The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, Oregon

1985 Raleigh Portage rejuvenation (Part I)

This is the beginning of a journey. What this post holds is not particularly pretty or currently even inspiring. However, there is a distant flicker of light at the end of a bleak tunnel and in order to reach it one has to start somewhere to eventually accomplish the vision imagined in minds eyes.

1985 Raleigh Portage

1985 Raleigh Portage

The Raleigh Portage, named after “Alaska’s most breathtaking glaciers” and “symbolizing Raleigh’s spirit of outdoor independence”, is a heavy-duty, top-of-the-line touring bicycle created for three short years and produced in extremely low numbers and in somewhat odd sizes. In fact, unless you fit a frame size of 53cm, 58cm or 63.5cm, you were out of luck.

The Portage was sold as a rare, one-off rogue that gave grand images of adventure seeking, take-you-where-you-want-to-go touring enthusiasts rolling along the open road and down gravel paths to set up camp and sleep under the stars only to wake and do it all over again. The bike was meant to travel and easily roll for long distances. But, touring frames of this stature had already been created by rival competitors and really was not what made this model truly special. The mainstay of why it captured my attention is the wheel size. Most competitors at the time were quite content with the standard 27” or 700c wheels but Raleigh took a cue from the French Cycletouring bicycles of the past and developed the Portage to have 650b sized wheels. Being a slightly smaller wheel than the 27” or 700c, Raleigh understood how appropriate, for many reasons, the obscure size was for touring and randonneur style riding. And since this point in history, the revival of bicycles that utilize the lesser-known 650b size has been growing in popularity among cult followers and cycling enthusiasts now for years.

Spending over a year searching for a Portage of the correct size has led to numerous dead ends but a recent ad had my hopes up. The images were unfocused and obscure. The wording was sparse and what was mentioned was not promising. Able to get more details and photographs, I hesitantly purchased the frame, having it shipped from Kentucky to Oregon. What I received in the oversized frame box was quite alarming and had me questioning my definition on what exactly “too far gone” really was.

1985 Raleigh Portage

Despite the punishment the Portage has taken, the heron still stands proud

What arrived was a frame, fork, a seat post snapped off at the top, a set of bent drop bars and the original, oversized “Deer Head” Shimano BR-MC70 cantilever brakes in surprisingly adequate shape. Also coming with the frame, free of charge, was years of filthy grease and grime along with a significant accumulations of rust. More rust than filth, actually. The worst of it being concentrated on the top tube cable guides along with a sizable patch under the “PORTAGE” top tube decal. To me, this clearly means the rider of this bicycle was a sweat machine. Many times, bikes that are used indoors, on trainers, have a sad fate. The owner pounds mile after mile out, sweating profusely all over the top tube then after the ride, they awkwardly lumber off the machine, exhausted, and hit the shower forgetting about the bike and letting the sweat dry and slowly eat the paint with its salty toxicity. Really, it is the same result as owning a bicycle near the ocean and leaving it outdoors. Other than that cringe worthy detail, the frame seems to be in solid structural shape. There are other minor rust spots and blemishes but nothing, including the cable guide area and top tube rust, that shows the steel is past the point of no return.

1985 Raleigh Portage

Cable guides become nearly useless because of serious rust issues

1985 Raleigh Portage

Rust below the top tube has nearly eaten through the steel

However, knowing the severity of the rust and overall frame condition, I have decided that I will be taking it down to bare metal for repair and new paint. Most who restore items reserve removing originality and factual evidence, such as paint, only for the absolute worse case scenario. I also fall into this school of thought but as Clint Eastwood once said, “a man’s got to know his limitations” and this is a case where I just cannot see any other alternative.

