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Sheldon Brown's 8-speed Raleigh Twenty
In the '60s, Moulton bicycles were hot in England, and Raleigh wanted to get in on the action. One of Raleigh's answers to the Moulton was the Raleigh Twenty, also known as the Raleigh Shopper, and sold under some of Raleigh's other captive brand names in England.
The Twenty was not nearly as sophisticated a design as the Moulton, but there was a visual resemblance. While the Twenty lacked the Moulton's full suspension, it was inexpensive and rugged and fun to ride. The 20-inch wheels were easy to get tires for, and the tires held up quite well. The Twenty superficially resembles many inexpensive European 20-inch folders of the era, but the frame and hinge are much more solid than with most of these.
A stock Raleigh Twenty offers performance comparable to that of a 26 inch wheel 3-speed "sports" bike, but, due to its robust, well designed frame, it lends itself to being "hopped up" in performance by upgrading components. With suitable equipment, it can approach the performance of a Bike Friday at a much lower price.
The bottom-bracket threading on Raleigh Twentys is Raleigh's proprietary 26 tpi size. The shells are also rather wider than standard, approximately 76 mm. If you wish to upgrade a Raleigh Twenty for modern cotterless cranks, you have 3 options, maybe 4:
The 406 mm wheel models came with loooooong-reach Weinmann sidepull brake calipers; the 451 mm wheel models used Raleigh steel calipers like those on full-sized Raleigh 3-speeds. You can do much better, especially if you also replace the rims as described below.
There are two standard handlebar setups for Twentys, both steel:
The stems have a stiff wire loop running out of the bottom, which attaches to the brake center bolt, and prevents the stem from being set too high for safety. Eliminating the wire loop allows you to remove the handlebars and stem and make the bicycle more compact for transport.
You may replace the handlebars with any that use a quill stem. This can be secured either by the binder, or by the stem's expander plug/wedge, or both.
Because of the low frame, a stem that rises to normal handlebar height will be long, and flexible. The Raleigh's original high-rise handlebar avoids this problem by allowing a shorter stem. You could also invert drop bars, trimming an inch or two off the ends so they don't interfere with your wrists when you are riding on the drops. The ends of the bars face the rear so the brake levers are at the front, but the hoods are at the top as usual.. We're not talking here about the common practice among novices of rotating drop bars so the ends face forward. That's hazardous because deceleration while braking pushes the hands harder against the brake levers, making the brakes hard to control.
Inverted drop bars and short stem on a Raleigh Twenty.
The brake cables also are inverted,
making it easy to remove the handlbars and stem for transport.
Brompton "M" type handlebars also work well, and if you use them you can also say that your Twenty is part Brompton. Most other high-rise bars are very wide, and risk catching on an obstacle or vehicle and dumping you. Even the Brompton bars can stand a bit of shortening: just make sure that there's still room for hardware and a handgrip on the straight part at each end.
Twist-grip shifters typically fit flat and high-rise handlebars with a 22.2mm (7/8") diameter at their ends, not drop bars.
The stock wheels on U.S. models are either 406 mm (20 x 1.75) or 451 mm (20 x 1 3/8). Generally the folding models came with the 406 size, which is also the size used for BMX bikes. The 451 mm size is somewhat scarcer. Good rims and tires are available in both sizes, though the selection is much better for the more common 406 mm size.
The stock steel rims are very heavy and don't provide very good braking. The most valuable upgrade to these bikes is to replace the rims with lightweight aluminum ones, and to install better tires.
Unlike many similar-looking 20" wheel folding bikes, the Raleigh Twenty has a nice stiff frame, and can handle quite well even with heavy riders at high speeds.
The hinge is very sturdy and trustworthy. In fact, the bike can be ridden with without the hinge "L" bolt being installed!
The hinge bolt is a 3/8" x 20 TPI, a relatively common bolt thread in the U.S.
