Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Raleigh good time in New England

the best air pump is at the college library and has been since...?
1974 Colt (small frame) in front, 1972? Superbe in back.

Lately we've been cycling in New England doing some work.  If you live in Massachusetts you might guess the small town we've been in. Taking small town rides in a hilly place has been fun even if we do miss the skyscrapers. Here are some of our favorite places to eat and ride in Northampton (oops) just in case you might find yourself there. We had the Onderwater tandem and some trusty old Raleighs we found at the Hampshire Bicycle Exchange and spiffed up. These old made in England bikes from the 70s and prior are not related at all to the recent products bearing the same name, and they fit in perfectly for a ride around Smith College's very New Englandy campus and the little town surrounding it.

They might seem like tired old loser bikes at first glance, especially if you are ten and have outgrown your cool second hand Trek ( more on this in a minute) but these are already over 40 years old and there's nothing wrong with them. Need a bike that will run 100 years with only a bit of oil and grease from time to time? And they hold plenty, once you get used to the stamped steel rat trap racks. You'll need a new saddle every 50 years and tires every 20 or so. They have a comfortable seating position and everything you need for riding in all weather, even winter if you get the tires with a chunky tread.  And cool people are riding upright bikes again.

We found a 1974 olive green Colt 3-speed coaster and bought it as was- rusty with a crumbling seat - along with what ended up to be new tubes, new seat and repair bits, $80 plus the $65 seat. Add a half a bottle of chrome cleaner and some nondetergent SAE-30 motor oil to fill the hubs and chain and the end result is above. The small Raleighs like the Colt and the LTD-3 (and occasionally small framed Sports or other models) still used the same Raleigh sized 26 x 1 3/8 inch tires (590 mm, not 597 like Schwinn) as the big models did, with nearly indestructible steel wheels, but the frame proportions are right for a smaller rider. You can raise the seat a lot if the person grows. These bikes are otherwise identical in quality to the other larger ones - differences are limited to things like no pump braze-on hooks. It is a great bike. But our 10 year old refused to ride it.

"I'm not getting on that thing!" we heard. Most new kids bikes look different - they are mostly based on the hybrid/mountain bike frame design with a very low seat and higher head tube. Kids lean forward a lot, compensated by the raiser handlebars tilting back a bit. But with flames and graphics, heavy suspension forks, and 21 speeds to start out they are like so cool. Unless you want to go somewhere, and then they are heavy and impractical.

We had to threaten and cajole our oldest who has outgrown his bike to try the stupid ugly new rusty bike and even then he said he hated it. Now this was new. We worried our time with the old bike thing might be up. This is a boy who likes to spend his free time trolling the used parts at Working Bikes. He has never had a brand new bike ever and loved each old second hander. We polished it up and replaced the old seat then held our breath.

By the next morning he was off riding it around and finding how comfortable a well thought out upright bike can be. It's not heavier than modern kids department store bikes even though it's steel, and the riding position allows you to get up a hill without climbing out of the saddle much. By the afternoon he was sold on it-- phew! We all sniveled when we didn't have a good way to lug it back to Chi-town and had to store it there.

We took the bikes and kids around Smith College for awhile, back and forth and around the gardens. Up and down big almost-get-off-and-walk hills. There are a lot of Smith School for Social Work students there now while the college is on break.
Chrome! Steel!

There is probably another restaurant in the Pioneer Valley somewhere, but we seem to either eat at home with fresh local asparagus now, corn later; or we go out to Amanouz for tagines or falafel. OK, there are other places as good - Chez Albert ($$$ but yummy), Amherst Chinese Food (grows its own vegetables), a few others. But the moroccan stuff keeps us coming back.  Our kids couldn't care less as long as they get to choose an ice cream flavor from Herrell's (or hadley grass - asparagus - flavor from Cooks Farm in Hadley that sells out quickly after the asparagus season is over)
A summer ride snack of local strawberry rhubarb tart

For baked goods and coffee there are oodles of choices. For classic french croissants not soggy or lumpy (but not coffee) there is 40 Green Street, a pretty new bakery by Smith College. Vessel next door is said to have great coffee but I've had some mixed visits. It's worth a try as they are completely nice. If you have the kids you can take your bag of croissants, get a coffee at Vessel and go sit by the waterfall just a block down at Smith.
vessel's window

Closer into town we love the delicious house made bagels and muffins at The Woodstar. This place is also nice for sitting and looking out the window with a coffee and totally kid friendly. For love of coffee itself there is Northampton Coffee- blissfully quiet in the early hour that it is open before they get more busy. It's just on the way out of town. It is the place for very delicious coffee. Can be a little cramped when busy and the laptop heads groan at the kids but it's totally my favorite. Perfect Apple strudel and pretzel rolls to take away can be found at Bakery Normand. People watching, Vietnamese coffees and chai are best at The Haymarket. The chai is delicious- not mucky syrup flavored glup. Here it's Indian restaurant style spicy masala tea in a tall glass.

For activities, hard to beat a nice ride up and down the Norwottock rail trail from Leeds to Amherst, or the Manhan from Northampton to Easthampton. A visit to the Lyman plant house and gardens at Smith winter or summer. How about breakfast over a Coleman stove on the top of Mt Holyoke, overlooking the Connecticut River and the towns of the valley? A ride or walk along the Mill River near Smith? There is plenty to do there. Get in a car and you can be at the Atlantic, in the White Mountains, or at a Berkshires concert in an hour or two. It takes that long sometimes to get to Schaumburg from Chicago. And New York is only a little farther than that, though I hear it's full of snobs.
twins, almost. The dynohub should be powering bright modern lights soon.
Just to keep the Chicago CDOT bike lane people inspired, this little town in New England has bike boxes, well thought out bike lanes on several main roads, and lots of riders - build it and they will come. 


  1. Hey Doug, I bought this Raleigh for Rico since you've been gone: and have been fixing it up for the last week but I haven't been able to find bulbs for the old generator lights. Let me know if you have any extra laying around. Was that your update plan or will you be converting them to LED?

  2. I'll look for light bulbs but they are really hard to find in the US nowadays. I might have a front one. You need a 6V, 2.4 W front and a 6V, 0.6 W rear (smaller). Best bet is Working Bikes, maybe still installed in a lamp, or possibly places with old Raleigh parts like DJ's Bike Doctor in Hyde Park. There's a place online that must have them at
    which also has the special 1.8W bulbs for the Sturmey-Archer Dynohub.
    Let me know if you find them. Halogen bulbs are easy to get from Peter White Cycles in New Hampshire, the B&M distributor, but they won't fit old screw in lamp sockets.

    He has an excellent deal still on an LED standlight front lamp for $25 or so - not classic but much, much brighter than the one on the Raleigh, and it'll work with the old generator. For a totally classic look there is a B&M retro LED lamp or a real metal and glass one at City Bikes (The Home Of Dutch Bicycle) in Boston.


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