Raleigh Bicycles and the Missing Middle: A Strange Social Analogy?

Being Bike Friendly at VIA Rail?

With spring only a week away, I thought it was time to start making plans for a bikepacking trip in May. My trips to and in Québec the last couple of years have been absolute highlights of the year. One of the great benefits I’ve been able to enjoy in 2017 and 2018 was VIA Rail’s checked baggage service for at least one train each day for all stations between Toronto and Montréal. Basically, you could turn up with your bike, pay the luggage agent $25 and they would take your bike and load it onto the luggage car with bike racks and return it to you at your destination. A bike valet like no other.

(Tips courtesy of Bicycling magazine issue 1, 2019)

Well it turns out, no longer. I came across the change while looking into dates online and so, to get an insight on what was going on, I cycled down to Union Station and spoke to a lady at the VIA rail service desks. Apparently there have been cutbacks – not enough people were using the checked baggage service – and an absolute gem of a service has been reduced.

After listening to my query and feeling my disappointment, the lady playing the role of a ticket agent suggested I write to the company president to express my views and any request. So that’s something I feel I have to do, lest they cut the service altogether, as apparently happened to the Toronto to Ottawa service. With 6000 km of what’s considered the world’s greatest cycling network at stake, there’s no way that communication is not going to be soon rolling its way to Vélo Québec of which I am a member, and to Yves the Via Rail president If you’re in Toronto, I say use it man, use it, don’t lose it!

Update: 15/03/2019 – What they didn’t mention at Union Station was that VIA have ordered new bicycle friendly trains for the Windsor to Québec City corridor – though these aren’t scheduled to start arriving til 2022!)

Raleigh and the Missing Middle?

In other bike related stuff, I made a pit stop visit to a local bike shop in order to pick up a waterproof saddle cover on clearout, as well as the chance to maybe shoot the breeze and the conversation swung round towards Raleigh Bicycles, which this particular shop had been carrying for a number of years. I had actually come oh so close to buying the Raleigh Furley in 2015 and the Raleigh Roper in 2016, two bikes which Raleigh don’t make any more, much to the shop’s chagrin.

(The now discontinued Raleigh Furley & Raleigh Roper of 2016/2017 above).

Those were two unique bikes that offered something really different from the market norm – good chromoly steel frames and forks, the flexibility to set up as Single Speed, 1X or 2X, wide 35mm+ tyres and coming in around the $1000 CAD mark. In an age when practically every decent bike on offer sub $1000 is aluminium (often with carbon fork) – these Raleighs were something different alright and the Roper just the bike I’d take home today.

Well, the view from the LBS is that apparently Raleigh North America were not making satisfactory numbers for their parent company Accell plc in Europe – which meant new management being parachuted into North American operations, some kind of business unit separation/restructuring and them squeezing out the middle class of the bicycle range for the high end Tamlands and Willards and the low end department store type bikes. It’s something of a bizarre analogy/reflection of society’s hollowing out of the middle. So yeah man, they axed the middle, and this shop is all about the middle. They made the choice for us and we could be seeing Raleigh as a brand disappearing from North America, a hundred year brand. It’s no fun watching them twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns.

I paid a visit to the Raleigh USA and Raleigh Canada website with the question – where’s the innovation? And it’s looking pretty austere – so there’s another letter to be written and sent.

Does anyone know how to realise that they have something precious and it needs to be tended because those are the things that are worth fighting for regardless of the result? What’s the Strategy?


Bicycles Made in Canada: Time to Make Things Locally Again?

“How about building our own Made in Canada bicycle frames?” That’s something that Alberto and I have been having the last couple of weeks. Wouldn’t it be cool to actually sell our own single speeds, with a slacker geometry and wider tyres using a 4130 chromoly frame and fork?

The first response to the idea was a general no – it would be cheaper and easier to buy the frames from China. We don’t have the equipment for frame building, and we don’t have the people with skills i.e. the frame builders to undertake such a task. Plus wouldn’t it be too expensive? The usual reaction in the minds of all of us is, against any change.

So, the first thing we did was go online and start scoping out the prices for Single Speed frames from the bicycle suppliers – Lambert, Damco, Babco etc (The Fixie Sniper photographed below).

But it became apparent pretty quickly that there are some major limitations on their offerings. Non removable free wheels? No braze on or bridges to take on racks or mudguards? Tyre widths limited to 35mm, if we’re lucky? These are all features which we both agreed are important for a low maintenance commuter bicycle in Toronto.

So next on the approach was to have a look for frames direct from China. Things opened up a little bit with this approach. We could find frames with the right drop out and eyelets that would enable us to put together a Single Speed with the capability to take on racks, fenders, bottle cages and wider tyres. At twice the price of the stuff we’d seen on the Canadian supplier sites.

But still we’d be missing that kiss of life you get from having something designed and made close to home, from someone you know, who follows the ethos of quality products that are dependable, long lasting and fairly priced, both competitively and from the standpoint of costs.

(This 2019 Brodie Remus may be designed in Canada, but like most mass production bikes, it’s made in the Far East).

Of course, we still don’t know if anything of this is feasible. But as we have started our inquiry, Im sure we will get to the point of being able to make better qualified decisions. At the same time, we are going through tremendous changes in our relationship as citizens with each other, as the money supply flows ever more quickly to the richest in society. It’s up to all of us to challenge that status quo. To make things well and to know who we are making things for has been a valuable human quality over millennia, and is one which we should be loathe to forget completely.