Three Speed Ride

The Three Speed Ride occurs on a semi-regular basis in Portland, Oregon. This ride celebrates the humble internally geared three speed bicycle. Once the ultimate in human-powered transportation, the three speed bicycle has been sidelined by first the road bike/10-speed and then the mountain bike. The three speed has been either disparaged or just forgotten about during the past 40 years. But there’s nothing wrong with a three speed bicycle!

Three Speed Rides happen, on average, 2-4 times a year. They fall into three distinct categories:

  • Casual Day Ride. (easy) A ramble through the neighborhoods of Portland. The pace will be easy and casual, ride distance 10 to 15 miles (15 to 25 km). Plenty of stops, including a picnic-style tea (or warm beverage of your choice) and snacks (maybe crumpets?) stop in a park, and ending at an indoor place where one can get food/drink. Note: you are responsible for food and drink. You can bring the beverage in either a thermos or brew the tea in the park with a camping stove.
  • Day Tour. (moderate) A longer exploration in and around Portland on three speeds. While the pace will still be easy and casual, and there will be a tea break, the distance will be longer, 30-40 miles (50-65km) and there may be a few hills.
  • Overnight Adventure. (somewhat of a challenge) Let’s really go somewhere with our three speeds! People toured on them “back in the day”, so why not us? The distance will range somewhere 20-40 miles one way. We may go to State Parks with cabins (like Stub Stewart or Battleground Lake), which means we would only need to take bedding, food, clothing, cooking equipment, and other sundries. Or we may also camp in one of the numerous campgrounds in the area.

Your Questions Answered!

Will I be able to ride up to 15 miles on a Three Speed? Wouldn’t more speeds be better? 

As long as you are nominally fit and don’t have any knee problems or the like, you should be fine. Most of the terrain we’ll encounter will be flat to gentle grade. There may be a short hill or two. If the hill we encounter is too much for you, you can walk it–no shame in that!

I’ve ridden three speed bicycles around Portland for years and have found it perfectly sufficient for my day-to-day needs. The low gear does remarkably well on most hills. When I ride my multi-speed derailleured bike, I’m constantly shifting, trying to find the perfect gear. With my three speed, I mostly have it in middle gear, only switching to low when I encounter a hill and to high when I need to power along. If I was going to ride long distances or in really hilly terrain, my derailleur bike would be the appropriate tool for the job. But for around town, the three speed is ample and able. And hey, just remember: people used to tour extensively on three speeds back when there was no other choice. 15 miles on mostly level terrain ain’t so bad.

Do I really need a three speed for this ride? Does it have to be a certain type of three speed?
In short, yes. We know that three speeds aren’t part of many people’s stables, we encourage you to at least to try and find one. Buy a cheap one, borrow, or steal. (Well, maybe not steal…) Any kind of internally geared three speed bike is appropriate! While we are partial to Sturmey-Archer, there are many fine makes, such as Shimano, SRAM, and Sachs. While the ride is supposed to hearken towards a romp in the English countryside, the ride is not limited to British bikes. Schwinn made some fine three speeds. You’ll find a Huffy or Columbia from time to time. Many European city bikes from countries like the Netherlands and Germany are three speeds. You might even see a Japanese three speed pop up from time to time.

And it doesn’t even have to originally be a three speed. Old 70s and 80s Japanese road bikes can make fine three-speed conversions, if you are willing to make the investment in time and money (120 or narrower rear hub spacing.)

If you don’t have a three-speed, we welcome you to attend our “Open Category” ride with us. We generally do this once a year as our ride during Pedalpalooza in June. But please remember, this is a casual, old-fashiony typed ride. If you have the choice between two bikes, one your featherweight crabon-fibred racer decked out in the most advanced and high-ended Srammanologno “groupos”, the other the beater bike you found behind the Plaid, bring the beater. And who knows: maybe seeing all the cool bikes, you’ll be encouraged to find a three speed of your own?

