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Three Speed Ride

The Rose City THREE SPEED RIDE Series
A Celebration of Planetary Gearing

Next ride: Sunday, March 3rd, 2013.
Details to be announced soon!

First one of 2012 occurred Sunday, February 26. A ride recap here. Second one occurred Sunday, June 24. A ride recap here. Final one of 2012 occurred Sunday, August 12.

These rides celebrate the humble internally geared three speed bicycle.  Once the ultimate in human-powered transportation, the three speed bicycle has been sidelined by first the road bike/10-speed and then the mountain bike.  The three speed has been either disparaged or just forgotten about during the past 40 years.
But there's nothing wrong with a three speed bicycle!

Last year (2011) saw my first Three Speed Ride. Because I was busy touring the continent last year, I only managed one. This year (2012) I want to do several!

  • Casual Day Ride. (easy) A ramble through the neighborhoods of Portland.  The pace will be easy and casual, ride distance 10 to 15 miles (15 to 25 km).  Plenty of stops, including a picnic-style tea (or warm beverage of your choice) and snacks (maybe crumpets?) stop in a park, and ending at an indoor place where one can get food/drink. Note: you are responsible for food and drink.  You can bring the beverage in either a thermos or brew the tea in the park with a camping stove. The Sunday 24 June ride falls into this category.
  • Day Tour. (moderate) A longer exploration of Portland on three speeds. While the pace will still be easy and casual, and there will be a tea break, the distance will be longer, 30-40 miles (50-65km) and there may be a few hills.
  • Overnight Adventure. (somewhat of a challenge) Let's really go somewhere with our three speeds! People toured on them "back in the day", so why not us? The distance will range somewhere 20-40 miles one way. We may go to State Parks with cabins (like Stub Stewart or Battleground Lake), which means we would only need to take bedding, food, clothing, cooking equipment, and other sundries. Or we may also camp in one of the numerous campgrounds in the area.

Why the Three Speed?
As my philosophy teacher would say, "Why not?"* The humble three speed was the way people got around for many years without much complaint before the proliferation of derailleur geared bikes in the 1970's.  Now we think we can't ride a bike with the maximum amount of gears possible. But there's a beautiful simplicity in having only three speeds.  

In the United Kingdom, from the years between "the wars" up until the 10 Speed boom starting in the late 1960's, the three speed bicycle was king.  It was an affordable way for the working class to get around, whether to commute to work or more leisurely jaunts into the countryside.  This ride is a tribute to that era.
Photo by Timo.

Has this ride happened before?
Yes. The first one  happened Saturday March 26, 2011. It departed from Coe Circle (Joan of Arc) at NE Glisan St at Cesar Chavez Blvd (NE 39th Ave), wound its way up to Peninsula Park for a tea stop, and ended in the St. Johns neighborhood of North Portland, a distance of about 12 miles with about 12 riders total.

Will I be able to ride up to 15 miles on a Three Speed? Wouldn't more speeds be better?
As long as you are nominally fit and don't have any knee problems or the like, you should be fine.  Most of the terrain we'll encounter will be flat to gentle grade.  There may be a short hill or two.  If the hill we encounter is too much for you, you can walk it--no shame in that!

I've ridden three speed bicycles around Portland for years and have found it perfectly sufficient for my day-to-day needs.  The low gear does remarkably well on most hills.  When I ride my 24 speed derailleured bike, I'm constantly shifting, trying to find the perfect gear.  With my three speed, I mostly have it in middle gear, only switching to low when I encounter a hill and to high when I need to power along.  If I was going to ride long distances or in really hilly terrain, my derailleur bike would be the appropriate tool for the job.  But for around town, the three speed is ample and able.

And hey, just remember: people used to tour extensively on three speeds back when there was no other choice.  15 miles on mostly level terrain ain't so bad. 

Are you saying that the three speed is the "best" bike?
No.  No bike is the "best" bike, no matter how much it suits you, how much you are into it, or how much of a cult surrounds it.  My "best" bike may differ from your "best" bike. Overall, the bike should suit what you are using it for.  We feel that three speed bicycles are a good choice for riding around town on a daily basis, and sometimes even for a longer ride.  But it does have its limitations.

