Raleigh Bicycle Company

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Raleigh Bicycle Company
TypePrivate company limited by shares
Fatemanagement buyout
Predecessor(s)Woodhead, Angois and Ellis
Founder(s)Frank Bowden
HeadquartersNottingham, United Kingdom
Jump to: navigation, search
Raleigh Bicycle Company
TypePrivate company limited by shares
Fatemanagement buyout
Predecessor(s)Woodhead, Angois and Ellis
Founder(s)Frank Bowden
HeadquartersNottingham, United Kingdom
Raleigh USA head badge.

The Raleigh Bicycle Company is a bicycle manufacturer originally based in Nottingham, UK. Founded in 1887 it is one of the oldest bicycle companies in the world. From 1921 to 1935 Raleigh also produced motorcycles and three-wheel cars, leading to the formation of the Reliant Company.


Early years[edit]

Raleigh's history started in 1887, in Raleigh Street, Nottingham. Frank Bowden, a prosperous 38-year-old, bought a bicycle made by Messrs. Woodhead, Angois and Ellis, because his doctor had told him to ride a bicycle for his health. Bowden was impressed by his bicycle and went to Raleigh Street to find the makers. Woodhead, Angois and Ellis were making three bikes a week. Bowden made them an offer and bought the business. Production rose and three years later he needed a bigger workshop, which he found in a four-story building in Russell Street. He changed the company's name to Raleigh Cycles to commemorate the original address.

In six years Bowden created a business which became the biggest bicycle manufacturing company in the world and occupied seven and a half acres in Faraday Road, Lenton, Nottingham.

Sir Frank Bowden died in 1921 and his son Sir Harold Bowden, 2nd Baronet took over as chairman and chief executive, guiding the company through the next 17 years of expansion.[1][2]

In 1939 Raleigh opened a bicycle factory at 6 Hanover Quay, Dublin, Ireland and commenced bicycle production there. The Raleigh (Ireland) business expanded and moved to 8–11 Hanover Quay, Dublin in 1943. The plant produced complete bicycles and Sturmey-Archer hubs, and remained in production until 1976, when the factory burned down. Models produced there latterly were the Chopper and Triumph 20. The head badges changed in the late 1960s, possibly after the passing of the Trade Descriptions Act in the UK. Dublin-made machines no longer had "Nottingham England" on the Heron or Triumph head badge, the panel being left blank instead.

Irish Raleigh Heron Badge

Motor vehicles[edit]

In 1899 Raleigh started to build motorcycles and in 1903 introduced the Raleighette, a belt-driven three-wheel motorcycle with the driver in the back and a wicker seat for the passenger between the two front wheels. Financial losses meant production lasted only until 1908.

In 1930 the company acquired the rights to the Ivy Karryall, a motorcycle fitted with a cabin for cargo and a hood for the driver. Raleigh's version was called the Light Delivery Van and had a chain drive. A two-passenger version was followed by Raleigh's first three-wheel car, the Safety Seven. It was a four-seat convertible with shaft drive and a maximum of 55 mph (89 km/h). A saloon version was planned, but Raleigh shut its motor department to concentrate on bicycles again. Chief designer T. L. Williams took the equipment and remaining parts and moved to Tamworth, where his company produced three-wheelers for 65 years. The leftover parts from Raleigh carried an "R", so Williams chose a matching name: Reliant.

1970 Raleigh Sports in the USA.

Raleigh also made mopeds in the late 1950s and 1960s as the bicycle market declined. The most popular of which was the RM6 Runabout. This model featured unsprung front forks and a cycle type calliper front brake which made it a very affordable mode of transport. Due to its success, production continued until February 1971; 17 months after Raleigh had stopped manufacturing all other mopeds.

