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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Rudge restoration: Assessment

The Rudge reposes at Mount Tabor. I test all my bikes on the slopes of Tabor to see how they handle hills. The Rudge did fine.
I have owned many a used bike in my adult life. Since moving to the West Coast I have owned eleven bicycles and only one of them (the Long Haul Trucker) was new. So I've had experience with the whole used bike racket. The majority of used bikes I have obtained were in rideable condition upon receipt. Two bikes were in remedial riding condition but then quickly converted into something different: the Univega Safari 10-speed that I purchased in Vermont in 2007 was stripped of wheels, shipped cross-country, and converted into a three-speed; while the Centurion Le Mans 10-speed I purchased in 2009 was converted into a single speed. One bike was barely rideable so I invested a lot of time and energy into it to make it a daily rider: the Raleigh Wayfarer.

To take a bike like any of the three bikes mentioned above and invest so much time, energy, and money into one takes a leap of faith. What happens when you put all that work into the bike and find out you don't like it? It doesn't fit you or work the way you intended it or it's not what you want? Sure, one can chalk it up as a "learning experience" and move on. But I'm one of limited financial resources and not a lot of mechanical aptitude so I can't really afford learning experiences. Yeah, I could sell it, but most likely you won't get anything near what you put into it. Case in point: the Univega three-speed had custom wheels and a Sturmey-Archer AW hub. I finally got someone to buy it for $175. The wheels cost more than that!

But at least with the three bikes above, I knew they were rideable before I started to restore or convert them. The Rudge Sports? It looked like it was stored underwater. There was no way to know if I would like the bike when work was done.
The Rudge (and myself) in action. Photo: Raving Bike Fiend

Since the bike became rideable last Friday (Jan 6th), there have been many nice, clear, and dry days in Portland. The Rudge currently lacks fenders and is equipped with steel rims, the combination making for an impractical and somewhat unsafe bike in wet weather, so having so many dry days to test the bike before the rainy season is over was beneficial. I didn't have to wait until spring to figure out if the bike works for me. So far, the bike has worked for me. It's been a joy to ride.

It took a bit to get used to, though. The inverted North Road bars and smallish (21") frame creates quite the aggressive riding position, something that I haven't experienced since the Centurion Le Mans. It felt a little uncomfortable at first, but once warmed up, I got used to it. The position makes me feel like I'm going faster, though I would not consider this a fast bike. It's about as stripped down as a British three-speed can get, but it is still an old British bike made with hi-tensile steel and still has a heck of a lot of steel componentry. Ironically the only thing that's aluminum save the bottle cage and bracket is the rear hub shell!

The Rudge's geometry is similar to the Raleigh Wayfarer, with 72 degree angles, though the Wayfarer is a larger frame at 23". It's still amazing how versatile these old "sports" frames are. Put North Road bars in the upward position and throw a rear rack, you have a perfectly capable and civilized upright city bike. Drop those North Roads and you've got a sleek little machine.

And the sporty image translates into a sexy bike. While I've owned my share of nice looking bikes, the only other bike that fit the same niche in my stable was the aforementioned Centurion Le Mans. Neither bike was intended to be a practical bike. But still the Centurion was a bit more practical with alloy rims and fenders. The Rudge will be pulled out for special, sunny-day, fun rides. It won't be an everyday rider.
Photo: Raving Bike Fiend

It was (and to some extent, still) tempting to put some more work into the Rudge to make it more practical. Fenders and new alloy rimmed wheels would be the obvious upgrade. But why? I already have two practical, functional bikes: the Long Haul Trucker and the Wayfarer. And the wheels on the Rudge are perfectly functional. I don't have the money for that. Keith and I managed to do what needed to be done to make the bike usable, retaining parts that worked and replacing those that didn't. And the restoration approach was a bit "dirtier" than some folks who do a more meticulous job. Wheels were removed, but the hub wasn't opened. The bottom bracket did not get rebuilt. There was no power washing or touch-up. The philosophy with the hubs and bottom bracket was: oil it up and see how it did. Heck, we used the original chain until I got a new one!

All in all, I managed to carry out the Rudge restoration on the super-cheap. It doesn't hurt that I got the bike for free from Todd Boulanger, had available expert labor from Keith The Raving Bike Fiend, and a supply of some appropriate parts in the stockpile.* Here's what I actually spent money on:

  • North Road handlebars (used) -$10
  • New spoke for rear wheel -$1
  • Velo Orange handlebar water bottle cage clamp -$4
  • Brake pads -$12
  • New chain -$6
  • Cables and housing -$11
  • Seatpost (used) -$4
  • Random nuts, bolts, cotter pins, lock washers, etc -$6
  • TOTAL: $54
Not too shabby, I might add.

I'm really happy with how everything turned out. I've got quite the beautiful steed. And a unique one at that. Rudges are not rare here in the US, but they are nowhere near as common as Raleighs. The "hand" chainring is probably the most interesting part of the bike and has gotten the most attention. People also like the path racer look, or as Mechanic Mark referred to it, the "scorcher" look. It's currently the oldest bike I own** and appropriately looks the most retro. I also like how different this bike is to my others, as it is my most "aggressive" ride. When I ride the Raleigh or the Long Haul Trucker I definitely feel the difference, and can appreciate how each bike has a different fit.

The rains have returned to Portland, so the Rudge will be sitting in the garage, waiting for dry weather. And when the sunny day returns, I'll put her to work!

Big thank you to these fine folk for help or donation of bike stuff: Todd Boulanger, Keith "Raving Bike Fiend" Hallgren, and Roger Noehren.

*Not to mention the use of a cotter press from Roger Noehren!
**I don't know the age on the Worksman Cycle Truck. The design hasn't changed since it was introduced in  the pre WWII years, so it theoretically can be as old or older than the Rudge, but there's no way to figure it out. Most likely the frame is newer than that.


  1. IMHO,my friend,you done good on it,and for the moneys invested,it's a screaming deal! Don't count out the love and sweat you's always worth more than moneys ;). Nice job.

    The Disabled Cyclist

  2. We got a little dirty on this one and am sure as time goes by and money allows it will just get better and better.

    You will have to remind me what I was supposed to put in that little care package for you... and keep the tweed side up.

  3. Keith aka Mr. Comments Off Blog so I can't tell you that it is NOT snowing in Portland right now--
    In that care package I believe you were supposed to send me a blue 1950 Raleigh Sports:

    Seriously, you said you were going to send me a stem for the Rudge. You can if you still want to, but I think that the current stem is fine.

    Disabled Cyclist and Dan--Thanks!


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