You are here

Raleigh Grand Prix - AKA "Mr. Jack of All Trades"

Since my re-introduction to the joys of road cycling I've put a fair number of miles on my Nishiki Century road bike. Compared to the mountain bikes I've typically owned the Nishiki was fast and efficient. After the success of "The Tin Man", a 70's Raleigh Record project, I also started to enjoy the slower side or cycling. I dreamed up the idea of a budget build to create a commuter style, road based, cyclocross inspired steel framed bike.

A nearly used up 1980ish 25 inch Raleigh Grand Prix was located on Craigslist. It included a fork, seat post, bottom bracket, and curiously short 165mm Raleigh scripted Apex-5 SD crank set. The asking price of $15 wasn't a problem. But it turns out the seller was just as happy taking a few vintage stems and a set of pedal clips in trade. Upon arrival to the race garage it became obvious this poor frame had seen lots of miles and little mechanical attention. The bottom bracket was 'sticky' but responded well to a thorough cleaning and fresh grease. The bottom frame headset cup was no longer tight in the frame. An aluminum soda can was sacrificed to manufacture a shim and the cup was pressed back into the frame. The bearings and races were well worn but were cleaned up and reused.

The Tin Man donated some parts. The 36 spoke Shimano 600 wheelset, fitted with a set of Continental Ultra Gatorskin tires, was reused. As was the aluminum stem and low end RD TY15 rear derailleur. My second favorite saddle was attched to the original Grand Prix seatpost. The chrome steel handlebars, long removed from my eighties era Nishiki, were installed. But not after being clamped into my bench vise and bent into a wider shape. My unused Giant Iguana mountain bike donated its seven speed rear trigger shifter. Shimano 105 brake levers were installed and cabled up to some really old, unmarked, center pull brake calipers.

No front derailleur was installed. "Cyclocross David", a single speed rider, inspired my purposeful omission of this component, its shifter, and attendant cabling.

The first test ride was uneventful with no serious issues.

Raleigh Grand Prix budget build phase one

At this point the Raleigh had been returned to a functioning bicycle and was ridden a few times to make sure no other problems were hiding. The next phase was making it a better winter ride.

The TY15 rear derailleur was not 100% compatible with the Iguana's seven speed indexed trigger shifter. It shifted. But not as nicely as ramped Shimano cassettes are capable of. So the Giant Iguana donated it's rear derailer. Which wasn't without issue. The Grand Prix frame did not have a derailleur hanger. So a temporary bracket was fabricated that fronts a 10mm x 1.0 nut for the derailer to thread into. This cheesy bracket is clearly visible in the image.

Although the 700c 23mm Continental Ultra Gatorskin tires allowed the bike to roll fast and free, they offered little rim protection when hopping up and down curbs and navigating the occasional dirt path. In what seemed a good idea at the time a set of new looking Cheng Shin Tire brand Matrix Multi Track 700c x 35 tires were levered on. I thought purchasing a barely used early nineties Trek 720 Multi Track and its tires for the cost of a set of new low end tires was clever. But as soon as I put a few miles on them the sidewalls started showing trouble. The nylon cords were still intact. But this observation was only available because time had degraded the outer sidewall rubber enough to expose them. Although buying a used bike for its used tires was foolish, the Trek 720 has become popular with my wife and will be her commuter bike.

Despite the short-for-this-world tires the bike was ridden. In the rain. And a set of Planet Bike black 45mm Cascadia fenders were immediately ordered.

These fenders are Planet Bike's top of the line plastic fenders. The fenders and included hardware did seem reasonably high quality given the cost of the fender kit. But I was not at all happy with one aspect of the installation. The instructions clearly advised the installer to zip tie the front end of the rear fender to the frame. While this would be secure it wouldn't allow the fenders to be mounted nice and close to the tires. Eventually I cut a chunk of rubber into a shape that matched the space between my chain stays, screwed the front end of the fender to it, and wedged it into place. The friction fit also allows the front of the fender to be moved forward while removing and replacing the rear wheel from it's horizontal drop out prison.

At about the same time a set of new Michelin 'Dyanamic' 32x700c tires were ordered and installed. Compared to the many tires in this size range that are categorized as 'city' or 'commuter' tires, the Dyanamics are built relatively light and thin like a typical road tire. Time will tell if they are durable enough for their role.

While the bike was out of service I took the time to fit a different crank set. The Apex-5 SD crank set, with kinda short 165mm arms, was swapped out for a low end set of Sugino cranks and single steel 40 tooth chainring. The Sugino crankset was chopped for the Raleigh Record project and a closer image of them is shown on that project page.

Raleigh Grand Prix by a giant wooden door
Raleigh Grand Prix Gears

After spending a fair amount of time in the saddle my patience with the narrow and heavy steel bars was worn thin. Ten dollars purchased a set of used 46cm Short and Shallow drop bars made by Salsa Cycles. But the simple job of swapping bars soon turned into a bigger project. The 7 Speed mountain bike trigger shifter did not fit the road bars. With no other index shifters in the junk bin I made the decision to install downtube friction shifters. No longer being locked into seven rear cogs allowed an upgrade to a junk bin 8 speed cassette. And if all this swapping was going on I thought I might as well swap in some late 90's Shimano XT components that were gathering dust.

The XT cranks were 175mm which seem to fit me about right. The 42 and 34 chainrings were retained while the 24 tooth was removed and returned to the bin. The XT derailer looked displeased hanging from my DIY bracket so I took a chance and welded a nut with the proper threads onto the frame dropout. This home made derailer hanger took longer than expected but is 100% functional. (And mostly invisible behind the derailer!)

Raleigh Grand Prix parked at the park

The feel of the bike changed after the last round of parts swaps. The bars are properly sized which has increased the comfort factor substantially on the longer rides. The old school friction shifters, which require a pretty long reach, discourage shifting and, at the same time, seem to encourage me to just enjoy the ride (and the cog) and watch the world go by. Having the 34 tooth front chainring for exceptionally hilly terrain is also occasionally nice although no front derailer means I'm still teaching my right foot how to guide the chain up and down chainrings.

The Raleigh Grand Prix is a capable, if not fancy, rain or shine commuter style bike.

Update: After becoming enamored with role this bike played I put a classier version together using a Columbus framed Bottecchia.

Update 2: This bike has received a second lease on life. Call it Raleigh Grand Prix II.