Postwar bicycle production[edit]

After World War II, Raleigh became known for its lightweight sports roadster bicycles, often using Sturmey-Archer three and five-speed transmissions. These cycles were considerably lighter and quicker than either the old heavy English utility roadster or the American "balloon-tire" cruiser bikes. In 1946, Raleigh and other English bicycle manufacturers accounted for 95% of the bicycles imported into the United States.[3]

Raleigh's sports roadster, or British racer bicycles were exported around the world, including the United States. The company continued to increase imports to the United States until 1955, when a rate increase in foreign bicycle tariffs caused a shift in imports in favour of bicycles from West Germany and the Netherlands. However, this proved only a temporary setback, and by 1964, Raleigh was again a major selling brand in the US bicycle market.[4]

Raleigh RSW[edit]

In 1965 Raleigh introduced the RSW 16, its long-awaited competitor to the hugely successful Moulton Bicycle. The new Raleigh shared several important features with the Moulton, including small wheels, an open frame and built-in luggage carrying capacity.

Late 1960s Raleigh RSW. The RSW was Raleigh's competitor to the fully suspended Moulton Bicycle.

However, the RSW lacked the Moulton's suspension, which compensated for the bumpy ride that comes with small wheels.[5] Instead, Raleigh fitted the RSW with balloon tyres, which smooth the ride but significantly increase rolling resistance. Nevertheless, the RSW was pleasant to ride, if a tad ponderous, and Raleigh's extensive retail network ensured its success.

The success of the RSW has often been blamed for the financial decline of Moulton and its subsequent sale to Raleigh. In any case, by the early 1970s, when Raleigh was making both the RSW and the Moulton, the public had largely lost interest in small-wheelers. Both the RSW and the Moulton were discontinued in 1974, but the RSW's small-wheeled sister model, the Raleigh Twenty, was a great sales success and remained in production well into the 1980s.

Expansion and mergers[edit]

While bicycle production had steadily risen through the mid-1950s, the British market began to decline with the increasing affordability and popularity of the automobile. For much of the postwar era, British bicycle manufacturers had largely competed with each other in the export market. The 1950s saw the creation of the British Cycle Corporation under the Tube Investments Group which owned Phillips, Hercules, Sun, Armstrong, and Norman. In 1957 Raleigh bought the BSA Cycles Ltd., BSA's bicycle division, from the parent group.

BSA had itself acquired Triumph Cycle Co. Ltd. only five years previously. In 1960, Tube Investments acquired Raleigh and merged the British Cycle Corporation with Raleigh to form TI-Raleigh which had 75% of the UK market. TI-Raleigh then acquired Carlton Cycles in Worksop, England, at the time one of the largest semi-custom lightweight makers in the UK. Raleigh brands acquired and marketed were Phillips Cycles and Hercules Cycle, Rudge, BSA, and Sun, however these were cheaper machines in The TI-Raleigh range. Production was switched to Nottingham, however the Sun branded bicycles were made in the Carlton factory at Worksop, England.

As a vertically integrated manufacturer in the mid-1960s, TI-Raleigh owned Brooks (one of the oldest saddle makers in the world), Sturmey-Archer (pioneer of 3-speed hubs), and Reynolds (maker of 531 tubing). Carlton, which had been unable to make inroads in the USA market after a failed rebranding deal with Huffy, found success in the late 1960s by recasting itself as "Raleigh-Carlton", a Raleigh-logo'd bike with some Carlton badging, and using the US dealer network to import and distribute bikes.

The Raleigh Chopper[edit]

The Raleigh Chopper was first available for sale in Canada April 1969 Fastback 100 & June 1969 in North America for Raleigh Chopper as a children's bicycle. It went on sale in the UK in 1970 and sold well, and was a key factor in reviving the company's fortunes. The Chopper featured a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gear hub, shifted using a top-tube mounted gear lever reminiscent of the early Harley-Davidson suicide shifter — 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. Two smaller versions, the Chipper and Tomahawk, also sold well.

The Mk 2 Chopper was an improved version from 1972. It had the option of five-speed derailleur gears, but kept the gear lever. The Mk 2 also moved the rear wheel further back, to help prevent the bike tipping up. The Chopper remained in production until 1982, when the rising popularity of the BMX bicycle caused sales to drop off. However, the Chopper almost single-handedly rescued Raleigh, selling millions worldwide.

