Raleigh Chopper S.E. of 1976/1977 has become the single most sought
after model in the whole Chopper bike range. Why ??? Because its
immediate silver identity stand it apart from other Mk2 Choppers,
but mainly because of its scarcity. There were other Chopper 'one
offs' like the 'Sprint' and the immediately preceeding 'Pink 5
speed', but non have the magical appeal of the Silver Special
Thanks to Alex Jewell for the picture
bike was released at a time when the Chopper was riding high in
the U.K. bicycle popularity stakes, but signs weren’t good....
The U.S.A. always years ahead of us Brits in the bike fashion
department, had embraced the upcoming B.M.X. style, with a vengeance!
The high-rise bike was dead in the U.S. and Raleigh chiefs could
just about make out the writing on the wall.
Raleigh Chiefs realised they needed a push in the Chopper market,
to keep the Chopper line afloat, to hedge their bets, in 1976
they released the infamous "Grifter" bike to try to
get a foothold into the perceived B.M.X. craze (The B.M.X. craze
didn’t really get a hold in the U.K. until the release of
Stephen Spielberg’s early 80`s classic movie E.T. which featured
Kuwahara b.m.x. bikes.)
it came to pass that the Raleigh Chopper S.E. was designed, to
tie nicely in with the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, and to
help boost Chopper sales. Raleigh's attempt to produce an American
style 5-speed had been ruined by the choice of its colour, so
design chiefs (and remember Chopper designer Alan Oakley was still
chief of the design department at this stage) so the bike was
painted a nice safe silver.
The bike was released in August 1976, a full 6 months before the
dawn of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, and to explain
the reason we have to look at Raleigh’s sales structure of
Christmas was, and still is, the biggest sales time for any bicycle
manufacturer, Raleigh being no exception.
Raleigh liked to release new models in the summer, this gave time
for the trade dealers to see the bikes, and place orders. In turn
allowing Raleigh time to judge a model’s popularity, and
actually make enough bikes to fill the Christmas demand.
Therefore, the Silver Jubilee Special Edition Raleigh Chopper
was released in August 1976. Raleigh named it the ‘Silver
Jubilee Model’, but needed a reason for its appearance before
the Queen’s Jubilee Year. So the S.E. was released to celebrate
750,000 sales of the Raleigh Chopper.
Whether this figure had actually been reached in sales, no one
knows for sure, maybe they had sold more, but the advertising
department decided on 750,000 bikes and it stuck.
The bike was launched at the same time as the Grifter, with a
std mk2 Chopper being £67.95, a Grifter being priced the
same, and a Special Edition being £71.75...nearly four pounds
The silver paint and cast alloy wheels made it look a lot more
than four pounds better. Especially with the chrome reflective
stickers which gave the bike a decidedly modern look.
After Christmas 1976, the advertising for the S.E. changed to
reflect the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, for which it was originally
intended and the bike appeared on the children’s show "Blue
Peter" early that year. (This time John Noaks didn’t
ride the bike!)
However, the S.E. was short lived. When the August 1977 catalogues
landed on the Raleigh Dealers’ shop floor, there was no sign
of the Special Edition. The bike was phased out in the Autumn
of Jubilee Year.
This demise may have lead to the bike’s scarcity and value
in the 21st century, but takes some understanding from Raleigh’s
point of view. If the bike had indeed been intended to span the
Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, why not continue making it throughout
1977? Why not have two Christmases in the bike’s brief sales
history? Why not a two-year run like the equally unpopular Sprint?
The answer, unfortunately is a stark fact of business life, the
bikes did not sell well.
Despite the obvious investment cost of the alloy wheels, the bike
was declared a disaster by the management at Raleigh, and production
effort was pulled off the Chopper production line to allow other
models to be built.
And so ended an all too brief appearance in the Chopper line-up
of the Special Edition.
So what was all the fuss about? Surely just another silver
bike with weird wheels?
The bike was painted in Quick Silver, a colour first seen on the
Quick Silver mk2 released in 1974, and from the middle up, was
a standard mk2 bike, just with a black gear selector knob (all
others being red) and tacky black plastic sleeves on the brake
levers set it apart.
to Alex Jewell for the picture
the lower half carried the important differences...the wheels.
Using a design first seen on the small framed Raleigh Tomahawk
Formula Three, Raleigh cast up alloy wheels for the bike, which,
despite looking heavy and ungainly, actually produce a bike slightly
lighter than a standard mk2.
The front wheel was a 16x2 rim with a Chopper standard calliper
front brake, but for some reason the rear wheel (20x2) carried
not just our old friend the Sturmey Archer Three speed hub, but
on the left side, a lever operated drum brake. The reasoning for
this must be obvious to some Raleigh design boffin, but it escapes
Most people assume the drum brake is to prevent a calliper brake
ruining the wheel rim’s paint...but that’s exactly what
happens at the front end! Did the prototypes have drum front brakes?
Was it scrapped for economy? We’ll never know, but we do
know that the rear wheel got a version of the Sturmey Archer SAB3
Rear hub. (SAB3
Spec Sheet - BEWARE, big image suitable for printing)
Left side of rear wheel, showing brake actuation lever. Cable
routingcan be seen on the picture below.
Thanks to Alex Jewell for the pictures
get the rear brake cable down to the lower rear spar, and along
to the rear brake lever, three small tubes were braised onto the
Special Edition’s frame for the cable to slip through. As
opposed to running along the top tubes as on the standard bikes.
Also, for some unimaginable reason the bike appeared with a small
black rubber cap on the tip of the kick stand. Another small detail
that never appeared on subsequent bikes.
All Special Editions have the frame number stamped on the rear
of the seat tube, just below the seat post clamp and all have
the first letter 'N' for Nottingham and "6" or "7"
as the third character in the number, indicating 1976 or 1977
(See 'How to date your Chopper)
Thanks to Alex Jewell for the picture
Stickers on the S.E. were made from silver foil, printed with
the letters in satin black. The seat tube followed standard form
with the word "Raleigh" and the main tubes had the word
"Chopper" but instead of the expected " Raleigh"
on the chain guard, the magical words SPECIAL EDITION stand proud.