Review: The Raleigh Port Townsend

Review: The Raleigh Port Townsend

As I’ve said before… Port Townsend IS a place.

About a month ago I got a call from Sally- Seattle’s ever loveable patron saint of drunken cycling.  He said he had a present for me.  Having worked with him in the planning of SSCXWC I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  When receiving a “present” from Sally, you have to be on guard.  Especially when receiving a large box from him, there are important steps to take before opening:

  1. Make sure that the box is not ticking.
  2. Ensure that it isn’t leaking or that there are no odors omitting from said box.
  3. Shake the box.  Listen for whimpering, groaning, or other strange noises coming from within.
  4. When opening the aforementioned package, make sure you stand back- ready for anything.  Anything from drunken midget to a flock of seagulls may burst out.

I opened the package slowly.  Carefully.  You can imagine my surprise when I found nestled in amongst the cardboard and bubble wrap packing material- a thing of beauty: A Bicycle.

Not just any bicycle- the Raleigh Port Townsend.  When I first saw the bike online- I was immediately impressed.  It looked like a perfect bike for the Pacific Northwest.  Clean styling, a classic look and built for the road- all for a reasonable retail price.  I was hooked.  The Port Townsend sits happily within a family of steel bikes that pay homage to their history.  They are well thought out for the road or trail.  They also happen to come in at a price that makes them a bargain for those of us that have more sense than we do dollars.  Notch one up for the big bike companies that are building with quality AND quantity.

Without trying to be some sort of hybrid- the Port Townsend is a very versatile bike.  Out of the box it would make a great commuter or town bike.  It comes with a cute little front rack- and full fenders giving it a bit of a randonneur feel.  Come fall- you can even take advantage of the fact that the PT has a very similar geometry to the Raleigh RX1.0 and get out on the cyclocross course.  I also love the Port Townsend paint details- a gloss black frame with white lettering and frame bands- even a little pink- which would go very well with your Rapha kit- or your Soft Like Kitten kit…  My interest in the Port Townsend was for weekend trips and to maybe get out on a few rando rides with some of my Soft Like Kitten teammates.

After receiving the bike- I started getting ready for my ride to Port Townsend.  What better way to break in a new bike than to ride it to the little town by the sea whose name it bears?  Seattle’s spring weather has not been so conducive to the romantic idea I had in a ride to Port Townsend.  It’s been cold and wet.  Or just cold.  Well spring be damned- I had the bike and wanted to put it to the test.  The perfect opportunity came about when I got a call from a friend who’s boat was being worked on in Port Angeles.  One of the first captains I worked under when I started commercial fishing- he has since become a good friend.  He wanted help from someone familiar with the type of work the boat would be doing and I needed to make a little money- so a deal was struck.  He was coming in from the Whidbey Island ferry into Port Townsend, and would then be driving the rest of the way to Port Angeles- which would be my home away from home during the week as the boat was in the yard.

In preparation for my little 45 mile commute- I stayed up late the night before, consuming beers and shots- while dancing and jaw flapping at the Pedal Party.  Waking up to a steady drizzle after four hours of sleep was not encouraging.  I finished packing my backpack- which ended up being a twenty five pound bundle containing a laptop and enough work clothes to take me through a week of work (including rubber boots.)  My handlebar bag stuffed with Lara Bars from the Seattle Bike Expo and my lights were fully charged- I was ready for a grey ride onto the Olympic Pennisula.

At the Edmonds Ferry, there is a small shelter by the front of the loading area.  Though covered- it is not very large and I could not find a place to stay out of the wind and rain.

Hunkering down with my rainshell tight- I waited patiently until they opened it up to cyclists boarding.  Total cyclists on board the Edmonds-Kingston crossing: One.  Apparently a weekend trip in the rain didn’t sound fun to anybody else.

I enjoy taking the Washington State Ferries- though as I looked at the 3-d map onboard the M/V Spokane showing the Puget Sound- I became worried as I saw where my route would take me- across the dreaded “HOOD ANAL BRIDGE.”

Things started off well enough with the ride out of Kingston.  I had printed out something of a cue sheet from Google Maps- had my fancy cyclocomputer on the handlebars- and was ready for some riding.  Unsure if the cue sheeet would take me 100% along the route for motor vehicles- I didn’t question it as I should have when it told me to turn right at the old Barbur Cutoff Road….  After a mile and a half gentle climb to an area that was becoming increasingly more rural as I rode along- I saw an older man walking down the road.  When I asked if the way to Port Townsend via Hwy 104 was ahead he said “Hmmmm, oh, you mean the MAIN road?”  Great…  In only a couple miles into my little jaunt I had removed myself far enough from civilization that people gave up on road signs- instead using references that only make sense if you’ve lived in the area for 30 years.  “The Old McCoy residence- where the big tree used to be before the storm of ’82 took it out”- doesn’t help me.  We figured it out- and he suggested that if I wished to reach Port Townsend- I should turn around and head back to the “main road” a mile or two back- unless of course I wanted to head through the woods?  If I wasn’t on a time schedule to rendezvous with the ferry in Port Townsend- a little exploration may be nice.  But I left it for another day.