Do I really need a three speed for this ride? Does it have to be a certain type of three speed?
Well, since this ride is a "three speed ride", we do prefer you have one! We know that three speeds aren't part of many people's stables, we encourage you to at least to try and find one.  Buy a cheap one, borrow, or steal.  (Well, maybe not steal...)

Any kind of internally geared three speed bike is appropriate! While we are partial to Sturmey-Archer, there are many fine makes, such as Shimano, SRAM, and Sachs.  While the ride is supposed to hearken towards a romp in the English countryside, the ride is not limited to British bikes.  Schwinn made some fine three speeds. You'll find a Huffy or Columbia from time to time. Many European city bikes from countries like the Netherlands and Germany are three speeds.  You might even see a Japanese three speed pop up from time to time. And it doesn't even have to originally be a three speed.  Old 70s and 80s Japanese road bikes can make fine three-speed conversions, if you are willing to make the investment in time and money (120 or narrower rear hub spacing.)

If you don't have a three-speed, we welcome you to ride on the "Casual Day Rides" with us, single speed, fixed gear, and derailleured brothers and sisters. But remember, this is a casual, old-fashiony typed ride. If you have the choice between two bikes, one your featherweight crabon-fibred racer decked out in the most advanced and high-ended Srammanologno "groupos", the other the beater bike you found behind the Plaid, bring the beater.  And who knows: maybe seeing all the cool bikes, you'll be encouraged  to find a three speed of your own?

Please note: The Casual Day Rides, like the one on Sunday February 26 and Sunday June 24 are open to any and all bikes. The Day Tours and Overnight Adventures are only open to three-speeds or other appropriate internally geared hubs.

OK, I want to get a three speed. Where can I find one?
Craigslist is great for finding old Raleighs and Schwinns. You might also see Austrian made Sears bikes pop up from time to time.  Prices very: anywhere from $50 to $300.

Local Portland shops that sell used bikes like Citybikes, Community Cycling Center, and A Better Cycle may have a three speed from time to time.  Thrifts and yard sales are other good sources.

Many modern manufacturers have been offering up internal hub geared bicycles as well.  Prices and selection very, but you can find them in many local bike shops.

My old three speed needs help. What can I do? Where can I go to get it worked on? 
First off, many common problems with three speeds, including slipping and improper shifting, can easily be solved by simple adjustments.  You should check these websites out first to see if you can do it on your own:
Sturmey Archer 3-Speed Servicing (Sheldon Brown)
Internal Gears in General (Sheldon Brown)
How to Adjust a Sturmey Archer 3-Speed (Old Bike Blog)
Installing and Adjusting 3-Speed Wheels

Also, many older bicycle repair books (earlier than 1980) will tell you how to service either Sturmey-Archer AW or Shimano 333 hubs. You can find some at the library.

Older Sturmey-Archer hubs have an oil port, so it needs occasional oiling.  A good lightweight oil like a 30 weight motor oil , 3-in-1 oil, or Phil Wood oil should be added from time to time.  (Note: do not use WD40!)

Most shops should be able to help you with common adjustments. If it's something more intensive that requires a hub overhaul A Better Cycle and Citybikes should be able to help you. Both places sell used parts for overhauling these hubs.

Most old Raleigh three-speeds were geared a bit on the high side. To get lower gearing, consider getting a bigger cog in the rear. Many shops will have appropriate cogs. I currently run a 22 tooth cog on my Raleigh Wayfarer.

What about online resources and inspiration?
Besides what we talked about above, Sheldon Brown talks extensively about British 3-Speeds.  Poke around there for hours or reading material.

There is the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour in Red Wing, Minnesota.  This annual ride circles the lake (actually part of the Mississippi River) every May.  If anything, we're doing this ride in the spirit of what they're doing.  We'd love to go someday...

There is is the Southern California Three Speed Touring Club.  And there's this gent doing 3 Speed Touring in Japan. And don't forget about the Three Speed Gallery. And get jealous that this guy in Edmonton regularly finds pristine condition Raleighs for nothing/next to nothing.

