The Third Life of a Phoenix

“The Phoenix.” Hmm. I typed that title on a whim, but I like it. Maybe I need to have that in subtle, elegant calligraphy across the top tube? It’s a thought.

Why “Phoenix,” though? Well, I consider this the third life of my 1971 Raleigh International. She came to me a few years back in pretty sad condition, paint flaking off in strips, generally abused and neglected over time. The previous owner rode it as a touring bike for many years, through all sorts of conditions. He had eventually aged out of the bike and out of riding, and she sat in his workshop for a long time until  I adopted her. Her second life was as a long distance three-speed.

This morning was the inaugural shakedown “third life” ride following last week’s rebuild. During her second life she was a wonderful reimagining of a club racer – a venerable British lightweight drop bar frame with a three speed internally geared hub. I’ve loved that configuration, but in honest self reflection I find that nearly all of my riding is done on my Boulder Brevet. I asked myself why that was, and the answer – not surprisingly – was: Fit, gearing, build, and ride quality.

Hence, the third life is a return to the roots of this bike, with more than a few nods towards those things that make my life feel better on two wheels.

So, the inaugural shakedown ride is a short twelve mile route of hills and flats that I use to test new builds. My initial assessment? A/A+…and now I’m REALLY jazzed about  installing 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires that I can run at lower pressure.  (I’ve got 700 x 28 Gatorskins on the rims at the moment, and while they are definitely the most bullet proof tires I’ve ever ridden, they are far from being describable as “supple.” And they are a total bitch to get over the lip of the rim. God help me if I ever have a frickin’ flat out on the road…)

To say that I’m pleased with this rebuild would be a gross understatement. The bottom bracket is perfectly tuned and the Stronglight 48/40/28 triple yields a very nice range of low and middle range gears when paired up with the 13-30 Ultra 6 freewheel. A Mountech FD handles the jump between 40 and 28 without blinking an eye. And the Mark Pace-built rear wheel turns out to have been an outstanding decision. It’s riding very nicely indeed.

While I wait on tires to arrive I’ll head out to the studio to engineer a nicer looking light bracket. I also need to camouflage/protect the exposed wiring running from the dyno hub to the light unit. That’s (mostly) cosmetic, but I appreciate a well designed system.


9 thoughts on “The Third Life of a Phoenix

  1. Aw, I am disappointed in the passing of the 3-speed incarnation. I seem to recall reading you saying it often got ridden further than you had anticipated. That is true for my ‘unrestored’ 1965 Moulton with its relatively rare 4-speed Sturmey-Archer gear hub. You’ve got to love bikes that seduce you into riding further than you’d planned.

    So I would be interested to hear more about the limitations of the 3-speed set-up, installed on such a fine cycle frame. I have a beautiful mid-1980s Mercian frame set up by my son as a single speed. Only one ratio is a little too extreme for me in my 70s on our hilly Vancouver Island terrain. .

    • It was with mixed emotions that I made these changes, but ultimately I’m very pleased with the end result. I’m also left with all the requisite kit to build up another lightweight IGH if the notion strikes me. You raise some good questions, and to be more clear it’s not that I see a three speed of this ilk necessarily having limitations – clearly, I never felt that way at all – so much as I was just being honest with myself about what I was choosing to ride the majority of the time.

  2. Are you convinced by the “wider is better” argument or are your normal rides essentially over gravel and dirt? 38mm seems like mountain bike territory to me.

    • “Better” can mean a lot of different things. Wide tires with supple casing is definitely more comfortable, especially when run at lower pressure. Will you be as fast on these tires as with high pressure, narrower tires? Hey, I’ve read the research Jan Heine has presented and he makes a pretty compelling argument. I’d have to be a racer to tell you if my personal speed experiences backed up the claim of no perceptible difference. And please believe me when I tell you I’m no racer, with no desire to be a competitive rider. What I can tell you is that I run 700 x 32 Compass tires on my Boulder and my riding experience is excellent. I’ve got 650b x 38 on my Velo Routier and wish I could fit 42’s under the fenders on that bike. I can also tell you that my personal experience convinces me that the tire and wheel makes a big difference in ride quality. I’ve run 700 x 38 on the International on a previous occasion but with very heavy, not especially compliant tires and the ride was equally heavy and just dead. I ran similar tires in 700 x 32 on my Boulder (I had them, so I ran them) and same story: I felt like I was dragging an anvil up each hill. It made me very nervous about getting an expensive pair of supple tires in that size. But I’m glad I did, because it really is a different bike. Once I had good wheels built up for the bike, that further changed for the better.

      And no, most of my riding is over “pavement,” if that apocalyptic and broken tarmac we call a road system in Missouri can legitimately be termed “paved.” Bicycle Quarterly is a good resource for the nuts and bolts of the wide tire discussion, but there are plenty of people out there singing the praise and convinced the Kool-Aid is great. Look at what Peter Weigle is doing with his incredible creative reimaginings of high end Raleighs. Drop in to the Urban Adventure League and ask Shawn Granton his thoughts (He’ll tell you about 26 inch wheels, and make an equally compelling case.) In any event, I’m not trying to convert anyone. I’m building bikes up to fit my riding style and wants. If the 700 x 38 decision somehow turns sour, you can bet I’ll be talking about it here on The Early Morning Cyclist! 🙂

      • That’s really helpful! Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Lower pressure makes sense to me and is supported by a bunch of research. Wider tires seem like they would less aerodynamic, particularly wider than about 25 mm. In the Know Cycling ( did a long review of the evidence, and argued that there had to be a match between rim and tire width. He didn’t look at tires wider than 28 mm, though.

  3. Phillip Cowan says:

    I just came back from Ragbrai where I ran Schwalbe G-Ones in the 700x35C size. I’m running them tubeless on Velocity A23 rims. They measure an actual 37mm on the A23s. Of course I’m running a sealant in them. These wheels were a total revelation to me. They’re almost the same weight as my previous set with 28Cs. They have a high thread count (127tpi) so they are very supple. I was running them 45psi rear and 40psi front. Rolling resistance seems very low. In coast down races on the back sides of hills I seemed to win about 95% of the time. Not very scientific I know but something’s going on here. I was astounded at the ride quality. Its not quite like tubulars but it’s getting close. Also no flats in 418 miles. I’m sure the low pressure helps in that regard. They’re so comfortable I started running over rumble strips just cuz I could. It was a choice between this tire and the compass Bon Jon Pass. In the end I chose the Schwalbes because they have a light tread and I do ride some gravel. The BJPs are smooth but I’m sure they would perform in a similar manner. If I never went off road I probably would have went with them. I hate to go all gushy but these things are like having your cake and eating it too. I would seriously consider tubeless for your Raleighs’ new lease on life.

    • Phillip, your recent experience is enlightening, to say the least. Several people have urged me to consider going tubeless, including the guy who built my last set of wheels. To be honest, I know very little about what is involved in that sort of configuration. Being a lazy curmudgeon is one of my biggest failings, because of course I’d have to build up another set of wheels. 🙂

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