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on adopting a raleigh grand prix

September 15, 2010

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

My husband recently found this 1978 Raleigh Grand Prix on Craigslist. He thought it would be a good fit for him, but upon seeing the bike, it became clear that it was just the size for me. Although we recently purchased a 2008 Schwinn Le Tour GS roadbike for me, we just couldn’t pass this beauty up.

We found it for a steal – only $35. It came with a dynamo powered headlight, the original Brooks saddle, a great paint job with the cool retro lettering and embellishments, and the original stem shifters. Our seller said it was his grandfather’s bike and that he no longer rode it. My lucky day, right?

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

But here’s the thing: while old bikes like this can be found at real bargain prices, they are far from a rideable product when purchased and it’s more the money you invest after the purchase that determines how much this new (old) bike will actually cost you.

We couldn’t even test ride the Grand Prix because the tires were completely flat and unusable. One tire wouldn’t hold air at all, so trying to ride it would be have been impossible. The wheels were rusty and corroded and definitely needed replacing. Thus, our first investment was to get new tires and new wheels installed. We traded the old steel rims for aluminum ones and updated the brake pads to Kool Stop Continental ones (as recommended by many readers on my previous Raleigh post).

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

These upgrades hiked the price of the bike up to around $250. Were I to list the bike on Craigslist now, I don’t think I would receive that much for it. Therefor, another consideration when restoring old bikes is whether you’ll end up spending more on it than what the bike is worth (in monetary value, and not sentimental value, that is).

The Grand Prix still needs some work: the cable covers from the headlight are a make-shift job that leaves much to be desired (as you can see the cable hanging down and barely held in place by a zip tie we added). But the new wheels and tires make it a smooth and fast ride, and the steel frame, the handlebar tape, and the headlight are in good condition.

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

I was also able to find out from the serial number stamped on the seat tube that the bike was indeed manufactured in Nottingham in January of 1978.

Right now I’m deciding whether to sell my Schwinn Le Tour GS and keep the Raleigh Grand Prix as my sole road bike. Questions I have:

– Will I be able to ride the Grand Prix on century rides or on week-long bike rides (like Ragbrai) and not suffer for having a (heavier) steel bike?
– Will I miss the very easy gear shifting of a newer bike?

I love the Grand Prix for its aesthetics, its charm and history, for its quality construction and durability, and am very much leaning towards keeping it as my only road bike. I would love to hear from others who use all-steel bikes for distance riding!

And yet another question:

– When I turn on the light generator, it becomes very difficult to peddle. Could that be the actual generator and could something like that be upgraded?

For now, despite our volatile beginnings, the Grand Prix and I are off to a good start. We enjoyed a lovely 30 mile ride together this past weekend and I also took her around town to yoga and to the grocery store. And this is something that I never felt like doing on my Schwinn road bike – ride it for transportation. But with these shiny new wheels, a chainguard (!), and such beautiful colors and striking retro aesthetics, the Grand Prix just begs to be taken out and riden.

1978 Raleigh Grand Prix

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Gary permalink
    September 15, 2010 13:01

    That is one great looking Raleigh S. Actually knowing that the bike was sold by the original owner’s family is a nice piece of information to have.

    I think you have made the right choices so far rgarding the tires, aluminim wheels and brake pads. Your next choice, keeping it or selling it, will be more difficult. In my opinion, and you know my passion, I would keep the vintage Raleigh Grand Prix and sell the 2008 Schwinn. There’s a certain feeling you get when you ride a bike that is 30 some years old that you won’t get from a nw bike.

    As for the generator, there certainly are newer models you can up grade to. From my own experience, the generators do create drag on the wheel it’s riding against; that’s how they operate. It’s something I lived with back in the day, but there are so many different options available today. Look into a retro designed LED light for the Grand Prix; they are out there.


