I recently serviced a customer's 1955 Raleigh. I've been servicing this particular bike regularly for several years now, and it always feels like a privilege to work on something so well made and that's lasted so long. The photo shows me riding it on Bristol's Vintage Velo ride - its owner kindly lent it to me for the day. But recently its Sturmey Archer hub gear had started slipping quite badly and it needed a total rebuild.
On taking it apart I found the problem and was able to repair it, but also discovered some of the bearing surfaces were quite worn. This is an unusual 4-speed hub, not the common 3-speed, and after establishing that the parts required were not the same I had a sinking feeling this might signal the beginning of the end for this lovely old machine.
But I called the ever-helpful Martin at The Cycle Division, Sturmey Archer's UK importer, to ask if by some miracle replacement parts were still available. On this occasion he didn't know the answer himself, but said "I know a man who does". It turns out the European Sturmey Archer HQ in the Netherlands have a museum of almost every Sturmey Archer hub ever made, as well as archived parts catalogues and repair manuals. They looked up the 1955 hub for me and were able to ascertain not only that it was still manufactured until 1968, but that a compatible bearing was still available!
What other manufacturer provides service like that for a product made almost 60 years ago? None that I know of. I'm impressed.
I put the hub back together, refitted it to the old Raleigh and it works a treat. Happy bike, happy customer, and very happy mechanic!
photo credit: jeyku on flickr.com