Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Still going old style

One of the things often overlooked by bicycle people here in the USA is that many familiar brands turn out bicycles unique to each country. For example, Schwinn and Columbia turned out balloon tire cruisers with coaster brakes in the US, but those sorts of bikes never attained full popularity outside the US. The novelty-focus of the balloon tire machines did not really take as practical transportation.

For many years utility shopper bikes and general purpose machines were go-to transportation in other countries, while they never really made it to the US market. After World War II, utility cycles finally started to flow into the USA for short distance transportation and exercise. I'm a big fan of these old utility cycles from the 1950s-70s, in particular English 3 speeds. The green bicycle from earlier posts is one such machine. In their most traditional form, the all-black, large wheel rod brake bicycles were made largely unchanged from the 1910s through early 1980s. The bicycle below is a 1978 Raleigh 3 speed roadster. The brakes use solid steel rods and mechanical linkages rather than the more commonly seen cable brakes. The brake pads rub on the inside circumference of the rim rather than the side of the rim. If it sounds awkward, it sort of is. It's an interesting approach, though they don't have the stopping power of modern brakes. They are interesting though.

These bicycles largely died out in the US by the 1980s. They were largely considered obsolete even by the 1960s, let alone by 1980 or so. Their technology was more or less perfected in the 1910s-30s era. However after an initial burst of interest in the 1890s, bicycles did not become popular options for adult transportation and exerciseagain in the US until the 1970s. When that happened, lighter bicycles with dropped, curve bars and 10 speeds were the norm. Only recently have utility bicycles made a bigger come back it seems, though in a different form from the earlier English bikes. While English 3 speeds are quite common in the US (the 1960s-70s models mostly), they never seemed to hit the massive appeal they did in other places. You can still find them around, often for cheap.

However, in places like the Netherlands and Denmark, these bicycles are still very popular. I was surprised to find that Raleigh's Denmark division is marketing some bicycles that are very close to the old style roadsters, and even very close to some types of roadsters rarely seen in the US.

These bicycles have the sought-after full metal case around the chain to protect the rider's pant legs, as well as other add-ons friendly to hauling a day's gear. They even come with their own small pump mounted to the frame, as the old English machines did. They have the classic internal gearbox for commute-friendly riding, as well as fenders to prevent mud and water splash. It has that "Swiss Army Knife" element with a little something for everything.

They still look much like the old roadsters made right in England. This video shows the making of a similar bicycle in 1945. 5 years after the German blitz, they were rolling along.

Somewhat Americanized versions of these bikes returned to the US in the form of the Electra Amsterdam series in the past few years. The hipsters love these over in DC and Montgomery County.

However, I will admit that these Danish Raleighs really do seem to capture the look and feel of the original, vintage machines. If one showed up in a local store, I'd seriously consider getting it. They really do follow the old school of design, which is how the Bike Shed rolls.

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