Aquiletta
just the cutest thing, isn't it?
In 1975, I managed to find a summer sublet very cheaply three blocks from the bike shop right on the lake. For a blissful summer I could walk out the patio doors onto the pier and wake to the crew team's beautiful crossinig at dawn.

A recent grad offered me her 1970 Bianchi Aquiletta for $25 and on a lark I bought it. It was white with a Torpedo 3speed and a Thun crankset- the kind with the right crank and spindle all one piece and cups pressed into the frame facing out like an Ashtabula only smaller. A torn and waterlogged white vinyl saddle matched the ratty white paint and torn, twisted cables. Three speed gearboxes are horrendous when the cable's kinked and this one had been wrapped around the front end once or twice.

small three speed rant


Designers of inexpensive folders can't seem to resist three speed hubs. The price is appropriate to the bike's target range and customers seem unintimidated by them, unlike derailleurs. The only problem with three speed gearboxes is that the control cable won't return all the way to high gear when it is kinked. Modern index cables have the same general syndrome but modern derailleur systems don't smash one's genitals against the bike when they hit neutral. Three speeds do. As long as I'm digressing to the topic of three speeds, that's one important difference between "A" and "B" line classic Raleighs and the "C" series. The nicer ones. like my '53 Sports, Superbes, the "A" Humbers, Lentons, Rudges etc mostly run the gear wire along the top tube, frequently with a brazed-on pulley just under the seatlug. This runs the gear wire along the seatstay which has two positive features. Primarily, changing a flat does not risk catching the gear wire between the chain and chainring. Secondly, and I have done this, one can adjust the gear wire tension without dismounting. It's a reach but it can be done. Seriously, the other cable route (fulcrum on downtube, pulley at the bottom bracket) has cost three speeds, Raleigh and cycling in general more riders than anything else except maybe the hard plastic saddles of the bike boom years. When your average home mechanic pulls out the vise grips for a rear tire change, the bike goes upside down and the gear wire gets disconnected. After botching the patch by using way too much glue and having left the glass in the casing out of pure inattention, the wheel goes back in the bike. At this critical juncture the gallant savior feels pretty good about himself, having conquered all but the last bit of this puncture. Unfortunately with attention drawn to the chain tension and centering the wheel, no one notices the gear wire drooping across the chainring teeth. As soon as a pedal is turned to check the chain, the cable gets mangled under the chain and positive dependable shifting is gone forever.

A foible of the classic Sturmey Archer designs and many other three speed hubs is that the mechanism consists of two internal assemblies geared together in a ratio of 4:3 or 3:4. (Driving direct to the hubshell, second gear avoids the gearing altogether). Low gear is 4:3 or 75% of second and high gear is 3:4 or 33% faster than the middle gear. Because the two assembies are moving at different rates, it would be fatal to the works if something (like the clutch) engaged both parts at the same time. The aptly named Shimano Type F and the "improved" Type FA three speeds do this when they are worn. Pinions and pawls go right out through the hubshell. The obvious answer to this problem occured to William Reilly when he made Sturmeys with a neutral space between second and third. A kinked cable won't dependably upshift because the spring behind the clutch isn't strong enough to pull the kink straight. When the lever is flicked the clutch falls off second and into neutral, the pedals spin free and the rider suffers. A lot.

Here it is in all its glory back to the story


Anyway I wondered what I could do with this thing. It had potential! First order of business was disassembly, which involved tossing a lot of the equipment. Here's where I learned that many of these awful Thun cranksets were installed with pressed cups over perfectly good 36mm threads! We had a few TA Profesionel 3-pin cranks we had taken off Raleigh Super Courses and Jeunet 630s. In that era we were pushing TA Cyclotouriste triples as a compassionate upgrade in an era when "touring" bikes came out of the box with 45/52 or 46/52. I filed off the inside chainring seats to make it a "piste" crank and installed a 42. For some reason we had a box of mis-shipped Torpedo two speed coaster brake hubs in 28h. That seemed a natural fit and with some Weinmann BMX rims in red I had a bike!