Reorganization and new ownership[edit]

In 1979, production of Raleigh 531 butted-tube bicycles reached 10,000 units a year. In 1982, rights to the Raleigh USA name were purchased by the Huffy Corporation. Under the terms of the agreement, Raleigh of England licensed Huffy to design and distribute Raleigh bicycles in the USA,[6] and Huffy was given instant access to a nationwide network of bike shops. The renamed Raleigh Cycle Company of America sold bikes in the US while the rest of the world, including Canada, received Raleigh of England bikes. At that time, production of some Raleigh models were shifted to Japan, with Bridgestone manufacturing most of these bikes. By 1984, all Raleighs for the American market, except the top-of-the range Team Professional (made in Ilkeston) and Prestige road bikes (made in Nottingham), were produced in the Far East.[citation needed]

In 1987, the leading German bicycle manufacturer Derby Cycle bought Raleigh USA from Huffy. Today, Raleigh Cycle Company of America parts and frames are mass-produced in China and Taiwan for Derby Cycle and assembled in other plants. Raleigh of Denmark still offers traditional rod-brake models.[7] At Raleigh of England, the "Carlton" factory in Worksop experienced strikes and was closed and a few select employees were transferred to Nottingham in 1981. The High-end, one of a kind bicycles and framesets were produced in Ilkeston Special Bicycle Developments Unit (SBDU) from 1974 to 1989 under the guidance of Gerald V O'Donovan, this production was moved to a new "Raleigh Special Products" division in Nottingham.

Raleigh Canada has had a factory in Waterloo, Quebec since 1972.

Derby Cycle acquired Diamondback Bicycles in 1999.[8]

In the same year, Raleigh ceased volume production of frames in the UK and its frame-making equipment were sold by auction.[9]

In 2000, Derby Cycle controlled Raleigh USA, Raleigh UK, Raleigh Canada, and Raleigh Ireland. In the latter three markets, Raleigh was the number-one manufacturer of bicycles.[8] Derby Cycle began a series of divestitures, due to financial pressure and sold Sturmey-Archer's factory site to the University of Nottingham and Sturmey-Archer and saddle manufacturer Brooks to a small company called Lenark. Lenark promised to build a new factory in Calverton but failed to pay the first instalment and the company entered liquidation. It was reported that the reason for selling the business, after extracting the cash for the factory site, was to have Lenark declare it insolvent so that neither Derby nor Lenark would have to pay the redundancy costs. Sturmey-Archer's assets were acquired by SunRace of Taiwan who relocated the factory to Taiwan and sales to the Netherlands. Sister company Brooks was sold to Selle Royal of Italy.

In 2001, following continuing financial problems at Derby Cycle, there was a management buy-out of all the remaining Raleigh companies led by Alan Finden-Crofts[10]

By 2003, assembly of bicycles had ended in the UK with 280 assembly and factory staff made redundant, and bicycles were to come "from Vietnam and other centres of 'low-cost, high-quality' production."[9] Only the final assembly takes place in the German town of Cloppenburg.

In 2012, Derby – including Raleigh Germany – was acquired by Pon, a Dutch company, as part of their new bicycle group, which also owns Gazelle and Cervélo.[11]

In April 2012, Raleigh UK, Canada and USA were acquired by a separate Dutch group Accell for $100m US, whose portfolio includes the Lappiere and Ghost bicycle brands.[12]


Riders of the 1986 Raleigh Weinmann team

Raleigh had a long association with cycle sport. Most notable is the TI-Raleigh team of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980 Joop Zoetemelk won the Tour de France on a Raleigh. In the mid-1980s the Raleigh team was co-sponsored by Panasonic. In 1984, riding Raleigh-badged bicycles, Team USA scored several impressive victories at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The company also supplied bicycles to the French Système U team in the late 1980s where Laurent Fignon lost the 1989 Tour de France to Greg LeMond by 8 seconds. The company's special products division made race frames, including those used by the Raleigh professional team of the 1970s. Presently Raleigh as a company owns the Diamondback Bike brand as well. During the 1980s Raleigh also supported British professional teams, including Raleigh Banana and Raleigh Weinmann. Raleigh's most notable riders were Paul Sherwin, Malcolm Elliott, Mark Bell, Paul Watson, Jon Clay and Jeff Williams.[13] It also sponsored a mountain bike team in the early 1990s that also raced in road events.