  2. September 15, 2010 14:15

    Generator lights can be upgraded, and yes, there will be drag from the bottle on the wheel. There is quite a bit of info on the web about generator lights (you can literally read for hours on this topic), and there are so many different options. Here is one place to read:, and another here, and I’ll throw this one in for good measure (though there are so many others as well)

    As for your Q’s about which bicycle to keep, that is most certainly a personal decision. I have three bicycles (at the moment), 1 is a modern day steel touring bicycle (around 32lbs), 1 is an English loop frame steel bicycle (around 55lbs), and the last one is my ’75 steel frame Raleigh Super Course (about 28lbs). It’s excessive to some, but I enjoy each of them for different reasons. I haven’t done a century on any of these bicycles, but I have done much longer-than-average rides on each of them, and I haven’t had an issue. I will say that if you’re doing races, the uphill riding has been slower for me than those around me. This could just be a matter of me building up muscle, but I think the reality is that aluminum and carbon road bicycles were made to “go fast” and they are much lighter, so if speed is an issue for you (it isn’t for me, so it’s never been a problem), that might be a factor to consider. As my hubby tells me… “Just peddle faster.” It seems simple enough, but it is something I have to build to. I wouldn’t give up the comfort of my steel frames for an aluminum frame bicycle, but that’s just me. You’ve said that you rode 30 miles, and if that was a good ride, I see no reason why you couldn’t slowly build to do more. I would do it slowly though and don’t jump up too quickly. I read an article recently about not increasing your ride length more than 10% at a time. I don’t know that it’s an exact science, but certainly something to keep in mind.

    As for the “easy shifting” of the newer bicycle, I’m not sure what kind of system you have on your Schwinn, and I assume that the Grand Prix has friction shifters on the frame? This is just a matter of getting used to it. I was completely freaked out the first time I tried to ride my Raleigh, but now it doesn’t bother me at all.

    In summation (boy, I’m long winded today!), I think it’s definitely possible to do a century on the Raleigh, if that is the bicycle you choose, but, I will also add that I am by no means an expert. You might consider just hanging on to both bicycles and riding each of them for a time before parting with one of them, or keep them both (that would always be my choice because I have a hard time saying goodbye to them) and use them as you please. :)

  3. September 15, 2010 14:56

    Is keeping both bikes an option? If so, I’d keep them both. You’ll find that they’re well suited for different types of riding, so there’s a functional purpose for both of them if it’s an option. If you can only keep one, I think you make it pretty clear that a vintage bike will always be more your style than something new and flashy. Whether or not this is the right vintage bike to keep or not is up to you.

    As for the headlamp, I say ditch the generator altogether. As Gary said, there are retro LED lights you can replace the whole thing with, or, I’ve know a lot of folks that have retrofitted the headlamps to accept LED’s and battery packs (that’s a good option if you want to have a geek fest). I’m way more into just replacing lights than messing around with a vintage light, though.

  4. September 15, 2010 15:15

    I think you’ll find with the steel frame that your body will take much less of a beating while riding. I have a friend here who rides his bikes extremely hard and has always had carbon or aluminum frames, and he just got a steel frame road bike for the first time, and has said that he has never felt better after riding – he used to basically collapse at the end of a 5-10 mile ride and have to do stretches and massage and all kinds of stuff, because with a rigid frame, all the shock from the road is transferred directly to your body. In that sense, the steel frame might be a big advantage actually, but it just depends on how you ride, and where, really.

    With the generator, there are definitely newer ones you can get which will create less drag, but still work with the existing light. However, if you’re only going to be using it for long-distance rides and not for everyday kind of stuff, the benefit of the convenience of the generator lighting is kind of minimized, and the effect of the drag on the tire is more important, and it might be worth getting a battery-operated one.

    Looks like a great bike! It will be fun to see what you do with it!

  5. September 15, 2010 18:04

    Definitely lose the generator. For really long rides I switch in a wheel with a hub dynamo, but most of the time I’m fine with a battery headlight.

    As for whether steel is a problem on really long rides, I can tell you that I rode my steel 1974 Raleigh International on a 400km brevet (about 250 miles) one big day and it was very comfortable. Long ride, but great. That said, the International is double butted Reynolds steel, I don’t know what kind of steel the Grand Prix is, but I’m pretty sure that the tubes are straight gauge. This does affect the performance.

    In the end only your body can tell you whether this is your forever bike, or just your right now bike. I know how the expense of all the changes makes you want an answer, like yesterday already!

  6. Mickey permalink
    September 15, 2010 20:48

    That’s a beautiful bike, real class.

  7. September 16, 2010 12:01

    Thanks for the really helpful comments! I definitely want to keep the Grand Prix because it’s such an awesome bike. If I could use the Grand Prix as my only bike (for around town and on long distance rides) comfortably, then I would prefer to sell the Schwinn just to offset the costs of the Grand Prix upgrades. Since I’m not really in a financial position to justify having multiple bikes for a similar purpose (ie. more than one roadbike), it would be great if the Grand Prix could be my only keep. So that is the decision I’ll need to make, but either way, the Grand Prix is staying :)

    As for the light – I love the look of the headlight on it so even if I get rid of the generator, I’d want to be able to keep that headlight. I guess I’m wondering if I can turn that light into an LED one…? This could be a next project on my list.

