My initial search for a Raleigh ‘Twenty’ led me to the unlikely discovery and purchase of a Raleigh ‘Shopper’. The story of how this happened is told further below. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making the Raleigh ‘Shopper’ roadworthy, practical and safe. Like all of my projects, this has been a labour of love and as the saying goes, you can’t hurry love! To learn more about the journey of this bicycle, read on.
The Raleigh ‘Twenty’
Inspired by English engineer Alex Moulton’s eponymous Moulton Bicycle, the Raleigh ‘Twenty’ was a hit in the 1960s-1970s. The ‘Twenty’ was discontinued in the mid 1980s. Many avid cyclists have owned a ‘Twenty’, including the famous North American mechanic, Sheldon Brown.
My parents own a metallic light blue Raleigh ‘Twenty’. It’s an original folding model, produced in 1975 by the Raleigh Bicycle Company in Nottingham, England. You can identify the bicycle’s origin by the head badge – it features the place name ‘Nottingham, England’. The year of production can be determined by examining the month/year date stamp on the Sturmey Archer hub in the rear wheel. The bicycle was given the name ‘Twenty’ after its wheel size, which has a diameter of 20 inches.
The family Raleigh ‘Twenty’ is a bit of a heirloom. As the bicycle mechanic of our small tribe, it may be passed down to me at some point in the future. In the meantime I decided I would set out to buy one for myself. I scoured eBay, Gumtree, and online bicycle sites and was happy to discover that there are quite a few models for sale in the Sydney metropolitan area.
On the Bike Trail
On 18 February 2018 I visited a seller in suburban Marrickville and found the condition of their Raleigh ‘Twenty’ bicycle to be quite poor: rusty, missing parts, caked in grease and dirt. Given it’s iconic name, the seller was hoping that I would overlook the parlous state of the bicycle and pay the small premium they were asking. The work and cost required to refurbish the bicycle meant it would personally cost me hundreds of dollars. I offered half of the asking price, which, let’s just say, didn’t go down too well.
A few days later, I spotted a Raleigh ‘Shopper’ on eBay. The ‘Shopper’ was a late variant of the ‘Twenty’ and features rare 22 inch wheels. It also came with a front rack, attached to the frame rather than the handle bars. This is a huge bonus because when weight is placed on the rack, it doesn’t interfere with steering control. It also extends the centre of gravity of the bike making it a more stable structure under load when parked or in motion.
The model being advertised on eBay appeared to be in mint condition. Rather than being auctioned, it was offered for sale on a buy-it-now basis. Given its rarity and collectability, I was quite surprised that it hadn’t been snapped up. Due to the fact that the seller was based in Adelaide and it was local pick-up only, this may have put off folks living in the eastern states. The opportunity was too good to pass up, so I asked them if they would ship to Sydney. Much to my delight, they agreed! The cost of shipping the bicycle via TNT was quite affordable.
The item arrived on 2 March 2018. Well packed in a large cardboard box, I found it leaning against my apartment door. I didn’t waste time unpacking the bicycle. On initial inspection, it appeared to be a very well preserved specimen for its vintage, with only a few hints of rust. I was surprised at how new it was, its untarnished steel gleaming brilliantly. It’s unlikely the bicycle has ever been ridden. My sense is that it has probably been warehoused in a cool, dry archive-like environment for decades.
That same evening, I emailed the seller, quizzing him about the bicycle’s origins. He replied promptly, telling me that it was from a deceased estate, adding that he couldn’t reveal further information about the provenance of the bicycle. This obscure nugget of information deepens the little mystery of the bicycle’s near 40 year hidden history.
The Raleigh ‘Shopper’
I inspected the AW Sturmey Archer 3-speed internal hub to glean details about the year of production. The hub was assembled in England in October 1980. Because various parts had been produced in Asia, I am not confident in asserting that the bicycle itself was produced in that year and month. That said, a vital clue in ascertaining year of production is the serial number, 0108250, located beneath the bottom bracket. I’m hoping that someone who knows about these things will stumble upon this essay and shed some light on the meaning of the serial number.
To state the obvious, the number of Asian-made parts on the bicycle indicates it had not been manufactured in England. This was not mentioned in the advertisement, which I think is a curious omission. Where the ‘Nottingham, England’ place-name should appear under the gorgeous Herron crested head badge, it has been substituted with a string of the forward slash symbol (/).