1985 Raleigh Portage

1985 Raleigh Portage

Rust, dirt and time render the serial number indecipherable

Before purchasing this bicycle, I already had a vision.
After a recent bicycle infrastructure study abroad program in the Netherlands, I fell in love with the easy, comfortable, upright style bicycles the Dutch are famous for. I decided I too would have something of this nature, but envisioned a more traditional Gazelle frame. But until a Dutch bicycle comes my way, the long, relaxed touring frame and wide, comfortable 650b wheels will be an extremely suitable alternative and serve as my main city bike that can go anywhere from downtown Portland streets to unpaved gravel roads… and do it in style. Knowing why Raleigh created this frame, I also want the ability to easily transform it back into the legendary touring juggernaut it was built for with just a few turns of the wrench. That is an aspect I did not want to disappear in the new builds goals.

These images show a significant project. They portray a frame that needs considerable work and careful attention to bring it back to the glory it celebrated decades ago and I am pleased to accept that challenge.

1985 Raleigh Portage
1985 Raleigh Portage
1985 Raleigh Portage

27 comments on “1985 Raleigh Portage rejuvenation (Part I)

  1. Barry Daigle
    September 6, 2013

    Some people restore old automobiles to bring back the charm and gleen it had when it rolled off the showroom floor and into the hands of its first owner.
    Josh has the same drive to restore but in a different direction. Bicycles are a great transportation mode and when you recall that first new bicycle, you never forget it. Mine was a 1967 Schwinn 10 speed Continental. For me, that was it.
    Yes, they were built like a tank and were heavy, but I rode it to John Burroughs Jr. High School in Los Angeles every day and recall riding in the sun on a typical 72 degree day. I rode that Schwinn all over Los Angeles. It was the definition of freedom for me. Two years later it was gone. I still recall the feeling of heading out to the bike racks after school and finding parts of my lock where my bike had been.
    Bicycles need restoring to bring back memories of those who appreciate the design, brand or ride and to be enjoyed by new generations. Josh is making history all over again for those who love bicycling.

    • Josh C.
      September 6, 2013

      I am humbled by your comments. Thank you! I also appreciate your story and connection to your Schwinn Continental. Those were “bike boom” era bicycles but they were workhorses and built to last. Like you mention, they also granted you the feeling of the wind of freedom in your hair as you made your way over miles of sun kissed Los Angeles terrain. Whether it is a heavy cruiser or a carbon garage queen we all lust for that sense of exploration, openness and independence. That is one, of the many wonderful qualities of bicycles.

      Thanks for sharing your story, Barry.

  2. azorch
    September 6, 2013

    Josh, I hope you take the opportunity to document the evolution of this frame set. What’s the plan for here – paint? Or Powder? I’m looking forward to following this one – you’ve got the tall one, it looks like, right?

    • Josh C.
      September 6, 2013

      I am doing my best to document everything I can but the frame’s past is a bit checkered, no matter how hard I dig in to it. More info will come in the next post about what has been discovered but I am certainly trying to keep the facts straight.

      Everything that happens with me is (overly?) documented starting with the frame acquisition and alterations. Those modifications are happening now. As for paint vs powder coating, that is a great question. I originally thought paint, no question, but the high prices, extremely long turn times and lengthy curing process has me thinking differently. Especially since the frame builder I found (extremely respected) to help with the Portage alterations now swears by his powder coat shop. I saw the results myself and was absolutely blown away. I will begin with investigating paint but have a feeling I will quickly lean toward the powder coat option. That’s still TBD, however.

      The size on this frame is the 58cm (C-T; 56.5cm C-C top tube). It’s tall for me but I think I can handle it, especially since I plan to make it upright. Don’t be skeptical of the word ‘upright’ on a strictly dropbar bicycle. I’ll keep it respectable and classy.

      Stay tuned!

  3. Josh C.
    September 6, 2013

    Ah yes, I remember your International. Lovely machine (I’m a big fan of the Suntour LePree derailleur) and wow, what a job the powder coaters did! The process sure has come a long way since the days of industrial and car carriage coating!

  4. adventurepdx
    September 8, 2013

    Ah, the Portage. Love to get my hands on one. Right now I’ll have to be content with my Raleigh USA mountain bike of the same era. Looks like you got a lot of work ahead of you. And I find it interesting that someone would choose to use the Portage as a trainer bike!