Twentys are designed to take a 1 1/8" seat post, and come with a heavy steel one, which may not be long enough for taller riders. Since I'm long-legged, I used to have to extend the stock seatpost by attaching a smaller seatpost to the top of it, but now, thanks to mountain bikes, and "oversized" designs, suitable modern aluminum seatposts are available from stock for a reasonable price, in the 28.6 mm (1 1/8") diameter. An inelegant but workable solution is to saw a standard 1 1/8" O.D. seat tube out of a trashed frame and use it along with a conventional, smaller-diameter seatpost at the top.
The rear triangle is typical of those made for Sturmey-Archer gear hubs, 114 mm spacing, with 8 mm axle slots. If you want to upgrade the gearing, you will likely need to re-space the frame and file dropouts to accept a fatter axle. Do all of the filing on the bottom of the slot, so you won't disturb the alignment of the rear wheel.
The stock fork is of mediocre quality, but serviceable. It has narrow spacing for a Raleigh proprietary hub, narrower and with a skinnier axle than most modern hubs.
The stock Raleigh front hubs are actually pretty decent, but if you want to upgrade to a more modern hub, you will need to spread the fork blades to the now-standard 100 mm spacing, and file the axle slots to fit a 9 mm axle.
The stock fork can be improved by increasing the trail. As it is steel, brake bosses and fender eyelets can be added.
Alternatively, you can replace the fork. I improved the handling of my fixed-gear Twenty using a Haro BMX fork with an extended steerer. (I extended the steerer by brazing an extension onto it. I used a short section from an old steel handlebar stem as a filler where the extender joined the existing, short steerer on the Haro fork.)
If you replace the fork, you'll also need to replace the handlebar stem, because the stock stems have no expander/wedge to secure them to a standard fork. The skinny 120 psi Continental tires on my fixed-gear twenty were too jarring in the small wheel size, and, though this bike was quite fast for a folder, I found myself rarely riding it, due to the harsh, uncomfortable ride. I solved that problem by installing an SR suspension fork. It made all the difference, and since then this bike has been getting regular use. This fork also features cantilever braze-ons, enabling me to install a Shimano V-Brake.
This fork has a long, threadless steerer, but not long enough to use with a threadless headset/stem on a Twenty. Fortunately, the steerer is steel, and of standard wall thickness, so I was able to thread it. With a threaded headset, there's actually a bit more than enough room, but rather than cut it down, I installed a spacer between the locknut and the adjustable race.
The stock Raleigh Twenty headset uses the same bottom section as other Nottingham 3-speeds, with 25 5/32" balls, but the upper headset uses a nylon bushing.
Raleigh Twenty nylon upper headset bushing
The extra friction of this bushing plus the geometry of the stock fork generally make it impossible to ride a stock Twenty no-hands. We recommend replacing the upper headset.The threads of the stock fork do not extend down far enough to allow installation of a threaded Raleigh top headset -- but, if you replace the stock stem with a quill stem secured with an expander plug/wedge, you can install a 1-inch threadless headset, and preload it using the top nut and locknut of the original headset. You will need to install a spacer washer and/or brake cable stop to get enough reach.
Aheadset threadless top headset preloaded with Raleigh headset parts
The first of many Raleigh 20s I've owned; I bought this one used in the early '70s, and did many modifications to it over the years. In this photo, it was still fairly stock, except that I'd converted the 3-speed hub to 5-speeds, extended the seatpost, and installed Lyotard platform pedals and a Brooks B66 saddle.
For a while I had BMX tires on it, and I did quite a lot of off-road riding on this bike, before real mountain bikes became available. It used to really blow people's minds to meet a cyclist out on a hiking trail in the woods...most people at the time assumed that such trails were impassible to bicycles.
Later in its life, it acquired aluminum rims, Cinelli handlebars and stem, a Campagnolo Nuovo Record crank set, Phil Wood bottom bracket, and other goodies.
