Monday 11 January 2010

The Heron Arises: A New (Old) Bike for a New Decade

Last June I wrote about my most recent Tin Donkey, a c. 1983/84 Raleigh Team Professional frame.  It was constructed in Raleigh’s Special Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU) in Ilkeston, outside of the main Raleigh works in Nottingham.  The frame was finished in the colours of the Levi’s-Raleigh Racing Team and included a braze-on tab for a racing number.  Although the previous owner had been told it had been a team bike, I cannot confirm this.  The frame is similar to those shown in the Raleigh USA catalogue of the period as available for custom order and was sold as a frameset only.

The frame, with a very unoriginal fork, was in quite good shape, although the faded paint was pretty rough, with some bad scratches, a bit of rust on the top tube cable guides, and a particularly bad section which had been painted black with a spray can.  The frame was straight, however, and I knew that all the decals were available and I had an expert willing to braze a new fork and paint the bike, so off I went into the world of classic lightweight bicycles.

There is a lot of discussion on the excellent Classics Rendezvous forum about restoration and what it entails.  Needless to say, the issue is one that provokes heated debate.  My goal with the bicycle was more of a “reclamation.”  As far as I knew, it had no particular historical significance (although it would have been nice to be able to confirm it had been used in US racing by the arch-rival team to the more famous 7-Eleven one) but was just a very nice bicycle made from lightweight Reynolds 753 steel tubing.  I decided to add period-appropriate Campagnolo parts but I departed from what was probably the original way the bike was built up by going with clincher tires rather than tubulars since I plan to actually ride the Raleigh and don’t want to worry about old rims or having to fix tubulars.  I also decided to go with a new stem and handlebars so I would not have to worry about their integrity either.  Luckily, the Japanese firm Nitto makes gorgeous parts that look very much like the early 1980s Cinelli ones, so I do not feel I have cut any corners.

After spending a lot of time looking at Raleigh SBDU bikes shown on the Raleigh Team Pro Yahoo group, I tracked down the considerable number of decals required.  From California, VeloCals provided most of the Raleigh Racing USA decals, including some of the really tricky ones such as a head tube decal (my bike never had a badge, as was common with Raleighs, as there is no sign of mounting holes), and the “Made in England for sale only in the USA” one.  From H. Lloyd Cycles in the UK, I obtained some beautiful decals including the special SBDU ones for the chainstays, a GoD decal for the seat tube (Gerald O’Donovan being the head of SBDU), and some TI (for Tube Industries) decals for the fork.  Tube Industries owned Raleigh, along with Reynolds, and the decal was used on earlier bicycles than mine.  Since my fork would not be Reynolds 753 but rather Columbus SLX, I decided not to use 753 decals on the fork, as would have been original.  From CycloMondo in Australia I received a nice set of Reynolds 753R decals.  The “R” in this case means “restored”!

The parts came from all over the world, and Travis Evans of Just Riding Along in Maryland built me a set of wheels using Mavic Open Pro rims and a nice set of 36-hole Campagnolo Super Record hubs I bought on E-Bay.  I had a nice pair of Hutchinson tires with red pinstriping on them, which match beautifully.  Since I want to ride this bicycle at l’Eroica in Tuscany, I thought it would be good to get the biggest freewheel I could that would fit a Super Record rear derailleur and bought a new Interloc Racing Design (IRD) 13-28.

On a grey day in early November, I took my big pile of photographs and decals, the frame and my bottom bracket and headset to Cycles Marinoni in Montreal.  Mrs. Marinoni and I had a long discussion about the work to be done.  She is the person responsible for the paintwork, and her husband, who had just come back from Italy, was going to make me a new fork with a proper Cinelli sloped crown.  She recognized the paint scheme (Marinoni had actually built a number of bikes for the Levi’s-Raleigh team back in the day).  We were a bit concerned that the spray-painted area might have been covering some damage, particularly since my 26.8 mm seatpost did not want to go in very easily.

Two weeks ahead of schedule, I received an e-mail saying that the frame and fork were on their way.  When I unpacked the box, I was thrilled as the bicycle looked absolutely gorgeous.  It was shinier than it would have been originally as I wanted a clearcoat to protect all those decals but still looked wonderfully vintage.  I have to add a note here.  Not only was the new fork perfect for the bike, but the finish work, and you can see how nicely deliniated the head tube is, for example, is really superb.  Cycles Marinoni has been in business for three decades and it shows, and I would not hesistate to recommend them for anyone looking for a custom bike.  However, not only was the work done to a superior standard, but it was also extremely reasonable.

I put the parts on that I had polished up and took the bike over to the guys at Full Cycle to work their magic and do the final setting-up of the Raleigh.  It turned out that the IRD freewheel was no problem to use, so I have a much bigger range of gears than any racing cyclist in 1983 would have had available. 

The final parts (toe straps, derailleur adjusting screws) have now come in and I photographed the bicycle today.  The photography session is worth a page or two in itself.  Amazingly, although I was using no less than 2000W of halogen light, I managed not to burn the house down.  I also learned that a big roll of seamless paper has a mind of its own as it immediately insisted on unrolling all 37 feet of itself when I only needed about 12.

So here to begin the new decade are some of the photos, along with some of the pictures from when I got the frame first.  The bicycle is pristine, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future as the outdoor cycling season (commuting aside) is a long way off here.  The Raleigh seems extraordinarily light, and I am very anxious to try it out.  Is that Sella San Marco Regal saddle as comfortable as it looks?


Lily on the Road said...

Holy smokes, that looks like my Norco!! (only cleaner), the old becomes new again!

Sprocketboy said...

Red and black seems to have come back as a colour combination! It is a nice feeling to bring back something that looked pretty junky to this level although it makes no sense to do so financially. I think the decals cost me more than the frame itself in the end!

Velomaniac said...

Beautiful!!! I got my decals from VeloCals as well!
thanks for posting

Bluenoser said...

That's a very nice job. You must be quite proud.


Sprocketboy said...

I am very pleased with how the bike came out, but I am incredibly anxious to find out how it rides. I am washing my commuting bike constantly to get the road grit off and I can't expose the Raleigh to this indignity.

Unknown said...

would you ever sell this?

Sprocketboy said...

Although I have really not considered selling the bike, which was a wonderful experience to rebuild and to learn the history of, you don't keep everything forever! As a restoration it is actually worth less to a collector than an original condition bike but it is so gorgeous that I would not sell it cheaply.