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Monday, October 08, 2012

And yet another bike: The Raleigh M40

I've made up a rule for my Craigslist trawling: The $50 rule. If I see a bike that fits a need or desire of mine and it's $50 or less and not a piece of shit, I may pursue buying said bike. This way I don't end up spending too much money on a bike, money I shouldn't be spending right now. And the $50 figure is a guideline; if it fits the bill and is advertised for $55, then yeah sure I'll go for it.

One of the types of bikes I've been searching for under the guidance of this rule is an old mountain bike.  (The reason why I was looking for a mountain bike will be expounded on in the next post.) Something mid-eighties through later nineties. It has to be steel, it has to be rigid. No suspension, no aluminum. Now there were a lot of mountain bikes made in the 90's, many of them rigid-frame steel, so I knew at some point a non-department store MTB fitting these parameters for around $50 would pop up. I just knew I had to be patient.

Early in September, I came across a listing for a Raleigh mountain bike, a M40 model. This was the blurry Craigslist photo:

Looked promising. Frame may be a little on the small side, but mountain bikes tend to size smaller than road bikes, so it should be workable. After some email back and forth with the seller, we met up fatefully on the 11th in Northwest. I took it on a spin around the block a couple times, checked the various things that need checking, all that jazz. Everything seemed good. So without further ado, I handed the gentleman $40* and rode the knobby-tied baby home.

When I got home I did some research on the bike. While I love Raleighs (obviously!**) and know quite a bit about old Raleigh three-speeds and other vintage models, the more modern models (especially Raleigh USA models) are a mystery to me. From what I figured out via Bikepedia, the particular M40 I bought was a 1993 model, the first year this model was offered (and ironically, the year I graduated high school.) The MSRP was $308 (inflated for inflation, this would be $472 in 2011) making this an entry-level bike for its era. The componentry speaks this: Shimano Altus C20 and Tourney with some other no-name parts. Nothing fancy, nothing covetable. Whatevs. There were many of these bikes during this era, dependable transportation.
The M40 on day of purchase: Sept 11, 2012. Note "saddle".

One of the most striking things about this bike, however, is how restrained it is for the times. The frame geometry, while not "road", hasn't morphed into the "slanted top tube" now common on MTBs. Yes, the frame is a shade of turquoise, but the graphics are small and out-of-the-way. Compare this to any mountain bike a few years later, where everything screams "Extreeeeme!!!" like a Mountain Dew ad, because obviously anyone on a mountain bike had dreams of entering the X Games. And most interestingly, the rear dropout is horizontal vs. the standard vertical on most mountain bikes, meaning I could convert this bike to a single speed (or hub gear) if I really wanted to.
This wasn't the big selling point, honestly.

Over the course of the next couple weeks, I slowly made some upgrades. The idea was to leave the things alone that could be left alone, but improve certain things to my taste and needs while trying to use parts that I already had. I knew I'd end up spending more on upgrades than the bike itself, but I wanted to limit my spending to around a hundred dollars. And it didn't hurt that Keith The Raving Bike Fiend was in town, so I had someone to help me with the project.
The Raving Bike Fiend at work.

The first major change was the tires. Knobbies for city riding? Unh-uh. I was going to put "street" tires on, but what kind? And how wide? Common wisdom would be to throw 1.5 inch tires on, since this seems like a common "street" width for 26 inch (559 mm) wheels. But why would I want to do that? All of my other bikes are 35-37 mm (1 3/8") wide, why not go fat? So I got myself a set of Rubena V99 Cityhopper Tires. Rubena is a Czech-based tire company just making inroads to North America, and their quality is supposed to be good. At 2.0" (52 mm) wide, the Cityhopper is their take on Schwalbe's Fat Franks. And me being me, I had to get them in brown. I think they look rather nice. I also threw on some black Planet Bike Hardcore fenders.
The Civia Dupont bars. Classy.

