My new bike: '79 Raleigh Superbe

I've been searching for one of these for a while, scouring gumtree and eBay every few days.  While they are somewhat common, finding the exact one you want isn't so easy.  They come in two sizes, 21" and 23".  My height suits me to somewhere inbetween the two, I can ride a 23" but any sudden jumping off the bike would probably destroy any chance of future progeny.  It's difficult to find the 21" size, there would be the occasional one on eBay and gumtree but usually they wouldn't ship or some other reason.  Also I desperately wanted one with a full chaincase, mostly for the low-maintenance and no chance of getting chain gunk on my clothes, oh and they look oh so cool.

What I find strange about these old Raleigh Superbes is that they seem somewhat anachronistic.  Raleigh kept on making what was effectively a 1940's design for nearly 50 years unchanged.  This one still has front and rear rod brakes with a full chaincase; these typically fell out of favour around the 60's and 70's as most bikes moved to cable operated caliper brakes and hockey stick style chain covers.  It's a timeless design, although the vintagephile in me would have loved to have scored something pre-1960's, this bike was too hard to pass on.

I love the detail on the top of the front mudguard.  Also
the bike came with the key for the fork lock, this locks it in the
straight forward position so anyone trying to steal it would
hopefully crash and die ;)

I picked this one up from a flat on the fourth floor of a housing estate in south east London, not too far from where I'm currently staying.  I went up what could be called the tiniest lift in the world and knocked on his door, as soon as the door opened, a waft of stale cigarettes and smoke punched me in the face; I can still smell stale cigarettes on the bike now.  I took it downstairs, had a quick ride and paid for it.  The average price for a bike like this is around £80-£200 depending on vintage, originality and condition, I got it for a smidge over £100.  This one was nearly completely original, the paint is excellent and all the parts are there;  This is pretty important on these old 3-speeds as little bits and pieces are specific to the bike and would be difficult to chase down and retrofit.  The rear hub has a built in and fully functional Sturmey Archer AG dynamo hub and front and rear lights, more or less identical to the set found on my old Raleigh Twenty.

Woods valve disassembled with valve core and rubber tubing.
Now I finally know what those little rubber tubing bits are for in
those crappy patch kits you get at K-mart.

As soon as I paid for it, I put a bit of air in the tyres and the valve on the back tyre just lost it and wouldn't keep air.  It was a Woods style valve which I had never had any experience with.  No attempt to fix it would make it hold air, so I ended up just walking it to the station and back home.  I went to the local shop to get a spare tube but they didn't have the 26 x 1 3/8 size; this used to be the most common size in the UK and Commonwealth but as mountain and road bikes have taken over in the last few decades it's faded into slight obscurity.  It's also known as 650A (French system) or ISO 590mm, yes confusing I know.  Anyway little did I know but standard MTB tubes will also fit, they are ISO 559 which is about 30mm smaller in diameter but close enough.  Anyway, after putting in some new tubes and rim tape (the old ones inside looked like they were the 30 year old originals I took it for a ride.

The wobbliness is from my one handed shooting, not from the bike :)

Initial impression, remember to tighten axle nuts! After I repositioned the rear wheel, tensioned the chain and heaved 'ho down the road it just glided.  Nice and smooth, I was suprised at how nicely it rode.  Most bikes I have ridden this age usually have some weird rattle, something else is loose and it generally needs a bit of work.  This one however was already in near original mint condition and rode like it came out of the factory.  The rod brakes were suprisingly good, the front one didn't shudder under hard braking like most, the steering was nice and light; it was easy to ride no-hands mom!  I don't think I could have been happier, it would have been difficult to wipe the smile off my face.

The bell that came with it is possibly the most awesomest bell ever, it's a spinning bell which I have never really seen before in real life, only in pictures.  I had no idea they worked like this, yes it sounds weird to get so excited over a bike bell but I love this kind of thing.

Anyway thanks for reading and happy riding.


  1. Thanks, can't wait to get it out and ride it some more!

  2. Looks awesome.... if I had that bike all my friends would be trying to steal it!!

  3. Great score!
    I love that style of bell as well. I have a Chinese version on my Cycle Truck.

  4. I've tested an old AWG hub with modern LED dynamo lights. Whilst the hub is not officially rated for these 3W-type lights, the efficiency of modern LED dynamo lights means they run perfectly fine from the AWG's 2-ish Watt rating. The lights I specifically tried were a B&M Lyt Plus and a rear Spanninga Brompton light. B&M are releasing a 'classic' looking version of the Lyt for 2012 which would be reasonably sympathetic to the Superbe's aesthetics whilst providing a more useful amount of light. The existing tail light should be compatible

  5. Re the comment about LED lights. I discovered that you can buy 6v, 1 watt led car bulbs on ebay that have the same 'wedge' fitting that was used on the 1970s Sturmey Archer lights. The six volt side light bulbs I found cost about £4 for two and work REALLY well, except that the front light does not produce an ideal sort of beam if you want to ride on pitch dar roads and need to see your path lit up in a neat pool of light. The difference in brightness from the led lights is just HUGE over the ordinary incandescent bulbs that mine had. The back light comes on very bright from walking pace, but it does flash at low speed as the poles of the magnet rotor slowly pass the coils. I would NEVER go back to the glow worm bulbs having done this and they should also last much longer than the old type.

    The above conversion too 6v wedge based led side light bulbs requires no change to the system. Just pull out the old bulb and push in the new. BUT if you want to try something else, you can fit a voltage doubler circuit made from a few small power diodes and capacitors (look up circuit for full wave voltage doubler) and fit it into the headlight. Then you can use 12v led bulbs of which there is much more choice. I did that to my daughter in law's Raleigh Twenty amd it works very well.

  6. Sorry about silly typos in above post. Dashed off.... 'too' in 'change to'? :)) 'Amd'?

    The visibility of the LED powered lights is massively better. My wife said the front and back lights were more car like than bike like. The problem with unfocussed pool of light from front light is due to the LED bulbs not emitting from a single point source at the focus of the reflector mirror. It makes a more diffuse kind of emission but I can ride on dark paths with care. There is more light off to the sides than with the traditional bulb This more chaotic beam is great for making you visible on urban roads though.