12 July 2016

A Compliment From Someone Who Would Know: George, WIth A Competition GS

Three days, three rides, three bikes.


Yes, after riding Vera (my green Mercian mixte) the other day and Tosca (my Mercian fixed gear) yesterday, today I pealled Arielle, my Mercian Audax.

And today I rode, again, to Greenwich CT.  One of the reasons I've been doing that ride is that I'm finding more and more of the East Coast Greenway in the process.  Also, the ride offers different kinds of vistas, terrain and road (and trail) surfaces--actually, quite a bit of variety for the area in which I take the ride and its distance.

Also, the ride calms my inner cynic.  You see, when weather forecasters say the winds are "light and variable", my IC says, "You guys just don't know.  Admit it!"  But, on the ride, the winds (or breezes) can vary because it ranges from urban streetscapes to marshland, low hills and the shores of a large bay and three different rivers.

Plus, today I realized one of the reasons why I ride to Greenwich specifically.  The parks and old houses have their charm, certainly.  But going to the shopping area--lined with designer boutiques and a "thrift" store where I once found a "pre-owned" pair of lavender made-in-France Chanel ballet flats for the modest (ha, ha) sum of $300 (Alas, they wer the wrong size!) also helps me to put my passions and obsessions into a different kind of perspective.  

That's the lesson I learned today from a fellow who, as I was about to mount Arielle for the ride back, remarked on what a "beautiful" bike she is.  (I used the quotations because he used that word.)  "The attention to detail is amazing", he exclaimed.  He liked everything from the paint job, the pinstriping on the lugs (especially the strokes in the "windows" of the lugs) and the Brooks Pro seat, bar tape and the RuthWorks bags.  Plus, he liked the fact that all of the equipment is first-rate--including the Dura Ace derailleurs (the first parts he noticed) and Mavic rims.

Now, I don't mean to boast when I say I get a lot of compliments about Arielle. (In fact, I got another--from a woman pushing a stroller-- on the way home when I stopped for a traffic light in the Bronx, near Parkchester.)  But the fact that this man--George--went into such detail intrigued me.  Which meant, of course, he had a nice bike--whether or vintage or new--with a lugged steel frame.  He pulled up some images of it for me.  If he ever sends them to me, I'll post them.  But for now, I'll post one that's on Old Ten Speed Gallery:

George's 1978 Raleigh Competition GS

George's Raleigh Competition GS is from 1978, the first year it came equipped with Campagnolo Gran Sport parts (and Weinmann Carrera brakes).  Through most of the '70's, the bike came with Huret Jubilee derailleurs and other high-quality French parts.  Now, as you well know, I like the Jubilee and the TA three-arm crankset that was standard equipment for a few years.  But some of the Campy parts--such as the hubs--were a clear improvement.

George says the bike was sitting in the back of a now-defunct shop on Gun Hill Road in the early '80's, when he bought it.  At some point, he changed the three-pin Campy GS crankset for a five-pin Chorus model "because I thought I wanted a 53 T chainring".  Later, he swapped out the dropped bars and stem for a Nitto stem with a longer quill and "riser" bars--which meant, of course, changing the brake levers. He also swapped the Camapagnolo GS quill pedals for MKS touring pedals.   "But I've saved all of the original parts," he reassured me.

Even with all of the changes, I think it's still a very nice-looking bike.  I told him as much.  Part of the reason is that silver finish, which Raleigh offered for the first time in 1978.  That year, the bike was also available in black, as it was through most of the '70's. I think that even after silver became available, more black bikes sold--at least, I've seen more black than silver bikes from the late '70's and early '80's, when the bikes came with Campy GS equipment.  I like the black, but I prefer the silver, which I think is more elegant.

I don't know whether it's my imagination, but the workmanship on those frames--constructed of Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing--seemed to improve when Raleigh switched to Campy GS.  At least, the lugwork and graphics look cleaner.  If I'm not mistaken,  Competition GS bikes from that period were among the last to be made in Raleigh's Carlton facility, where the top-line models (such as the Professional and International) were built by hand.  Carlton bikes have always been more esteemed than the rest of Raleigh's producton, justifiably so, in my opinion.

