The Raleigh Grand Prix Single Speed
I started with a 63cm Raleigh Grand Prix 12 speed racing bike frame in bronze green. The frame was a chromoly steel lugged frame, the kind many cyclists bemoan the loss of, with the advent of lightweight aluminum frames. It had a tall head tube, and a threaded bottom bracket for the venerable Raleigh cottered crank. It came with a steel front fork, with chromed tips. The gold and black decals were present and accounted for, but had become battered a bit over time. The paint was glossy verdant metalflake with the usual assortment of mystery scratches etching it's surface. I removed the braze ons. Perfect.
I wanted to spin the original tall skinny 27 inch by one and a quarter chrome steel rims, and I was lucky enough to find an original high flange Raleigh front wheel on ebay, along with the quick release skewer. I quickly sniped it. I also sniped a cottered crank from a Raleigh Superbe. The Superbe is the classic English three speed roadster made by Raleigh, a bicycle that is rare on this side of the pond, but as ubiquitous as fog in old London. The Raleigh cottered crank is a heavily chromed steel 46 tooth 1/8 inch unit with three Raleigh herons cut into it. The crank arms slide onto square spindles and are wedged into place with steel "cotters." It fit right onto the Grand Prix bottom bracket.
The rear hub presented a challenge. I considered a fixed gear for a while. The horizontal rear forks of the Grand Prix frame would lend itself to such a conversion, but I wanted a bike that was as pleasing to ride as it was simple. A fixie would demand cables and brake levers for me. I opted to go with a coaster brake for simplicity's sake. I was surprised to find one new from Sturmey-Archer, a British manufacturer of parts for Raleigh. The next problem was finding a suitable rim that would match the chrome front rim. After asking around, I decided to purchase a low flange front rim and lace it up myself. Once laced and trued, the coaster brake rear wheel slid right into the rear forks of the Grand Prix, and I capped off the axle ends with chrome acorn nuts. Leverage is kept under control by a heavy brass strap around the left chainstay. For rubber, I opted for prototypal gumwall racing slicks. I used a nickel plated chain from KMC to connect the drivetrain.
It would have been commonplace to install drop handlebars, or a "chop and flop" set of messenger bars. I wanted an upright riding position. I looked towards the Raleigh Superbe again, and acquired a set of vintage "North Road" handlebars which I capped off with real cork grips, and installed on a tall British stem. An Electra bell lets pedestrians know I'm approaching.
The seat is one of my favorites, a lightly sprung Brooks Champion Flyer in honey brown. These classic leather seats are still made by the original manufacturer, Brooks of Birmingham, England. Many people shun the leather suspension saddle, saying they must be broken in like a new pair of shoes. I have not had that problem. Whether they need no breaking in, or whether they adjust to the rider's bone structure over time, there is nothing quite like a sprung and suspended leather saddle for comfort. I used a modern micro-adjustable aluminum seatpost to mount the saddle to the frame.
Many people would wonder why so much effort was invested in revitalizing an old bike such as this. The truth is, it's hard to explain. An understanding can best be found through riding the bike. The ride quality of the vintage steel Raleigh frames is like no other. It is stiff and unyielding to the rider's effort at pedalling. The lugged and brazed joinery that connects the sections of tubing is both beautiful and superbly engineered. The durability, height and ease of speed provided by the tall steel wheels and narrow rubber is something few bikes can match. Minimal exertion is required to propel the machine at hair blowing speeds. The look of the bike is pure yesteryear, a relaxed but efficient velocipede. The traditional road bike frame geometry and wheelset combined with the upright riding posture and a clear expanse of uncluttered handlebars typical of a cruiser makes for a unique old school ride. Add the durability of a chunk of granite, and there is nothing else quite like it. This is most certainly a bicycle that Raleigh should have built!