Society of Three Speeds

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Mark’s New London 3-speed is enlivened with (retro-) modern parts, including alloy rims and cranks, a new saddle, alloy fenders, and durable tires.  Feeling that the bike is not as great as the sum of its parts, he seeks a new frame to replace the gas-pipe tubing of this old English klunker.  This old Trek road frame might have worked well as a host for his parts, but it wasn’t meant to be.  There are countless other candidates within reach.  Many older road frames with average tire clearances will do– too tight, and the 38mm tires will rub the chain stays, too wide and the caliper brakes will not reach the rim.  The considerations for a 700c to 26 x 1 3/8″ conversion (622mm to 590mm) are much the same as a 650b conversion.  A 26 x 1 3/8″ wheel is also referred to as 650A, and at 590mm it is 6mm taller than a 650b wheel, which is 584mm.  In total, the considerations are about the same for either conversion.

Original parts: New London steel frame, Sturmey-Archer hub and top-tube shifter, front hub, front lamp, stem and handlebars.  Upgrades: VO 50.4 BCD cranks, Honjo fenders (now painted black), Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tires (replaced with Marathon Plus), Sun CR-18 polished rims, Tektro long-reach dual pivot caliper brakes, VO city bike brake levers, and MKS Sylan Touring pedals.

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Mark is a mechanic at Two Wheel Drive in Albuquerque, NM.

I recently received notice in the post that I am the 18th member of the Society of Three Speeds, much to my surprise, as I have never owned a three speed bicycle.

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Join the Society of Three Speeds!  Membership dues are only $7 until April 8th, at which time they will return to $10.  Act now.  Three speeds is all you need!

Rule #1: “I will endeavor to promote three speeds as a viable means of transportation.”

Thanks for thinking of me Shawn.

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Shawn is also the real-life character behind the bicycle and travel comics, Urban Adventure League and Ten Foot Rule.

13 thoughts on “Society of Three Speeds

  1. You should really try and make the 3 speed tour some time. Probably the most fun i’ve ever had on 2 wheels.

  2. Gas pipe?! You just broke the second rule, bud! Funnily, this reminds me of the time the guy at EcoVelo said something about 45 pound 3-speeds and I snapped out at him because my stock Phillips weighs precisely 31 pounds. Fenders; original steel everything. The frame is much lighter and more resilient than say… a Diamondback Outlook. Gas pipe? Pshhhhha…

    Also, I have my handbuilt 70’s Roberts frame running as a 3-Speed with Nitto 177’s and one of those old-fangled quadrant shifters.

    And about 4-5 other English 3-Speeds waiting to be brought back to reality.

    Good reporting as always. Thanks again for the heads up on the new Society.

      • I was just about to chide ol’ Nicholas for his disregard of Rule #2, but it’s good to see that other members of the Society have my back, so to speak. Good work Chris Harne, Member No. 38!

        Just remember Nicholas: We are watching you. The Self-Appointed President for Life of Society of Three Speeds can giveth you a membership, but he can also taketh it away. 😉

        As for “20 pound three-speed”, there were such things. The elite niche of British Bicycles from the interwar years to about the 60s, the “Clubman” bicycles, were made with Reynolds 531 tubing. Before the advent of derailleured bikes on British production models in the later 50’s, they would have had three speed hubs.

      • As most British-ish 3-speeds around here are too small for me, I’ve been seriously thinking about a 3-speed wheel for my Cross Check which is otherwise set up like an old Raleigh, with a B-17 and Albatross bars, but currently only one gear. A 3-speed Pug would be fun, too. Seems that Shawn has reinvigorated interest in an imminently useful but neglected genre.

      • Oh, Andy, thanks! But you are giving me way too much credit for this “reinvigorating interest in three speeds” thing. Much like Bowie, I’m riding a wave that’s been building for years and now just being felt. The guys behind the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour have been putting it on since 2003, so if you want to give anyone credit, they are a good start.* I found about it in 2005 when I toured through the area.

        *And of course, much credit needs to be given to Sheldon Brown, who posted info about three speeds during a time when many “serious” bike riders didn’t think three speeds were “real” bikes.

      • Andy, regarding old British three speed sizing, most of the rod-brake roadsters (a la Raleigh Tourist DL-1, as it is commonly known here in the states) were rather large, like 25″ frame. If you can find one of those, it may fit you. Some of the Sports models were made in 23″, though 21″ is the most common size you’ll find.

      • Shawn, perhaps I’m giving you credit for reminding me of the greatness of three-speeds. I ride them daily while using Denver B-cycle, but don’t often think specifically about the three-speedness of them; they are just useful and fun. You certainly deserve a share of the credit for my recent perusal of Craigslist for three-speed gems to discover.

        I used to have a string of three-speeds, starting about 15 years ago. They were practically free at thrift stores around here, which is tantamount to crack for a bike tinkerer like me. It was easy to buy a few, fix them, ride them a while, then give them away to bike-less people. I spent many an hour de-gunking, tweaking and repairing old three-speeds. All those I encountered were between 18 and 21 inches, which is a bit too small for me to ride in comfort for more than short distances. Most were women’s frames, which I preferred, as the head tube tended to be a bit higher than men’s frames. I got out of three-speeds in 2005, when I reduced my menagerie prior to a move to a different house.

        At present, I only own one three-speed: a Trek B-cycle prototype with a Nexus hub. It’s an aluminum step-through 15-inch frame with a slack seat angle and a long seatpost, designed to adequately fit anyone between about 5’0″ and 6’5″. A nice bike that I don’t really ride; it’s a prop for professional purposes. Now, thanks in part to you, the bug is back. I think the only cure is to obtain something old, tallish, flexibly steel, Sturmey Archer equipped, and in need of some fixing.

  3. Reblogged this on Society Of Three Speeds and commented:
    Our friend Nicholas over at Gypsy By Trade (member number 5) talks about Mark Yoder’s (member no. 39) modernized New London three-speed. He also gives mention to the Society. Demerits for his breaking of Rule #2, but Chris Harne (member no. 38) comes to the rescue!

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