Back on State Route 104, I made a decision to stay on the well traveled route that motor vehicles take.  I chugged along- through the quaint (and a bit creepy) town of Port Gamble– skirted alongside Port Ludlow, and passed a great many amazing viewpoints of Hood Canal and the Puget Sound.  The weather was warm and wet.  My long sleeve wool jersey was too thick for the temperature and my rain jacket wasn’t breathable enough so I did what I wouldn’t suggest others to do:  I took off my shell and just let the rain wash over me- hoping my core would stay warm enough.  It turned out being ok- if I stopped for any length of time I could always put my shell back on.  Now a 45 mile ride isn’t something that would usually hurt me too bad- but my poor life choices the night before left me wishing I didn’t close the bar.  Losing an hour to daylight savings didn’t help either.  I had some time to think about the error of my ways on those rolling hills that took me to the sleepy little town of Port Townsend.

As I pulled into town- wet, hungry and ahead of schedule- I was very happy.  I stopped for a reunion photograph of big Port Townsend and little Port Townsend and headed to find a place that I could dry off and enjoy a beer.  The bar that I had made a regular stop on all 4 of my trips to Port Townsend was closed for renovations- the streets were rolled up and I started becoming concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find a good place to meet my friend.  I decided on The Siren- who thankfully had good beer- and all was well.  I changed out of my wet dog smelling wool and bellied up to the bar.  A cold beer warms a cold body.

I have been riding the Port Townsend as I built it out of the box (with the exception of switching out the pedals.)  The idea was to give it a go as it sells on the floor and I think that even as it rolls out the door it’s a great bike- not to mention a good platform to customize it to suit your needs.

For those still reading- or those interested in the Port Townsend as a bike- I’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the bike.  For the price ($849 Retail) I think you’d be hard pressed to find another bike out there that could give you all the Port Townsend offers.  The PT is built around Reynold’s 520 steel frame and a chromoly fork.  I’m not a metallurgist, but with a little bit of info from the web- including the Reynold’s website– I’ll try and give you an overview.  First of all- you likely know that chromoly is a popular choice for quality steel bikes.  I’m not even going to touch on hi-tensile steel bikes- because there aren’t many (if any) respectable bikes made with them.  Chromoly (CroMo) is a high carbon steel that is specified by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).  Companies such as Reynold’s have their own proprietary formulas that have similar standards.  Basically- chromoly 4130 is the raw steel and Reynold’s 520 are the tubes made from it.  Once again- not being a metallurgist- I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Reynold’s 520 and Reynolds 531.  Generally, the higher the number on the Reynold’s steel- the lighter the weight and stronger the tubes- this of course also brings the price up.  There are label whores out there- and some wouldn’t even dream of riding anything below Reynold’s 853- well they can go get themselves one of the Raleigh Internationals.

Now that we have that out of the way- the bike comes with canti brakes and a Sora 9speed group (with Dura-Ace 9speed bar-cons.)  The gearing would suit you well for rando rides or light touring with an 11-25T cassette and a 34/52 double crankset.  It also makes great gearing for Seattle- or similar hilly cities.  The ever popular Vittoria Randonneurs in a 35c width come stock on the bike.  I originally thought they were too wide- but I’ve since gotten accustom to the extra cushion for the pushin’.  With the leg size of a track sprinter and the upper body of a commercial fisherman (including the beer belly) I am often told that I don’t have a “cyclist’s body.”  Weighing in at 215lbs, 35c tires make for a better ride for me to be sure.  Now with a couple hundred miles on the bike- I’ve got it in the shop for a tune up.

