Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Raleigh folly

Am I crazy? A few weeks ago I sold my four-year-old, spotlessly clean, perfectly good, department store mountain bike for $30, and on Sunday I bought this 36-year-old, dusty, dented, scratched, slightly rusty Raleigh LTD-3 with two flat tires for $15.

Raleigh folly or find? Only time and elbow grease will tell.
Heron head badgeHeron head chainringRear fender-benderSturmey-Archer hub dated "73 2"

Honestly, I didn't think it was still possible to buy an old Raleigh bike in reasonable condition for a mere $15. Low-priced, quality vintage bikes on craigslist seem to be snapped up in minutes, while the lesser quality vintage bikes keep showing up like unclaimed luggage on the baggage carousel. I decided to look a little further outside the big city, thinking there might be less competition from the "bike flippers" who buy and sell for a profit. A few days ago, I spotted an ad for a "Women's Classic Bike - $15". It contained a very brief description, stating that the bike was in good condition with very little rust and had been stored in a basement. Here's the photo that accompanied the ad:

It looked like a Raleigh to me, but I'm certainly no expert. At $15, I was sure it would be gone in a flash if it was a Raleigh, and since it was located quite a distance away, I hardly had a chance at beating anyone to the prize anyway. To my surprise, the ad was still active on Saturday, so I sent an email inquiring about the make and model. The reply was Raleigh, and after debating whether it was worth the drive, I decided to call and get more details. The owner agreed to hold it for me until Sunday, and actually took a half hour off my drive by meeting me at a closer location where she had an appointment that morning.

The exchange was made, and as soon as the seller departed, my daughter (who had accompanied me on my little adventure) jumped out of the car to examine the bike we had come so far to buy. Right away she spotted the beautiful chainring, which I explained was a heron's head, the symbol of Raleigh. She begged me to go for a test ride around the parking lot, but the flat tires made it impossible. I was surprised how small the bike seemed, especially the wheels, compared to the giant 700s on my other bike. I'm really looking forward to the feel of curvy handlebars again (though it may be a while!).

After a morning spent driving through the beautiful countryside of eastern Pennsylvania, I arrived home with my prize. I dreaded the reaction from my husband, thinking he wouldn't be able to see past the scratches and dents, but once again he surprised me. He couldn't wait to get it down from my car's bike rack and have a look at it. "I used to have a Raleigh," he said. I hastened to acknowledge its flaws before he said anything negative about the bike, but when I pointed out the dents, he replied, "I can take care of them." At that point, I knew the bike had passed muster. It was worth $15.

Then he said, "So how much could you sell it for?"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Maybe I'll go for a Guinness tonight. Sláinte!

Hey, spring is almost here!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Betty Foy and her mother

As I was perusing the vintage bikes listed on ebay a few days ago, one particular mixte frame bike stopped my scrolling mouse dead in its tracks:

It immediately brought to mind the beautiful Rivendell bike named Betty Foy, which is one of the finalists in Dottie’s search for her next bike:

Details, details:

Shopping details here:
Betty Foy by Rivendell Bicycle Works
J. B. Louvet Mixte listed on ebay (going, going, gone?)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What would Yehuda Moon do?

Last week I sold my old bike, the one that I bought about four years ago to accompany my daughter around the neighborhood. It had been taking up space in our garage for over a year, and my husband wanted it out before lawn mower season arrives.

My first thought was to donate the bike to Neighborhood Bike Works, a non-profit organization that teaches kids to work on bikes and eventually earn one after putting in enough hours. But their website says they are not interested in low-end department store bikes. So after offering it to family and friends with no success, I decided to try selling it on craigslist and put the proceeds toward a secondhand bike for our daughter.

Choosing an asking price, however, was a bit uncomfortable for me. The bike was in perfect working condition and looked nearly new, but it was just an inexpensive mountain-bike-wannabe from a big sporting goods store. Although decals on the frame boasted that it was “Shimano equipped” and made by Mongoose, a name that most people would recognize, I felt like I was trying to sell inferior goods. Just one year ago I had experienced firsthand the difference between a department store bike and a bike shop bike, yet now I was trying to convince another person to buy a lower quality bike. Or was I just being a bike snob? How bad can Shimano parts be? How low-end does Mongoose go? Was I promoting cycling or leading someone toward a money pit bike?

