Raleigh Bicycle Restoration 1969 Superbe

After restoration:

shiny left

Before Restoration:

rusty bike side view
I purchased this 1969 Raleigh Superbe from the bike shop where I worked in Davis, California around 1990. It was a trade in, and I immediately gobbled it up. An old 3-speed with fenders would not catch a thieve's eye, so it was perfect for a college town with lots of bikes stolen each year. Davis is also totally flat, so three speeds was overkill. I added a very bright halogen generator, a very large front metal Wald basket, and an aluminum kickstand. I needed a taller aluminum seatpost so that the bike fit (23" was the largest Raleigh made) and a new seat (the leather Brooks was trashed). I also put on lightweight plastic pedals. It even had the locking fork key!

This bike was my daily commuter from 1990-97. I rode it seven days a week, putting on about 4 miles a day. I conservatively estimate the mileage to be about 5,000. It went through torrential winter rains, blistering summer heat, and all the days in between. I put on two sets of tires and replaced much of the generator wire at some point. I believe that I overhauled the rear hub at one point (everyone should overhaul a 3-speed hub once in their life!). In any case, it shifts fine. I also repacked the bottom bracket, front hub, and headset. I may have gotten one or two flats in the front. I put a tire tuffy in the rear. Overall, the bike was great.

The bike was out of commission from 1997 to 2006. I either lived too close to work to bike, or the hills along the coast were too much for a three speed (imagine riding up Lombard Street in San Francisco). I made the mistake of leaving it outside, in the rain and fog for one winter. It got REAL rusty on all exposed chrome and even the paint started to rust. The handlebars looked real bad.
rusty handlebars
rusty rear
rusty front
I decided to restore the bike to its former glory in fall 2006. Here is the catalog for this bike. First, I needed to be able to ride it. I followed some online resources and contacted Sheldon Brown about putting a larger tooth cog on the back. It came with an 18 tooth Sturmey Archer sprocket on the back, with a 46 tooth Raleigh sprocket at front. The hills I encounter on my brief commute (15 minute walk) are very steep. I didn't want to arrive at the office sweating and out of breath. So I went with a very large 30 tooth rear cog. As the above pages describe, you can't get a 30 tooth Sturmey Archer sprocket. But a local bike shop gave me a used shimano cassette sprocket. I filed down the inner flanges and it fit. I added an extra spacer so that it doesn't have too much play. The 1/8" chair is a bit "loose" since the shimano sprocket is for a derailleur bike (I might switch to a 3/32" chair at some point). After adding the larger sprocket, I needed to raise the chainguard. This was easy for the seat stay connection, since I just slid the bracket upwards. But it was a bit tough up front, since the chaingaurd connects to two brazed on tabs on the down and seat tubes. My solution was to create "add on" tabs from galvanized metal stripping with pre-punched holes. I filed these down (so that my pants wouldn't snag on them) and bolted them to the brazed on tabs. Then, in order to connect the chainguard, I used thin nylon cable ties. The result is secure, if a bit ugly to look at. But it's pretty enough for me.
shiny sturmey archer hub
shiny drivetrain

 Once I realized that the new gearing was low enough for my needs, I began to clean the bike. I took it apart except for the handlebars and forks. I just didn't want to open that up, since the fork spun nicely. The most ambitious part to clean was the frame, but in the end, it was one of the most rewarding. It was rusting through in some areas, and the paint was worn in areas. No chipping, but rather just worn through to the black primer. My goal was to remove the surface rust and oxidation and to bring out a luster. I didn't want to repaint it. The first thing I did was to go over the frame with steel wool and WD-40. This is harsh treatment, but the paint didn't seem to mind it so much. I then used some medium cut car polish. The tough part is figuring out how to apply polish with power tools. I tried hand buffing, but I wasn't getting too far, so I knew I needed to use power tools. Of courses, my car buffer was too large to get around bike frame tubes. So I bought a thin polishing pad that was attached to a drill bit. I didn't know these existed. It is a very narrow 4" "wheel" that is about a quarter of an inch thick and made of layers of fiber pads pressed together. I put the polish on the frame and buffed in the direction of the tubes. It did a great job of polishing. As expected, in some areas, the drill was a bit too enthusiastic, and it wore through the paint. After a while, I got a good feel for it, and this happened less and less. But I didn't mind, since my goal was to bring out a shine and get rid of very seriously dull, oxidized and rusted paint. After I polished with the drill, I switched to buffing by hand with a fine cut polish, just to bring out the shine. I learned through working on cars that a fine cut polish must be used after a more coarse polish, otherwise you won't get a very nice shine.
rusted top
rusty bottom

