Sunday, October 1, 2017

Side-by-Side: 1958 Raleigh Sports and 1970 Raleigh Sprite

Side-by-Side: 1958 Sports and 1970 Sprite


 Let's compare two classic Raleighs, both based on the same "Sports Light Roadster" frame/platform. The story for this Side-by-Side begins in the 1950s. In those years, Raleigh was at the height of its powers - building a high volume of generally high quality bicycles in a wide variety of style.

The black bike above is a 1958 Sports with a four-speed FW hub.  It's a luxurious, well-made bicycle that is in great shape after almost 60 years. It looks like it could easily do another 60, and then some.

During the course of the 1960s, Raleigh's quality declined. Corporate governance demanded lower production costs.  By 1970s, Raleigh was still making tons and tons of bikes, but they were cutting a few more corners. These are still good bikes, but the ultra-luxurious touches of the 1950s had started disappearing.

The green bike is a 1970-ish Raleigh Sprite. The Sprite is also well-made, but there are a few differences we can explore.

We notice how similar these bikes are from afar. They're the same style of frame, same style of fenders (apart from an extra brace on the Sprite rear fender), same saddle type, same riding position, and same basic mechanical layout.


The '58 Sports has an upside-down shifter. This particular bike would have originally had a plain, painted-face shifter. However, this Sports has a nicer, "window" shifter specially made for the 4-speed FW hub. The faceplate is luxurious and nicely decorated. It works well.


On the Sprite, you immediately notice the Sprite has an S-5 hub and the oddball dual-stick shifters. They function like friction shifters from a road bike, and the goal was to head in that direction. It's an interesting touch, and there are "semi-stops" in the travel of the shifters. They do, sort-of, let you know when you're in the gear position. However, the shifters easily travel past the stops. You essentially need to memorize your shifter position on the drive/clutch side.  


 Above is the 1958 Sports fork. I wanted particularly to point this variation out, because many people miss it. Notice that the drop outs are actually round in profile where they meed the fork blade tubes. The tubes were cut clean off and the drops brazed in using a round-mouth profile.

Let's get even more detailed - the 1958 Sports fork drop-outs have hidden recesses in them that affirmatively seat the axle nuts. The axle nuts have shoulders on them to specifically lock into those hidden fork dropout recesses. 

Above: the 1970 Sprite has the more commonly seen "slice and braze" style of fork dropout. The tubes were sliced such that a tongue protrudes on two-sides of the fork blade tube. Then the drop out is brazed in using a sandwich method.

No fork dropout recesses here - they're plain drops and plan nuts. But you do get the funky red "R" acorn nuts. Both systems work fine, though the 1958 forces the wheel to lock into position, whereas the plain Sprite dropouts allow for a little wheel tilt. 

Brakes and Pulleys

Here's an easier one. The 1958 Sports uses the double-ended, proprietary caliper brakes. 

 And the 1970 Sprite uses more convention brakes that take a single-ended cable.

 Above we see a luxury touch: the Sturmey Archer cable pulley wheel actually mounts directly into a braze-on piece attached to the frame. No clamps here - we've got something nicer.

And where's the Sprite pulley? There isn't one. The Sprite's cables run through nearly-full-length housings to stops way down on the seat stays. No pulley wheels needed, but the cable resistance is a little higher.

Stems and Chainguards

The 1958 Sports has a common, bulky-type Sports stem. It's boxy, and sort of heavy, but it's nice. The chrome is really outstanding.

Here's a place where I think the Sprite actually offered an improvement: a nicely profile stem with an hourglass contour to it. Chrome is still nice.

Now for something a little more arcane - the 1958 Sports has a basic, but sturdy clamp-on chain guard.

 And the Sprite: chain guard bolts right into a nice set of braze-ons. Both systems work fine, but the Sprite is a little cleaner in this regard. Sprite lacks pump pegs, whereas the Sports has pump pegs. I've added frame pump clamps to the Sprite. The pump on the Sports is really nice.


Both bikes are high-end Raleighs from their respective eras. There are no losers here.  Overall, I think the Sports is a little nicer, but the Sprite is a little quicker with it's extra top-end gear. 

The biggest letdown for the Sprite is the friction-style shifter, which is something that never should have been marketed. They should have thought up something involving positive "stops" or "clicks", but it's a little too late for this game now. You get used to the friction shifters, but you always end up preferring the handle bard click shifter like the Sports has.

Don't be afraid to buy either - you'll do well with both of these types of bikes.

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