Raleigh Chopper Bike image

Raleigh Chopper Bike

Innovation is at the Heart of the Midlands, including the creation of the Raleigh chopper bike!

Raleigh Chopper - an iconic bike for those of a certain age

The Raleigh Chopper could quite possibly be the most iconic bicycle ever designed. With its high backrest and distinctively curved handlebars, it was a must-have for any child of the 70s.

Manufactured and marketed in the 1970s by the Raleigh Bicycle Company of Nottingham, England. Its unique design became a cultural icon and is fondly remembered by many who grew up in that period. The design was influenced by dragsters, "chopped" motorcycles, beach buggys and even chariots, as can be seen on the centre page of the 1969 Raleigh US catalogue.

 

A Soundtrack to the Seventies The song is Raleigh Chopper

 

In April of 1969, the MK 1 edition of the Raleigh Chopper went on sale

In April of 1969, the MK 1 edition of the Raleigh Chopper went on sale for £34 which is the equivalent of just under £550 by today's standards. As well as the different sized wheels, the Raleigh chopper had many other features that made it stand out from other popular bicycles. One notable element was a 3-speed Sturmey-Archers gear hub with a frame mounted console gear level placed worryingly between your legs. This positioning was just a way for it to stand out and appear cool for kids who loved the novel way of gear changing.

One millionth Raleigh Chopper on BBC1 The One Show.  Features Tom Karen a British industrial designer of Czech descent. He was managing director and chief designer of Ogle Design from 1962 until 1999. Credited along with Alan Oakley for the design of the Iconic Raleigh Chopper. Along with Members of the Raleigh Chopper Club UK, Mick & Jake Bonnici take part in this short documentary piece.

 

UK market history of the Raleigh Chopper

• MK1 - available only as a 3 speed model, Brilliant Orange, Golden Yellow, Flamboyant Green, Targa Mustard (HBR model) and Horizon Blue.

• Sprint GT - available in either Bronze or Flamboyant Green.

• MK2 - standard 3 speed models available in Infra Red, Ultra Violet, Fizzy Lemon, Quick Silver, Space Blue, and Jet Black (Prismatic decal model).

• MK2 - Pink 5 Speed (Derailleur), Mk2 Lime Green 5 Speed (Derailleur).

• MK2 - SE with cast alloy mags to commemorate 750,000 choppers

It proved to be extremely popular as Raleigh sold over 1.5 million of them, however, come the 1980s they would cease production. 50 years on and it is still widely recognised, sought after, and often hailed above all other bikes.

 

Noel Edmunds feturing in a TV advert for the Raliegh Chopper

 

Raleigh Chopper worldwide sales

Raleigh sold the Chopper to many countries worldwide. In some countries Raleigh chose to sell Choppers with alternative brands. These included BSA, Hercules, Humber, Malvern Star, Phillips, Robin Hood, Rudge and Speedwell Fireballs.

 

Raleigh Chopper MK1 - Photo by Thethotone at English Wikipedia CCO

Raleigh Chopper MK1 - Photo by Thethotone at English Wikipedia CCO

 

What made the chopper bike so popular?

1980s they would cease production, but all these years on and it is still widely recognised, sought after, and often hailed above all other bikes. This article looks back at what made the chopper bike so popular. 

The Chopper stands out due to its unique design, but who designed it is in dispute. Alan Oakley worked as Raleigh’s chief designer in the 60s and sketched the first Chopper concept design on the back of an envelope. Oakley visited America in 1967 looking for inspiration and found it in the form of “Chopped” motorcycles, such as the Harley Davidson which were very popular at the time. On the plane home, he drew a rough outline of what would later become the Raleigh Chopper.

Alan Oakley’s initial design for the Raleigh Chopper - 1967

Alan Oakley’s initial design for the Raleigh Chopper - 1967

However, a designer named Tom Karen has insisted that it was, in fact, he who came up with the Chopper. In 1968 Karen’s consultancy firm, Ogle Design, were approached by Raleigh with the intent to design a bike that would rival the popular 1963 Schwinn Sting-Ray. Karen left Ogle design in 1999 and took with him sketchbooks that contained his designs for the Raleigh Chopper. He gave the Chopper the mismatched sized wheels to give it the feel of American dragster cars which had larger wheels at the back because that's where the power lied.

 

Tom Karen’s Original design for the Raleigh Chopper

Tom Karen’s Original design for the Raleigh Chopper

In April of 1969, the MK 1 edition of the Raleigh Chopper went on sale to the general public. As well as the different sized wheels, the Raleigh chopper had many other features that made it stand out from other popular bicycles. One notable element was a 3-speed Sturmey-Archers gear hub with a frame-mounted console gear level placed worryingly between your legs. This positioning was just a way for it to stand out and appear cool for kids who loved the novel way of gear changing. Many of the design features of the MK 1 was to appeal to a young customer base longing to be old enough to ride the cool American Harley Davidson style motorcycles. The Chopper mimicked the high-rise handlebars, long seatbacks, anti-roll bar, different sized wheels, and decorate rear wheel disc brake. The MK1 went on sale for £34 which is the equivalent of just under £550 by today's standards.

 

Raleigh Chopper MK2 Advert

The MK 2 Chopper was released three years later in 1972 and was considered a new and improved version. It featured a T-bar style gear lever shifter instead of a shifter knob, the seat was moved forward to stop the bike from tipping, and a small rear rack was added. There was also a warning placed on the saddle stating “This Bicycle is not constructed to carry passengers” which many children chose to ignore. Throughout the 1970s Raleigh sold over 1.5 million Choppers, but come the 1980s times would change and due to the rise in popularity of the BMX, Raleigh ceased production of the MK 2.

 

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