The Raleigh Chopper was a children's bicycle manufactured and marketed in the 1970s by the Raleigh Company of Nottingham, England. Its unique design became a true 70s cult icon, and is fondly remembered by many who grew up in that period.
Based on the look of a customised chopper motorcycle, made popular with films such as Easy Rider, the Chopper bike was the "must have" item and signifier of coolness for many children at the time.
Ogle Design claim to have designed the Chopper for Raleigh.They actually only produced concept art for the Raleigh design department headed by Alan Oakley, none of which were taken up. The final design of the Chopper was submitted by Oakley's department.
Raleigh themselves built a copy of the chopper-like Schwinn Stingray they called the Rodeo, which was launched in the US in 1966. It was not a success, but its design clearly was a forerunner of the Chopper.
The Chopper was launched in the USA in 1968 but was not successful. It went on sale in the UK in 1970 and did better. The bike featured a 3-speed Sturmey Archer gear hub, selected using a frame-mounted car-like gear lever — one of its "cool" features.
Other differences were the unusual frame, long padded seat with backrest, sprung suspension at the back, high-rise handlebars, and differently sized front (16") and rear (20") wheels. Tyres were wider than usual for the time, with a chunky tread on the rear wheel, featuring red highlights on the sidewall. The price was from approximately £32 for a standard Chopper to £55 for the deluxe.
A smaller version, the Tomahawk, was also popular.
The Mk2 Chopper was an improved version from 1972. It had the option of five-speed derailleur gears, but kept the gear lever. The Mk2 also moved the seat forward, to help prevent the bike tipping up.
The Chopper remained in production until 1982, by which time the BMX had taken over its market. However, the Chopper almost single-handedly rescued Raleigh , which had been in decline during the 1960s, selling millions worldwide.
The original Chopper is fondly remembered, though it was not without problems, it was less stable than a conventional bike, and trickier to ride. It was slow and heavy, the wide tyres creating significant rolling resistance; the Chopper was not suitable for long distances.
At moderate speeds it suffered speed wobbles. It was attacked in the press as a dangerous toy. The long seat lent itself to giving lifts to others, and accidents were not uncommon. It would perform wheelies readily, again a frequent cause of accidents. The gear lever was also positioned to cause injury in a spill.