The other major change was handlebars. The original bars were very mountainbikey, which I didn't like for either fit or look. My big debate was whether I should go the dork route and get trekking ("butterfly") bars, or something swept back. Swept back won out in the end because of feel (the trekking bars would be too forward) and style. I found a set of Civia Dupont bars at A Better Cycle which I got for a song.

A lot of the other things that I added to the M40 I had laying around, either because I haven't used it yet or they came off another bike.
  • The cheap plastic pedals were tossed and replaced with alloy grippy BMX style pedals that had seen duty on the LHT.
  • The rear rack (Jandd Expedition) also came off the LHT, since I'm not currently using it.
  • Shellacked cork grips from the Worksman Cycle Truck.
  • Crane alloy "hammerstrike" bell from the Raleigh Wayfarer.
  • Minnehaha small saddlebag that's seen duty on a lot of the bikes.
  • PDW Radbot rear light, one of my remaining battery powered rear lights since I've gone all dynohub.
  • Salsa Anything cage I picked up off CL a month or so ago.
  • Oh yeah, that leather saddle! It was last on April's Raleigh Sports before she put her Brooks Champion Flyer on there. The saddle was originally on an old CCM Roadster, courtesy of The Raving Bike Fiend. It's probably seventy years old. I don't know how long it will last, so I'll ride it as long as I can.
Lots of cleaning.
Other new things I bought for the M40:
  • Cygolite Metro 300 LED headlight. I don't know if this bike will ever "go dynamo", and I could always use a good battery-powered headlight. More about this light soon.
  • Velo Orange handlebar bottle cage mount with Klean Kanteen bottle cage.
  • Greenfield rear triangle kickstand. I intended to use the spare Pletscher twin-leg kickstand, but the tight clearance in the area where it would mount (mostly caused by the pulley from the front derailleur***) negated that option. (I doubted I would need the Pletscher for any bike in the forseeable future, which is the reason why I decided to sell it.) 
  • Shimano Tourney shifters. The M40 came with Rapidfire shifters, which broke within a week of use. I was hoping to go with old-school friction thumbie shifters (very Retro-Grouch), but the bike shop was out of them, and this was the next best option. Front shifter is friction, rear is indexed.
  • New cables because of the bars.
As for the drivetrain, it's pretty worn right now, but it's still rideable. We decided that I should just ride it in its current state until it became totally worn out, and then replace what's needed. A new freewheel cluster and chain would be a must, and I probably would install the Shimano Deore crankset that used to be on the LHT. Maybe change the rear derailleur too, as the Altus was a pretty low-end Shimano group.

All in all, I sank about $160****, four times as much as I paid for the bike, but to look at it another way, for $200 I have a stylish and functional city bike/winter bike/dirt rider. Not bad.

Alright, enough about the things that I did. How does it ride?

It rides great!

I think the key selling point to the bike is the size of the tires. It's been a long time since I've had such fat tires. On this bike I don't worry much about bumps anymore, in fact, now I actively seek them out to see how the bike handles. The bike is not a fast bike (duh), and is probably slower than the Wayfarer or the LHT, but it really doesn't feel that way.

Overall, the Raleigh M40 is a fun, yet functional ride. It's far from perfect, and I will still have to do some more work when the time comes. It is a tad on the small side, but I've got it configured so it's comfortable for me. As for why I wanted a mountain bike and what I plan on doing with it, you'll have to check back in for the next post or two!

Big thanks to Keith for all your help on the M40!

*Originally he wanted $65 but he lowered the price twice without me even asking, the second time because the original saddle basically disintegrated.
**And no, the reason why I pursued the bike had nothing to do with the Heron logo. It just happened to be the bike that fit the bill at the appropriate time.
***It's a bottom-pull derailleur, but the cable is routed via the top-tube, hence the pulley. Yes, it makes little sense.
****I didn't include the price of the Cygolite Metro 300 headlamp into this figure because it's intended to be used on multiple bikes. And when you really look at it $160 is pretty low for the amount of new stuff I bought. Let's just say I know how to get some sweet deals. The perks of living in Portland for twelve years!


