Making the Superbe even more superb

I gave the Superbe its first decent ride yesterday, I logged onto Transport for London's cycle journey planner which I was mightily impressed by.  You put in your start and finish and it will plot a bike route to there using known bike routes/paths.  You can choose slow routes on quiet streets, moderate or faster routes on busier more direct streets.   It can output the map on PDF so you can store it on your smartphone for navigation, very useful and worked really well.

After 20km of riding, I discovered several things: rod brakes aren't that bad... at least in the dry, Raleigh three-speeds are mysteriously overgeared from the factory, the factory lights are woefully dim and that I needed new tyres.  I heard this intermittent bzzzzzzt sound every rear wheel revolution all of a sudden, I thought it may have been the brake pads but on closer inspection I saw this:

The tyre was unseating itself and rubbing on the chainstay, I noticed this when I was fitting the new tubes, the bead didn't seem to seat very well on the drive side rear.  Luckily it didn't blow when I was rolling downhill in top gear!  I would guess that the wire bead on that side stretched over the odd 30 years. They appear to be the original tyres so I guess it's probably just a good idea to replace them anyway; they are Michelin brand and marked "Made in England".  The other problem was the gearing, much like Raleigh Twentys the default gearing is too high, even for flat London.  

The Superbe's stock gearing is 46t x 19t which gives you 47/63/84 gearing inches for a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub.  I found the low gear not low enough for steeper hills, the middle gear was a bit too high which meant starting from a stop was a bit slow and the top gear was only useable on downhills.  Swapping the back sprocket to a 21t gives you a much more useable 43/57/76 which gives you a better climbing gear and a lower middle gear for starting with the top gear for cruising on the flats.  I am quite happy to just coast down hills in exchange for this.

So off I went to order some new tyres and a 21t sprocket.  I was a bit apprehensive at first to get cream coloured tyres, I was starting to really like the look of gumwalls which look really classic.  My other bike Mr Ramen also has white/cream tyres which might be a bit overboard.  I just bit the bullet and ordered Schwalbe Delta Cruisers in cream colour with a reflective stripe, you can't get the gumwall version with a reflective stripe; I think they are great for visibility at night having seen them myself on other bikes.

The other thing I had to do was fit a rack and my old dynamo lights from the Raleigh Twenty.  I routed an extension to the rear light wiring along the inside edge of the of the rear mudguard.  I attached the front light to the old style headset bracket by bolting it through - works perfectly.  The only thing is that they don't look super vintage, but that may be a project for another day.  Again, they are a huge upgrade from the factory lights.

Chain and 21t sprocket installation
Installing a new sprocket and chain on a bike with a full chaincase is a little bit harder than one without, but not that much harder.  All you need to do is:

- Remove the lower bottom section of the chaincase near the rear sprocket and then the chainring cover.  -- Feed the chain through the upper and lower cavities of the chaincase and then feed it onto the sprocket and chainring.  Use a wire bent into a hook shape if you need, but I found it easy enough just to push the chain through
- After getting the correct length, join the chain with a chain tool at the open space near the rear sprocket, a little cramped but very doable.
- Replace the chaincase covers and you're done.  Not as difficult as people make it out to be, worth it for the no-maintenance and clean trousers.  Took me about 15 minutes.

I had the bike flipped over and took some photos because I was surprised at how clean and untouched the bike generally is. The rod brake joints all look like they still have oil in them, the lockring on the bottom bracket looks completely untouched; they are usually almost always chipped away at - this would indicate it's probably never been popped open.  The owner said it had been ridden a little bit then stored for a long time, after having looked over the bike quite closely I believe him.

Look at that shine on the chaincase!

Pedals are marked "Made in Germany" with Raleigh logos and are ball bearing
units unlike the Raleigh Twenty.  The bearings are in excellent condition and spin smoothly

The chain looks nice and clean, the exact reason
I wanted a bike with a chaincase.
The tyres arrived today and I fitted them straight away, they don't look garish at all, I think because they have a nice colour contrast with the dark green mudguards.  I took it out for a quick ride, first impressions are they feel cushy and sticky.  I would feel comfortable riding over crap cobbled and potholed roads that are all too common in London.  On smooth road they are reasonably quick, not a race tyre but that isn't their intended market.  The change to the 21t sprocket makes it just about perfect, low gear is now fine for the hills around south east London, middle gear is perfect for stop and start traffic and top gear is perfect for fast cruising on the flats and most downhills.

Thanks for reading, and happy riding.


  1. it's a lovely bike, glad you are getting a chance to enjoy it!

  2. Thanks! It's a joy to ride and feels so solid and just glides along. The only bad thing is that the place I'm living now is upstairs so I have to lug it up one flight.

  3. I also installed creme colored Schwalbe Delta Cruisers on my Raleigh. They are beautiful tires that ride well!

    How do you like the more modern LED headlight with the classic Dynohub? I have a S-A Dynohub front wheel that we're going to install on my sweetie April's bike.

    I upgraded the 19 tooth cog on my Raleigh to a 20. It's better, but I think I want to eventually go for a 22 tooth.

  4. I am more or less using the same setup as my old Raleigh Twenty, Sturmey Archer AG dynohub with LED front and rear lights. Although the old S/A dynohubs only put out 2 watt (6v 330ma) compared to the standard 3 watt (6v 500ma) the LED lights are still quite good and completely sufficient for riding at night.

  5. I recycled a step through like that.