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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Raleigh Wayfarer Saga, Part 6: Wheels Keep Spinnin'

SHAWN'S NOTE 11/14/11: Originally this entry was photo-filled. The photos came from Keith, linked to his website. Then his website got corrupted by Russian malware. Not only were the photos not working, but every time you went to this page you got one of those "YOU MIGHT RUIN YOUR COMPUTER IF YOU PROCEED" type of warnings. Hopefully I'll be able to get the photos back up soon.

One of my many Portland Craigslist bicycle listings pet peeves is the term "rain bike". A rain bike implies that the specific bicycle would be good in rainy weather.  This descriptor gets applied to older bikes that came with fenders, like Chicago-era Schwinns or 3-speed Raleighs.  While fenders are all well and good for rain (all of my bikes have 'em), the problem is that these older fendered bikes have steel wheels.  Unless there's a coaster brake involved, these bikes use caliper brakes.  Caliper brakes on steel rims have little stopping power when wet, meaning that they are not safe for riding in rain. They only engage after the rim has been dried off by the brakes, which can take a few seconds depending on conditions.

When I bought the Raleigh Wayfarer in December, it was solely with the idea it would be a fun restoration project and a "sunny day" ride.  I knew it would have steel rims, so using it on rain days wasn't something I wanted to do.  Then I started to stress out that my wheels were going to explode or something on my first ride, recounted on an earlier blog post.  So Mr. Keith Raving Bike Fiend from Calgar-er, Edmonton offered to build me new wheels for the bike.  Even though I should be saving up my cash for other things, the offer was too good to pass up.

At first I was going to get both wheels rebuilt, but then opted for the saner (and cheaper, well, sort of) option of getting a new front wheel.  The reasoning behind that decision is that most braking is done with the front wheel, so if I got an alloy (read: aluminum*) rimmed front, my stopping power would significantly increase, so much that I could safely ride in the rain.  Plus, this gave me the excuse to get a dynamo generator hub for the front so I can use generator lighting.  So no more batteries to worry about!

Last week I got the parts to make the wheel: a Sun Rims CR18 rim in the British 26" x 1 3/8" size (aka: EA3, or 650A, or ISO 590**) from North Portland Bikeworks, the spokes from A Better Cycle since Bikeworks was out, and the dynohub, a V-O supplid Novatech, from Ed.*** I brought the raw materials to Keith R.B.F. on Saturday. Over the weekend he built it up, and on Monday I came by the compound to get it installed.

There were a few minor adjustments needed to install the wheel.  The front dropout wasn't wide enough to fit the modern axle, so Keith filed it down until it fit.  (Compatibility issues with modernizing old Raleighs are detailed on Sheldon Brown's site.) Also, the fork itself was a bit narrow, so the fork blades had to be stretched out to fit.  This should do for now, but it would be wise for me to get the blades spread more professionally at some point in the future.

And now, the moment of truth: how well will the bike do in the rain?

Thankfully it started to rain good right after Keith installed the wheel,**** so I would get the true test on the way home.  And it works!  The braking power on the alloy rim to the old steel rim is like night and day.  I didn't have to anticipate all my stops so far in advance, as I had to with the steel rims.  I felt confident that I could stop relatively fast in these conditions.  Sure, the Raleigh front caliper isn't as strong as the one on my Centurion, but it gets the job done.  (Maybe I'll upgrade someday?)

So now the "sunny day" bike is becoming a true daily bike/utility bike/commuter bike/what-have-you.  I still need to do a few minor things, touch up the paint and all that.  Oh yeah, I do need the generator lights! They are on order and should be at the Urban Adventure League HQ soon.  When that's done, well...there's no stopping me!

*I guess if I wanted to be thematically correct, it should be aluminium.
**Exhausting, innit?
***No, I didn't intend to get everything from different places.
****I can almost see the look of horror in the eyes of people from SoCal


  1. Very nice indeed. I hope you enjoy your hub dynamo lighting when it arrives. I put a dynamo/drum brake hub on my DL-1 and I love having effectively infinite free electricity. I got a Lumotec Retro lamp for the front as it matches the bike's aesthetics, but if I had LED lamps front and rear I would probably just run them all the time. Which lights did you choose (or do we have to wait and see)?

    Just out of curiosity, did you consider a drum/dynamo hub before deciding on the VO dynamo hub? Drum brakes are often overlooked but they are quite powerful, consistent in all weather and require almost no care or maintenance.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Col!

    To answer your questions: I decided to get the Spanninga front and rear lights from Velo Orange:
    (Good thing I bought that tail light a few days ago, now it's out of stock!)

    I was thinking about the Retro lamp since it does look more appropriate, but I would rather do LED for the obvious reasons. Plus, the Retro halogen costs MORE than a comparable LED, which I find silly!