A Bridge Too Far


In 1975 I had a paint shop (cars and bikes) a few blocks from the bike shop and being young and full of myself I wanted to show off my work. The bike got stripped and with the influence of the Weinmann rims and the image of Rick Ball's HI-E Cosmopolitan (the first "superbike" I ever saw that was pink) knocking around in the back of my head, I mixed some Imron red with white and there it was! A bright bubble-gum pink folding two speed! I never took to the coaster brake - they seem to annoy some riders and I am one - so I built a wheel with a Normnady track hub. We played polo in those days on Sunday evenings and that's where the truncated North Road bars came from. In polo you can't have a lot of handlebar. Whenever you swing the mallet, either side, a full size bar is just in the way. Cinelli had just introduced a color version of the #5 saddle for BMX - marketed as the perfect complement to a Campagnolo BMX group and in the same colors!. I tossed the LAM steel sidepull in favor of a real Weinmann 730 and clipped a CLB guidonnet lever so it just fit the bar. These and Mafac ones have a little more cable travel than a regular lever (in my world, Campagnolo and Werinmann would be "normal") and I found a scrap of red casing from a Motobecane Grand Record to set off the accent. The little "Ursa" quick releases on the seat and handlebar stem got cute Suntour white gear lever covers and at one time it had red valve caps, too. I rode it everywhere, my little "Eagle Junior" as Aquiletta would translate - to work, to the grocery, drinking as I did more then. Drinking at Bob and Gene's bar I would fold it up under the bar so no lock was needed, And riding home after a few is more stable with the low 20-inch format. OK, not if you're dead drunk, but that wasn't the problem.

The Dark Years


The sublet ended and I moved a mile away to Dickinson Street. The little Aquiletta was stowed in a corner and forgotten. The next spring I loaned it to someone for a polo bike but it didn't work out. I'm a medium Italian guy. At the time I weighed 150 Lb. Everything in bicycles is made just for me. Fiamme Yellow label rims last a long time for me. Clement 250g tires are just fine. The 39cm bars that everyone else takes off their new bikes fit me perfectly. Bike shoe samples are 42 - just my size. Medium frames of 55 or 56 cm are great for me. I am blessed. Your average American guy is a lot bigger than I. I am easily wiped along the floor in a barfight. Everyone else can lift more. I have to ask my employees with bigger shoulders to help with alignments. My cute little Aquiletta, nearly feminine, just wasn't enough bike for a corn-fed full size midwestern 20 year old on the polo field. After a couple of chukkers the seatpost was bent back twenty degrees and the rear end folded. Not being particularly attached to the bike by now, I pulled out the frame and cross braced it with a pair of Vitus 971 fork blades running diagonally from the seat tube to the dropouts. I shot some red spray paint over the repair and gave the Aquiletta back for more punishment. Over the years it was passed around and thrown from one corner to another, filthy and neglected. As I built a mini empire of bike stores I forgot about it completely.

It's as fun to ride as it looksResurrection!


In dismantling my collection of bike shops, all kinds of things turned up. I remember once loading tool cabinets from my closed West side store about three in the morning. I found two Super Record derailleurs with missing top bolts behind the cabinet, still in the boxes. Boxes of spokes with three sizes mixed. Car racks with a screw or clamp missing and thrown in a drawer. Cinelli handlebars gouged across the nameplate and stashed by the mechanic who spoiled the work. Half rolls of handlebar tape that tore at the lever. Pedals new in the box but only one dustcap. Hubshells whose axle or cones were sold. Stems without expander bolts. And -mirabile visu - my rusty sad pink bike. Another couple of years passed and one day I saw it in the rafters of a bike storage room nestled with an old yellow team track frame. I stripped the parts and fully intended to paint it bubblegum pink again. After spending an hour one Sunday evening sanding I started to mix the paint and found - NO WHITE. What to do? I had a couple of ounces left of a custom mix ivory from a set of Bluemels painted to match Rivendell's accent. In it went and the color was weird! It's sort of like the color of a cheap vinyl baby doll or maybe even the hospital pink of a Band-Aid or a prosthesis. At any rate it was pink and glossy. Somewhere along the way it lost it's Normandy Piste wheel and caught an out-of-place Bendix 70 with a rusty steel rim. That had to go but I couldn't see spending real money on a lark like this. I pulled a steel hub out of the garbage and cut three slots for the Bendix cog, locking it with a regular BB lockring. I never did this before but it seems to work just fine. For the last three weeks I've been to the Post Office, City Hall, the grocery and hardware store and all around the neighborhood on it. I even found a "backwards" dynamo for the British side fork mount. It's a 6V6W Sanyo with Raleigh Rampar label from the '70s. Last week a customer bought new pedals for a cheap mountain bike and I removed - how the heck did they get there? - a pair of real Raleigh steel pedals from an early 70s Record or Gran Prix. Oh, you were wondering about the tires, weren't you? Closeout from Fridrich Cycle in 1999. I though they would sell at my sidewalk sale for $4 but I still have eight left from the bundle if you want a pair

Here's how you do itI don't know why this isn't more popular, fixed riders are such cheapskates

Virtually Buddhist Cyclic Rebirth


After having been ridden in winter salt for a few years, and having suffered yet another break (BB shell and a chain stay) my once-beautiful little Aquiletta frame ended up under a frame table and all its parts 25 miles away in a carton for a few years. I gave it a couple of hours attention in 2014 with a new BB shell and some chainstays. Then at the very end of 2015 I found a little time for it and pulled her from the grave once again








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