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.


  1. Hi
    I have recently found your blog and have enjoyed it immensely. I just bought last week my first and...second Raleighs. A pair of 1979 his and hers Sports.The bikes have a fair amount of of rust on the chrome but are otherwise in decent shape and do not have a lot of miles.
    I have a dilemma I would appreciate your opinion on. I am considering replacing the rime due to the pitting. I am adept at repairs but I have never laced a wheel before. I am considering the Sun CR-18 rims and news spokes reusing the front and rear Sturmey hubs. Locally I got a quote to respoke the rims for $55 including the spokes. When I add the cost of the rims @$34 I am at $90. Now Niagra sells a new front wheel using the CR-18 for $45, Harris is $60. Should I just buy a new wheel and not use the front Sturmey hub which is in great shape? The rear is a more expensive proposition at $160 with a new wheel plus Sturmey 3 speed and cable. Thoughts?

    1. How bad is the pitting, and what are your intended uses for the bike? The stock rims usually clean up pretty well and are sturdy. They do not brake very well by today's standards. They will work for leisure riding where quick stops are not generally needed. If you're commuting on them or want quick stops, you'll want to replace the rims with the CR18s because the braking is so much better.

      The job of lacing and building these Raleigh Sports wheels is not overly difficult if you pay attention to detail. They do not require dishing and you can replicate the pattern on the existing rims using the correct Sun CR18 rims (1979 should be 36 spokes front and back). The hardest part is actually making sure you have the correct length spokes. The actual building, tensioning, and truing is not too hard. If need be, you can build the wheels up to the point of truing, and save money by having the shop do only that. Whatever you choose, I would continue using the original hubs because they're generally well-made.

      So my suggestion is to run the stock hubs, provided the bearing surfaces are good still (usually they are). You can just clean up the stock rims if these are leisure/hobby bikes, but you'll want to swap to CR18 if you're commuting or really want extra stopping power. The job is not as difficult as it seems - just make sure you have the right length spokes for the job.

      Sheldon Brown's site and YouTube have a variety of tutorials for you. You've got a nice set of projects to work on at the very least.

  2. I like my 70's vintage Raleighs just fine. My "original" Raleigh is a 1970's (undated hub) Raleigh Sport Standard, purchased in 1982 for $25 it has been heavily used over the years. My 'Grail" bike was a 1970's Superbe. I have a 1972 that with a few tweaks is one of my all time favorite bikes.


    1. The '74 Sports was my main transportation for several years - great bike. You can still sometimes pick up '70s-era Raleighs for good prices, and they make a great 'value' pick for a vintage bike.


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