In 2009 it was announced that the company would be creating a new Continental-level cycling team called Team Raleigh.[14] The Team were co-sponsored by the global shipping and logistics firm GAC in 2012 and were known as Team Raleigh-GAC. The season was notable for Team Raleigh's first victory in the Tour Series Round 6 and a succession of Premier Calendar wins, which resulted in team rider Graham Briggs finishing the season at the top of British Cycling's UK Elite Men's standings. Raleigh once again became the sole headliner of the team in 2013 and the team re-paid the investment with high profile wins in the Tour de Normandie, Tour of the Reservoir and Tour Series Rounds 1 and 2.


The Raleigh archives, including the Sturmey-Archer papers, are at Nottinghamshire Record Office.

Serial numbers[edit]

Most carbon-steel framed models were numbered sequentially, sometimes with a prefix letter. Here, we give a listing of the serial numbers used for bikes built from the mid-1960s and onwards at the Carlton/Worksop facility, which built the high-end derailleur models.

In 1973–74 it appears Carlton was about to start repeating the sequence and several instances of the USA Raleigh/Carlton Competition, RRA, and Professional models have been seen with Annnn serial numbers. Then, a new sequence began in 1974. One Gran Prix 10-speed delivered in 1974 has serial 00528.



Third Symbol is the year of manufacture, e.g. 4–9 would be 1974–1979, 0–3 would be 1980–83, and then the sequence repeats. Thus, 'WH4003203' would be the 3203rd frame built at Worksop in June 1974. In 1982, when Worksop production was moved to Nottingham, the division continued to produce frames with the 'W' designation.[citation needed]

The Special Build (SB) division used a serial number SBnnnn, assigned sequentially, starting in 1974. See the TI Raleigh Team Pros yahoo group for more details.

2010 Raleigh USA bicycle models[edit]

The Team, Prestige, and Competition use a Monocoque carbon fibre frame. The RX 1.0 is a cyclocross. The One Way, Alley Way, Rush Hour, and Rush Hour Flatbar are single speed.


Historic models[edit]

Green 1971 Raleigh Superbe 3 speed with 26" wheels

In media[edit]

In the 1986 Bike messenger film Quicksilver a variety of Raleigh USA bicycles are used. 1984–85 roadbikes[15] are used throughout by notable players in the movie. Kevin Bacon's bicycle is a singlespeed '84 Raleigh Competition. While no differentiation is made in the film, at least three different configurations are seen on Bacon's bike during the movie: Fixed-gear, singlespeed, and outfitted with 0-degree trick forks during various scenes in Bacon's apartment. A possible freewheel is suggested early in the film when Bacon dismounts while in motion and a distinct clicking sound is heard until the bike stops moving. A 1984/5 Raleigh Grand Prix is used for the opening chase sequence, and a 1984 or '85 Super Course makes a brief appearance in the opening credits.

In the 1985 movie American Flyers, David Sommers played by David Marshall Grant, is seen riding through St. Louis, Missouri, on a Raleigh bicycle from that same era. Later in the film Specialized bicycles are used for the race scenes in Colorado and training.


  1. ^ Graces Guide – Raleigh cycles
  2. ^ Nottinghamshire.gov.uk History – Wheels of Fortune – The Story of Raleigh Cycles of Nottingham
  3. ^ Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles: Marketing Lessons from the Leading Post-World War II U.S. Bicycle Brand, Babson College, MA (2007), pp. 5–6 Article
  4. ^ Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles, pp. 5–6
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Raleigh Museum". Mombat.org. 21 August 2001. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  7. ^ "| Raleigh". Raleighbikes.dk. Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Raleigh in the Last Quarter of the 20th Century". Hadland.me.uk. Retrieved 20 May 2009. 
  9. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  10. ^ "Non-Australian manuf articles". Canberrabicyclemuseum.com.au. Retrieved 20 May 2009. [dead link]
  11. ^ Steve Frothingham (19 February 2012). "Cervélo's White: We can grow by delivering". Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  12. ^ "Raleigh sold to Accell for $100m". Bike Radar. 26 April 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  13. ^ Raleigh – Weinmann 1986
  14. ^ Raleigh back in the peloton from 2010
  15. ^ 1984 Raleigh USA catalog

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]