I complimented him on the bike and remarked that I'd be walking a lot of hills if my bike was geared that way.
(In addition to just being friendly, of course, my plan was ease into a conversation that would end with him saying "How I wish there was some convenient way to convert this original crankset to a triple so I could ride effortlessly up even the steepest hills! If such a product existed I would buy it immediately!" I have few equals when it comes to guerilla marketing.)
Alas, it didn't work. He agreed that the gearing was much too high, and that he had to walk a lot of hills. Then he went even further. I don't remember the exact words he used, but the gist of it was that originality had to take precedence over mere comfort.
Before I could think of a response, we were rolling.
At this point I should point out that I have strong views on maintaining the originality of old bikes. I won't permanently alter old frames or components for the sake of short-term convenience. That position has cost me, too: I spent a shocking amount of money (for me, at least) on a long-cage Simplex derailleur for my Peugeot PX-10, when I could have gotten the same functional result by by butchering the original hanger and installing a cheap and perfectly reliable Suntour VGT-Luxe. (For more on this, see preceding blog entry "Derailleur Hangers Demystified.")
But I see nothing wrong with swapping bolt-on components at will. Why not? The bike's next owner can always restore it to original condition by removing the non-original crankset or wheels and replacing them with the right ones.
In the exceptional case of a bike with real historic value--Eddy Merckx's hour-record bike, for example, or one of the five surviving bicycles built by the Wright Brothers--it's best leave things completely alone. But that anonymous bike-boom Raleigh International? I say go ahead and swap parts around--just be sure to keep the old ones.
In any case, I'm pretty slow to begin with, and was made even slower by a loose headset on my newly rebuilt Gitane Tour de France, which I had to stop and adjust. I'd been hoping to see the Paramount again, but by the time I got to the finish both bike and owner were gone.