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The Raleigh Chopper is born

So we reach our goal, the Raleigh Chopper is born. Not so much a Schwinn clone any more, but still having the Schwinn family trait of twin thin top tubes. Allan simply squared up a Schwinn cantilever frame, fitted the Fireball seat, and lowered the headstock to fit standard 16 inch forks (for economy) to a wide front 16 inch rim.

You may notice that the Chopper seat has a metal back plate, with a registered design number stamped upon it.Reg design no 934257 to be exact. This is because Raleigh were so pleased with the eventual design of the Chopper seat, they didn’t want anyone else using it, unlike the majority of U.S. concerns who used the Pearsons banana seat style.

Raleigh had used the Ogle design studios to submit designs for the eventual Chopper, and despite many wild claims by Ogle`s chief designer at the time, Tom Karen, the modified Rodeo seat design was one of the few parts they actually designed. They claimed the 20/16 wheel layout, despite the bike being built to compete with the U.S. new fashion for 20/16 bikes, and also claimed to have invented the spoke guard, in order to look like a rear disc brake, despite it having been used on the R.S.W,. Range of Raleighs for 5 years previous. Wouldn’t it have been fun if ,like the 1972 Apple Krate, they actually had used disc brakes on the Chopper !

The Raleigh Chopper was released to much aclaim in September 1968 in America, but with so many apehanger bikes in the shops, was not really the success it could have been. Sure, it sold well, and most rank it as number three after the Stingray and the Krate, but lets face it, they`d had apehanger bikes for 6 or 7 years in the `states, one more, no matter how groundbreaking its frame design, was hardly going to set the world on fire (a pun I should have used for the Fireball I suppose). Over in England, however, it was a different story altogether.............

England has a conservative cycling history..... If you took a bicycle from 1930 and one from 1970, and stood them side by side, you'd have a hard time telling them apart. The standard triangular frame ruled the roost, with practically no departures in design.... maybe cable brakes replacing rod actuated brakes was about as ground breaking as it got.....Times were changing however... The film 'Easy Rider' was released in 1969 over here, and the flood gates opened on the embryonic motorcycle chopper culture. Raleigh soon saw the opportunity , and released the Raleigh Chopper over here in September 1969.

early chopper poster

They released 500 bikes to dealers in Croydon, Newcastle and Manchester in the run up to Christmas 1969 and such was their instant popularity that the bike ensured its place in the January 1970 sales catalogue.

We got the standard three speed version, in 6 colour choices. For some reason Raleigh never trusted its home market with a large model range. They dipped a cautious toe into the water in 1971 by releasing the mustard coloured High Backrest model, but as quickly pulled it out again after safety campaigners claimed it was even more deadly than the standard model. It didn't make a reappearance in the 1972 model catalogue. Safety issues dogged the Chopper on both sides of the Atlantic, but over in the UK reached monstrous proportions.

The Chopper was just Soooo.... radical a departure from standard bicycle styling, and people to whom Mary Whitehouse was a goddess, raised their collective voice. The main item of public scorn was the seat.... if you sat too far back the front wheel raised up... and, horror of horrors, two young people could sit on the seat at one time! The indignation reverberated throughout the country. One legitimate safety issue, that most complainers missed altogether, was the fact that the frames were falling apart under their riders...quite literally...the rear stays commonly came unstuck from the rest of the bike, and Raleigh dealers were kept extra busy replacing frames under warranty.

Surrounded by controversy, what became known as the MK 1 Chopper was quietly withdrawn from sale in late 1971. Just, and only just, in time for Christmas 1971, a new Chopper appeared in the shops... The MK1 was dead...hail the MK 2.

The MK2 was a redesign of the MK1, with several safety issues addressed. First. the seat had been shortened, this was accomplished by bending the rear seat stays in towards the frame, making the frame almost arrow shaped from the side view. The seat got a warning written on the white strap, telling anybody who could be bothered to read, that the seat was not designed to carry more than one rider... perhaps the most ignored warning in the history of the bicycle? Second safety concession was the loss of adjustability in the apehanger handlebars. On the MK1 the handlebars had been attached in usual bike manner, by a bolted clamp...this disappeared towards the end of the MK1s to be replaced by braised in place handlebars, strangely enough, Raleigh had used brazed up apehangers on its Moped of 2 years before. Because of the pure volume of Choppers being produced in late 1971, the MK1 didn't just disappear overnight, more a sort of fade away trick. MK1s on dealers' floors stayed there until they were sold, Raleigh made no attempt to recall them. First, the MK2 handlebars appeared, followed by the MK2 itself. Several early MK2s had quite a few MK1 parts, but by early 1972 the MK2 was king. MK1 brakes and levers were the last to leave, still being fitted as late as October 1972.

The Mark One Chopper was released in the U.S.A. in a dazzling choice of models, they got the famous 1969 tall frame, with its frame being one and a half inches taller than standard. They got ten speeds, five speed derailleur models, five speed Sturmey Archer models. They got Girlie Choppers with no cross bars, they even got a cheap version with no gears and a back pedal rear brake.
However, in England, as I said, we got the three speed. Ah well.

By the time 1972 happened, and the Mark 2 was released both in the U.S. and England, the model range was rationalised across the board.

Initially Sales in the all-important U.S. market were encouraging, then a bomb hit. The Americans decided to outlaw crossbar mounted gear shifters. The Schwinns adopted handlebar mounted shifters, but a few manufacturers pulled out of the Muscle Bike market altogether. Raleigh was one. The design department decided that the gear shifter was an integral part of the design, and in 1973 pulled the Chopper out of the catalogue. Maybe they could see that sales could only go down, the highriser fad was on the wane. By mid 1974 the stock of bikes in the U.S. was exhausted, and no more winged their way across the Atlantic.

In the U.K. however, sales of the Mark 2 really took off, and with the safety lobby appeased by the seat strap warning and un-adjustable handlebars, the bike went from strength to strength.
The basic Three Speed bike existed until 1980, and along the way several special editions were tried, all without exception, being marketing disasters. The Sprint was the first, with its ungainly, some would say un-rideable, drop handlebars, the Five Speed with its girls only pink colour scheme, and the overly expensive, overly clumsy looking “Silver Jubilee” model.

The original Three Speed Mark 2, however, was a runaway success in the U.K. The Red, Yellow, Purple, Blue and Silver model range was joined by the Jet Black model in 1977 and as I said, persevered into the 1980s.

The fact that the Chopper existed in three decades, and out sold all other children’s bikes of its era, is testament to its strong visual appeal and trendy image. The bike is most associated with that much maligned decade, the 1970s and is probably one of the most instantly recognisable icons of the era.
Raleigh Chopper - The Hot One.!!!!!!!!!