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  1. #1
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    English Racer- what did you call 3 speeds in 50's.

    Just curious, but what did you guys call Raleigh 3 speeds in the 50's.
    The most memorable bike I ever saw was a 3 speed "English Racer." It was about 1955-I was 4 yo-in Philadelphia. An older kid down the block parked his new black 3 speed Raleigh on the sidewalk, and we all gathered around to gawk. Seems odd now, but seeing a multispeed bike with skinny tires was like seeing a fighter jet-F-104 fly over. It was like something from the future-the levers on the handlebars, skinny tires , etc were really exotic back then.
    Everyone called those 3 speed Raleighs-English Racers.Funny, they weren't race bikes, but they looked like it to us. I didn't see any 10 speed until maybe 1964-in Sears probably-maybe just in the catalogue.There weren't any other brands of 3 speeds-just the Raleighs, and they were always black-not the green ones I remember from later on.
    Just curious-was anyone else struck by them back then.Normal bikes had one coaster brake, and fattish tires-frequently 24" tires, not 26 or 27, and sure as heck not 700c. A lot of grocery,pharmacy delivery was done by guys on small front wheel, normal rear wheel bikes with huge front baskets-they were really common.
    Thanks,
    Charlie

  2. #2
    Senior Member dmac49's Avatar
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    Oh yeah....loved mine. I had a basket on each side in the back. Was great for books and grocery store runs for mom. Mine was black, but I remember british green and maroon ones later on. None of the fat tire bikes could ever keep up with those 24 inchers. Just called them an English and fat tire bikes were Americans.
    D

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    Well, I wasn't born yet in the 50s, so I can't address the original question, but in the 60s, I do remember when my brother bought the first drop-handlebar bike in the neighborhood, a blue Schwinn Varsity, that we always referred to as an "English racer" (what did we know of manufacturing locations, anyway? We were kids in New Jersey after all).

    Neal

  4. #4
    (((Fully Awake))) Serendipper's Avatar
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    I'm looking at my old, ancient, black Raleigh "English Racer" right as I type this, and love every inch of it.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________

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    NJS my life! roughrider504's Avatar
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    My dad still calls his 1976 Murray a "English Racer". Super slack geometry, welds look like an animal did them, and extremely heavy. I still cannot convince him that it is not a racer.

  6. #6
    biked well well biked's Avatar
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    A guy on our street had an "English racer" when I was a kid. I remember my mom and dad were kind of awed by the bike because it was an "English racer." This was during the mid to late '60's, most of us were riding banana seat variants by then-
    Last edited by well biked; 12-14-06 at 06:37 PM.

  7. #7
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    I was about 10 when my neighbor showed up with a black Raleigh with white trim. We called it an English Racer. Eventually there were two in the neighborhood, both 3 speeds, no 10 speeds. They were by far the fastest bikes around. That Raleigh had quite an influence on me. When I finally purchased a new bike as an adult, there was only one choice for me, a Raleigh.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serendipper
    I'm looking at my old, ancient, black Raleigh "English Racer" right as I type this, and love every inch of it.
    Could you post a photo of it? I've been wracking my brain for several months trying to remember who made my "English Racer". I can see it in my mind, a black 3 speed with upright handlebars and "hand brakes".

    No Idea what happened to it. I remember the first time I really opened it up, got down to the bottom of the hill and when it came time to slow down I got on the front brake too hard and the back tire came about a foot off the ground. Quick reflexes to get off the brake was the only thing that kept me from flipping it. No idea what happened to it (I said that already). The next thing I remember is riding a Schwinn Stingray single speed. Ah the memories...

  9. #9
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    Circa 1960, many Americans, including my mother, referred to lighter-weight English 3-speeds with Northroad bars and 26" wheels as "English racers." When I rode a balloon-tired Schwinn middleweight, I thought the term was appropriate, but I changed my mind when I got my first Bianchi road bike at the end of 1962.
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  10. #10
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    The criteria as I remember it was straight frame tubes; if it had 'em, it was an English racer. I grew up in a little town in Michigan, and the only 'English racers' I ever saw growing up were Schwinn Racers -- had to drive all the way to Flint to get to a Raleigh dealer. I remember being struck by the fact that Raleighs looked like a person built them; Schwinns looked like they were belched in great numbers out of a machine.

