Gravel Bike Baby!


Snow Bike

I did a couple gravel events last year, and in the snowy dark depths of winter, I started to think about the new biking season.  Actually so much so, that I started biking in the snow and ice, but maybe that should be another blog entry. I put this together (right) with a home made studded front tire.  Salt is brutal on bikes, though.

And I caught wind of the Dairy Roubaix, and signed up.  And started thinking about the upcoming season, and what I wanted to do, and to accomplish, on my bike.

And I needed a bike.  I rode my old Raleigh on a gravel event last year, and had a great ride.  But I don’t want to beat up the Raleigh, so needed something similar, that had the same kind of ride and fit as the Raleigh.


The Raleigh International was a “sport touring” bike, if you will, with a longer wheelbase and slacker angles than the sportier racing models.  And built of light and lively steel tubing.  It wasn’t a racing bike, but wasn’t a full touring bike, either.  Somewhere in between.  And on gravel, in my opinion, all these things come together beautifully.

Roughly a year ago I started a project.  I had an old frame with bad paint, and decided I could practice brazing on it.  If I wrecked the frame, not a great loss.  If I succeeded, possibly a nice bike that could serve a variety of purposes.  I purchased all the little frame parts from a place that supplies that stuff to bike builders, a cheap brazing torch, and silver solder (and flux).  Learning to Braze and Part II.


A couple of quick notes about the frame, why I thought it might be ideal.  One, the right size.  Another, steel, which can be brazed, and the ride quality, as previously noted.  And one more thing, but important–  the frame was originally made for 27″ wheels, a little bigger than the now standard 700c.  This creates an oppurtunity, as switching to the smaller wheels can allow a bigger tire and fenders, if desired.  And adding cantilever brake mounts gives the desired brake alignment to the smaller wheel size, and an all conditions brake.  One more thing, this lowered the frame which was really a size bigger than I usually ride, but helped to make the fit just right.


Other things came up (last summer), personal things, and this project was hung up (literally), and almost forgotten.  And it can be hard to start again a project, there is a momentum that is lost.  But I needed a bike for the gravel races, and it occurred to me that this frame might be just what I needed.  After repair of some brazing errors, it was off to the powdercoater.

This is what the bike looked like completed.


IMG_20130425_105813The color is an olive drab with low gloss, a color actually used by the military.  The bike is a mix of old and new.

The old, summarized-

  • vintage steel frame and fork
  • vintage quill stem and handlebars
  • vintage (80’s) hubs
  • vintage 7 speed cassette (customizable for gearing, longer lasting than modern 9, 10, or 11)

The new, summarized–

  • tubeless tires (awesome!)
  • modern cantilever brakes with advanced brake pads
  • modern crankset and pedals
  • very comfortable and effective brake levers
  • cartridge bearing headset (no longer offered by Shimano, though)
  • modern rims and spokes

The end result?  Well, I love the bike.  It eats up the gravel roads.  Just the right gearing for hills, mushy patches, or whatever.  Tires are, dare I say, the perfect combination of ride comfort, speed, and traction.  Tires did not slip on steep climbs, and helped me not go down when I hit a slippery section downhill at high speed.  Tires also are quite fast on pavement as well.  Steel frame absorbs road buzz and shock, and gives just the right amount of spring.  Brakes strong and confidence inspiring when going downhill and fast. Shifting  functioned without flaw.  Wheels strong, light, and compliant, adding to the comfort on a long ride or race.


redneck ingenuity

I’m looking forward to more riding and racing this summer.

One more thing about this bike.  See the pulley?

I brazed on a post to mount a pulley, but managed to snap off a bolt in it, trying to fix the threads.  One prototype and then a second attempt resulted in this pulley, made from the clamp from an old front derailleur, and a derailleur pulley.  Works great.

All for now…


Raleigh International Update

I’ve covered my Raleigh International before, but decided to post again about some changes I’ve made to the bike. This bike would qualify for the L’Eroica, but there were no bike requirements for the Heroic.  It was encouraged to bring an old bike, if you could, so the Raleigh  was a natural choice.


