Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Life On Cars tribute to the Raleigh Chopper

 Alan Oakley, designer of the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, has died today. Life On Cars writer David Simister, who owned two, pays tribute by remembering why the funkily-styled Seventies icon was such a class act...

It’s mechanically challenged, outgunned at the lights by any moped, and has room for just one on its rather exposed seat. Yet the Raleigh Chopper is no ordinary bike, being to cycling what the Mini is to motoring or the Volkswagen Caravelle to camping.

A legend in its own lifetime, it somehow encompasses both iconic and ironic within one spin of its tiny wheels. Running a Chopper is a surreal experience. I bought one way back in 2007 to replace my old Vespa, and although it couldn't hope to beat the Italian scooter on speed, it’s a surprising equal in the style stakes and yet far cheaper.

When I was at university in Carlisle I used my Raleigh Chopper (pictured below) every day to get between my student digs on one side of the Great Border City, the campus on the other and the supermarket, somewhere in between the two. I loved it so much that it was one of the treasured possessions I took all the way to Bristol with me after I graduated, and after a couple of weeks I realised how cool a bike it was after a couple of bolt cutter-wielding thieves stole it while it was chained up a stone's throw from the SS Great Britain. I responded by immediately getting another one - even though it meant travelling to Yeovil on the train to get it - which I still have to this day.

My red Raleigh Chopper MK3, even though it's now in need of a restoration and has sat unloved in the garage for years because it isn't a car, is still one of my most treasured possessions. It is, put simply, as much an icon of Seventies Britain as the Capri or the Rover SD1 were.

Compared to a normal bike, the Chopper feels very odd to ride at first. Those enormously high handlebars seem to have no control over where the tiny front wheel goes, while the comparatively enormous rear makes every getaway a wheelie. Yet given time and a slightly different riding style, it becomes easily one of the most amusing forms of transportation ever conceived. The wacky proportions raise eyebrows, but the reincarnated Raleigh has enjoyed massive success three decades after the ancestor’s heyday.

It’s even practical - the chrome backrest is perfect for loading shopping bags onto, and much safer than dangling them off the handlebars off a normal bike. The modern Chopper’s just gone out of production, but there’s never been a better time to buy second-hand.

Compared to the hundreds of pounds the 1970s originals fetch, now is definitely the time to buy. BMXs might be the more obvious choice for bike-riding yoofs, but with the Raleigh Chopper, you’re making a cool, retro statement.

It’s still not really motoring, but going back to the 1970s has never been cheaper.

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that there's a Raleigh Special Edition coming out in a month? The Nottingham company is releasing a new black and gold edition - something to do with cigs. It's 250 quid though