The quick release clamp was made by SunTour, a Japanese giant in cycling components in the 1970s. The tires were manufactured by Taiwanese rubber conglomerate, Cheng Shin. The very rare-sized 22 inch rims were manufactured by Kinlin, also Taiwanese. A significant number of other Taiwanese-made parts point to the bicycle being manufactured in that country. The Taiwanese have been producing high quality bicycles for decades, and this particular model is no exception.
Making the ‘Shopper’ Roadworthy
Over the next few days I removed the seat post and stem to inspect for potential galvanic corrosion. Luckily there was only very mild rust, which was removed without effort. The rubber tires appeared to be breaking down, so I removed them and the rim tape, exposing the inner rim and spoke nipple heads to open air conditions for the first time in the bicycle’s history. Not surprisingly, spot rust was evident on both rims. Using a gentle abrasive I removed the rust and greased the nipples to prevent further corrosion. As my aim was to make this bicycle road worthy, I ordered new rim tape, Kenda tubes, and Schwalbe flat-proof 22 inch tires.
The bicycle does not appear to have been torqued for normal riding conditions and the wheels needed minor realignment and truing. Performing these remedial adjustments was fairly routine.
The brake levers were stiff. I replaced the cables, very lightly greased them and routed them through new cable housing. Adjusting the brakes shoes on the rims was straightforward. The Sturmey Archer hub requires a special gear cable which one can purchase on the internet. Calibrating the gears of a Sturmey Archer is an art in itself as demonstrated by popular YouTube bicycle mechanic, R J the Bike Guy.
Once I completed mechanical repairs, I adjusted the saddle height and set off for my first test ride. As the rims and frame are made of steel, the extra weight means riding up hills, even in low gear, requires additional effort. It’s a solid ride and is most suited to town biking, that is, riding on surfaces with little to no grade. Even then, a not inconsiderable amount of effort is required to gain momentum when pushing off in first gear.
Having conducted two test rides around Balmain and Rozelle, I found the stock standard AW (wide-ratio) Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub to be highly geared. Rather than apply undue force to the low-gear pawls and cranks, one is well advised to dismount and push when an incline presents itself. [Update: Since publishing this piece I have learnt that to reduce the gear ratio, the standard 18 tooth sprocket can be replaced with a sprocket that has a higher tooth-count]
I’ve read somewhere that the braking power of Raleigh models with steel rims is substandard. This has certainly not been my experience. I had full command of the bicycle’s deceleration and after some initial squeaking the brakes settled in quite nicely.
Enhancing the Utility of the ‘Shopper’
The bicycle has both a rear and front rack. Unlike the UK version, the front rack of this Asian model does not have a spring loaded mechanism to extend its surface area. Given this bicycle is intended for shopping expeditions (hence the name ‘Shopper’) the front rack’s potential is only realised when a carrying device is attached to it. Panniers won’t do, because any material protruding below the rack will come into contact with the front wheel as soon as it turns. The only solution is to install a tray, basket or box.
After studying several front carrier models on Pinterest, I decided on a wooden box design. The cost of buying one from overseas seemed prohibitively expensive and would still have required additional fabrication to attach it to the front rack. I decided to build my own one instead and set about getting a quote for the wood required.
One autumn morning on my way to the bus stop I noticed an empty wine box outside the front of the Merton Hotel on Victoria Road, Rozelle. It was the prefect size, 330 mm long by 295 mm deep by approximately 170 mm high. I wasted no time in removing the cheap nails holding the pine box together. So that the reassembled box wouldn’t obstruct the light that I had installed on the headset, a University colleague kindly cut the height of the pieces down to 135 mm. I sanded and painted the wood with three coats of marine grade varnish. I then joined and fastened the pieces with glue and gold plated countersunk screws. The next step was to fasten the box to the front rack of the bicycle.
I removed the front rack to facilitate easy installation. Then, aligned the centre of the box with the rack. After drilling 8 x (lots of) 5 mm holes I attached the box to the rack with 4 x saddle clamps which were wrapped around the rack’s tubular structure and fastened to the box’s base with M5 tapered bolts. Finally, to prevent items from flying out of the box while the bicycle is in transit, I attached a Topeak cargo net. To do this, I drilled 3 x 10 mm holes on either side the box’s base to attach the cargo net’s 6 x hooks and finished this off by gluing protective grommets in each hole. Practical and pleasing to the eye, overall, I’m happy with the result of the envisaged and executed carrier solution.
