a childhood classic
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.
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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
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
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
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simply looked out of date.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.
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.
by the number of injuries sustained by cycles tipping
up, the manufacturer took to printing warnings on
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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