    Supposedly you can get an LED bulb conversion, as supplied here:
    (you'll have to click on the "Parts" link)

    How well does the Retro halogen lamp work for you?

    As for why I picked those lights themselves, I wanted to be economical on my first dyno build, and I don't have a lot of money to play with right now. I plan on spending more when I do a dyno build on my Long Haul Trucker, though.

    As for drum brakes, getting the VO Dynotech hub was more due to practicality, since my friend Ed had one that he wanted to part with. I did briefly think about a drum brake/dyno hub option, but I've heard conflicting reports about how effective they are for front wheel stopping power. Plus my friend John K. has a S-A dynohub/drum brake front wheel on his LHT and he's had issues with the drum brakes, so that scared me. I've been thinking about getting a rear drum on my LHT, so we'll see. What's your experience been with your drum brake?

    And I'd love to see a photo of your DL-1. You got pics? Links? Blog?

    Man, this was a looooong comment!

  3. I have rain braking fail with my steel rims. It's a nightmare...especially given that I live in the rainy UK (rains at some point on most days).
    It's scary stuff when you cannot come to a stop.

    Are you planning on replacing the rear wheel too or are you happy enough with the braking power on the front wheels alone?
    I've had all manner of confusions regarding exactly what to do (get alloy 27" wheels...change to more standard sized alloy wheels and suffer other complications...etc...).

    I'll hopefully be having both of my wheels replaced with alloy soon, along with the brake pads.
    Then I can use the old steel rims as house decoration of some sort...or a drying rack for socks and tights (?).

    Your bike's looking really good though. Good work. :)

  4. Woolen Typist--I hear ya! It's funny that a "British" bike would have such poor rain/wet braking capabilities. The problem that I understand is that when Raleigh started, steel was it. Then aluminum came along, but Raleigh was loath to try it, since they are "The All Steel Bicycle". They felt that aluminum rimmed wheels wouldn't be strong enough, so all classic Raleighs, etc, have steel rims.

    Right now I don't plan on rebuilding the rear wheel to an alloy/aluminum rim. I'd only do that if the wheel breaks spokes or starts failing in some way, since the wheel is not truable.

    The alloy in front, steel in back setup seems to work. Since most of a bicycle's braking power is in the front wheel, I'm not too worried about it.

    Thanks for your compliments!

  5. WT--As for changing from 27" to a different size, you shouldn't have too many problems converting to a 700C as long as the brakes are a long enough reach. There are plenty of options of 700C wheels and tires out there. 27 inch, not so much.

  6. Just curious: Do hub generators generally show a noticeable difference in resistance when powering lights versus the lights being off? I guess you can let us know once you get the lights set up.

  7. Steel wheels are awesome in the rain... if you are using hub brakes but a bit of a nightmare if you are using rim brakes.

    You can improve the braking by using better pads but the best improvement comes when you replace the rims themselves.

    Replacing the front wheel with an alloy one will make for a marked improvement in stopping power and is most economical.

    There are a few exceptions... I ride a Raleigh 20 with 451 steel wheels and with better pads and it's Raleigh made steel calipers the wet stopping power is adequate.

    The export model of the R20 uses a 406 rim and loooong reach alloy calipers and the braking on these is abysmal in the rain and not even that good when dry.

    If your bicycle uses 27 inch wheels there is a very good chance it can be converted to use 700c wheels. You will need to be able to drop the brake pads 8mm on the calipers or will need to replace them with a longer reach brake.

    This will also open up a wider range of tyre choices.

  8. @Adventure

    Col was me, I was signed in with the wrong email address at the time and didn't notice. You can see a good pic of the DL-1 here as well as how it looked when I got it here

    The drum brake has been wonderful. I have used them in various sized wheels, generally they become more effective as wheel size reduces. I imagine they would be even better in your 26 inch (590 mm) wheels (or are they bigger?) than they are in my 28 inch wheels (635 mm). Overall I would say I am very happy with the power, weather consistency and lack of need to adjust them.

  9. Mr. C--thanks for the clarification! I like your DL-1. That particular bike is "on my list" of bikes I wouldn't mind having. The true English Roadster is hard to find over here, Raleigh Sports-type, less so.

    Yep, the Wayfarer looks to be "Sports" like, so it has the 590mm/EA3 wheels. Thankfully you can get Sun Rims CR18 rim to build a wheel, and the tires for this size are still available. I went to my local Fred Meyer and saw that they sold that particular tire and tube.

  10. Attempted to put my new 590mm/650A aluminum rim wheel on my vintage Norco today and discovered the same issue with the front forks and dropout being too narrow.

    I vaguely remembered this post and did a search to find it back to see how you handled it. Sounds simple enough, provided I can find someone to bend the forks properly. I'm hoping to stop short of any further upgrades on this bike, but I can see how once someone starts down this path it is difficult to turn back...


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