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Saturday, January 08, 2011

"It's okay man, I can quit any time."

A tale of too many bikes
Bike Crazy Part 2

Someone made the joke that to a bicycle "nut", the correct amount of bikes one can have is whatever the amount they currently have, plus one. When I first became "Bicyclist" back in oh-one, I had one bike, and that's all I needed. Over the years, I saw the benefits of having multiple bikes. If one has an issue, you can simply take another bike. If you have a friend or friends in town, you can loan them one of your bikes. And so on.

But there's also another reason: having bicycles for different uses. "Back in the day" having one general purpose all-around bike was fine. Then I got into touring, so I ended up having a dedicated touring machine and then had my around-town bike. Then I felt like having something more sexy, stripped down, and speedy, so I built up a single speed. Then...

Currently I'm at FOUR bikes. I've got the touring/long distance machine (Surly Long Haul Trucker), the sexy single-speed (Centurion Super LeMans), the cargo bike (Worksman Cycle Truck), and finally the classic British three speed/project bike (Raleigh Wayfarer).

Even with four, that doesn't stop me from wanting more. I lust after nice old bikes. I think about what other bikes I could have to fit a different niche (folding bike? Surly Pugsley?) And either to my detriment or benefit, I regularly check Craigslist.

So one fine day before Xmas, I saw a listing for a "Vintage Raleigh 10-speed". Always interested in vintage and Raleigh, I was lured. Through inspection of the blurry photo they provided, I saw it was a Lenton model. So I went to "the source", Sheldon Brown, and he's got a whole page devoted to it.
    "In production for longer than any of the other Raleigh "club " bikes (1949-1963) and indelibly associated with the immortal Reg Harris, Britain's greatest cycle champion of the era and Raleigh spokesman, the Lenton Sports was indeed "the undoubted thoroughbred of its class." More than that, it represented the last great era of traditional British club cycling. Its versatile specification harkens back to a time before relentless specialization, harsh Continental frame geometry and clacking derailleur gears. The Lenton was at home on country lanes as it was on time trials, as popular abroad, especially in the United States, as it was at home. A teenage John Lennon cycled the streets of his native Liverpool on his Lenton and for many, it was a first introduction to lightweight sports cycling. The R.R.A. may have been more coveted and the Clubman and later Super Lenton better outfitted, but the Lenton Sports was the most popular lightweight British bicycle of a Golden Era."
-from (written by Peter C. Kohler)

John Lennon rode a Lenton? Was it a Lennton then? (groan)

After reading that, I knew I wanted this bike. It was a classic, and it had cachet. The price didn't seem bad, $150, and it already had a Brooks saddle on it! I was also captivated by the whole "club" bike aspect of it, after looking at photos and drawings from British bicycle books. This would also fulfill a role that my other bikes haven't: the more traditional road/light touring bike. Schemes of what I would do to/with the Lenton filled my head. So I called up the guy and set up an appointment.

Though the Craigslist ad listed his location as "Close In SE", he was off of SE Woodstock, which is "close in" if you consider Sellwood to be "minutes from downtown." (Can you tell that I'm not thrilled when people put misleading location info in their ads? No, Cedar Hills is NOT Portland. But I digress.) Apparently the Lenton had been collecting dust in his shop for some time, as it belonged to someone who had once rented the shop and defaulted on paying his lease. The guy just wanted the bike out of his way.

As for the Lenton, it was in O-K shape, not bad, but not really that good either. It looked like it could have been from the early to mid 60's. The fuzzy Craigslist photo didn't clue me into how bad the paint was, mostly due to stickers peeled from it. The story goes that whoever originally owned the bike bought it while they were in Europe/UK in the 60's, toured 'round the continent, and put stickers from each country they visited on it. While it's a cool story, it would have been even cooler if they were still on it.

The wheels were pretty beat and chromed steel as it is (27"). The derailleurs worked, but it's all that old-school 10-speed gearing that I'm not fond of, tires fucked, etc. And I couldn't figure out if the bike fit me that well, plus there was annoying toe overlap.

I test rode it and pondered: was this bike worth it?

When I returned, the guy was willing to part with it for $100 or slightly less, because he just wanted it out of his way. Argh. Tempting. I took it for another spin.

I thought briefly about just getting it and considering it another "project bike". Maybe I could convert it into a Single Speed (as some of those British club bikes were), by swapping out components/wheels from my Centurion LeMans? But wait! I wanted a multi-speed road bike, right? Would I go through all that trouble to have a single speed with more of a cachet than my 70's bike-boom frame? Plus, that would leave me with a Centurion frame (not that desirable). I would've most likely sold the Centurion to make room for the Lenton Sports. With the Centurion stripped down to the frame, I wouldn't be able to get much of anything.

I also thought of putting work into it to make it a more reliable road bike. But after new wheels/tires/rear derailleur/casette/cables/housing, it would add up. I'd have better luck finding a more usable 70's or 80's road bike.

Then the brief and much more eccentric thought of putting an 8-speed Sturmey-Archer hub on it. That way it would be more like a 50's club bike, right? (I know that during that area, it would have had only been equipped with 3 speeds, but what the hey?) So build a new rear wheel on top of all the stuff above? That would make it the same or more in added cost. Don't I need to get new wheels built on the Long Haul Trucker? Isn't there the possibility that I might need to rebuild the wheels on the Wayfarer anyway, my current "project" bike? Do I really need another project bike? Isn't there bigger things I'm planning in the future that I should be saving up for?

Well, what if I just buy the bike for the sole sake to "flip" it? There is some demand for this type of bike. The seller told me that a guy on the East Coast was interested in the Lenton, and would pay for shipping. I could go and sell it on eBay, make a tidy profit...

No, Shawn. No. Stop it. Calm yourself down.

So I passed.

I guess the idea of having a rare and somewhat coveted British bike from the 50's/60's wasn't as strong as I thought it would be. If it had fit me better, and there was less issues with it, I probably would have gladly shelled out the $100 for it. Let the collectors go after it. Now I'll just have to be satisfied with four bikes. (wink!)

Of course, after I told Keith in Edmonton about the bike, he of course showed me two pristine examples of Lentons (one shown below) that he picked up in the far, far north for Canadian Tire, a song:

Ah, to be in the land of cheap and plentiful vintage bikes.


  1. My Lenton is a 1955 "Reg Harris Road Model" and is a fixed gear model although for a few pounds more you could have had it equipped with a Sturmey Archer 3 speed.

    I acquired it for $100.00 and all it needed was some air in the tyres as it's previous owner had taken exemplary care of the bicycle over the 50 plus years he owned it.

    I changed the saddle and re-wrapped the bars with leather tape... it has quite the patina but you can stil read all the decals and see the 531 stickers.

  2. My other "Lenton" is acually a 1954 Raleigh Sports that I turned into a club bike.

    It already had drop bars but got new 27 inch wheels and some nice alloy bits which makes it a lighter bike than my 531 framed Lenton.

  3. Oh, Mr. Sixty-Fiver, if you keep this up, we'll DEMAND a shipment of exquisite bikes from the Great White North with your arrival! ;-)

  4. I hear you, I hear you. When does it stop. I'm now going through the same thing. Are we bike addicts :)

  5. Yeah, I keep on telling myself being a bike addict is better than other addictions. Though it's going to make me broke if I don't watch out!


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