There are of course two sides to every tale- and there are a few (minor) issues that I’ve had with the Port Townsend.  One of the first things I noticed was that the rack that comes on the bike doesn’t fit the strap on the back of rando bags.  I’m not quite sure it’s necessary if you use a decaleur- but it’s too wide for the bags I’ve tried to mount on it (Swift Industries Ozette, and VO Campagne.)  The stem used is a one piece stem & spacer combo- it doesn’t allow for any adjustability- outside of flipping it upside down- giving you a very pursuit style riding position.  That’s about it.  Sure- a better group would be nice and to lighten it up- but keeping that $849 price tag in mind- you have to make some sacrifices.  This isn’t a bike for weight weenies, and people that want a fully equipped touring bike won’t find it here either (fully loaded touring bikes often have a triple chainring and front braze-ons for a rack, as well as other perks- check out the Sojourn)

I’d definitely give this bike two thumbs up.  If you are looking for a bike that will bring you joy year round- consider the Port Townsend.  I really d0n’t think there is a better looking bike out there for the price.  The Port Townsend is a wonderful marriage of form and function a bike for the people.

Upgrades I’m looking into making:

  • Weighing the steel fenders and possibly switching to aluminum if there is much of a weight savings
  • Switching out the handlebars (mustache bars are up next to try out) and bar tape
  • Switching out the saddle (not sure what) Likely Brooks…
  • Adding a Swift Industries luggage set (Ozette rando bag and trunk)
  • Generator hub and light system

Wish list about the bike specs:

  • I have hacked together a setup for a handlebar bag that- though crude, is effective.  Though the rack looks good- it will likely come off if you want to get one that actually fits a rando bag- alternatively- you could likely contact Swift Industries and just have them make you one with a bigger pocket for the tab to slide into… (I’ll make a post on my hack-a-rack for a DIY Wednesday)
  • The stack height of the stem is locked in because of the stem/spacer combo.  It looks good, but makes customization difficult.
  • I’ll be adding some inline brake cable adjusters- barrel adjusters out of the box would be nice.
  • Might be nit-picking, but I love the Brooks Swift saddle that comes on the Raleigh Clubman.  Maybe the Dura-Ace bar cons were the trade off there?  Would it be too much to ask for both?
  • A Shimano generator hub to come stock would be be amazing.  Leave off the Shimano light- but just the hub would rock!

All that said- I once again want to thank Sally at Raleigh for looking out for me- and hooking me up with the bike.  You can be sure that you’ll be reading about more adventures on the Port Townsend this summer.

8 thoughts on “Review: The Raleigh Port Townsend

  1. I agree with your wish list for the PT. The saddle on mine never made it past the packaging, but Corndog is riding it everyday and seems to like it. The bars and stem didn’t last long for me but the bar end shifters are still on the downtube. Thanks. Your site kicks ass. And thanks to Sallyclaus too.

  2. Sweet bike – lucky you! I picked up a 73 Raleigh this past weekend, and am loving the ride.
    Unfortunately, the tavern (used to be the Town Tavern, then Water St. Brewery) isn’t closed for renovations – they lost their lease and had to close. I think there had been a tavern in that spot for more than 40 years…? Oh well, Sirens isn’t too bad, although snooty waitstaff in the last couple of years.

  3. I bought a Port Townsend a few weeks ago and have been looking at different rando bags to fit on it. I’m leaning towards the Swift now…did you end up getting a set of Swift bags for this bike? If so, do you have any pictures of your setup?

  4. Great review. I ditched the stem on mine for an adjustable one in short order. Made a BIG difference in comfort. I also removed the front rack and put on a rear rack. Added a Brooks saddle. And, voila. I’m very happy with it.

  5. I bought a Raleigh PT this summer and rode it across WA state; love it! A couple of things: the stock saddle is torture after a couple of hours. Replaced it with a Brooks B17 and life is good. The antique B17 matches the handlebar tape btw. The stock toe clips say they are Mediums but they are really small. I wear a size 8 and had to replace them with size L. Replacing the cassette with an 11-32 is better for mountainous terrain, especially with loaded panniers. Add a rear rack (silver of course!). Agree with the reader who said the front rack is odd. I don’t know what fits on it. I bought a $5 lunch box at Target and just bungy it on. It’s big enough for wallet, sunglasses, cell phone, etc. I like to do “credit card touring” (no camping gear) and I think the PT is perfect for that!

  6. I’ve still been riding the stock saddle, though a Brooks is calling to me something fierce. I did switch out the bars to some VO porteur bars, added some elk hide wrap, and put a VO porteur rack on the front. I may end up switching out the cassette as well, good call. I like the lunch box idea for the stock rack- though I just couldn’t take it, off it came.
    Still loving the bike though it’s time for a tune up.

  7. I published my own review of my 9-month old 2013 Port Townsend on my blog… here’s the short version:

    I cannot recommend this bike. It has so many proprietary quirks, so many inadequacies, and has had so many unacceptable failures in under a year, that you would be better off spending the extra money and buying a Surly Cross-Check or Long Haul Trucker.

    The longer version can be found here: http://bit.ly/1nPUQUU

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *