sold to the shop during a garage clearance. Despite owning the bike for such a long time, this previous owner had changed it very little. The old white Brooks saddle had been painted a nasty shade of brown and the rack, the man in the shop told me, had been replaced with a similar but more rust-proof one. The pedals were also replacements but, in the words of the shop keeper, “at least they’re period”.
I rode my “new” bike around Lincoln a little and to work and back a few times, but quickly discovered both that the gears were extremely hit and miss and that the steel rim brakes were utterly useless for the hills and rain of Sheffield. The bike was quickly demoted to the sidelines and sat in my hallway for the next six months or more, unused and unloved.
The idea of having a working Raleigh Twenty for nipping around Sheffield on grew on me though, so eventually I started to modernise the bike with the intention of turning it into a neat little town-bike.
Raleigh Twenty Modifications and Upgrades
Vintage bike purists be warned, it stands, I have:
- Replaced all bearings and serviced the bottom bracket
- Replaced both wheels with some with aluminium rims
- Replaced various parts in the hub in a complete overhaul
- Replaced the three speed hub altogether with a modern eight speed hub
- Replaced the saddle
- Replaced the pedals
- Replaced the seat-post with a longer one
- Replaced the front forks and brakes
- Replaced the stem and handlebars twice
- Replaced half the headset
- Replaced the brake levers, bell…
- Replaced wearable parts including the brake blocks, chain, cables, and tyres
The sun is out, my bike has a new seat-post, a new stem, new front brake calipers and new-old pedals, and I'm back at my favourite lunch spot for a couple of falafel wraps… life is pretty alright #sheffieldissuper #sheffield #raleigh #raleightwenty #vintagebikeproject #raleighstowaway #norfolkpark #norfolkparksheffield #lunchspot #vegan #cycling
At this point original parts on my Raleigh twenty are the frame (obviously), the mudguards, the bottom brake and chain ring, half the headset, the rear brake, and various nuts and bolts. I wonder what the shopkeeper, enthused by “period” items, would have to say if he saw the bike now.
At this point there are few more things I would like to do to the bike, but the project is definitely almost finished. It’s actually one of the few that I’ve persisted with and in doing so I’ve learned a lot about vintage bikes. In fact I enjoyed the project so much that I have acquired two more Stowaways: a fairly rusty one which I bought on eBay for a fraction of the price of the first, and another that was found in a skip in the car park at work (right next to where I park mine as it happens).
I now ride “Twitchy Twenty” (a name which the bike picked up before I’d sorted out the headset) most days. It’s not my “best” bike, nor the one that I clock the most miles on, but I have become rather fond of it.