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    English Racer

    I haven't heard them called that in decades, and it brings back a flood of memories.

    For a while I had the slickest bike in my little town. A single speed like all the others, but it was a Sears, made in Austria (probably by Puch). About 10 lbs lighter and geared lower than all my friend's bikes. Then the town doctor's kid got an English Racer.

    50 years later I can still remember when I first saw it. Hot summer day and a bunch of the guys in the shady area next to Big Stan's Tavern, crowded around and talking excitedly.

    Candy Apple Red and all kinds of shiny chrome bits our bikes didn't have and we didn't understand. Good thing his dad had money, because when it needed service, they had to take it to the city, to get it worked on at a bike shop. We made fun of his "sissy bike" to hide our envy. A big screwdriver and a couple of adjustable wrenches was all we needed to keep our manly steeds running. (It's a good thing the local pump jockey showed us the right way to patch inner tubes, as we actually believed a screwdriver was the proper tool for changing tires.)

    A couple of years later we were still riding our single speeds and Mike his English Racer, when we decided to try riding out to a farm 25 miles away on the 4th of July. The farm belonged to one guy's drunken uncle, who let a bunch of 12 & 13 year old strangers sit at his kitchen table and blast away at crows in his trees, through an open window.

    On the way back I got very envious of the way Mike still got up the hills OK, after the rest of us were totally used up and walking the steep ones. I vowed then and there that as soon as I was old enough, I'd get a job and my own English Racer.

    Well I eventually got one, a Hawthorne I think. Then one night, I gave a pretty girl a ride home from a party, sitting on it's rear rack. Last summer I taught our great-grandson to ride a bike.

    BTW That shady spot next to Big Stan's was also where I saw my first derailleur bike, a few years later. Some wiry lookin' guy passing through, on his way across the US. To us, an unbelievable feat.

  12. #12
    *****es love tarck kemmer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MnHPVA Guy
    BTW That shady spot next to Big Stan's was also where I saw my first derailleur bike, a few years later. Some wiry lookin' guy passing through, on his way across the US. To us, an unbelievable feat.
    Awesome. That would seem pretty incredible as a kid, wouldn't it? As a kid I thought riding my bike to my dads work (about 15 miles) was quite an accomplishment.

  13. #13
    Pedaled too far. Artkansas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phoebeisis
    Just curious, but what did you guys call Raleigh 3 speeds in the 50's.
    English Racers of course. Only one kid in the neighborhood had one, Amy Shoemaker. But 3 gears!

    Compared to all the single speed Schwinns that everyone else but me had, it was like a godlike speed machine. I had the odd bike in town, a Fleetwing, with gearing a tooth lower than the Schwinns. I really had to spin to keep up with anyone.

  14. #14
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phoebeisis
    Just curious, but what did you guys call Raleigh 3 speeds in the 50's.
    English racers.

    We called the fat tired bikes "balloon tire bikes". I had one of those bikes with the little front wheels and a huge basket (plywood box actually). I used it to deliver newspapers.

    Later I had a used and beat up "english racer", but I don't recall the brand for sure but think it was a Raleigh. It was black originally, but at some point it was painted day glo orange!

    I do remember my dad's black, shiney, 3 speed, english racer. It was a Royce Union and had full fenders. I remember that he kept it immaculate. I am not sure what year he bought it or what eventually happened to it.

  15. #15
    Retro-guy
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    For those who are interested, there is a lot of discussion of old Raleighs, including the 3-speeds, on an interesting web site called www.retroraleighs.com.

    Actually, the bike I ride is a 1980 Raleigh Super Record, which is a Retro Raleigh in its own right.

    About 12 or so years ago I found another brand of "English Racer" 3-speed at a garage sale, and got it nicely running and cleaned up, for my wife's use (it was a womens' frame version). But we got rid of it again when we moved, so all I remember about the brand was that it began with a D. Not Dunlop, but something similar-sounding. It might have been Dunham, or perhaps Durham. It was basically identical to the classic Raleigh 3-speed, though: Sturmey-Archer hub and 3-speed shifter, a nice wide, padded leather seat with two coil springs, fenders (with contrasting white fender ends, and that cool-looking chrome bead on the point of the front fender), etc. But this one was painted in a metallic royal blue, rather than classic black. It was a dumb move on our part to have gotten rid of it.