Eventually I realized that it could simply be another person’s first step to discovering (or rediscovering) the joy of biking, as it was for me. I priced it low enough to keep my guilt at bay and their investment minimal in the event that they too decided to upgrade to a better quality bike. There was a lot of interest in the bike for a few days, and when the eventual buyer came to pick it up, I knocked $10 off the price without even being asked. Maybe not what Yehuda Moon would do (he’d most likely put it out on his bike-sharing racks, I think), but at least it made both the buyer and seller feel better. What would you do?

[Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery is an online comic strip by Rick Smith. Read the first one here.]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Folder Folly

Last spring I thought it might be a good idea to buy a secondhand bike for our daughter to leave at the shore house that my family shares in New Jersey. This would eliminate the heaviest bike from my car’s bike rack and reduce the time spent loading the bikes for each trip.

Memorial Day weekend is always the biggest weekend for yard sales at the Jersey Shore, so we decided to try to find a bike while we were there. There were a few signs posted around town that said simply, “Bikes for Sale” with an address below, so we headed in that direction. The small yard was full of “vintage” bikes in many sizes, most covered in rust, but none that were the right size for our daughter (24-inch wheels). Then I spotted a shiny, red folding bike that looked brand new.

The seller told us the bike had been bought new many years ago, but it had hardly been used at all. I remembered the rows of brightly colored Bromptons and Dahons in the bike shop where we had bought our bikes a few months earlier and thought maybe we had found a bargain after all. While the asking price was more than we had planned to spend on a used kid’s bike, this one could adjust to fit anyone in the house. My husband was skeptical, but I was convinced it was the perfect solution. Finally, he agreed to let me buy it, but only if I could get it for less than asking price (after seeing the overpriced rusty bikes). A ten dollar deduction sealed the deal, and the folded bike in its carry bag went into our trunk.

Back at the house, the man who wanted no part of that ridiculous looking bike (my husband) couldn’t wait to try it out. After adjusting the seat and handlebar, he disappeared down the street, and I have to admit that I was worried that the bike would fail its first test ride in some major way. But he returned in a few minutes, trying not to smile. “It’s fun. Goofy, but fun.” He reported that everything had worked fine, but the brakes were extremely stiff. Our daughter and her two cousins were anxious to try out the “new” bike, but we only allowed them to go a short distance and very slowly due to the brakes.

When we returned home after the weekend, I did some research on the mysterious “HON California” folding bike we had bought and discovered that it was an early Dahon. The company was forced to change its name because of a conflict with the Hon Company that made office furniture, so they added the “Da” from David, the founder’s first name, to Hon, his last name.

According to the serial number scratched into the frame at the fold and the number on the Sturmey-Archer hub, the bike was made in 1985.

I decided to take the bike to our bike shop for advice on the stiff brakes. The owner was helping another customer, but excused himself for a moment to quickly let me know that he believed I had a near mint condition “D-1” (if I remember correctly). When I told him how much I had paid for it, he said a collector would pay at least twice that amount just for its parts. He regretted to inform me that they will not do work of any kind on the bike, since they cannot get parts for it and would not risk breaking anything that they couldn’t replace. He also did not recommend folding bikes for children. Then he returned to his customer, leaving me with the nice young employee who seemed to hope I wouldn’t ask him any more questions about the bike. I left the shop a bit overwhelmed with the all the information, and also a bit disappointed that the bike wouldn’t be as useful as I had hoped. The obvious thing to do was to sell it, hopefully for a profit.

For the rest of the summer, we brought all of our bikes back and forth to the shore, while the folding bike stayed in its carry bag at home. I’ve finally decided to try to sell it on eBay, and maybe the profit will be enough to buy a secondhand bike for our daughter and a vintage mixte frame bike for me at one of this year’s yard sales. Who knows what folly I will find next time? (My husband is groaning right about now.)