Sunday, January 30, 2011

Desert Raleigh

When borrowing a bicycle from my hotel in Tucson earlier this month, I walked outside to see what was on offer. I had been told to expect a raggedy collection of weather-worn cruisers, but to choose whichever I liked.

Imagine my surprise when this was locked up alongside the cruisers:

It was a 1968 Raleigh Sports in black.  The paint was in new condition and it was clearly the apple of someone's eye.  It had been lovingly, if bizarrely, customized.

For example, there was a new Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub in place of the original and a shifting mechanism that looked unnecessarily huge.  New alloy wheels had replaced the Nottingham steel versions.  But these were nothing compared to the additions made to the saddle and handlebars.  First, the bars:

These are big eye bolts, basically.  They're screwed into sawed-off sections of a broom stick and then the whole thing was glued into place in the bar ends.  I studied this bike for ages, trying to understand if the loops had some function for the rider.  Did he put his thumbs through these?  A prosthesis of some kind? 

On to the saddle.  Under the Safeway bag lay a loose swath of leather, which was stitched together over some fleecy padding.  I couldn't tell what was under the fleece, although I was soon to learn.

Just a day after I encountered this bike, I was lucky enough to look out of my hotel window and spy its owner cycling back from an outing.  I rushed downstairs in time to meet him as he locked up his masterpiece.

This is Tony, I think.  I should have posted this sooner... I can't be 100 percent sure he isn't Ed.  But really, what's the difference to you? Let's go with Tony.

Tony is the original owner of the bicycle.  He bought it in the Phoenix area brand new 40+ years ago and rides it every day. 

He even demonstrated his riding technique, which disappointingly does not involve any use of the loop ends to the bar extensions.  He merely wanted a more upright position and found these bolts an easy way to get a bit more reach.  As for the saddle?  Under the homemade mattress of leather and fleece is the original Brooks. 

Clearly, Tony made different choices than I would with a 40-year-old Raleigh.  But I have nothing on him when it comes to authenticity and standing as a Raleigh owner.  He rides it every day, straps it on the back of the RV when traveling, bickers with the front desk staff over the security of storage areas, and truly loves his ride. 

Here's wishing Tony many more years of happy cycling on his one-of-a-kind Sports.


  1. Wow, what a bike! What I think is the most interesting change is the alloy wheels. Other than lightness, the main reason to swap out the original steel wheels for alloy is stopping power in the rain. And Tucson barely sees any rain (and I'm guessing most folks don't ride in the rain there anyway!)

    I can see the "rawhide" cover or saddle become a big think with neo-primitivists or whatnot. I'm sure Deller can whip up some!

  2. Mike,
    Got here from Velouria's blog.

    Clearly I need: an RV. To move to Tucson.


  3. Welcome, Jim! Thanks for visiting and thanks for commenting. I hope to have a bit more on here soon.