Vintage Raleigh Bikes to Ride Around in Style

Updated January 14, 2022
1976 Raleigh Chopper bicycle

If you were a kid in the 1960s and 70s, you probably treated your mode of transportation like it was a golden chariot, and for many, there was no better chariot than a Raleigh bicycle. Nowadays, your parent's or grandparent's mechanical first loves can be found popping up on online auctions and social media marketplaces by the dozens. With this newfound cultural fascination in all things mid-century, now is the prime time to check out that vintage Raleigh bike that's been sitting in your shed to see just what kind of treasure you've been hiding away for all of these years.

The Early Years of the Raleigh Cycle Company

vintage advertisement for Raleigh bicycle

The Raleigh Cycle Company (as it was formerly known) gets its start in an unusual way. In 1887, Frank Bowden followed his physicians' advice and bought a bicycle, the most popular mode of transportation and growing cultural pastime of the Victorian era. Impressed with the piece of mobile machinery, the wealthy businessman purchased the small bike shop and named it the Raleigh Cycle Company after the street in Nottingham, England, where it was located.

Within a decade, Mr. Bowden grew his company into the largest manufacturer of 3-speed, utility roadster bicycles around the world. With the rapid growth, increased production and technical industry advances, the Raleigh Cycle Company showed 23 designs at the Stanley Cycle Show in 1890. In 1892, the company's prowess was further solidified when A.A. Zimmerman rode a 24 pound radical laced wheel Raleigh bicycle to become Road Cycling Champion of the World.

Several of the Raleigh Cycle Company's other early achievements and cycling innovations included:

  • 1892 - The tubular fork crown
  • 1896 - Cross frame
  • 1899 - Back peddling brake and silent freewheel hub
  • 1903 - Three speed hub under the name Sturmey-Archer
  • 1923 - Racing frame without lugs
  • 1925 - Rear fork end with quick release
  • 1939 - Folding bicycle originally designed for World War II paratroopers

After the end of World War II, the Raleigh Cycle Company continued to be a leader in the bicycle industry with the introduction of rims compatible with caliper and pull-up brakes.

Different Raleigh 3-Speed Bicycle Models

Martin James Brannan/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Raleigh's 3-speed bicycles remained a popular mode of transportation from the 1930s and into the 1970s. Although there were many different models of 3-speed bicycles, they all fall into one of three classes.

Roadsters

Roadsters were built for durability and for withstanding travel on cobblestone and dirt roads without needing continuous maintenance. Thanks to these innovations, this bike model was very popular in the English countryside. Interestingly, instead of cables, the braking system - called roller-lever brakes - used rods. Typically, roadsters had:

  • A 68° or less shallow frame angle
  • Westwood rims
  • 28 x 1 1/2 inch wheels
  • Long wheelbases and cranks
  • Gear case
  • A chain completely enclosed by a chain guard

Sports Bicycles

Light roadsters, or sports bicycles, were generally the basic mode of transportation for the working class in English cities. Lighter and faster than the roadster, most sports bicycles featured:

  • 26 x 1 3/8 wheels
  • Patterned rims
  • Cable brake system
  • North Road style upright handlebars (the handlebars can be reversed, or inverted, and are then called Mustache handlebars)
  • Full fenders made of steel
  • 72° frame angle
  • Deluxe models included options such as locking front forks, leather saddles with springs, or Dynohub generators built into the hubs of the wheels

The Raleigh Chopper

Designed as a child's bike, the Chopper was Raleigh's answer to other manufacturers' muscle bikes, such as the Schwinn Sting-Ray. Marketed in the late 1960s, the Raleigh Chopper featured:

  • Long padded seat
  • Backrest
  • High rise handlebars (sometimes called ape hangers)
  • 16 inch front wheel and 20 inch rear wheel
  • 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gear hub
  • Gear lever mounted on the frame
  • Short fenders

There were several versions of the full size Chopper as well as smaller versions. Some of these full-sized versions include:

  • Mk 1
  • Glider Fastback 100
  • Mk 2
  • The Sprint
  • The Rodeo
  • Mk 3 (2004)

Additionally, the smaller versions of Raleigh's Chopper include the:

  • Chipper
  • Budgie
  • Tomahawk
  • Chippy

Ways to Date Your Vintage Raleigh Bicycle

woman on Raleigh bicycle from 1958

Given that the Raleigh Bicycle Company has been a successful cycle manufacturer for over a 100 years, there're thousands of bicycles out there from the mid to late 20th century that your grandparents could have locked up in their wooden sheds. Yet, this extensive model catalog doesn't automatically mean that someone without an in-depth knowledge of cycling history can't approximately date their own bike. In fact, there're a few different characteristics that you can look for on Raleigh bikes to better date them yourself.

  • Observe the seat shapes - Across the board, bicycle seat shapes tended to shift over time. Thus, seats are incredibly useful when trying to date your vintage bike. Elongated seats tend to come from the 1960s and 1970s, while wider and more cushioned seats began to make an appearance in the 1980s.
  • Identify the bike's original color - As with modern products, vintage bikes were painted to match the popular color schemes during the time that they were made. Therefore, you should keep an eye out for rich neutral colors such as greens, rust reds, and oranges for bikes from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as vibrant, solid colors like white, red, and blue from the 1980s.
  • Look at the handlebars - Surprisingly, you can use something as simple as a handlebar to be date one of Raleigh's older bicycles to their approximate time period. High-rise cycles, with their motorcycle-style u-shaped handlebars, were particularly popular in the 1960s and into the 1970s, with Raleigh manufacturing their first children's Chopper model in 1969.
  • See how many gears the bike has - Three and five speed bicycles were commonly produced by Raleigh throughout the 1950s-1980s. However, ten speeds weren't really introduced in the American market until the 1970s, meaning if you find a ten-speed Raleigh, chances are high that it's from the '70s and later.

How Much Do Vintage Raleigh Bicycles Currently Cost?

In the current market, vintage Raleigh bikes sell for a few hundred dollars on average. Generally, bikes that are in working order and have all of their original components can sell for the most. Comparatively, Raleigh's children's bikes with their smaller frames sell for significantly less than adult bikes do. While there are bike collectors out there who have a passion for the activity, there are far more people who're interested in buying these bikes that are either nostalgic for the bikes that they had a kid and teen or who want one to have one to actually ride around on. Thus, working bikes with multiple speeds and adult-sized frames are the go-to big budget earners of Raleigh's vintage lines.

Similarly, bikes from the 1970s and 1980s are selling much faster than those from the immediate post-war period. Since these models begin to really resemble the modern bike with its technology and shape, they translate well into contemporary recreational items, making them much more valuable to people who just want a bike that has a vintage vibe.

These are a few of the vintage Raleigh bikes that've recently sold online:

Upgrade Your Spin Class With a Vintage Raleigh Bike

An easy way to upgrade your exercise routine is to get your wheels up with a vintage Raleigh bike. With dozens of colors, configurations, and sizes, there's sure to be a Raleigh bike out there for you and your whole family to enjoy.

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Vintage Raleigh Bikes to Ride Around in Style