    And you are not the only person in Portland currently restoring a Portage.

    Project Raleigh Portage
    • Josh C.
      September 8, 2013

      Those Raleigh mountain bikes are nothing to scoff at! I think that is a fine alternative until something better comes along. As for me, the workload was much more daunting when the frame arrived. Progress is moving along. It is very steady and goes as quickly as money and time will allow. I’m excited to showcase Part II!

      The other Portage being restored, which I had no idea about, looks like it could be an ’86. The key differences being the decal set, especially on the down tube (dark letters, whereas mine has white lettering) and a slightly different hue of green paint than mine. The Heron seems to be just a touch different as well with mine being riveted in place. Sans rivets on the other Portage. Those are the only details I can see upon quick glance but I’m sure there are other subtle cues. The restoration on the other Portage looks fairly cut and dry except for the rust issues. That could be interesting to see how it turns out.

      Thanks for the comments and the heads up on the other restoration. I will be keeping an eye on it! If they end up blogging about it, please do share the link with the rest of us!

      • Paula F
        October 6, 2013

        Hi. Yes, my Portage is an ’86. The rust cleaned up well and it is now back on the road. A quick summary is on my blog, Looking forward to seeing your restoration.

      • Josh C.
        October 6, 2013

        Wonderful transformation on your Portage, Paula! I hope mine can only look as half as good as yours turned out.
        Once my Portage project is complete, wouldn’t it be fun to haphazardly run into each other on the streets of Portland? I’ll be keeping an eye out for your distinct rig on the roads.

      • Paula
        October 7, 2013

        Thanks. Yes, that would be great – a Raleigh Rendezvous! And if you are interested in a 40 hole 650b Velocity, Long Leaf Bicycles seems to have them.

  5. mike
    September 9, 2013

    I was happy to stumble onto this post and feel a somewhat kindred experience. After years of bike-less life, I picked up a ’91 Raleigh Technium Olympian at a garage sale this summer and was hooked! That has led to a summer of reading, learning, tinkering, repairing, and buying (sometimes even selling) bikes in search of a tourer I fell in love with the moment I saw it in photos: not the Portage but its little brother the Alyeska. Strangely enough, in a group shot on Craigslist, I spotted one an hour away from me and went to buy the whole lot in order to get it. It is an 84-85 in drivable condition, but I am trying to undo the years of changed (replaced DT shifters w stems, etc…) to make it more original. My knowledge level and experience is WAY less than yours and so reading your journey inspires me as I work on my Alyeska this fall and winter in advance of a Puget Sound tour next summer. Look forward to seeing and reading about your progress.

    • Josh C.
      September 10, 2013

      Hi Mike,

      First off, thanks for visiting.
      Funny you should mention the Alyeska. I have one just waiting for it’s turn to be restored. From what I can tell, it is a very capable machine and right on par with the Kodiak (one rung up on the hierarchy ladder). Other than the component list, there doesn’t seem to be much different in the frames. Since my Kodiak is my “daily driver”, and a bicycle I have come to love dearly, I would say that you are in for a real treat once your restoration is complete. Also, I wouldn’t worry much about having much previous experience. Clean it up as best you can, replace the tires (if they need it), oil the chain and put some miles on that legend!

      Good luck and have fun!

      • mike
        September 10, 2013

        Josh– thanks for the response, and funny you mention the Kodiak, and I am wondering if you can help me. I have been trying to research original specs for my Alyeska, and running into this odd kink. Sheldon Brown has a link to specs for the ’85 touring line up which does indeed list the portage-kodiak-alyeska-whyoming line up as matched by that year’s catalogue. In my research on my ’84 (or what I assume is an 84 based on the “official sponsor of the US Olympic team” sticker on mine, the partial catalogue I tracked down for 84 only shows the Portage-ALyeska-Wyoming models in that order. Link here:
        Do you know if the Kodiak began in 85 as opposed to the others in 84? And if so, what if any measurable differences there were in the portage-kodiak-alyeska specs between the two years? THis is likely an overly specific question, but seems like if anyone might know, you’d be the one! Cheers.