As for all of our other rides, you will need an internally geared hub bike. While we say “three speed”, we will also allow four and five speed hub bikes. But sorry, no bigger hubs (or smaller). Why? Well, this was the internal gear hub choice during the era when three speeds were prevalent (up until the 1980’s.)

Is there a dress code?

Not really. Rational dress means riding in normal clothes appropriate for the situation. Everyday riding doesn’t need anything more than that. Save the lycra and technical wear for your training ride. And please refrain from wearing all that neon-hued raingear if it isn’t really raining out.

If you do want to get more in the mood and dress to a theme, here is one: Natural fibers, especially wool. Button-down shirts and sweaters. Shorts or knickers (plus-fours). Sensible socks and footwear.

Is this the Tweed Ride Part 2?

NO. We love the tweed ride and participate in it, and the idea to have this ride is indeed inspired by the Tweed Ride. But please don’t think of this as another Tweed Ride. This ride is about the bicycles, not about fashion. If you want to get all decked out in your finest tweed thread and Victorian era clothing, by all means, go for it! But we’re not giving out prizes for Best Waxed Mustache or Most Authentic Flask or anything like that.

Will there be prizes?
Nope. We’ll definitely appreciate and admire your meticulously restored Raleigh Roadster from 1935, (and maybe even your waxed mustache and authentic flask!) but you’re not going to get a medal or anything.

What is the route? Where does it end? Is this a loop?
Casual Day Ride/Day Tour: We like to keep the route somewhat mysterious, so please don’t ask. We’re going to ride together at a moderate pace and have plenty of stops, so no one will be left behind, so you don’t have to worry about that. If we get ambitious we might print a map/cue sheet or Tour Book to give out at the ride, but not before. We’re not disclosing the ending, either, but we will say it will be a place where we can enjoy adult beverages and food so bring cash/ID if you want to partake.

And please don’t expect the ride to be a loop. You should be able to ride home okay, if not, there will be Tri-met bus and/or MAX service near the end of the ride. Please take this into consideration. If you need appropriate information to get back to the start point, please ask.

Overnight Adventure: We’ll definitely let you know where we’ll end up for the night! And we’ll most likely go back to the starting point. If we don’t, we’ll let you know.

Where do I register for the ride?
Unless otherwise noted, the Three Speed Ride requires no advance notice or registration. It’s a casual, show up if you are game type of affair. Feel free to let me know if you are coming, but there is really no reason to RSVP. When we do more involved rides like Overnight Excursions, there will probably be some kind of registration, and it will be clearly noted. Or I may ask for RSVP if I’m going to give out some “Special Stuff”.

When is the next one?
Please check out Upcoming Three Speed Rides in Portland OR for info.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

last updated 23 Feb 2017


4 thoughts on “Three Speed Ride

  1. This is very cool, but I’m the kind of gal that craves clarification 🙂 Last summer we picked up a couple of Raleighs to fix up. One’s a traditional 3 speed which we bastardized with a longer handlebar stem, but the other was a 60’s Sprite 5 speed with friction shifter we helped fix up for a niece. So, not an internal hub, but older than the three speed. Too much?

    We also have a contemporary Brompton, a Linus mixte (8 speed internal hub), and a Retrovelo Paula (8 speed internal). None are three speeds, but neither are they modern.

    Good for casual day, but not the rest? Just got back into cycling this last summer and trying to get a feel for what’s out there 🙂 I suppose I should also ask about suggested ages for the ride, since some of the bikes listed go with aforementioned nieces. On the whole, though, they sound fabulous.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! To clarify: the focus of the Three Speed Ride is of course three speed bicycles. Any bike with an internal gear hub is next down on the list. Then any other bike. As indicated on the flyer and over on the page for the upcoming March 3 ride, any bike is welcome on this type of ride. (If and when I do a ride for three speeds only, I will indicate it.)

      As for ages, the ride is “general admission”, but please note that we may end up somewhere with adult beverages. Whether that venue will allow minors is unknown. If folks have youngsters they can always bail at that point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.