The Raleigh Chopper was without doubt the coolest bike to hit the streets and kids up and down the country couldn’t get enough of them!
Sadly, I never owned a Raleigh Chopper but my forever style-conscious friend Steve Church did. In fact, he had a bit of an obsession with them and became an avid collector. So I’ve passed this story over to him in what is my first Upstarts and Oligarchs collaborative piece. Over to you Steve…
This iconic ride hit the council estate I grew up on hard. I knew kids by what colour/model they rode. There were the gang-member brothers who had somehow managed to get their hands on Mk1 5-speed derailleur models which were a USA only option, a rare targa mustard model with the high back rest that had recently been banned in the States, the lad who won a red Mk2 from a competition on the back of a crisp packet, and the weird kid who had a Chopper GT Sprint - this was a limited release made with a taller frame than a standard Mk2, narrower tyres and racing handlebars. I managed to cadge a ride on this hybrid machine and I never forgot the experience – super low bars, strange geometry and almost inaccessible brakes made for a ride like no other - it felt like death wasn’t far away and I was captivated.
I bought my first Mk1 second-hand for a fiver from a kid five or so years older than me who raced around our estate wearing a leather biker jacket and was upgrading to a Yamaha FS1E sports moped!
I was thrilled as every time I had asked my Dad for one he had spurted out the ‘36 rule’ – “Son, a new Chopper is £36 and that’s what I earn in a week” – he was also 36 at the time so that number has stayed with me all my life.
However, I finally had my Raleigh Chopper, and being a MK1 it was way cooler than the recently released MK2 version which did away with the super-long seat to stop kids riding two-up and had fixed position handlebars which could no longer be swept back for the Easy Rider look. They were also made narrower to avoid the increasing incidence of chest injuries appearing in hospitals all over the UK.
Thankfully, Raleigh didn’t respond to the many examples of scrotal trauma which were also common by keeping that gear shifter where it belonged – on top of the cross-bar right behind the bars – dragster-chic.
I rode that bike almost every day, until, like most kids my age, we became captivated by the lure of 10-speed racing bikes which seemed to offer so much more performance – by the time we realised they just weren’t as cool as our muscle bikes had been they were long gone – some kept in dusty and rusty sheds but most displaying their candy-colours and chrome atop skips never to be seen again. I sold mine to a kid from school for six quid – my first step in life at turning a profit!
30 years later I became obsessed about getting a Mk1 and ended up dealing in the super-rare models that had eluded me as a kid – 5-speed derailleur/early 1969 tall frame/3+2 dual-shifter 5-speed hub/’girly’ models without the cross-bar and the death-trap GT Sprint which as an adult displayed its reputation even more menacingly – the only way to ride it would now mean sitting almost on top of the cissy bar…
I now own just one example of these iconic muscle machines – a restored orange Mk1 just like my old bike but with a rare 3+2 5-speed hub and dual-shifter. It sits in my office and when I get a big deal in, I often take it for a champagne-infused victory lap around my village.
ALL IMAGES AND COPY SUPPLIED BY STEVE CHURCH. THANKS TO STEVE FOR HIS CONTRIBUTION TO THE UPSTARTS AND OLIGARCHS BLOG. IF YOU HAVE A STORY YOU'D LIKE TO TELL PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.