Rediscovering vintage bikes

A circa 1970 Raleigh Sports 3-speed bicycle.

A circa 1970 Raleigh Sports 3-speed bicycle.

While I have an affection for Dutch bikes, they are incredibly rare here in the US and expensive to import. As it turns out, their geometry (the upright posture that gives them their “Dutch-ness”) is actually copied from English roadster bikes.

I rediscovered roadsters recently when a friend posted her circa 1970 vintage 3-speed Raleigh Sports bike for sale. It was in great riding condition, so I bought it from her for a whopping $100.

I expected to use it primarily as a display bike. I even featured it in my “bicycle petting zoo” on PARK(ing) Day.

Taking it for a spin

Then one morning the lock on my Electra jammed as I was starting a tour, and the Raleigh was my only option to ride.

What a joy it was! The 3-speed gearing turned out to be perfect for riding around town, and the solid steel frame seemed to propel itself. I had a great time riding that bike while my guest on the tour struggled a bit with a brand new rental bike she was using. (I did offer to swap bikes at one point, but she declined.)

Research

I started research these vintage bikes and discovered that they are incredibly common in the US. Raleigh sold tons of their English-made roadster bikes here in the 60s and early 70s, but they fell out of fashion when 10-speed bikes became all the rage. There’s lots of vintage Raleigh info over on the Sheldon Brown web site if you’re interested.

I searched online and found a lot of rather dismal, rusted bikes from the era here on Cape Cod, but only slightly further afield there were lots of these bikes in the under-$200 range scattered across New England. Ebay sellers had the usual crazy pricing, but both Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist seemed to have some deals.

I also made a pilgrimage to the town dump to see if there were any bikes or bike parts that I could scavenge. The bikes looked pretty well picked over, and the pair of vintage bikes I did find were rusted beyond my ability to repair. Like a lot of abandoned bikes, by the time they are left behind there’s not much left to salvage and the cost of a full restoration job would put the bike far beyond its market value.

Is vintage worth it?

I’m not sure if it’s feasible to do tours on 3-speed bikes. But they do have a lot of retro charm and fit well into the small-town vibe of Provincetown. If I can find enough bikes to assemble a small fleet of the same model, I may offer these as an option on my tours next year.

Reusing a bike that has been stored away for decades is far friendlier to the planet than buying new. These bikes are incredibly well-made, too, and will outlive anything that I’d buy at retail these days for a comparable price. Details like full fenders, chain guards, and internal rear hubs mean that the chain will never fall off, there’s no derailleur to damage in a fall, you won’t get splashed by riding through a puddle, and there’s nearly no maintenance necessary.

When I compare a vintage bike like this at about $200 to a new Dutch bike at $1,299, it’s a no-brainer. Look for me on a vintage bike as I pedal around town this fall!

A matching pair of rusty vintage 1960s Armstrong 3-speed bikes at the Provincetown dump.

A matching pair of rusty vintage 1960s Armstrong 3-speed bikes at the Provincetown dump.