One nifty use for such a bike is hitch-hiking. Back when I was a starving hippie, I once used this bike to visit friends on Cape Cod, during the winter off-season. I hopped on the bike at my commune in Allston, (an outlying section of Boston) and rode in, perhaps 6-8 miles to the main north-south highway that runs through Boston, and up an on-ramp. I then folded the bike and stuck out my thumb.
A hitch-hiker with a crumpled up bike next to him looks less threatening than a normal hitch-hiker, and I got a ride almost immediately, all the way down to route 6, about 10 miles from my destination. There I was, on a dark November night, on a deserted 2-lane in Cape Cod, with nobody going by. If I'd been purely hitch-hiking, I'd've been S.O.L., but since I had my trusty Twenty, I just unfolded it, turned on my Elite headlight and had a pleasant ride to my friend's house.
Later, I lent this bike to one of my partners in the Bicycle Repair Collective (now the Broadway Bicycle School) so he could comfortably hitch back to his home in Minnesota at Christmas time. Worked for him, too!
In the early '80s, after I'd married and my daughter Tova was born, this bike acquired a baby seat. I chose this bike for baby-seat use partly due to its sturdiness, partly due to the step-through frame, and partly because it was adjustable so that either Harriet or I could comfortably ride it.
Harriet used this bike for her 16 mile commute for quite a while...it was a bit of a "Q-ship". Harriet had a lot of fun blowing off posers on thousand-dollar bikes. When you're a poser with a thousand-dollar bike, and you pass a middle-aged woman on a small-wheel folding bike with a baby seat on it, there's precious little glory, (especially as the only chance these worthies had to pass her was while she was waiting for a red light to change.) On the other hand, once the light changes, and the middle-aged woman on a small-wheel-folder-with-a-baby-seat catches and passes you, you know you've really been passed!
S-A 5-speed hot rod, aluminum rims and crankset, wild-looking Uni-disc wheel covers, front and rear, Mitsuboshi Comp Pool tires.
This one doesn't have as many lightweight goodies on it as some of mine have, but it's pretty fast on the flats, with the "æro" wheel covers, which have psychedelic dayglo spirals on them...really gotta take a picture of this one sometime.
Riding this downhill at speed shows why people don't use disc wheels in front! With the small wheels, it's bearable, but the handling is a bit dicy...as you start to turn even a little bit, the disc tries to make you turn farther, so it takes considerable attention to keep this bike going straight at high speeds.
One of my many fixed-gear bikes. This has a modified Haro BMX fork with an extended steerer, Zoom Brahma bars, Araya 7x aluminum rims with 28 mm Continental Grand Prix tires, Sugino cranks, Normandy large-flange hubs, Dia Compe BMX brake.
Since the photos were taken, I've upgraded the fork with an SR elastomer suspension fork and a Tektro Mini Direct-pull brake.
Due to recent health problems, I'm not currently able to ride fixed gear, so this bike is now equipped with a Sturmey-Archer 8-speed internal gear hub:
3-speed hotrod, drop bars, alloy wheels, work in progress. This is a comparatively recent acquisition, and I haven't gotten 'round to doing any serious modifications to this, aside from the drop handlebars...still waiting for inspiration.
My good friend John Allen caught the Twenty virus from me, and in 1979 I managed to find him a "fixer-upper" twenty which he has put to excellent use. He has a Web page about his own Raleigh Twenty
Tony Hadland's article on the history of Raleigh features historical info on the Raleigh Twenty family.
Mark Rehder's Folder Page
Here's another Raleigh Twenty page from the Netherlands
Raleigh Parts Threading/Interchangeability
Three-Speed Parts from Harris Cyclery
Sturmey-Archer Brochures 1935-38You'll need a fast connection for this.
Evolution of the Raleigh Sports
The Raleigh Twenty
Some of My Raleighs:
New! Sturmey-Archer Heritage Site
Martin Hanczyc's roadster pages.
Tony Hadland's Sturmey-Archer Pages
Tony Hadland on the history of Raleigh
Last Updated: by John Allen