The designer of the Raleigh Chopper, Alan Oakley died yesterday: if that doesn’t warrant a full page obituary in tomorrow’s Times then it’s an unjust world. The Chopper can be one of the few bikes that can claim the title of “iconic”. Oakley, true to all the best creative processes designed the Chopper on an envelope whilst returning to the UK from the US. It’s likely that whilst there he saw the popularity of the Schwinn Stingray and this started his creative juices flowing. By the mid-70’s the Chopper was the bike for children to own and it’s arguable that there hasn’t been a bike, with the exception of the BMX, that has captured the imagination of children since.
From every angle this was a bike that spelled “rebellion” and “freedom”. You were suddenly Henry Fonda or Dennis Hopper: although without the motive power, redneck angst or any clue about the film Easy Rider. That’s because you were probably 8 years old. You were more likely to be lovin’ the fact that the gear shifter looked like something that should be on a rocket ship and that the small front wheel and chopper handlebars made wheelies a sinch. A cousin of mine had one and I can vividly remember it easily transporting three of us; two on the banana saddle and one “backie” on the rear rack. He claimed you could carry four if you could find someone small enough to sit in between the chopper handlebars.
The idea that cycling can be simply fun seems to have faded slightly. I don’t mean fun in a “put tassles on the end of your handlebars” way. I mean that gut feeling of excitement. You picture yourself on it and straight away you know the sensations you’re going to experience and to hell with the practicality of the handlebars. Of course the safe cycling lobby hated the bike, and in some cases with good reason. Yes the steering was a bit funky and it certainly wasn’t a bike for serious cycling, but it was a bike for serious fun.
With a clothes peg and a playing card flapping in your rear spokes suddenly you were as cool as The Fonz, Burt Reynolds and Evil Kenevil all rolled into one.