  16. #16
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rschleicher
    For those who are interested, there is a lot of discussion of old Raleighs, including the 3-speeds, on an interesting web site called www.retroraleighs.com.

    Actually, the bike I ride is a 1980 Raleigh Super Record, which is a Retro Raleigh in its own right.

    About 12 or so years ago I found another brand of "English Racer" 3-speed at a garage sale, and got it nicely running and cleaned up, for my wife's use (it was a womens' frame version). But we got rid of it again when we moved, so all I remember about the brand was that it began with a D. Not Dunlop, but something similar-sounding. It might have been Dunham, or perhaps Durham. It was basically identical to the classic Raleigh 3-speed, though: Sturmey-Archer hub and 3-speed shifter, a nice wide, padded leather seat with two coil springs, fenders (with contrasting white fender ends, and that cool-looking chrome bead on the point of the front fender), etc. But this one was painted in a metallic royal blue, rather than classic black. It was a dumb move on our part to have gotten rid of it.
    I bet it was a Dunelt. I won't chastise you too much for getting rid of it...I have had more pass thru my hands than I care to remember

    Aaron
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  17. #17
    Broom Wagon Fodder reverborama's Avatar
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    I grew up in a Jersey suburb of Philly. In the 60's we called anything with drop bars an "English Racer." I don't think we had a special term for 3-speed Raleighs.

  18. #18
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    Well, the English just called them bicycles...

  19. #19
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    Royce Union-Paperboys.

    Wow, memory can play tricks on you. The shiny black English Racer might have been a Royce Union.For some reason that rings a big bell. Raleighs became much more common, so I wonder if my memory was tricked over the years. Odd, that bike is my 1st real memory of a mechanical device(I was just 3-4),and the darn thing was so striking-I think it had a pump on it, and one of those tiny bags hanging on/behind the saddle.
    Paperboys-how can I have forgotten about them-saw one of them everyday on one of those big basket, small front wheel bikes.The were really a form follows function machine.
    I sure an happy to see those English Racers were as striking to everyone else as they were to me-like a B-58.
    Thanks,
    Charlie
    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1
    English racers.

    We called the fat tired bikes "balloon tire bikes". I had one of those bikes with the little front wheels and a huge basket (plywood box actually). I used it to deliver newspapers.

    Later I had a used and beat up "english racer", but I don't recall the brand for sure but think it was a Raleigh. It was black originally, but at some point it was painted day glo orange!

    I do remember my dad's black, shiney, 3 speed, english racer. It was a Royce Union and had full fenders. I remember that he kept it immaculate. I am not sure what year he bought it or what eventually happened to it.

  20. #20
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    We always called them Dad's bike My dad had a tall frame black Raleigh Sports that he commuted on. At that time he was a college professor in Marshal, MO. That bike was around for quite a few years and IIRC my brother made a club racer out of it, then it was stolen shortly after that, sometime in the 80's. I have always had a few 3 speeds around but never really appreciated them until the 80's and just now started re-accumulating a few for my retirement years

