I’ll be riding a Raleigh ‘Classic’ all-steel tourer, hand-built in Nottingham during the 1980’s. I’ve owned this ‘gentlemens’ conveyance’ since new. It was described in Raleigh’s 1985 catalogue as being for ‘the serious cyclist who wants the ultimate in quality and function’.
It’s forty years since the ‘Classic’ left the Raleigh factory but all parts remain original except for the chain, tyres, rear gear cassette, pannier rack and bar tape. I’ve also added a Mirrycle rear view mirror to spot errant drivers before they come too close. Frame and forks are made from Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing – the ‘gold-standard’ for touring bike frames forty years ago. Together with the long wheel-base and shallow frame angle (73 degrees) riders enjoy a superbly comfortable ride albeit a fairly sedate one. The Brooks leather saddle also does its bit to ‘support’ veteran riders’ sore bones. After 40 years, it’s just about broken in!
The ‘Classic Tourer’ boasts a triple chainset (30, 40, 50) which was hugely fashionable at the time but much less so today. This compensates for the limited rear cassette which has only five rings, 13-32. Gear changing is via levers on the frame tube. Moving to a lower or higher gear is all done by ‘feel’. So it’s quite easy to ‘get it wrong’, especially if fingers are cold (often) or something’s out of adjustment (very often). Modern road bikes have bar-mounted electronic changers with just two rings on the front but as many as ten on the rear. All this adds up to smooth, precise gear changing that’s easier on the legs.
The bike frame is larger than average at 65cm (25 inches) and is designed for someone well over six feet tall. Even with the saddle and bars ‘low’ it’s still possible to achieve a very efficient riding positition which gives maximum stability and speed. The downside is that it can be difficult to get on and off!
The ‘Classic’ is built for load-carrying and climbing so it’s not a fast bike by any means. Around the quite challenging hills of Sussex, I’m able to average around 14mph (without luggage). (This is at least 2mph less than the Raleigh ‘Light Tourer’ I use for local ‘sportives’ and which carried me round the London/Surrey 100 in Summer 2018.)
So why not use something more modern and faster for the ride to Shetland? Three reasons. Firstly – steel bikes are enjoying something of a renaissance because they flex, bounce and can carry huge loads. None of that can be said of modern carbon frames. Secondly – I couldn’t bear to discard a familiar ‘old friend’. The ‘Classic’ is very forgiving, easy to repair and attacts the right sort of attention – from cycling purists rather than bicycle thieves. Finally it’s great value for money after 40 years. A modern equivalent would set me back by at least £3,000.