From the British Isles come a few good weblinks.  This Crazy Guy on a Bike weblog details bicycling and touring in Northern Ireland during the 50's into 60's.  (Yeah, they mostly ode single speeds, but the feeling is there.)  Cycling before Lycra offers a small glimpse into British touring during the Depression/WWII era.  Oldbike is about lots of classic British bikes.

But our biggest inspiration is this film from the UK in 1955. Produced by the British Rail Board, this film (in two parts) details a "Cyclists Special" train that brought cyclists and their bicycles out to the English countryside for a fun day of touring. (Go here and here if the embedding is wonky.)

Is there a dress code? What is this "rational dress" you mention?

Not really.  Rational dress means riding in normal clothes appropriate for the situation.  Everyday riding doesn't need anything more than that.  Save the lycra and technical wear for your training ride.  And please refrain from wearing all that neon-hued raingear if it isn't really raining out.

If you do want to get more in the mood and dress to a theme, go for the theme of what's in the videos above.  Natural fibers, especially wool.  Button-down shirts and sweaters.  Shorts or knickers (plus-fours).  Sensible socks and footwear.

Is this the Tweed Ride Part 2?


We love the tweed ride and participate in it, and the idea to have this ride is indeed inspired by the Tweed Ride. But please don't think of this as another Tweed Ride.  This ride is about the bicycles, not about fashion. If you want to get all decked out in your finest tweed thread and Victorian era clothing, by all means, go for it!  But we're not giving out prizes for Best Waxed Mustache or Most Authentic Flask or anything like that.

Will there be prizes? 
Nope.  We'll definitely appreciate and admire your meticulously restored Raleigh Roadster from 1935, (and maybe even your waxed mustache and authentic flask!) but you're not going to get a medal or anything.

What is the route? Where does it end? Is this a loop?
Casual Day Ride/Day Tour: We like to keep the route somewhat mysterious, so please don't ask.  We're going to ride together at a moderate pace, and no one will be left behind, so you don't have to worry about that.  If we get ambitious we might print a map/cue sheet to give out at the ride, but not before.  We're not disclosing the ending, either, but we will say it will be a place where we can enjoy adult beverages somewhere on the east side, so bring cash/ID if you want to partake. And please don't expect the ride to be a loop. You should be able to ride home okay, if not, there will be Tri-met bus and/or MAX service near the end of the ride.  Please take this into consideration. If you need appropriate information to get back to the start point, please ask.

Overnight Adventure: We'll definitely let you know where we'll end up for the night! And we'll most likely go back to the starting point. If we don't, we'll let you know.

How will I carry my stuff?
On your bike, of course!  If you want to get thematic, find yourself an old style rucksack at Andy and Bax or splurge for a fancy saddle bag from Carradice.(available at Citybikes) There's no sag/support, so figure it out.

I saw that in 2011 you made a screenprinted poster for the event. It looks cool!  Do you still have those available? Are you going to do more?

I would love to create more screenprinted posters for these rides! However, I don't have a printing set-up, so this requires me paying someone else to print them. Printing isn't cheap, and I never really recouped the costs from the 2011 poster, so future posters are out of the question--for now. The 2011 posters and postcards are still available in my Store.
(Hint: Buy one!)

*I never had a philosophy teacher.


  1. no prizes?

    how am i supposed to pay my rent riding my bike with you not offing up anything?!?

  2. Oh Rev, I'm sure there's some alleycat/bike polo/"Maca Frama" event sponsored by PBR on the same weekend. You can win prizes and sell them to make money.

    Or you might tour with bicycle pornography movies to make money.

  3. I promised the Museum Lady I'd be part of her team tearing down the studio space that her soon to be ex-landlord is too obtuse to appreciate. I wish I could do everything. I mean I OWN a hub-geared bike! Not 3 mind you, but 8.And I got the postcard, thankyou!!
    Remind me to tell you the story of how I helped the cops recover a stolen $5,000 14-speed internal geared hand-built Pereira that my sketchy neighbor tried to sell to me for $200.

  4. See pictures! Not well-taken or edited in any way, but actual photos of an actual ride on actual bicycles - some with 3-speeds!


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