Balancing a classic style with modern ideas is tricky to get right and something not everyone can pull off. When I started the rebuild on this neglected Raleigh Sprite 5, with the intention of turning it into an ebike, I was hoping not to fall into the same trap. Starting with just a bare frame, everything would need rebuilding from the ground up. There are many steps in the process and many square pegs that would need fitting into round holes. While in my mind I could envision something wonderful, would it turn out this way in reality?
There is a long back story as to how this bike ended up as a restoration project my workshop. I won’t bore you with the details, but the most important part of the story is that this bike is intended as a gift for my wife. But before it can wrapped up and put under the Christmas tree, there is a mountain to climb – there is plenty to fix, heaps of parts to source, and most critically make it over in a style that she will like. But giving this bike a make-over is just one part of the project.
In addition to the aesthetic upgrade, this vintage Raleigh will be going electric and become an ebike. The idea being that once completed, not only will it look good, it will also have the effortless ease of electric assisted riding.
Why make it an ebike?
Having owned ebikes in the past I can honestly say they are a fantastic way to get around town. They’re a perfect blend of bicycle and motorcycle, taking the best parts of being on a push bike (such as the simplicity and universality of riding a bicycle), and combining this with the zippiness and augmented power of a motorcycle.
To make sure this ebike is compliant with local road regulations, the maximum motor power cannot exceed 250w peak power. While 250W may not sound all that much, it’s more than enough to remove the unpleasant parts that go along with riding a regular push bike, most notably climbing hills – and there are always hills when you’re on a push bike.
How I got this Mixte
The last thing I would want is to wreck a good condition, vintage bike that could have otherwise been spared. For this reason, I specifically choose something where it wouldn’t matter if it all turned to shit.
As this frame will potentially need to have significant modifications made to its structure to accommodate the electric drivetrain, including cutting, welding, reforming etc., there is a real chance of making it irretrievable and not able to be returned to a factory condition.
With this in mind, I bought the frame for $50 from a guy on marketplace who just wanted to get rid of it. For that price, there was nothing included. It was simply the frame and a single, lonesome derailleur.
Given the condition it was in, and the urgency of the seller to make some quick cash, there was no concern about potentially wrecking a bike that should have been preserved, or worse still, wrecking a family heirloom with years ofsentimental value. As the Raleigh had already been wrecked, I didn’t have to worry about wrecking it any further. Making it the perfect base for the project.
What is a Mixte?
A mixte (pronounced mix-tee) is a style of bike frame that originated in early 20th century Europe and then became popular in post-war France. While mixtes are today considered women’s bikes because of their step-through style, the design is in fact unisex. The name mixte is in fact French, meaning mixed (gender) or unisex.
Their unique look is characterised by some distinct features. The conventional single top tube is replaced with two smaller diameter tubes connecting the head tube down to the dropouts at the rear of the bike. These thinner tubes run either side of the seat post and attach the seat tube in the middle with a small gusset.
This triangulation of the frame not only gives the bike clean and flowing lines, but also gives it incredible rigidity like that of a conventional diamond frame bike, while retaining the practicality of a step through layout. The drawback of such a design however is its relatively heavy weight when compared to either a typical step-through or a diamond frame.
While the design may be almost a century old, this Parisian look is one that is still highly sought after and replicated to this day. Many manufacturers are still producing their version of mixtes, with some being closer to the original concept than others.
History of the bike (or lack thereof)
It was the beautiful enamel Raleigh badge on the head tube that got me intrigued and made me stop and think about the history of this bike. What was its story? And how did it end up in such a shabby condition?
Regardless of the gearing it did or didn’t have, the search started with the serial number that was stamped on the bottom bracket shell. The hope was that this would be a breadcrumb that could lead to a history being brought to light. While the ID number seemed legitimate, there were no legitimate answers to be found. Online, there were only dead ends, even from sites dedicated to vintage British bikes. Nothing.
Next I tried reaching out to the manufacturer, but the company that now calls itself Raleigh is only a shell of its former self. The glory days of the 1950s, a period when the Nottinghamshire company was the world’s largest bike manufacturer producing over a million bikes each year, are long gone. Again, no answers came from this.