    • September 16, 2010 16:05

      I would be willing to wager that Peter White cycles would be a good website to check for conversion of your headlamp. I honestly don’t know if it’s possible to do that, but perhaps there is a classically styled head lamp that you could use instead? I wish I understood lighting better, but I will be interested to know if you’re able to find a source that helps you convert the current head lamp. Please keep us posted.

  8. Charlotte permalink
    September 23, 2010 14:28

    Yes, it is possible to retrofit old housings with new LEDs. There is a shop in Somerville, MA that is doing it (though I haven’t seen them yet) and I know of several people on the web who’ve mentioned that project.

    Basically most people advise getting an LED flashlight and gutting the parts. Take apart your headlight and put the business from the flashlight in the headlight housing. Because you’d be switching from generator to battery you’d have to work out how to switch it on and off.

    On the other hand you might save yourself a lot of time and just get something already “switched” with the same aesthetic to install in the same location:

  9. Aramais permalink
    September 28, 2010 00:47

    I just got an 81 Raleigh Grand Prix as well from the original owner off of Craigslist as well. The only 64cm bike i’ve been able to find in awhile. In a nice dark blue. Looks like we both picked up the same tires, though i kept my steel rims. Mine didn’t come with the Brooks vinyl saddle but a different one that is pictured in the 81 catalog as an accessory.

    I know that dynamo creates tons of drag from riding my girlfriend’s bike. I’m wanting to put a light similar to yours on mine but wanted a battery operated one. I don’t like the idea of not having light when I come to a stop.

    As for which to keep, I think that’s a personal decision but old steel sure is a lot of fun to ride, and tend hold up nicely. It may come down to if you can push the extra weight of the bike up a hill or not and the end of the day.

    @ Charlotte thanks for posting that ebay link I’m seriously thinking of getting one of those for my bike and possibly my girlfriend’s.

  10. auntfeminina permalink
    October 7, 2010 13:55

    WOW! Beautiful bike..and in amazing condition. Raleigh was known for using quality paints, but your Grand Prix’s paint and decals look amazing. I have a 1975 Grand Prix that was my daily commuter before I built the fixed gear to which I am currently addicted. My Grand Prix was the first vintage bike I bought (..Lemme clarify that I did own plenty of 70’s bikes as a kid–in the 70’s.) Like you, I learned an expensive lesson about updating old bike boom bikes, paying more to replace those steel rims with alloy than I paid for the Grand Prix itself. But I love the Grand Prix and doubt I’ll ever part with it even though I’ve since acquired two “higher” vintage Raleighs. Here’s the Grand Prix:

    As for the weight issue… My other Raleighs are Reynolds 531’s and, for the most part, I don’t notice any difference in the way they ride as compared to the Grand Prix. The only time I DO appreciate the lighter 531’s is when I’m carrying the Grand Prix up the stairs.

    I’d lose the generator light, post haste. It looks cool…but it’s a drag–literally–and imo not worth the hassle. (Caveat: That constant friction against my wheel would drive me nuts…YMMV) Your fabulous bike will still be a stunner without it.

    Great to see classic old Raleighs get the love.

  11. virgil permalink
    October 9, 2010 04:25

    I have a brown colored Raleigh Gp of the same vintage (I thought it was a 77 model from my investigative work on the WWW). Mine is not as nice as yours; the paint has some fading an surface blemishes especially around the logo stickers. But, for now, I decided just to keep the “patina”. I plan to put some cyclo-cross tires on it, as I live on gravel roads. I’m looking for some vintage alloy wheels (to keep down the cost). I originally thought about parting the bike out, but after riding it, even with the original steel wheels, I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t bear the thought of disassembling it into pieces. I gave mine the name Fudge Pop, after the original brown-gold metallic paint that has now turn to fudge Popsicle brown. Nothing feels like steel.

  12. Jim permalink
    May 16, 2011 13:59

    Ah what a nice bike heck of a price for the find. Sure they cost a few bucks to get going again but for someone like me after riding my old vintage Sonic I adore the feel of an old bike. I for one would love finding one of those old Raleigh’s myself. I am planning to do a lot of long distance riding myself on a similar vintage though different make of bike. They just feel great though. Very nice find love the color of yours.


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