"Some people think we're crazy to spend as much time and money as we do on our bikes," George mused.  "But look at that car over there"--he pointed to a custom Bentley.  "That's about $800,000 right there.  And for what?  At least we know we're spending on something that will get us somewhere faster, or in more comfort or style, than a cheap bike will."

He had a point.  There were, probably, other cars on that street that cost more than I've made in my entire life.  And I'm sure that some of those people who were sauntering from store to store--and Starbuck's--probably spend money on things, and in ways, I simply can't imagine.

So, George taught me this:  That no matter how much we spend on our bikes, it doesn't come anywhere near what others pay for less practical, less fun--and, to my eyes, less beautiful--things.  That makes me feel better. But it's probably a good thing I didn't come to such a realization when I was younger.


  1. It's good to see the old Competitions on the road. i'm still looking for an earlier model Comp that was produced for one year only, IIRC, in lavender. No luck yet, at least in my size. i once had a Carlton -a predecessor of Raliegh's International. Many fine bikes came from Worksop. i'd also love to find a Carlton in their team issue Lagoon Blue.

    BTW, i once lived in Darien and Norwalk and did a fair amount of work in Greenwich. . i wouldn't mind going back someday to Fairfield County to just ride around awhile again, it's a pretty part of the world, although i don't miss dodging the commuters trying to get to the station in time for their train to NYC!

  2. Hello Justine. Great to speak with you yesterday and awesome to read about it the next day. But where do I send the pics?

  3. Mike--In lavender? Where do I sign up?

    Seriously--George told me that sometimes people wonder, "How could you do that to the bike?" I say that if it keeps the bike on the road (or trail or wherever it's being ridden), then why not?

    George--It was great to talk with you the other day. Send the photos (and stay in touch with me, if you like) at justineisadream@gmail.com.

  4. Hello Justine. Just send out 2 new pics. As for "how could I do that to the bike?". It was all about making the bike as comfortable and versatile as possible but still fast and sporty. I was a bit obsessed with the fit too and easily spent weeks making microadjustments to the riding position. I can ride this around the block or spend all day in the saddle. The saddle, pedals, and grips just disappear underneath me. Even the reach to the shifters is ok, and the gearing will get me up nearly any hill or top out a speeds I shouldn't be going anyway. Not sure whether I like the whitewalls vs gum walls but the tires are comfortable, sticky, and fast enough. I did have a mirror but removed it as the plastic broke. May add one again if I find the right one. It does change the way you ride. What do you think?

  5. Hi George--I didn't mean to criticize you for making your bike more comfortable. If anything, I'm happy that you're riding it. Although I love retro bikes and equipment (the good ones, anyway), I am not a purist. Personally, I think your bike looks really good as it is!

  6. No criticism taken, after all it was I that brought it up :). What I had forgot to mention was that I always liked the Raleigh SuperTourer and tried to duplicate the spirit of it somewhat. Those appear to be rarely found in good condition. Remember those? I liked the lime green paint and believe it came with a Reynolds frame and campy or huret components.

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  8. George--I remember the Super Tourer. In the mid-'70's, they came in five- or ten-speed configurations. The ten-speeds were green--I think Raleigh called it "chartreuse"--with black panels, while the fives were brown with silver panels. Both came with Huret Jubilee derailleurs and other high-quality French components, e.g., Normandy Luxe hubs and Stronglight or Specialites TA cranksets. Both the five and the ten came with chainguards something like the one that came on your Campagnolo GS crankset.

    For most of the SuperTourer's production, it came with Weinmann centerpulls. But in one year--1974, I believe--it came with Weinmann Synchron brakes, which were an attempt to refine the Altenberger dual-pivot sidepull. Alas, Weinmann got the DP design only slightly more right than Altenberger did, and Weinmann centerpulls returned to the SuperTourer the following year.

    I think that not many SuperTourers were exported to, or sold in, the US because the 70s Bike Boom inculcated new cyclists, especially the young, that "good" ten-speed bikes didn't have upright bars or fenders. I bet the SuperTourer would be a hit if it (or something like it) were introduced today!