The last slither of hope was the bright yellow decal on the frame. This had details of the bike shop that sold this bike (presumably) to an excited young lady. However, call past Col Dovey The Bicycle Centre at this address in Rosebud today and in its place is a pizza shop. Another dead end.
My suspicion about this frame is that despite being a British brand, it’s actually an Australian manufactured bike. This was common practice in the 60s through to the 80s with European manufacturers rebranding locally madebikes, such as Repco, as their own. This could explain why my serial number doesn’t match with any of those on the usually accurate databases.
If there was a history, it was giving up none of its secrets. At least not to me.
Regardless of where it had come from, this was a bike worth rebuilding. A more accurate description of the works to be carried out would be a resto-mod. Resto-mod being a combination of restoration and modification, which is exactly what the project is calling for here.
As mentioned in the intro, this bike is intended for my wife, and will be restored with her specific needs, wants, and style in mind. Mid 20th century design and fashions are her thing, so the idea is to restore the bike with a style that echoes the past, while at the same time embracing the future with its electrification.
Thankfully this frame has a classic and timeless look – making it perfectly suited for the core aesthetics of the build. Moreover, with its robust and rigid design, it will provide the additional strength required for supporting the added mass of new electrical components.
In a nutshell then, the key aims for the resto-mod are as follows:
Keep the look and style of the classic mixte
The bike has seen better days and needs some TLC. Luckily the mixte has a perfect shape for a vintage inspired restoration.
The plan therefore is to completely strip the frame back to bare steel and repaint. Given the bike’s age there will most likely be rust hiding under the paintwork. This will need to be attended to and fixed prior to any new paintwork being applied. It will be reminiscent of the Harbor Freight trailer project completed last year, albeit on a smaller scale.
With the frame being rust-proofed and repainted, it is also the opportune time for a colour change as the original poo brown paint doesn’t do this gorgeous frame any justice. At the time of writing, the final colour has yet to be decided upon, but no doubt when it does get repainted it will be in a less faecal-inspired colour.
Integrate an electric drive train
It wouldn’t be an ebike without a battery, motor, controller, and wiring – hence all these components will have to find their place on the bike.
As the aesthetics of this build are critical, an important consideration is attempting to hide the fact that the bike is actually an ebike. Ideally, I’d like people to simply look at the bike as a bike and not even notice it’s powered with a battery and electric motor.
There will be no ugly-arse battery pack, encased in a dull, cheap-looking plastic case, ruining the bike’s looks by clashing with the new paintwork. Ditto for the electric motor itself. Some motors can be quite large, obtrusive, and just plain ugly. A massive motor sticking out like the proverbial and spoiling the other visuals cues of the bike is not what the goal is here.
Additionally, I’d like to hide the wiring as much as possible. This is a mod that many in the car tuning scene practise, particularly when it comes to engine bays. The result is a much cleaner, less messy look. However, hiding the wiring in the engine bay of a car is one thing. On the frame of a bike, where there are not a lot of areas to hide wiring, is another. This could potentially be an overly ambitious goal but one that I’d like to at least be able to say that I gave it a go.
Use period correct and original parts where possible
Using original parts adds to a bikes overall appeal, especially when it’s on a vintage bike. Unfortunately, reusing original parts of a bike that didn’t have any parts to begin with will be tough.
The easiest solution would be to buy brand new replacement parts, but this could get expensive if budgets are not kept in check. And if not chosen correctly, this may reduce the overall vintage look with too many new, non-period, parts being used.
While I do have a number of used spare parts from this era, it won’t be enough to complete the entire bike. The required missing parts will have to be sourced from elsewhere, most likely classified sites and used bike part groups on social media. But as the parts become available, each will get a good going over and be restored to functioning condition, ensuring they look the part on a freshly painted frame.
Like all the projects I undertake, this one needs a catchy name. For this build, it will simply be known as project Mixt-E. That being a combination of Mixte, the design of frame, and E being that it will be an E-bike.
That’s the start of things to come. I have no set time frame for completion of project Mixt-E, but needless to say my wife is keen to take her fancy vintage electric bike for a tour when the warmer spring weather eventually rolls around.
Be sure to check in regularly as I will keep this project updated with new posts as they come to hand.
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