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The Raleigh Chopper is a children's bicycle, a wheelie bike, 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.
The Raleigh Chopper's design has been subject of debate but only since the early 2000's, with claims by Alan Oakley (1927-2012) chief designer for Raleigh and then more than 30 yrs later, from Tom Karen of OGLE Design. 
Alan Oakley's archive was sold in 2018 (Mellor & Kirk Auctioneers, Nottingham, August 2018) and reveals valuable insight into this debate that until 2018 had not been seen in public. The archive reveals that the Design Council did not consult Raleigh before citing Tom Karen as designer of the Chopper and the Design Museum merely acknowledge Karen as the designer of the 'product'. The Oakley archive contains an account from the then Managing Director and Chairman of Raleigh that reveals the reasoning for Raleigh sending their chief designer to America for a three week fact-finding mission, it describes the trip, the 'envelope sketch' and the months following the trip. It describes the market's need for the Chopper and the strategy for going to market.
In conclusion; as the then Chief Designer and Board member of The Raleigh Bicycle Company, Alan Oakley conceived the idea behind the Chopper on the return flight from his 1967 fact-finding mission. Raleigh then approached OGLE Design (Tom Karen) to develop the concept and design the 'product', Raleigh then took this product to market. All patents and intellectual properties are owned by The Raleigh Bicycle Company.
The Chopper was designed in response to the Schwinn Sting-Ray, and an earlier attempt, called the Rodeo, which was not commercially successful. The popularity of the Chopper also led to a range of smaller bikes following a similar design theme. These included the Raleigh Chipper, Tomahawk and Budgie models, aimed at younger riders.
The Chopper's patent was applied for in the US in 1967. The Chopper was introduced at American trade shows in January 1969 but it was not until April 1969 when Raleigh Choppers were available for public to purchase. The bike featured a choice of a single-speed coaster hub, or a 3-speed or 5-speed Sturmey Archer gear hub, selected using a frame-mounted console gear lever. Other features that appealed to the youth market were the unusual frame, long padded high-back seat, sprung seat at the back, high-rise (ape hanger) handlebars, 'bobbed' mudguards (fenders) and differently sized wheels: 16 in (41 cm) front and 20 in (51 cm) rear. The rear hoop above the seat resembled a dragster anti roll bar "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.
In 1969 the Raleigh Chopper was launched in the UK market this was a triple launch for Raleigh, with the Chopper branded as THE HoT oNE, alongside the Moulton Mk3 (The Smooth One), and the RSW Mk3 (The Dolly One). The Chopper bike was sold as a "must have" item and signifier of "coolness" for many children at the time.
The Mk 2 ("Mark 2") Chopper was an improved version sold from 1972. It had the rarely-purchased option of five-speed derailleur gears, and the gear lever shifter changed from a knob to a T-bar-style shifter. (The early 1969 'Tall frame' model already sported the T-bar style, albeit in black with the elliptical window within the shifter cover.) The frame was subtly revised, and the seat moved forward, to help prevent the front of the bicycle tipping up. A small rear rack was added. The handlebars were welded to the stem to stop children from inclining the "ape hanger" bars backward, thereby rendering the bicycle almost unsteerable. A drop-handlebar version, the Sprint, was also produced, this differed from the standard Mk 2, as it had a slightly taller frame. The Chopper Mk 2 remained in production until 1980, by which time the BMX craze 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 safetyEdit
The original Chopper is fondly remembered, though it was not without problems: It was less stable than a conventional bicycle and trickier to ride. The Chopper was not suitable for cycling long distances as it was slow and heavy, the wide tyres creating significant rolling resistance. 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 - especially on the Mk I because the gear knob could easily be removed and lost, turning the gear lever into a metal spike.
- 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
North American marketEdit
The North American market had a much wider spectrum of models and colours available. In 1971 there was a ban on tall sissy bars so the chopper was only sold with a low back rest. A summary of US models:
- MK1 1969 'Tall Frames'; available as a single speed coaster (SC), 3 speed (AW - three speed and TCW - three speed coaster), and 5 speed (S5 - 3+2).
- MK1 1970-1972 available as a single speed coaster (SC), 3 speed (AW - three speed and TCW/S3C - three speed coasters) 5 speed (S5 - 3+2) 5 speed and 10 speed (derallieur). The single and three speed models were also available as a Girl’s model without crossbar.
- MK2 available as a 3 speed (AW) and 5 speed (S5 - 3+2).
The Raleigh Chopper was also sold through Eaton's in Canada, badged as Gliders, and sold as the Fastback 100, Fastback XT101, SS357, ULT, Princess and MACH-2 models.
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.
The success of the Chopper led to similarly styled imitators, such as the Pavemaster Trusty Tracker, Triang Dragster, Dawes Zipper, Panther and Vindec High Riser in the UK as well as the very close copy of an Mk 2 named "Cincoa" and in more recent years the Ground Cruiser which was sold in the UK at the same time as the release of the MK 3.
Revival: Marks 3, 4 & 5Edit
After being out of production for almost 25 years, a new version of the Chopper, the Mk3, was launched in February 2004. It was available at first in red, then purple. The Mk3, in deference to modern safety concerns, adopted a more conventional saddle design to discourage "backies", and dropped the groin-catching gear lever in favour of handlebar mounted gear controls; to commemorate this former feature the Mk3 had a sticker where the lever once was located. Rather than steel, the frame was made from aluminium alloy tubing to make the bicycle lighter. The wheels were still 20 inches at the back and 16 at the front. The Mk3 remained in production until 2009 when it was replaced by the slightly changed Mk4 model. The Mk5, which ceased production in summer 2018, included many editions such as the Beano, the JPS, the Hot One and the Mod. A 6-speed Shimano derailleur replaced the 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Raleigh Chopper.|
- Richard Abraham (10 September 2014). "Raleigh Chopper: bicycle classic". Cycling Weekly. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
Initial designs for the Chopper are sketched on the back of an envelope by designer Alan Oakley while returning from a research trip to America
- "I designed the Chopper, argues Cambridge inventor". BikeBiz. 21 January 2004. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
Dr Karen's claim is backed by the Design Council, which gave Dr Karen a special commendation in 2002 for his lifetime achievements, including the Chopper.
- "Mark I Raleigh Chopper Bicycle". BBC. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
Designed in the late 1960s by Raleigh employee Alan Oakley, [although some contest it was the work of Tom Karen of the Ogle]
- "Raleigh Chopper's come back". Design Week. 29 January 2004. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
Despite some controversy over the original designer – Raleigh’s chief designer at the time was Alan Oakley, though inventor Tom Karen is reported to claim credit for the prototype
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