  6. tommoran2002
    September 16, 2013

    Wow, that is an epic and inspiring project bike. It makes me feel like I got quite lucky with the Gitane Hosteller project bike I picked up this week. I look forward to watching the progress of this one.

    • Josh C.
      September 16, 2013

      I mentioned this above but it’s funny, the project seemed so much more daunting when the frame first arrived. Now that I have had time to step back, collect my thoughts, map out a plan of attack, begin sourcing paint, parts and other necessities, it doesn’t feel quite so bad. Plus, I am making good progress. But you’ll see that soon enough!

  7. Andre R.
    September 20, 2013

    I’m looking forward to seeing the refinished frame. Will you go for a faithful reproduction of the original color or something more bold? I’m also doing a (mild) restoration of a Portage. You can see some (admittedly bad) photos here:

    • Josh C.
      September 20, 2013

      A buddy of mine posed the same question on paint to me after I decided that the restoration would take a ground-up approach. I originally wanted to use custom color but after pondering what I am going for, I have decided to take the frame back to its original color. Not only will I keep to a more accurate restoration but I actually really like the dark green metallic color. The decals will be just a touch different but nothing significant. One thing I am doing, that I didn’t expect, is going with powder coating rather than paint. I’ll go into more details on that in future posts but I have discovered that powder coating can be just as spectacular as paint if you have the right artist applying it.
      As for your Portage, it looks as though you too have a project ahead as well! I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

  8. dan packy
    October 10, 2013

    Reply to Mike from 9/10/13
    The Kodiak was around in 1984, along with the other 3 you list. I bought 2 Kodiaks in 84, and still have them. See my response to Josh on the Kodiak thread about modifying cable stops to convert to bar end shifters.
    I’ve also pdf’d the Raleigh catalogue for those bikes. Unfortunately, I have no way of “posting” that file.
    Josh, don’t mean to hijack your thread, good luck on the Portage. I hope you find a good selection of 650B tires without paying too much.


    • Josh C.
      October 10, 2013

      Thanks for the contribution, Dan and no harm on the derailing the conversation. As long as it’s kept to bikes, I have no problem jumping around relevant topics.
      Regarding the catalog, I have been trying to find a right spot to showcase it and I was hoping to utilize it in my upcoming post.

  9. Robert B
    November 12, 2013

    Having been down this road with an ’86 Portage let me offer this one piece of advice…KEEP THE BRAKES!!!! Because the canti studs are “backwards” pretty much nothing else works, especially up front. I’ve toured on mine for a few summers and it has been a wonderful bike. I’m selling it now to fund another project, it will be missed. Oh, 38mm tires with fenders are the max and it takes some fender fiddling to make it work. If you have any questions, drop me a line. daddybland at gmail dot com.

    • Josh C.
      November 12, 2013

      Thanks for the suggestion and the tip on the cantilever studs. I was unaware of their positioning and now feel pretty lucky that the only usable components left on the Portage was actually something I sincerely could use for the future build. 38mm should be about as large as I would like to go but again, great info to know up front! Thanks again for vising and for the helpful advice.

  10. Paula F.
    December 31, 2013

    Saw your flickr picture update. Repairs are looking good.

    • Josh C.
      December 31, 2013

      Once I take photographs I color correct and upload them to Flickr. Then, once I get the time, I write it all up in a post. A savvy web user would be wise to their eye on the Flickr page to see what’s coming down the line. Glad you picked up on that ;)
      Watch for the latest write up here on the site in the next few days!

  11. Pingback: 1985 Raleigh Portage rejuvenation (Part II) | The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

  12. Pingback: Cycling in Print :: Raleigh Lightweight Touring Catalog, 1984 | The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

  13. Pingback: 1985 Raleigh Portage rejuvenation (Part V) | The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2013 by in Cycling Projects, Topics and tagged , , , , .

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