Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
The bicycle gods once again shepherd another sad, neglected Raleigh Portage my way. How could anyone turn down those big, puppy dog eyes?
1986 Raleigh Portage
I have had the incredible fortune of bringing back a small handful of Raleigh Portage bicycles. Some, a mere whisker away from utter uselessness. I understand how this slow process of dilapidation can occur over a few decades but it is difficult for me to pass on any Portage when one comes up as I know what they can be sculpted to with time, patience and a thoughtful rehabilitation. Their mid-80s pedigree has aged gracefully, shuttling them into next level, god-like status as the 650b tire came back into vogue about a decade ago, circa 2002. Now, the Portage is seen, and respected, as the originator, ahead of their time and unlike their 27″ tire counterparts, who are dying a slow tire obsolescence death, the 650b platform has surged and rubber options have never been better.
It is well known that the Portage was the first mass-produced 650B bike and I’ve written extensively about them in the past. I began with an multi-part, in-depth, two-year long restoration on a 1985 model then refreshed a near-perfect 1986 model to which I still enjoy a solid friendship and frequent email conversation with the new, current owner today.
The Portage was Raleigh’s “comfortable, long-distance” dedicated touring machine for a handful of years in the mid-to late-80s. At the time the Portage was being sold new, the bicycle industry really only had three choices for tires—700c, 27″ or 26″. 700c was more higher-end race and road oriented, 27″ captured the rest of the road bikes. Though 26″ has long been an industry standard, a junk drawer of sorts, for anything other than a road bike. Thus, 26″ was fairly easy to find, especially in other, lesser developed countries that some bike tourists wanted to ride through. So, there must have been some skepticism and apprehension from the touring community since 650b tires and tubes could be difficult to find in say, Guatemala, if your tire and/or tube catastrophically failed. Whereas 26″ or 27″ was fairly prominent. But, the serious bicycle tourists knows to carry redundant spares for certain items and tires/tubes is often high on that list. Plus, 26″ tubes work just as well in 650b tires, so that reduces part of the risk.
For those who have had the opportunity to enjoy a 650b setup, either modern or vintage, the difference between it and say a 700c setup are immense. The big, cushy 650b tires are outrageously comfortable, yet still nimble and just as fast as their thinner 700c brothers. And with brands like Rene Herse/Compass, Ultradynamico, Panaracer and WTB in the rubber game, the competition is fierce for a tire that does it all and feels like rolling on a firm marshmallow.
I proudly own a Raleigh Portage and enjoy everything it brings to my biking experience to this day. Mostly though, I’m just elated to have the ability to have brought back another from life support for someone else to enjoy.
1986 Raleigh Product Catalog
Color: Sage green metallic with Quicksilver panels
Frame Size: 51cm (C-T) seat post & 54cm (C-C) top tube
Frame/Drop-outs: 555 T Double-butted chro-moly steel; SunTour
Fork: 555 T chro-moly steel
Bars: SR Sakea Randnner Road Champion
Bar Wrap: Cinelli; Natural cork with 4 coats of blonde shellac and black twine
Stem: Nitto Technomic
Headset: Tange MTB-225
Saddle: Avenir Classic Series; Black
Seat Post: Sakae CR
Crankset: Sakae AX; 48/38/28; 170mm
Front Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT Deer Head; FD-M700
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore XT Deer Head; RD-M700
Shifting: SunTour bar end shifters
Brake Levers: Tektro Aero
Brake Calipers: Shimano BR-MC70; Shimano pads
Cable and Housing: Clarks; Silver
Freewheel: 6-Speed Shimano MF-Z012 (14/17/20/24/28/34)
Chain: SRAM PC-850
Hubs: SR Sealed Bearing; High flange
Wheels: Araya; Black anodized; 650B; 36h (Front); 40h (Rear); Sakae skewers
Tires: SimWorks by Panaracer – Volummy; Black and Peanut Butter; 650B x 38c
Special Features: Double eyelets front/rear; Three bottle cage mounts; Brazed-on mounts for front/rear rack; Pump peg
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Thanks for the great writing. I love the old Raleighs!
I’ll keep writing about them as long as they keep crossing my path!
Lovely! I’m amazed that you keep on finding these Portages. A nice Raleigh Portage would be nice for me, but I have too many bikes and too little bikes (and the one you are selling would not fit me.)
I do have a few comments/quibbles about your post though:
-I wouldn’t say that the Portage was the first “mass-produced 650B bicycle”. Well, maybe in the US, though the Raleigh Tamarack, a 650B mountain bike, was also launched at the same time as the Portage. But there were plenty of mass-produced 650B bikes in France and some other European countries. An ex-roommate had a Norwegian city bike from the 50’s with 650B wheels.
-And at the time the Portage was launched, 650A (aka 26″ x 1 3/8″ or 590) was still an option. Sure, it wasn’t on anything high-end at that point, but bajillions of British three speeds used this size, and lower end American department store bikes (think Huffy) were also using it. At that time in history (1984-ish) it could be argued that 650A was the most common wheel size to be found worldwide thanks to British exports (and a lot of Japanese bikes used that size too, though mostly for in-country sales), soon to be usurped by 26″
Thanks for the comments!
Every time I find a home for a Portage, I think, “well, that should be the last of them!” and somehow, another finds me. They are such well-built, gorgeous bicycles. It is a delight to have the ability to know I’ve kept a few going on the road.
Can’t believe you found another one!
Gotta love the Deerhead derailleurs paired with the Suntour shifters. And the interesting high flange hubs. The bike should be a joy to ride and to treasure for a long time to come.
Classic combo, right?
As for the hubs, they are stout, well built and, from what I can tell, standard on the entire Portage lineage. Yet, there really is nothing out there on the interwebs about them so I’m curious if they were just made for this lineup or what.
They also have a “sealed bearings” sticker on them, yet they are simply cup and cone bearings with a rubber seal on the outside. So, they still need service, just not that often. Ideally though, “sealed” would have cartridge bearings. Especially for an all out touring rig. Not a bad thing, just the little things you notice while slowly pouring through a build.
I can’t stop looking at this build. Love the simplicity of the rear cable hanger bolted on to the frame. I’d love to replace the one on my Kodiak. I know it’s a small thing, but with such a gorgeous set up, you notice these things!
But, it’s the small things, as you’ve noticed, that makes the difference. Custom builds have layers of small details. They are like owning a fine painting where you’ve looked at it a million times then, to your dismay, something new materializes right in front of you. This Raleigh may not be to the level of a custom build but they really did have numerous elements of thoughtful design built in. Obviously, they were the top tier of the touring line but Raleigh really did pour a little extra into these frames that I just don’t think you saw often in that era.
Thanks for taking the time to notice, and galvanize your thoughts, CJ.
Did that part come with the frame, or was it something you replaced? I’m curious where I might find one?
That particular brake hanger came with the frame. However, the other Portage frames I’ve received only came with “standard” screw in brake hangers. I did take note at how nicely machined and robust it was. I haven’t seen one like that before. I almost kept it!
I don’t blame you! I would have been tempted.