The History of the Raleigh Chopper
- The Raleigh Bicycle Company began manufacturing bicycles in 1887 on Raleigh Street in Nottingham. Its founder was Frank Bowden. The company expanded its operations by opening a factory in Dublin. Over the decades, it became an increasingly popular export to the U.S. market.
- The Raleigh Chopper was not a great seller in the U.S. but did well in England.
Motorcycle and automobile customization had taken hold of postwar America. The epicenter was California, where customized motorcycles with extended forks, high handlebars and long seat backrests had become common. At this time, Raleigh observed that Chicago-based bicycle builder Schwinn introduced the bicycle version of the motorcycle chopper in 1963.
- A later version of the Raleigh Chopper with the gear shift moved from the frame to the handlebars.
Schwinn's Stingray, with its banana seat and ape-hanger handlebars, was an instant success among buyers for children. Raleigh attempted to capitalize on Stingray's success with its not-too-subtle Stingray copy, the Rodeo, which debuted in the United States in 1966. It was a flop because buyers saw little need for an imitator. Raleigh had overestimated the popularity of its products in the U.S. market when it came to a new model. Yet the Rodeo paved the say for the Raleigh Chopper.
- The 20-inch wheels in the back were criticized for slowing the bike down.
Raleigh still copied the Schwinn concept, but also came up with a rather forward design mimicked to a degree by the BMX bikes of the 1980s. Its frame was a squared version of the Stingray, but had a 3-speed gear shift mounted on the frame, a long seat, a 20-inch stubby rear wheel, and a 16-inch front wheel to give it an extreme rakish look.
- Customized version of the Raleigh Chopper MkII.
The Chopper Mk1 was introduced in 1968 to the U.S. market, drawing a muted response. Like the Rodeo, the Chopper could not overcome the marketing challenges posed by the Stingray. The Stingray had been on the market for five years. It remained stylish, if not less radical in design, than the Chopper. And it cost less.
- The Raleigh Chopper MkII debuted in 1972.
The Raleigh Chopper also faced negative reviews.The large, wide and stubby rear tires produced considerable drag and made the Chopper slow and impractical for a long ride. Its styling had a tendency to pitch riders forward with sudden braking and the long rear seat made pulling back for "wheelies" a hazard for inexperienced riders. The frame-mounted gear shift caused injuries to riders who fell forward.
- The Raleigh Chopper was revivied in 2004 as the MkIII.
In 1970, the United Kingdom got the Chopper and it was enthusiastically greeted. It became Britain's most popular bicycle, still selling today as a childhood classic. It spawned a series of smaller bikes based on the Chopper design, including the Chipper, Budgie, Chippy and Tomahawk models marketed for younger children.