As you'll read, I bought this bike as a frameset new in the late '70s, rode it, raced it, loved it - and then inexplicably sold it, regretting doing it almost from the moment of sale. Amazingly, when I decided that I desperately wanted it back, years later, it appeared, offered for sale. I bought it again and... I'll tell you at the end of the piece.
In the late 70's I foolishly thought I had real racing potential. The best equipment would help me fulfill that potential, I figured, so that's what I bought. My results continued to be mediocre, but my bikes...wonderful.
Best of all was a Team Raleigh I bought in '78 or '79 from Sunshine Bikes in Fairfax, Marin county, California, where I worked. That Raleigh, one of the red, black and yellow ones, was a TI-Raleigh Racing Team replica. Gerrie Kneteman and Jan Raas each had one; so did a young NorCal amateur named Greg LeMond. And me.
My bike looked exactly like the ones the stars rode. It cost a fortune; I believe the only more expensive frame at the time was the titanium US-made Teledyne Titan. Luckily, I could pay for it out of a series of checks.
My Raleigh was made from the then-new 753, the thin-walled steel tubing that builders had to qualify to buy from Reynolds. Bikies everywhere argued about the new alloy: it was stiff, it was limber, it was strong, it was fragile. They said you could only ride a 753 bike if you were skinny or weak or a time trial specialist. They said every damn thing.
I thought the light tubing gave that bike a lively, responsive ride. It felt nimble, a light-footed thoroughbred on the road, especially when I rode on sew-up (tubular) wheels and tires. I remember once, on a ride in Santa Cruz, a classy British racer and shop owner noticed I had easy-to-deal-with clincher wheels and commented, "Clinchers and a 753: isn't done."
I loved that bike. I finished second in the cat four Berkeley Hills road race and generally did about as well as I've done on any bike I've owned. I was always proud of my Raleigh; they were rare and SO good-looking. But I sold it.
Why? If I remember correctly, I convinced myself that the top tube was too long. I thought I needed a short top tube to get the flat back and 90-degree bent arms I saw in pictures of European pros like Didi Thurau. I probably figured the seat angle was too shallow, too.
Hey, I was well into my thirties, but I was certifiably stupid. I sold it.
A doctor from Marin, Mike Mandel, bought it from me in the early '80s. I regretted selling it, and I'd think of it now and again and sigh. Then, this summer (1990, I think?) I got fitted for a new Lighthouse custom frame. My builder, Tim Neenan, calculated I needed a relaxed seat angle and long top tube.
I remembered my red, black and yellow Raleigh and sighed again.
Ten years ago, I thought, I had the right thing and sold it. So the next time I called Sunshine Bikes, I asked Martin Hansen there if he'd ever seen that old Raleigh of mine.
"The 753?" he asked. "Oh, it's here. The guy who bought it rides his mountain bike all the time now. The Raleigh's hanging in here on consignment. Why? You wanna buy it back?"
I went to Fairfax, took the bike down off the hook and looked it over. Mandel had commuted from Marin to San Francisco through salty Bay fog; the bike looked lightly corroded. Chipped spots on the top tube showed rust. Some of the parts on the front brake quick release had lost their plating and rusted badly.
On the other hand, the paint was all there and the decals looked pretty good. All the parts but the wheels were original. Originally my choices, that is: those bikes were sold as frames only. You equipped them yourself.
I decided the old red rat looked all right. I wanted it, but I had a brand new Lighthouse coming, made to measure, angles and all. Why buy this one?
On the off-chance, I borrowed a tape measure and an angle gauge from the shop at Sunshine. Sure enough, the old Raleigh dimensions and angles measured almost exactly the same as my custom frame would have. Maybe it?s true: There is nothing new under the sun.
So I bought it back, lubed up all the (Nuovo Record) moving parts, touched up the paint, replaced the rusted brake pieces and polished it up. Paradise is regained. That old bike still rides like it's alive, like a purebred.
It's waiting for me now out back, leaning against my garage, Team paintwork (livery, they call it in England) glistening in the early afternoon sun.
I don't believe it goes as fast with me on it now as it did then, a decade ago. I do know that, this time, if I'm not on it, it's not going anywhere. I guarantee it.
Ah, but it did go elsewhere. I wanted something, a bicycle or a motorcycle, and I needed the money that selling the Raleigh would generate. I sold it to a really good guy, motorcycle racer, cyclist and designer Mike Krynoch. I've tried to find Mike via the internet and failed. If you know how to get in touch with him, please send me a note via my blog. Third time's the charm.