First off, I have to say this bike handled beautifully on the rural gravel roads.  Steel frame, longer wheelbase, generous fork rake- this bike was made for this kind of riding, a true pleasure to ride.

I made a few key changes to this bike, which helped for this event, and really worked well.

Wheels- later 80’s Mavic/Shimano 600 wheelset.  Rear hub was retrofitted with a Uniglide freehub, the axle shortened, and respaced to 126mm.  More about Uniglide will come later here.

Gearing and Drivetrain – For a long, hilly gravel course, I felt I should have more of a touring or ‘cross like gearing.  52/42 chainrings were replaced with 48/39. Ramps and pins on the 48, they do make a difference.  The Uniglide freehub conversion allowed me to create a custom 7 speed cassette, which turned out to be 13/26.  It was a little humbling to find out the winner’s small chainring was a 44, and another guy who finished far ahead of me rode a fixed gear!

Tires-  Challenge Parigi-Roubaix, 27c.  It was mentioned on some forum that tires with more aggressive tread patterns aren’t necessarily better or more helpful on gravel roads, at least in dry conditions.  These tires worked well for me.  Occasionally loose gravel patches were a little challenging, but not overly so.  On the well packed smooth lines I was able to find most of the time, these tires were perfect.

IMG_0431Brake pads- I was starting to doubt the old Shimano Golden Arrow side pulls.  They just weren’t stopping well.  Although the rubber in the still original pads didn’t seem dry or brittle, they just didn’t stop well.  I replaced with some cheap Serfas pads, which work great.  I am a fan of these (and other cheap things that work very well).

I switched to a drop bar, and Suntour bar end shifters.  These shifters are tried and true.  It is nice to be able to keep your hands on the bars and shift on road conditions that can change pretty quickly.  They work well with the 7 speed Uniglide Cassette, but with a higher cog count they start to lose their effectiveness.  The handlebars were re-bent from a standard bend road bar.  The ends are bent and flared out.  Yes, I bent aluminum handlebars!

I cobbled together the water bottle holders on the handlebar.  I thought it looked a little old-timey, even with modern bottles and cages.  There is usually no support or water stops on these rides, so I wanted to be sure I had enough hydration.  As cold as it was the day of the Heroic, I actually did drink all 3 bottles.

It’s a wonderful bike, I am privileged to own it, and now race it!

Mark Skorpahl showed up with his Raleigh International, too, and he won!


’73 Raleigh International

My Raleigh International.  Chrome Nervex lugs, Reynolds 531, Campagnolo dropouts.  A classic!  I was trying to find a Schwinn Volare or a Superior in my size (and a non-exhorbitant price) without success when this popped up on Craigslist one night.  I called the phone number, and the seller agreed to have me come out right away (it was kind of late, there were deer running around his neighborhood!).  I took the bike home, and forgot all about the Volare.

Well, although the Nuovo Record components were quite nice, I wasn’t thrilled about the Weinmann center pull brakes, or the GB bars and stem (aesthetically speaking).  I decided to rebuild the bike.

I had a Shimano Golden Arrow (later renamed 105) group I had put away, and decided this was the bike I was saving it for (is that bad English?).  I was able to get the shift levers mounted on some Jagwire bar end pods, and use the full group.

I made the leather wraps for the handlebars.  They are stitched on with waxed thread.  (I never got around to finding some hoods, I guess)  You can see below the brake calipers have a nice long reach to allow 700c wheels to work in this frame.  And still fender clearance if so desired.

The saddle is a Fujita Belt and the seatpost Sugino, to continue the Japanese theme.  The wheelset, not original but came with the bike, are Ambrosio clincher rims and Dura Ace hubs.  I decided to go with ‘cross tires.  

I think the crankset is really nice looking.  The pedals are Shimano A530.  It has a really nice chain, too, and a Dura Ace freewheel.

There you have it.  I feel lucky to have this bike in my collection.  It’s a keeper.