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ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CLASSIC RALEIGH CHOPPERS BUT DIDN'T KNOW WHO TO ASK

Alan Oakley, co-creator of the whole Raleigh Chopper range of bikes, once said that he and his team always listened to feedback from their franchised Raleigh dealers. This was to lead directly to one of the most ungainly incarnations of the Chopper range ever.... The Chopper Sprint.


Thanks to Alex Jewell for the picture

We all accept that the Chopper was a ground breaking design for this country’s conservative cycle buying public... young boys had always aspired to a scaled down racing bike, with curly handlebars. Then they got the chance of the " hot one", the Raleigh Chopper was released. Its impact could be felt around the country, in its first full year of sales, Raleigh sold every one they could make, by the end of 1971 capacity at Nottingham was at full stretch to produce enough bikes.... BUT!!!!!!
Yes, its our tired old stick in the mud Raleigh Dealers who weren’t satisfied... they were selling every Chopper that Raleigh could throw at them, but still there were many who felt, deep down, that children’s bikes should be clones of adults... and should have racing handlebars. Pressure was put onto Oakley’s design team, and for some strange reason, they capitulated.

The Raleigh Chopper Sprint wasn’t a "quick" fix for the problem of dealer dissatisfaction... far from it. The bike was an almost complete re-design, very few parts of the by now standard MK2 Chopper were utilised in this beast.... it cost Raleigh dearly in the production dept.

Released for the second half of 1972's trading (Raleigh issued two catalogues a year, Jan to July, July to Xmas) The bike was given a fair old advertising campaign...However, it was launched as a Rudge Chopper... in the photos on the adverts the word Raleigh was airbrushed out, even though the bikes destined for the showrooms were clearly badged as Raleigh.
Someone, somewhere... really didn’t think the Sprint was going to work... and didn’t want it to tarnish the Raleigh brand.... how right they were.
For the second catalogue of 1973, the sprint was absent without trace... it stayed in the Raleigh catalogue for just one year, two catalogues and one Christmas were all it survived.

Enough doom and gloom... anyone who has ridden a restored Sprint will tell you what a fantastic machine they were.... not. Universally scorned, but for this very reason, and their rarity, Sprints are very collectable.

A full description of the Sprint requires a comparison with the MK2 Chopper of the same era...
It’s probably easiest to start with the items the bikes shared.
First and most obvious is the rear wheel, the whole shooting match is exactly the same as MK2, and including gears, rim and spokes.... the tyre however, is a different matter. The period metal valved inner tube was used, wrapped in a Raleigh redline 20x1.75 tyre with fairly smooth tread... the same tread as on any road bike of the era.
Moving up, the ribbed gear cable, and full shifter mechanism is exactly MK2.
The chain, chain guard, bottom bracket and pedals/chain wheel are all MK2 as are all the ball bearings and side stand. The rear mudguard and rear brake are also MK2.
Above that, the clamp to hold the seat stem in was the STD MK1/earlyMK2 design, and moving forward, the headset, lamp bracket and bearings all shared a stable with the MK2.
Down to the front wheel, we find the front axle, hub and 'r' nuts all to be of MK2 vintage.
This is about where the "same as " list ends....
The front wheel rim, whilst having deep straight sides like the normal Chopper, was a tad narrower at 1.75 to the MK2's 2-inch rim. The spokes were a tad different too.
This wheel was shod with a Michelin 16x1.75 kept inflated by a metal-valved 16x1.75 inner tube.
Michelin were a common supplier of tyre to Raleigh in this period, and mainly supplied tyres that Raleigh didn’t make then.

Back to that front end: The forks were std chopper looking, but were longer in the head tube area.... more of that later. The front brake calliper was the next size down from the Choppers... the same as on many 16 inch bikes of the period (Chipper, Tomahawk and the like) And in fact the same as the rsw 20 front caliper. The front mudguard was similar in style to the one fitted to RSW 20 bikes, but was slightly shorter and had no hole in the back edge to take stays, which of course the sprint didn’t have. Moving up from the forks we meet the frame... and a nifty little bracket that attached to the front calliper bracket, and was designed to stop the handlebars spinning all the way `round... by hitting welded on lugs on the frame. If the handlebars had been allowed to spin, they would have hit the frame and damaged the paint.

Ah yes... the frame.
Whilst the front of the bike could have been constructed by raiding the parts bins of already in production 16-inch bikes, the 16-inch frame was a different kettle of fish.
Harping back to the "tall frame" 1969 MK1 unleashed on the U.S.A. market... in 1969 only, the 1972 Chopper Sprint had a frame two inches taller than the standard MK2. Goodness knows why such a re-design, along with the extra tooling costs, was considered vital by the management at Raleigh, but a new frame it was!
Two inches taller in the headstock, seat tube and rear stays (which maintained the "arrow wedge" sweep) the frame should have made the bike more stable... and would have done if it weren’t for our next design disaster....

The handlebars! . Period adverts describe them as "its latest gimmick: Hi rise drop handlebars” Made allegedly from std MK2 ape hangers, bent down and curled round, these are the worst bit of the bike... rendering it totally uncontrollable.
The bars were wrapped in black tape, with unique brake levers screwed on. Ribbed cables were used.

Moving back, past the already mentioned shifter, we come to a real throwback... the seat.
Raleigh seats were all produced at the Birmingham "Brooks" factory, and it's fairly safe to say that they still had the patterns left over from the U.S.A. Raleigh Fireball of 1968, because that’s what the sprint owners sat on, covered in the same black materials the MK2. And of course blessed with the compulsory white warning strap over the rear extremity!

Moving back we find a low sissy bar... also seen on some U.S. Choppers, attached to the rear seat tubes by single clamps... no spring suspension here!

Sprints were produced in two equally awful colours... but it was the 70`s remember...
Flamboyant Green and Fire Bronze... both metallic colours, but the Sprint had no mudguard stripes as the metallic MK2s had. The sprint decals were unique also, as the main frame sticker had the word "Sprint" as well as Chopper and a small chequer pattern.

The Sprint was never offered to the U.S. market, The U.K. bikes were of course all built at Nottingham, but period surviving adverts show a South African advert for the Rudge Sprint. Little is known about the S.A. Raleigh factory, clouded as it was in trade sanctions. It is safe to assume that S.A. got sprints as well as the U.K.

You know, I cant think of one single nice thing to say about the sprint to finish this article.... except to say " I haven’t got one... but I would love to have one "...any offers?????????????? -