Sunday, 17 April 2011

70s Retro - The Raleigh Chopper

The Raleigh Chopper was a children's bicycle, a wheelie bike, manufactured and marketed in the 1970s by the Raleigh Bicycle company back in Nottingham. Its unique design became a true 70s cultural icon and is fondly remembered by many who grew up in that period, especially myself!. Based on the look of a customised Chopper Bicycle, made popular with films such as Easy Rider the Chopper bike was the "must have" item and signifier of coolness for many children at the time.
US Raleigh Chopper Mk1.
(This example is missing the rear seat springs and the chainguard)

Ogle Design claim to have designed the Chopper for Raleigh. They actually only produced concept art for the Raleigh design department headed by Alan Oakley; only the seat and spoke protector were taken up. The final design of the Chopper was submitted by Oakley's department to management and production started in 1968. Raleigh themselves built a copy of the chopper-like Scwinn Sting-Ray they called the Rodeo, which was launched in the US in 1966. It was not a success, but its design clearly was a forerunner of the Chopper. This lack of success prompted Raleigh to send its chief designer, Alan Oakley, to America to investigate first hand the U.S. youth market. Oakley saw that a new bike was required, in a very non Schwinn style. On the aeroplane home Oakley pencilled the first outlines of what would become the Chopper onto the back of an Airmail envelope. The popularity of the Chopper also led to a range of smaller bikes following a similar design theme. These included the Raleigh Chipper, Tomahawk, Budgie and Chippy models aimed at younger riders.

The North American Version of The Mk2 Raleigh Chopper

The Original Chopper: Tall Frame

The Chopper was patented in 1967 by Raleigh for the American youth market. The Chopper was introduced at American trade shows in January 1969 & first shipments to North American dealers in June 1969. It is introduced in the UK in 1970. The bike featured a 3-speed, 5-speed, and single-speed Sturmey Archer gear hub, selected using a frame-mounted console gear lever — one of its "cool" features. Other features that appealed to the youth market were the unusual frame, long padded highback seat, sprung seat at the back, high-rise (ape hanger) handlebars, 'bobbed' mudguards (fenders) and differently sized front (16") and rear (20") wheels. The rear hoop above the seat resembled a motorcycle 'sissy bar' Even the kickstand was designed to give the stationary bicycle a lean reminiscent of a parked motorcycle. Tyres were wider than usual for the time, with a chunky tread on the rear wheel, featuring a red line around the sidewall. The price was from approximately £32 for a standard Chopper to £55 for the deluxe.

The Fastback 100

The Raleigh Chopper sold through Eatons of Canada as a Glider Fastback 100, Fastback XT101, Fastback Princess, and MACH-2 models.

The Mk 2

The Mk2 Chopper was an improved version from 1972. It had the (rarely purchased) option of five-speed derailluer gears, and the gear lever shifter changed from a knob to a T-bar-style shifter. The frame was subtly revised, and the seat moved forward, to help prevent the bike tipping up. A small rear rack was added. The handlebars were welded to the stem to stop children from inclining the 'ape hanger' bars backwards, (thereby rendering the bike almost unsteerable). A drop-handlebar version, the Sprint, was also produced, this differed from the standard Mark II as it had a slightly taller frame. The Chopper remained in production until 1981, by which time the BMX had taken over its market. However, the Chopper almost single-handedly rescued Raleigh , which had been in decline during the 1960s, selling millions worldwide.

Handling and Safety Issues

The original Chopper is fondly remembered, though it was not without problems — it was less stable than a conventional bike, and trickier to ride. It was slow and heavy, the wide tyres creating significant rolling resistance; the Chopper was not suitable for long distances. At moderate speeds it suffered speed wobbles. After several reported accidents, it was attacked in the press as a dangerous toy. The long seat lent itself to giving lifts to others, and accidents were not uncommon. It could perform involuntary wheelies readily, again a frequent cause of accidents. The position of the gear lever could also contribute to injuries sustained in a crash.

The Glider Fastback 100 version was sold by Eatons of Canada

Revival: The Mk 3

File:Raleigh Chopper Mk3 in a UK collection.JPG

A new version of the Chopper, the Mk3, was launched in 2004, after being out of production for almost 25 years. The Mk3, in deference to modern safety concerns, adopts a more conventional saddle design to discourage "backies," and has dropped the groin-catching gear lever in favour of handlebar mounted gear controls – to commemorate this former feature the Mk3 has a sticker where once the lever had its place. The frame is made from aluminium alloy tubing rather than the originals' steel, to make the bike lighter. The wheels are again 20 inches for the back wheel and 16 inches for the front wheel.

1 comment:

  1. Is any body interested, I have a 1969 3+2 tall frame chopper, serial #05xxxxx original green was puchased in canada in 1969 it is missing the shifter and front fender. I can supply pics
    on request.

    Call or email (509)586-0202