Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.