SOTS Blog · Three Speeds: Spotted

A modernized Raleigh LTD-3 and the question: How much is too much?

Hello friends, after enjoying an enjoyable slice of pizza this afternoon, I spotted this Raleigh LTD-3 off of SE Belmont in Portland.

Now spotting a three speed is still a thrill to me, even after all of these years. But what I found more thrilling was the degree of alteration and modernization done to this classic three speed:

  • The cottered crankset has been replaced with a modern cotterless number.
  • The wheels are new, and they are 700C (622 mm) vs the standard 650A or 26″ x 1 3/8″ (590 mm) originally found on this bike.
  • The single-pull brakes have been replaced with center-pulls and the brake levers are more modern.

What still looks original are the stem, handlebars, and fenders (mudguards).

Seeing the extent of modifications on this bike brought up this pertinent question to me: At what point does one destroy the “spirit” of the classic three speed?

Now I am totally okay with doing things like rebuilding/replacing wheels, as I have done that with my Raleigh Wayfarer. But I kept the original wheel size of 26″ x 1 3/8″. Yes, this “outdated” wheel size means less choice in the tire department, but I don’t really mind* and I like the relative plushness of the 35 mm tire. But going for the larger 700C wheel means one has to go for a narrower tire, and the 28 mm tires on this LTD-3 are probably the largest you can fit without removing the fenders. If anything, I’d be inclined to downsize the wheels and go for the “standard” 26 inch (559 mm) size: even plumper tires and scads of choices.

And the crankset? Yes, yes, I realize that cotterless cranksets are “better” because they are easier to work on. But there’s just something about the classicness (and classyness) of a cottered crank, especially the Raleigh chainring.

But it does retain the frame, which is the most important thing. (Obviously.) And the three speed hub!

I guess what I’m saying is I wouldn’t choose the alternations that this person did, but at the end of the day, it’s still a classic three speed.

*As long as Schwalbe Delta Cruisers and Panaracer Col De La Vies are still available!

14 thoughts on “A modernized Raleigh LTD-3 and the question: How much is too much?

  1. What a loaded question!!! I too would be reluctant to abandon the 26 x 1 3/8 the bike was originally designed for. But who knows, perhaps the old steel 590s were pitted and warped beyond use, and a pragmatic owner decided to use a more readily available rim and tire combo. As long as they are riding it, I approve! As a side note, and pardon my ignorance Mr. President, could you please explain to me the difference bw a Sports and an LTD-3?

    1. The LTD-3 is the lesser of the two. I think the big diff back in the day was saddle (Sports came with Brooks leather B-72, LTD-3 used a mattress saddle), lack of pump peg in the LTD-3, and I’ve seen some LTD-3s had coaster brakes. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. I suppose the obvious choice is to have an original bike first, then modify another. Keep one for when you want to be ‘vintage’, and one for practical use. I was lucky enough to find a ’51 Raleigh Superbe Sports, with the original optional Dunlop alloy rims, and some Bluemels allow mudguards, but had this bike been all standard steel, I might have modified it by now, just so it will get used.

    My feelings about the bike in the photos is that this person has created for themselves, their ‘ideal’, and as such they have obviously built a bike which they enjoy using in all weathers. That can only be good! Another point is that we do not know what the bike wasl ike before the mods. Was it a worn-out ‘frame & forks only’ barn find? Has the owner kept the original parts in case they may be one day reunited?

    On the SOTS Flickr group are some photos of two bikes I have modified. My Batavus has a TA crankset, centre-pull brakes and many upgraded parts, and is a wonderful country riding machine. My ivory Gazelle has been pimped a little too far, and is now only taken out in fine weather, feeling as it does, to be a bit of a ‘trailer queen’ (to use a term from the classic car world). Last week I found an as-new classic Gazelle, which I have kept almost totally standard, so that it can be used as an averyday rider. Trouble is, this new bike is such an unspoiled ‘survivor’ (another term from that world) that I am now worrying about THIS one and the winter roads!

    1. Agreed. This bike probably suits the owner’s taste and needs (I would hope), and the bike may have been unrideable when found and needed a lot of work. And as I said in the post, I am guilty of modifying an old three speed. I’m thinking of modifying the Raleigh Wayfarer even more. I’d like to get new mudguards and lose the “hockey stick” chainguard as the originals are a bit long-in-the-tooth. The whole bike may get repainted, too, and I think I may get different handlebars. The Rudge Sports, however, I’m trying to keep as close to original as possible.

  3. Ahhh the ultimate question with older bikes….

    Really, it’s a matter of personal preference, and I’m good with it as long as the bike is being ridden. Considering the price of new “Sports:” bikes from current manufactures, it is potentially cheaper to upgrade the old frames than buying a new one. So the “spend thrift” in me salutes them for making a great decision, espcially considering aome of the replacement parts (like the Mafic brakes) are vintage parts as well.

    Personally, I think the choice gets harder as you climb the ladder of quality of the bike. I’d be less inclined to upgrade with say a Tourist or a Superbe than I would a Sports (depending on year) or LTD -3.any year. Though I did wrestle with the decision with my Superbe. And I’ve not upgraded my Superbe, though I do go through bouts of thinking about it.

    I was also wrestling with that question with my Twenty. Though I’ve already taken the steps of modernizing since just yesterday I bought some Planet Bike hardcore fenders to put on it, and some black electric cord cover for the chan guard. And I hope in the next year or so to get a planetary gearing in the bottom bracket. Espcially after talking with some folks at one of my favorite shops about how crappy S&A has become which makes me weary of buying the 8 speed drum brake for it.

