11 January 2012
At this early stage of 2012, it probably wouldn't surprise you to know that most of the miles I've pedalled this year have been on my commutes. That got me to thinking of some bikes I've ridden to and from jobs past.
Here's a bike I haven't thought about in a while: a Miyata three-speed. I'm guessing it was the 1981 model shown in the catalogue page above because it matches, in every detail, the bike I rode for about two years.
It actually was a classy-looking bike: Were I wearing suits to work, I would have had no difficulty riding it--or the ladies' (non-mixte) model were I wearing skirts and heels. However, I was working jobs that had no dress codes, and even by those standards, I didn't dress particularly well.
Still, I recall enjoying the ride of the bike very much. I think it had a somewhat tighter geometry than other three-speeds like the ones made by Raleigh, Peugeot and Schwinn. Equally important, the frame was made out of lugged chromoly tubing, which was considerably lighter than the frames on those other bikes. Plus, most of the components--including the rims, cranks, handlebars, stem, fenders and chainguard--were made from aluminum alloy rather than steel.
Back then, 3-speeds (or any other commuter-specific bikes) weren't "hip:" thus, I was able to buy mine when it was about two years old for about 50 dollars. (If I recall correctly, it sold for about 300 dollars new.) Occasionally, someone would compliment it on its looks; more often, though, I found myself defending it when someone wondered aloud why I didn't get a racing bike (which I had, in fact, in addition to the Miyata three-speed). And I enjoyed knowing that I was riding something not many other people--at least in America--were riding.
However, the bike shared one shortcoming with many other Japanese bikes of the time: its wheels. Japanese rims and spokes of that time were heavier but not as strong as their European counterparts, and the Japanese "stainless" spokes often corroded, even on bikes that weren't ridden in the rain and were stored indoors. Within a few months, I had to re-spoke the rear wheel with a new rim. In fact, it was one of the first wheels I laced myself.
In lacing a new Weinmann concave rim to the hub, I discovered that the largest-gauge DT spokes available were too small for the spoke holes in the Shimano three-speed hub. Fortunately, I hadn't tensioned the wheel, so it was relatively easy to unlace them and re-fit the hub and spokes with washers between the spoke heads and hub.
Then I discovered that the Shimano three-speed hub simply wasn't as strong or reliable as the Sturmey-Archers on the old English three-speeds. I don't know how many models Shimano made then, but the one I had seemed to be the only one exported to the US. This was in the days when Shimano was notorious for not making spare parts available. So, unless you knew someone with a pipeline to the factory in Japan, you were SOL if something wore or broke down in the hub. And it happened to mine within a year after re-lacing the wheel.
I should also note that those were the days when Sturmey-Archer's quality declined precipitously, and I'm not sure whether SunTour was still making three-speed hubs. Sachs, common on bikes in Germany and Benelux countries, was all but unavailable in the US. So, if I wanted to keep the bike a three-speed, my best option would have been to find a Sturmey-Archer from the 1960's or earlier. I never took on that project, for someone made an unsolicited offer of 400 dollars for the bike. Being the Starving Artist I was then, I took him up on it.
But having that quick but classy commuter probably had more of an effect on me than I ever realized it would: It's probably the reason I ride Vera to and from work now. She's even quicker and classier than that Miyata could have been.