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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Raleigh Wayfarer Saga, Part 3: Trepidation and Frustration

Last week I made a big purchase of stuff to be used in the Raleigh Wayfarer Restoration Project. I haven't gotten to the major portion of the restoration project, but I've done some things here and there. I replaced the ugly saddle and way too short seat post with a longer seat post and a Brooks B-66 saddle. I swapped out the rubber block pedals with metal "rat trap" styled ones. I put on the cream colored Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires. It looks 100% classier already.

The extra step of classy: The Carradice Saddle Bag

About those wheels: originally I intended on getting some thorn resistant tubes, since the Sturmey-Archer/rear rack combo makes removing and mounting the rear wheel more work than it should be. But Bikeworks didn't have any.

So I changed the front tire and tube, but when I got to the rear, I noticed that some of the spokes were sticking through the rim, and the rim strip was woefully inadequate.

I began the quest for thorn resistant tubes again.
The key thing to note here is the wheel size: 26" x 1 3/8". It's the specific Raleigh/British size. Now there are many bikes that have 26" wheels, but the "Raleigh size" is very distinct, as they are 590 mm in diameter, whereas the common 26" (the one normally used on mountain bikes) is 559 mm. They are not interchangeable. The Raleigh size 26" x 1 3/8" goes by other names too, either E.A.3 or the French 650A.* For more than you'd ever want to know about different 26" sizing, go to Sheldon Brown's pages here and here.

The Raleigh 26" x 1 3/8" is pretty much a "dead" size, and no modern bike uses it. So this means that replacement tires/tubes/wheels is a bit tricky.
I still figured that there should be somewhere in this here fancy-bike burg of Portland that would have a British sized 26" x 1 3/8" thorn resistant tube available. But I didn't relish riding around in a fruitless quest, so I placed some phone calls to the usual suspects first. That was fruitless, except for one shop that insisted that they'd have some something that would work for it.

When I got there, the mechanic gave me a 26"x 1.5" tube. When I expressed some misgivings that this tube would fit the peculiar British sizing of the 26" x 1 3/8", he insisted it should "give" enough to get in. So I got it and brought it home.

And of course it didn't fit.

So the next day I made the call to the big bike tire warehouse in town. If anyone would have it, it would be them. The phone call went down like this:

Me: "Hello, I'd like to see if you had a thorn proof tube for a British sized 26" x 1 3/8" tire." Them: "Oh, that's a pretty rare size. You're going to not have a lot of options for tires in that size."
"I know that. But I'm actually looking for a tube."

"Oh, you said tire."

"No. I am actually looking for the tube, not tire."
"Well, I thought you said tire."
(At this point I wanted to shout out, "Okay, can we move on?") "If you really want it to be flat proof you should get a tire liner."
Now I was getting frustrated. The question that I asked should have been answered with a simple "Yes, we have it" or "No, we don't." So I had to explain to him the whole situation with the wheel, spokes poking, etc. After the explanation: "Oh, we don't have that size in thorn resistant."
Why couldn't he have said that a minute ago?

With the thorn resistant tube option all but dead, I put another strip of rim tape over the rim liner, mounted the tube and tire, and hope it will hold.

Which leads me to worry whether all this fuss and bother that I've put into the bike, and will be putting into the bike, is worth it. I got the bike for way cheap and realized that all the additions in the restoration would add up. this bike worth it? I haven't really ridden it yet, so I can't tell. It seems to fit OK, but it's hard to tell how it will really feel until I fix it up and put new bars on it.** Will I find out I don't like it?

It all leads back to those wheels. They are fine for now, but they're at the end of their life, and can't be fixed. There will probably be the inevitable broken spoke, which will lead me for the hunt for a new wheel. Currently the options are find another used wheel or find the rare new machine built wheel. Both will be steel wheels, which is something I don't want. To get alloy rims, I'll need to buy the rims separately and then get a hand-built wheel, which costs $$. A $30 bike turns into a $300 bike. And if I wanted to resell the bike, most people aren't likely to care about the fact an old '70's Raleigh has hand-built wheels. The Univega Safari that I sold last summer also had hand-built wheels, and even during the height of summer it was a struggle to sell.

Ah well, nothing to do right now but proceed forward and see how it all comes out.

*Interestingly enough, Schwinn used 26" x 1 3/8" tires, but they were different (and incompatible) with Raleigh. Schwinn's wheel diameter was 597mm vs the English 590mm.
**Sorry Carl, even though scads of Dutch city bikes have fused together handlebars and stems, I want something different.


  1. It looks like you've got a lot of downward adjustment space available on the brakes (at least the front, I can't see the back). Would it be possible to go down a size, although I'm not sure how much of an actual size difference there is in a mtb 26 rim and the Raleigh rim. If you want to replace the tires with something that's tough as nails I'd suggest the Schwalbe Marathon Plus. It looks like they've got a 26" x 1 3/8.


  2. Great looking bike and a good story! I had somewhat similar challenges with wheels when I upgraded my daughter's 24" mixte from steel to alloy wheels. The alloy wheel size was itself pretty rare and there were all sorts of fun brake and dropout spacing complications. The rewards for swapping out the heavy steel wheels on her bike were huge. It just made the bike much more fun and rideable for her.

    If you ever re-sell the bike. You probably won't get back the money you put into it. But I think you will have a great sense of satisfaction with the work. Plus, compared to what others spend in the bike world, your corner of vintage enthusiasm is still a relatively cheap hobby.

    It looks like your real dilemma are those beautiful tires that you've already invested in. I sense they are doomed to live life on steel rims. If you find alloys in that size this'll be great news to share with the rest of us.

    Again, a good read. Thanks

  3. Rat Trap Press--I don't know if I can can use the "standard" 26 inch size on the Raleigh. If this was the case, it would make things a lot easier! I'm having a hunch it isn't, but I'll check in with the Raleigh expert when we do the major restoration.

    I am a big fan of the Schwalbe/Schwalbe Plus, though I chose to use the Delta Cruisers more for aesthetic reasons. I've heard good reports on them, though.

    Borgbike--Yeah, I doubt I could get that much for reselling, which was something I knew going into it. But I do like vintage bikes and working on them, so the satisfaction of fixing it up will be the big thing!

    Oh, don't worry about the tires, they really didn't cost that much. Worst case scenario (if I get a different wheel size) is they go on April's Raleigh.

    And they do make an alloy "British 26" x 1 3/8" rim", it's a Sun Rims CR18 650A size:

  4. You can get Sun CR18 rims in a 590mm size and they look beautiful... if you were to acquire the parts I could build you some wheels while I was here.

  5. You could also go with 650b wheels. But that isn't a particularly cheap prospect, either. I would only go that routre if you are positive you will keep the bike for a matter of years...

  6. Jon--Yeah, it seems 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other. Those 650b wheels ain't cheap, and the tire selection doesn't look much better than 650a. I can get a CR18 650a rim for a reasonable price if I need to build a new wheel. For now, I'm going to see what life I can get out of these wheels.


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