Web Page No 2374
27th May 2017
Top Picture: Raleigh Bicycle advert
Second Picture: Raleigh Grifter
Third Picture: Raleigh Pink Witch
How Raleigh became Britain's most famous bike brand
How did it begin?
In 1888, when Frank Bowden, a lawyer who had grown rich speculating on the stock exchange, bought a bike from a small Nottingham business called Woodhead, Angois and Ellis to help him recover from ill health. He was so impressed by his purchase that he bought Ellis's shares and eventually took full control the company, renaming it after the Raleigh brand that the original owners had established. The name was based on its location: Raleigh Street.
It succeeded very quickly. In an industry, that had been previously dominated by small, artisan bike-builders, Frank Bowden spotted the potential for growth and expanded so quickly that within 20 years Raleigh had become the biggest bike-building operation in the world, employing 850 employees and producing 56,000 bikes a year.
But what was its secret? Frank Bowden was fortunate that his investment preceded two decades of innovations in bicycle design, most significantly the introduction of hub gears and cable brakes. Also adopting John Dunlop's pneumatic tyre helped, enabling Raleigh to broaden the bike's from the image of the Victorian gentleman to the working man.
However, Frank Bowden and his son, Sir Harold, who succeeded his father as chairman, were ahead of their time in many respects and could take much credit for the success too. They understood the potential in offering replica, mass-market versions of marquee products. They insisted on benevolent management and, as the decades passed, were careful always to celebrate the brand's rich heritage. Crucially, they also never allowed the quality of the product to decline, retaining all production within a Nottingham factory site that eventually ran to 40 acres.
No athlete did more for the company than Reg Harris, the brilliant Lancastrian who dominated track sprinting in the late 1940s and 1950s and whose bronze statue is in the Manchester Velodrome. Decades before all leading brands closely aligned themselves to superstar athletes, Raleigh ensured it was synonymous with Reg Harris in a career that included five world titles. In return, Reg Harris helped Raleigh to reach its peak period in the early 1950s when it sold more than a million bikes a year.
Raleigh suffered with the rest of the industry in the 1960s when small cars became widely affordable for the first time, turning bikes into reverse status-symbols associated with the poorly paid. As the cycling journalist Roger St Pierre said, "Suddenly, if you rode a bike, you were a pleb." The sudden decline in sales slowed only when Raleigh capitalised on the boom in small-wheeled bicycles and bought the Moulton company. But that venture was still not as successful as Raleigh's next big idea ...
With uneven wheels, a gear lever positioned to threaten the teenage groin and motorbike-style geometry, the Chopper was an unlikely design, yet Raleigh sold 1.5 million of them through the 1970s, plunging the company back into the black and creating an icon of popular culture whose passing many still mourn. (Unless, that is, they crashed while enjoying the precarious “backie” that the bike's L-shaped saddle encouraged. Such accidents led to several court cases in the United States.)
Today Raleigh is not so big in the cycling world though things have been turned around since the dark days of the 2000, when Raleigh's parent company fell bankrupt. With the launch of Team Raleigh in 2010, Raleigh began a belated, but much-needed assault on the market for high-end road bikes. Similarly, classic designs such as the Clubman and the TI Raleigh Team Replica prove the current ownership understands the draw of the company's history, a quality that some of their predecessors missed. Raleigh still dominates the market for children's bikes in the UK, too, possibly because former owners of the Boxer, Grifter, Bomber et al are keen for their offspring to enjoy similar thrills.
If you can afford more than two grand for a road bike, you would struggle to find a better value than the Raleigh Militis. The company's flagship marque has the same carbon frame and fork as the bike ridden by Team Raleigh.
One of the oddities that Raleigh produced was the Pink Witch targeted specifically a young teenage girls. It was only available in pink and came fitted with mirrors, a shopping basket on the front and even a lipstick holder!
Keep in touch
On this day 27th May 1960-1965
On 27/05/1960 the number one single was Cathy's Clown - Everly Brothers and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Wagon Train (ITV) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Sterling Moss wins Monaco Grand Prix.
On 27/05/1961 the number one single was You're Driving Me Crazy - The Temperance Seven and the number one album was GI Blues - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Probation Officer (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 27/05/1962 the number one single was Good Luck Charm - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Blue Hawaii - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was London share values crash.
On 27/05/1963 the number one single was From Me To You - The Beatles and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 27/05/1964 the number one single was You're My World - Cilla Black and the number one album was Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 27/05/1965 the number one single was Long Live Love - Sandie Shaw and the number one album was Bringing It All Back Home - Bob Dylan. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions