Flyo & Riff AKA Paul Fillingham and Chris Richards Dreamtargets Home Party time in Nottingham City Centre

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Mk1 Raleigh Chopper - dragster styling

Rediscovering a childhood classic

[Dream target date - 1972]

Being the eldest of four brothers, my prized Raleigh Chopper was handed down and ridden into the ground. I'm not sure when the bike was consigned to the scrap heap, but I presume it was sometime in 1977 when I left home to go to art school.

In 1990 the loss was so great that I decided to advertise for a second-hand Raleigh Chopper in the Nottingham Evening Post. I stood a good chance of finding one in Nottingham, being home to Raleigh Industries.


Chopper Pics
Adam Fisher 1975 Hannah Fillingham 2002        

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Following up one of the leads, I visited an elderly gentleman in Long Eaton whose children had long since flown the nest. Imagine my delight when he opened up his garden shed, to reveal a well-preserved silver machine. 'They don't mek 'em like this anymore' he said. I found it odd to find him reminiscing about a icon so fresh in my own memory and barely twelve years since Raleigh ceased production of this famous cycle.

The Chopper was just standing there, how could I resist? Smaller than I remembered it, the Chopper fit snuggly into the back of my car and it felt like Christmas as I drove home that dark winter's evening.

Chopper history

More fashion accessory than bicycle, the Chopper quickly achieved cult status and in the 1970's netted massive sales for the then ailing Raleigh cycle company. Although the modern styling made it seductive, the Chopper was in many ways impractical and was repeatedly attacked by the press as being a dangerous toy.

It's rather ironic then, that my first Chopper ride took place during a Cycling Proficiency Test at the Robert Jones Junior School, Blidworth. Discarding my fixed-gear, solid-tyre contraption, I fell in love with the smooth motion of a Raleigh Chopper belonging to one of the Dickinson twins. Here was a bike that not only looked great, but also met with parental disapproval. Chopper ownership was a statement, an expression of freedom and independence.

American influence

Raleigh's design team took their inspiration from America. Custom kits comprising of hi-rise handlebars, back-rests (cissy bars), elongated seats and mag-wheels were already advertised in the American Superhero Comics in the late sixties. In Britain, no such customisation existed, but Raleigh managed to package the child's bicycle in a totally new way. The design for the Chopper was so radical that the competition simply couldn't match it. Here was a design that embodied the mood of the 70's and traditional bikes simply looked out of date. Chopper bikes became as essential as flared trousers, platform heels, transistor radios and other groovy 70's gear.

This seat is not designed to carry passengers

Its elongated saddle encouraged the practice of carrying passengers and virtually all Chopper owners were inundated by requests for lifts home from school. Prompted by the number of injuries sustained by cycles tipping up, the manufacturer took to printing warnings on the seat.

Later, the Mark II Chopper had its saddle reduced in size and its frame modified to shift the riders centre of gravity. But this was not enough to curtail the practice of giving 'croggeys' as they were called locally. In fact Raleigh failed spectacularly by adding a saddlebag rack to the design, thus providing even more room for a second passenger.

Evel Knievel bike stunts

Even without additional passengers, the Chopper which was originally modelled on American dragsters, performed 'wheelies' with ease. The popularisation of death defying feats by motorcycle riders such as Evel Knievel coupled with the Chopper's quirky styling gave rise to all kinds of accidents. Application of the front brake often resulted in riders being thrown over the handlebars and serious injuries could be sustained by slipping off the vinyl seat onto the gear shift lever positioned on the cross bar.

I was lucky enough to capture one of these Chopper groin injuries on 8mm cine film when my friend Steven Clay made a spectacular Evel Knievel jump over a wall of empty coca-cola cans.

Over the years the handlebars were reduced in size and the gear stick replaced with a safer, but equally painful T-bar design. Although the brakes were effective if used correctly most riders favoured the use of platform heeled boots fitted with metal 'segs' or blakeys' for additional stopping power. These produced sparks when they came into contact with concrete pavements and were banned at school due to the damage they caused to wooden floors.

Handlebar Customs

Chopper handlebars provided a convenient framework for personal expression. Coloured tape was often wrapped around the chrome, or tassels attached to the grips. The original Chopper also had an optional windshield. My own Mark II Chopper in 'flamboyant purple' was adorned with half-a-dozen Mod-scooter mirrors. But one of the most common treatments was the reversal of the handlebars so that they faced the wrong way. This usually required the complete removal of the front brake, which looked cool but was lethal in a hilly village like Blidworth.

Towards the end of the seventies, Raleigh experimented with Chopper Racing-bike hybrids which never gained much in popularity. BMX was the next big thing and production was soon geared towards fulfilling the dreams of another generation.