The chrome parts like handlebars, rims, hubs, and cranks were first cleaned using WD-40 and a wire brush, then using brass wool. Finally, I polished them with Semichrome polish. I also spent time on the smaller parts, like the brakes, brake levers, and cable housing clamps. Wherever possible, I took apart the components to properly lube, clean, and adjust them. I figure that if you're going to spend the time on a project, you should do it right. Those little details, like shiny brake arms, really matter.
shiny caliper
shiny rear caliper

I applied chrome paint to some chrome parts that had some chrome peeling off, such as the brake levers and handlebars. This solution is just so-so. Up close, it's very obvious since the paint can't match the chrome exactly. But from a distance, it looks good. The best solution would be to find decent used replacement parts. But I didn't want to go through that effort, and I wanted to keep the bike as original as possible. I could have chrome painted the rims (especially the rear rim) as well, since a lot of chrome had come off from brake pad wear. But I figured that the paint wouldn't hold anyway, so I didn't bother. Not sure if this is the right call or not.

Overall, I'm very happy with how nice the frame and parts cleaned up. The frame is shinny and much lighter in color, and it looks like a different bike. I'm sure that I removed quite a bit of paint, but even in the sections that are worn down to the black primer, the tubing gleans. Only in a few areas, such as at the seat and head tube lugs, couldn't I remove rust and oxidation to bring out a shine. I bet that if my bike was not in such bad shape to begin with, I might have brought it to a near new finish. The chrome parts turned out very well, despite the chrome painting issues I mentioned above. There is always some pitting on parts this old, but they look great, especially the nice Raleigh chainring. The big rear hub and rims in particular are brilliant, especially with the new stainless steel spokes. Nothing makes a bike look good like shiny wheels.

shiny right
shiny left 2
shiny top tube

The bike is not all original, and I've noted some changes that I made when I first got the bike. During this restoration, I decided to rebuild the wheels. New spokes just look so nice, and old ones will break from time to time, so this upgrade is both functional and aesthetic. The rims weren't perfect, but I wanted to keep them original. I put a new chain on it, which looks great. I don't see any reason to keep an old chain, unless we're talking about a very old bike with compatibility issues. I kept the tubes/rimstrips, but the tires need to get topped off every two weeks, so maybe I should get new tubes or check the valves. I bought new cables and housing, which greatly improve the feel of the brakes and shifters. I got teflon lined cables, and I like them. I kept the original Sturmey Archer shifter after lubing it up. For safety reasons, I put new brake pads on. There is no reasons to risk my life on a steep descent with 38-year old pads on steel rims in the rains. I got Kool Stop pads as recommended by Sheldon Brown. I also replaced some of the three speed parts, such as the rear axle bolts and indicator chain. The bolts can strip very easily. If you need new ones, make sure that you get the proper-sized ones from a shop that knows about three speed parts, like Harris Cyclery online. I put new tires on the bike. The originals were whitewalls, I believe, but these blackwalls look good and are of decent quality. I also bought a vinyl saddle with springs that matches the look of the bike. Good saddles in this style that don't say "Schwinn" are a bit hard to find, and mine is a cheap seat. Since I'm only riding this bike for a few miles at a time, this is fine, and I'll sacrifice function for form. But on the few occasions when I spend over an hour on the bike, but butt nearly fell off, so I've decided to not take this bike on long distances.
shiny head tube
shiny head tube 2

I repacked the bottom bracket and front hub. I kept the original bearings, because I'm not sure if they are standard size, as much of the threading on the bike is from a now-defunct English sizing. Plus, the hub bearing surfaces had some pitting, and I won't be racing this bike any time soon. On more standard hubs, I'd just go ahead and replace the bearings. I also decided to save weight by removing the rear rack, since I almost never used it, and I removed the kickstand, since I can lock the front fork and prop the bike against a wall. However, I replaced the old Wald basket with a new one of the same size. It's clearly cheaper made than their earlier baskets, but I like front baskets a lot. All of these pictures are before I installed the new basket and Halogen generator.

I have to say that I hate cottered cranks. They must be replaced when you take off the cranks, since you'll bend them, and you must be careful about getting the correct sizing. Despite getting the correct size, I still find myself having to tighten them about once a week. Once loose, they create a very bizarre pedaling motion. This has always been the case, since 1990.

Here's a list of the parts I purchased:
tires $20
saddle $30
chain $9
rear sproket $0
spokes $15
brake shoes $16
cables and housing $5
parts to raise chainguard $5
basket $20
cotter pins $3

Total $123

This was a fun project, and my trusted daily commuter is now back to great mechanical shape. Plus it's a real classic and looks great on a college campus.

I'm currently working on restoring a 1976 Schwinn Superior. This is a fillet-brazed frame from the Chicago factory.