Monday, September 4, 2017
A Short Defense of 1970s-era Raleighs
One thing that is often repeated is that Raleigh's quality declined in the 1960s, to the point it was turning out over-priced, lower quality bikes in the 1970s (setting aside the high-end road bikes with the Super Course model and above).
This view has a basis in reality and comes from several sources that are generally quite good and reputable. But I tend to think it's misleading, and perhaps may be steering people away from some very nice, 1970s-era Raleigh bikes.
I generally agree that the more luxurious points of Raleigh's production declined with cost cutting in the 1960s, but that the 1970s-era bikes are often still well-made, and very reliable.
While some parts declined in finish and quality, they tend to still work well enough. Brake levers went from solid, smooth pieces to stamped and rolled; but they still work. Calipers were made cheaper and changed to Phillips pattern, but I've found they still work fine.
Raleigh added the oft-maligned self-adjusting brakes, but when set up properly they work rather nicely.
Sturmey Archer hubs went to cheaper parts, but they usually work well. I've got tons of miles on 1970s-era hubs and they still work perfectly well, every bit as well as my 1950s hubs.
These are just a few examples. I'll grant that quality control was probably a bit looser and there are some dogs from any era of manufacturing.
There are also a few features that really need replacing and were indeed all-around bad ideas. Going to clear plastic face plates on the Sturmey shifters was one such idea, but I tend to think these sorts of things are the exception rather than the rule with the 1970s-era Raleighs.
But I tend to think the 1970s era Raleighs are still classics, and still very capable bicycles. They may not have the cachet of a 1940s Raleigh Dawn Superbe, but these bikes are great utility machines with a lot of class.
The bottom line for me then on 1970s-era Raleigh is: sure, they're not as luxurious as the 1950s bikes, but they generally still work and work well. They have a classic look, they're not overly difficult to repair usually, and most of even the "cheaper" parts can be repaired or even replaced (e.g., those plastic shifter face covers) relatively easily. The bikes continue to soldier on and are great, classic Raleighs in their own right.