    Aaron
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  21. #21
    ♋ ☮♂ ☭ ☯ -=(8)=-'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    Circa 1960, many Americans, including my mother, referred to lighter-weight English 3-speeds with Northroad bars and 26" wheels as "English racers." When I rode a balloon-tired Schwinn middleweight, I thought the term was appropriate, but I changed my mind when I got my first Bianchi road bike at the end of 1962.
    This is how I remember it too.
    1965 was the first time I rode a real bike. It was what
    my whole family called the "English Racer". It had skinny tires,
    fenders and the SA 3sp click changer on the bars. I remember my
    Mom and Sister telling me to get on it and holding me up because
    my feet couldnt touch the ground...after walking me on it they let me go...
    I freaked out but didnt fall I have always called those type of
    Raliegh Sport/Superbe type bikes 'English Racers' even though it is technically
    incorrect.
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  22. #22
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phoebeisis
    Just curious, but what did you guys call Raleigh 3 speeds in the 50's.
    The most memorable bike I ever saw was a 3 speed "English Racer." It was about 1955-I was 4 yo-in Philadelphia...
    Just curious-was anyone else struck by them back then.Normal bikes had one coaster brake, and fattish tires-frequently 24" tires, not 26 or 27, and sure as heck not 700c. A lot of grocery,pharmacy delivery was done by guys on small front wheel, normal rear wheel bikes with huge front baskets-they were really common.
    I had an English Racer in Philadelphia as a young teenager way back then after having the usual single speed ballon tired coasters. Beats me what the brand was or the size of the wheels. But any and all non balloon tired thin tired 3 speeds were called English Racers. Then I turned 16 (in 1963) and didn't get on a bike again for 7 years.

    I don't think I ever saw a 10 speed till I got out of the Army in 1970. I bought my first Raleigh Sports 3 speed with coaster in 1972. My daughter left it Freiburg Germany in 2002. May not have been a "racer" by today's standard; it was better than that for me.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike
    I had an English Racer in Philadelphia as a young teenager way back then after having the usual single speed ballon tired coasters. Beats me what the brand was or the size of the wheels. But any and all non balloon tired thin tired 3 speeds were called English Racers. Then I turned 16 (in 1963) and didn't get on a bike again for 7 years.

    I don't think I ever saw a 10 speed till I got out of the Army in 1970. I bought my first Raleigh Sports 3 speed with coaster in 1972. My daughter left it Freiburg Germany in 2002. May not have been a "racer" by today's standard; it was better than that for me.
    The more I reflect, the more uncertain I am about the actual make-I always remembered it as a Raleigh, but when Royce Union was mentioned by another member, that sure rang a bell. Raleighs became much, much more common than Royce Unions, so I might very well have modified my memory.
    Still, it didn't change my impression of that black bike. I lived in Philly from 1954-1956-age 3-5-roughly the age when you really fix stuff in your mind. The bike was like a SPACESHIP landing. All the kids, and adults gathered around and stared-drooled; I seemed to remember being warned to look but not touch.
    It was even more dramatic than when-years later living-a local tough-brought home a Honda Dream(300or was it 305?).
    Funny, in later years I came to look down on those heavy framed Brit 3 speeds. I had to revise my opinion of them after Katrina. A buddy of mine took 6 feet of water for 23 days.His wife had a 3 speed Raleigh(1979 or so) with kinda pretty brown metal flake paint(sounds like a horrible color, but it was actually nice). It sat in the water for 23 days. It then was tossed in the side yard-filthy,silty-for 6 months waiting to be hauled off with the rest of the junk. Well,I was over there, and he offered it to me. I didn't have the heart to leave it there, so I tossed it in the truck. I brought it home, hosed it off, sprayed so WD40 on it, pumped up the 25 year old tires, and off I went. THE DARNED THING WORKED-EVERYTHING WORKED-IT SHIFTED JUST FINE, AND EVEN THE BRAKE CABLES WORKED. Now, the brakes didn't work great, but they worked about as well as they did when new.
    I had to revise my opinion of the Brits-they obviously new how to make a darned nearly indestructible bike. I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised; GB is about as wet as New Orleans.
    Thanks for the memories guys.
    Charlie

  24. #24
    Novist senior member tolfan's Avatar
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    havent thought English Racer in a whole buch of years. When I was 6 or 7 the bully up the steet got one from his big brother program guy, I slash his tires. "I'm not like that any more"

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    My friends and I all rode one speed American bikes, and the Schwinn was the "Mercedes" of the neighborhood.

    I sometimes saw some doctor's son or lawyer's daughter riding a three speed Raleigh...we called them "English Racers". Having such a fancy and expensive bike seemed about as unlikely as living in one of those big houses where those bikes were parked.

    Although Schwinn sold hundreds of thousands of ten-speed Varsity and Continental bikes in the 1960's, I don't remember ever seeing one on the road when I was a teen-ager. The three-speed had the "elite" market all to itself in that decaying old midwestern town.

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