Passive safety features such as reflectors fitted to various points on the bicycle (wheels, racks and pedals) while helpful in reducing the hazard of not being seen at night, are insufficient for safely operating the bicycle after dark. As I’ve mentioned in a previous bicycle entry seeing is just as important as being seen. Lighting up a poorly lit suburban road is critically important in avoiding collisions with potholes, road debris, animals, people and motorised vehicles.
I had the option of attaching temporary front and rear LED lights. There are some really affordable and effective ones on the market, such as Bontrager’s city bike lights. But I wanted something more permanent, that would pay for itself over time. Hence, I decided to go with dynamo powered lights.
Because I didn’t want to disturb the integrity of the front wheel, I opted for a bottle dynamo over a hub dynamo. The bottle dynamo rests lightly on the sidewall of the front tire, generating electricity as the wheel turns. The bottle dynamo historically predated the hub dynamo, and its reputation as a loud and slippery-when-wet thing has unfairly endured. The latest bottle dynamos, by Dutch security company AXA, for example, are superb and much more efficient than hub dynamos I have recently worked with.
The dynamo is connected to the powerful front light, an AXA Blueline 30 Switch LED. To light up the rear of the bicycle, I drew a marine grade cable from the front light along the single-tubed frame, under the rear fender and through the grommet out to the rear light’s positive and negative terminals. In case you’re wondering, I used 3M ‘No Residue’ duct tape to fix the cable to the underside of the rear fender. Great stuff!
Initially, I had attached the light to the stem of the bicycle. But, when I took it for a test ride with the carrier attached, I quickly realised the folly of my ways. The box, cut the light off from streaming directly in front of the bicycle’s path and instead deflected it back into my face. Fail! Arising from this oversight, I relocated the light underneath the box. This required a complete rewire, but it was worth it as the job ended up looking more professional than my initial cabling effort.
For those curious about the operation of the dynamo lights, when the bicycle comes to a complete stand-still, the lights used for the ‘Shopper’ come with a ‘standing light’ safety feature. With the bicycle in stationary mode, both front and rear light (Busch & Müller Secula plus) stay on for 4 minutes, albeit at a reduced but still effective luminosity.
The above repairs, adjustments and additions did not happen in sequential order nor did they take place quickly. Commencing at the end of summer 2018 and concluding at the start of spring 2019, the project took 18 months to complete. During this period I also worked on other bicycle projects, such as the Joycee project. The information in the table is fairly self explanatory. Perhaps I should just point out that because I adjusted the brakes and gears periodically, the date range of this task spans the duration of the project.
|Bicycle arrives||2 March 2018|
|Inspection||2-5 March 2018|
|Adjusting brakes and gears||2 March 2018-25 August 2019|
|Refurbishment of wheels||27 December 2018|
|Fabrication, wiring and light installation||27 December 2018-1 January 2019|
|Installation of bottle dynamo||27 December 2018-1 January 2019|
|Fabrication and installation of front carrier||13 May-6 July 2019|
|1st Test ride||25 August 2019|
|Repositioning of front light and complete rewire||29-30 August 2019|
|2nd Test ride||31 August 2019|
|3rd Test ride||3 September 2019|
The First Shopping Expedition
I’d like to conclude with a tasty morsel of irony. It’s 10 PM. The dynamo bottle twirls away at a low hum. The bicycle lights the path ahead. It’s my third and final test ride and I’m guiding the ‘Shopper’ towards my local supermarket. Too precious to park alongside the local beaters in the bicycle parking lot out front, I wheel her into the supermarket, the inimitable click-click-click of the Sturmey Archer hub heralding our arrival.
Besides the lonely night packers, it’s just me and the ‘Shopper.’ I casually place items in the carrier, quite delighted with my bicycle-cum-shopping trolly. Just as I’m about to enter the ‘Tea and Coffee’ aisle, I’m intercepted by a very determined and serious young man, who tells me in no uncertain terms that bicycles are not permitted in the store. I try to point out, in vain, that this is no ordinary bicycle, taking the trouble to illustrate its fine attributes as a shopping trolley. But…he’s not buying it. 🚲
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Thank you to my good friend and colleague Angela Powell for her many helpful editing suggestions. Any errors or omissions are my own responsibility. This essay was originally published on 4 Sep 2019. It was updated on 4 May 2020.