  1. Way to class up an old MTB! Looks dang spiffy, especially with the bars and bags. It's handy to have a stock of parts you can swap onto a new acquisition. I've just finished building up my new winter ride also, a late 80's Rocky Mountain MTB. It doesn't look as nice as yours, though.

  2. Love an old MTB project - looking forward to following its progress. I must give my modded Giant Boulder 550 a ride soon ...

  3. Glad to see I'm not the only one riding around on modified mountain bikes. My winter bike is a 1991 steel frame MTB (which I bought new in 1991), which I like because I can actually mount full fenders on it unlike my newer IronHorse. Although I did change the handlebars on my IronHorse to a much more comfortable set from a 1970's Raleigh (one of a few bike hacks in the garage).

    Just curious why you preferred the flat top tube versus slanted? Style preference? Or is there some practical advantage?

    Also waiting in suspense for the promised explanation as to why you set up this bike, especially the 2 inch tires. Dirt track touring trip coming up??

  4. (Firstly,sorry I've been away and not around to catch up with you for a spell-lots happened on th ehmefront taking my attention)

    I really dig the bike and the write-up about it! I LOVE seeing older mtn bikes repurposed,and that one looks to be sweet now :)

    I'd been wanting some bars similar to those Civia's mentioned,but wasn't sure where to get em,they'd be much more at home (and much more comfy with that sweep) on my Xtracycle than the bars currently borrowed off my 29"er...on the circa 2000 mtn frame (TREK 6000),they leave me too stretched and low for comfort for anythingover 10-12 miles. Thanks for the link :) Glad to see you're still ot enjying bikes,my friend,been too long since we talked :)

    Steve (The Disabled Cyclist ;) )

    1. Hey Steve DC, you should check out the Linus Dovers as well. April has them on their Linus and they are half as much as the Duponts:

      Also, a "North Road" styled bar should be good. They tend to be easy to find used. And Wald makes some nice, if not heavy, swept-back bars.

    2. or the Rivendell bosco bars work too

  5. What is your opinion so far on the Rubena Cityhopper tires? I am considering these, mainly because of price and looks, for a old Diamondback that I am putting together.

    1. Chris, I like 'em! I've used these tires for four months, as they migrated to the Crested Butte when I built that up. No flats so far, and perform well. I don't think you can go wrong with them.

    2. Thanks Shawn. I should have noticed that these tires went to the Crested Butte. Anyway, being new to your post, I am really enjoying your older posts. I too, transform those great older mountain bikes into comfortable, practical modes of transportation- all on a shoe string budget. Thank you for all the effort you put into your web site:)

    3. Thanks, Chris! Old mtbs are so ripe for citybike type conversions.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful read. I have had my M 40 for about 20 years...15 of those years it was out of commission. I got it all fixed up for my son for about a hundred bucks and he says it's the best bike he's ever ridden. The smaller frame is perfect for his build and it does handle well. I'll be looking into the Cityhoppers next!

  7. This is neat. I just started riding my 1993 M40, same color, that I bought new. I realize it was "entry level" but for me, a college student at the time, it was my first "real" bike and I thought it was expensive. I used it to commute a mile or so to school quite regularly.

    It was used only occasionally for a decade or so, but I recently started using it as a grocery getter in decidedly bicycle-unfriendly Peoria, IL. I added a Topeak rear rack with the bag that has expandable panniers, a flashlight holder, GPS mount (heavy for a bike computer but didn't want to buy another piece of electronics,) a nicer pump, and some handlebar extensions just because my wife had bought them for her bike but decided she didn't want them. Everything else is original except tires, seat, and possibly grips, which I replaced sometime in its first decade.

    I weighed this bike the other day... and with everything on it but a water bottle it weighs 47 (!) pounds. But hey, I'm cycling for exercise. If it were lighter, I'd have to ride further.

    The shifter pully is indeed silly. The shifting is inexact and hard to adjust so that all gears are available. After some work I got it to where just a couple of combinations have the chain making derailleur-rubbing noises. Other than that it is rock solid.



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