A Gift(ed) Horse

Sometimes good things come to you when they´re least expected. It happens that people ring me and offer me bikes, often for free, and more often than not they aren´t worth even that. About 15 months ago there was a phone call with a difference by our club president. He had been given two bikes by a former club member who wanted no money but only a good home for them.

I went and collected two nice cycles, one with a very small, painted over frame (which I have since passed on), but usable parts, and one with a great frame and less exciting parts. At the same time my son´s frame had to have some surgery at Ellis-Briggs´, so we were very happy to get this Carlton, about the right size, with mudguard eyelets and all. Most of the parts that had to be replaced came from the second bike, so very soon my son was sitting pretty again.

One thing I didn´t do anything about was the wrong stack height headbearing. Those Stronglight roller bearing ones are a good bit higher than the original cheap steel ones. I put my Campag tools to work and in about three months of intense use the headset shook loose only once or twice.

The Raleigh had shed most of its original parts combo anyway, but as all of the replacements had been upgrades in about the first 10 to 15 years of its life, I just went on upgrading with the bits I found on the second bike, or in my boxes.

I just love those seventies bikes with good quality Japanese parts. They look purposeful, and are, too, and if one knows a little about Suntour, their innovations and managerial shortcomings (read Frank Berto´s chapter on this in the Dancing Chain), and how Shimano imitated a French firm (TA bolt circle), you even get stories with those parts that equal the best Italian or French ones. This was what was at the beginning of the Japanese taking over of the bicycle component market, and using the parts you can easily see even today why they were so successful.

Because even after nearly forty years, they work. My son wasn´t reluctant to go back to his Veloce equipped Ellis-Briggs after it had come back, but he likes the Raleigh too. It´s what Grant Petersen has been saying all along, slant parallelogram, retrofriction gear levers, centrepull brakes, mudguards, and a good low bottom gear – it´s basically all you need.

Here you have the said Shimano crankset with TA bcd, and an adapter to reduce the infamous AX pedal hole size to the standard one.

The best down tube gear levers ever made, and with a Raleigh band to boot.

It´s a shame somebody ground or peeled the Suntour logo off the rear mech. What is it, a VX? Can´t remember, have to look it up.

I know these belong to a lower price point Raleigh, but as they were in my box, fitted, work well, and the brake calipers which came with the bike had to go, I couldn´t resist.

The wheels were in the other bike, but who can object? Smoothest hubs around, save perhaps Pelissiers.

This saddle bag holder and the bag itself had come from Freek Faro years and years ago, but here they found a bike worthy of them. The thing about the Carlton that nearly drives me mad is that when I grip the bike to haul it out of the cellar, I invariably grab it under the saddle, and off comes the saddlebag. It´s hard to get used to things, it seems.

The steel support, looking a bit like a luggage rack, came from a different source. I bought a complete bike because of it, albeit for a single figure sum. Perfect size for this bike.

Now the frame. It says Carlton and Raleigh on it, and there´s about a dozen webpages explaining why, what, when, where, and by whom, so I won´t bother. It suffices to say that it´s great – full 531, mudguard eyelets and mudguard clearance, of course, not too badly used, a touch of chrome, even.

OK, cheapish lugs, but they´re doing their bit. Craftsmanship looks solid, if uninspired. It´s what you got when you bought a good bike on a budget, and my guess is that it was worth every penny.

Still is, as far as I´m concerned.

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