    On a side note I believe most years the 3 speed LTD was a step down option for the model. If I’m not mistaken the LTD was a Sports frame with 5 – 10 gears and a standard derailleur system. Then later (early 70’s) the LTD 3 was offered in the 17″ and 19″ diamond frames while the Sports were offered in 21″ and 23″ diamond frames, and was marketed more as a teen sized bike. I might be wrong on this, I’d have to check some of the charts I’ve made with all the info on them to be sure.

    1. Yeah, I agree, it’s all a matter of personal preference. Though I want to reiterate something that may have gotten lost in this whole debate: I’m not arguing whether or not to “upgrade” or modify an old British three-speed, it’s at what point does all these modifications drown out the “spirit” of the bike?

      An old British three speed is a bike that is a class of its own, and there are many things that can be done to it to make it work better for modern riding, especially in a city like Portland that sees its fair share of wet weather: alloy rims, better brakes (these two things the owner of the LTD-3 did), dynamo lighting, etc. But it’s still an old British three-speed (and there ain’t nothing wrong with that!)

      I just wonder when someone looks at the three speed they bought, and think: You know what? Not only am I going to put new wheels and brakes on this bike, I think I’ll turn it into a single speed! And spend a lot of time, energy, and money installing a modern cotterless crank set! I mean, there are plenty of old ten speeds from the 70’s and 80’s that can be converted into a single speed with a lot less fuss. (Especially since those early ten speeds were so overgeared. It was a relief when I converted a Centurion LeMans to a single speed, for sure!)

      An extreme example of all this presented itself on the local Craigslist last year. Someone took what looked like an old Schwinn balloon-tire cruiser and converted into a modern fixed gear. Yep, deep-V rims with skinny tires, cotterless crankset, and the ubiquitous “six-inch flat metal bar masquerading as handlebar”. Yeah, sure, you can do it, but why? (Not to mention how hard it must be to steer, since we’re talking like a 68 degree head-tube angle and a fork with loads of rake.) And now someone is trying to sell it. I mean, if that’s the way you want your bike, sure, but someone who really wants a fixed gear is going to look at it and go WTF? And the cruiser afficianados won’t want it either, unless the frame is desirable and they have the parts to rebuild. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

      Don’t get me wrong: I’m not equating this LTD-3 with the fixed cruiser abomination, nor do I think the mods are bad. I just think it’s good to question what you’re doing when you start going down the whole modification road.

  4. My bad…I was confusing the Sprite with the LTD. I knew I should have checked my notes first.

    I looked up my notes and basically all I got is a quote from a bikeforums post that reads:

    “The Raleigh Ltd-3, an Economy Version of the Sports
    The Ltd doesn’t have mounting points for a pump (or the pump), nor did it come with a saddle bag. The tires are all black rubber not gum wall. Instead of the leather version from the Sports, the Brooks saddle on the Ltd is an economical, albiet fully sprung, vinyl model. The headlight bracket, also standard on the Sports is conspicuously absent. In some years, the Sports came with self-adjusting brakes. The Ltd never did. However, the frame, hubs and wheels and all other parts of the Ltd are common to those that you find on a Sports that was made at the same time.”

    Also in my notes is that it was similar to the second teir Raleigh brands like Robbin Hood, and Triumph.

    And that some were made by Gazelle…and thus it might not be a true “English” 3 speed. (if you want to technical)

    And a quick peek at “:The Headbadge” catalog scans shows that it didn’t make the US catalogs untill 73. Not that means that they weren’t made before then.

  5. Turning everything on its head for a moment… i’m considering the thoughts & feelings of the guy (or lady) who may have built the frame at the factory (& indeed may sadly no longer be with us).
    If i had used some of my finite life (through paid work) to build a bicycle… i would be delighted to find that it was still in use… even if modifications were made to keep the bicycle’s performance up with modern standards.. infact if i had built that bike, and had now shuffled on i would be really delighted to think that someone not only liked and cared for something i built, but cared enough to invest some time & money to keep the bike going and relevant.
    Most three speeds used technology which was widely available at the time… if things like cotterless cranks and dual pivot brakes were widely available then, then they would have been used as original equipement. Hey, if oval chainrings had been avaible together with cantilever brakes, you can bet they would be used too….
    There’s a thought, has any one fitted an oval chainring to a three speed?
    ….i understand the concern that a liitle piece of history may be lost through changes and modification.. but i also appreciate that through these modifcations, the bike is still being used.. which i think is a good thing 🙂

  6. The another benefit of fitting a cotterless crank set with a detachabke chain ring is that it would make it easier to fine tune your 3 speed hub gearing for the tour… fit a smaller chain ring & shorter chain to your 3 speed for touring in hilly areas… change it to a larger chain ring and longer chain for unload day tours in less hilly areas : -)

      1. Absolutely, but its always seems a longer job to change the rear cog, than a chain ring. (You’ve got to split the chain undo the gear toggle, get the wheel out, prise off the spilt ring from the hub, swap the cog, get the spilt ring back on, get the wheel back in, check the wheel is in the right place for the rim brake, get the gear toggle screwed back in and then get the new chain on… Buy if you swap the chain ring, you can split the old chain, undo the chain ring bolts, lift off the old chain ring, put on the new chain ring, do the chain ring bolts up and put on the new chain) The last time i change a chainring on my 3 speed it took 15 minutes….. 🙂

          1. Hey, when it comes to discussing how best to make the best use of a limited number of bicycle gear ratios (like a 3 speed hub) and we’re all honest & truthful about our experiences then we’re all winners 🙂

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