The Enduring 3-Speed
By James Grahame
[Here's a post by long-time reader Jonathan Poet...]
I spent some time recently tuning up my wife's bike. It's a 40-year-old Hercules roadster that was built after Raleigh took over the company. It's got all the classic Raleigh features: a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub, a saddle with honest-to-goodness springs, sensibly-mounted fenders and "North Road" handlebars.The bike is holding up remarkably well. It still had its original tires and one of its original tubes, which had a Schrader valve that looked a little different than modern ones. (Rather than a black rubber stem with threads at the tip, this one had threads the whole length of the valve stem and a little knurled nut that screwed down over them to hold the stem to the rim.) I decided to swap out the tires for new ones, replace the brake pads and bring the moving parts back to life.
There are many good resources for help in maintaining bikes, but for old English 3-speeds like this, the best place to start is the massive site assembled by the late Sheldon Brown. It was there that I learned that my local bike shop inadvertently gave me the wrong size tires. ("Schwinn" 26 x 1 3/8 tires, it turns out, are different than "Raleigh" 26 x 1 3/8 tires.)
The thing I found most impressive about the project was how simple the bike is to maintain. The brakes and hub are adjusted with various nuts and screws, not unlike modern bikes. But unlike modern bikes, all the moving parts are made to be lubricated with oil, from the chain to the trigger-style gear shifter to the brake levers. The hub even has a little cap that allows you to lubricate it with — you guessed it — oil.
The bike is now — if not good as new — at least serviceable. If it were my daily commuter, I would probably make some other upgrades, like swapping out the pedals, handlebar grips and maybe the tired saddle. As a weekend rider, though, it will be dandy.
Raleigh still makes classic-looking roadsters. These days they have Shimano's version of the 3-speed internal-gear hub. Sturmey-Archer, at one time synonymous with Raleigh, is chugging along and still makes the AW hub that dates to 1936. The still-made-in-England Pashley uses Sturmey-Archer hubs on their classic bikes. So does Brompton on some models. -- Jon PoetSturmey Archer Heritage site