Showing posts with label Raleigh Chopper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Raleigh Chopper. Show all posts

29 July 2018

Can They Carry Stuff On A "Muscle" Bike?

When I was a kid, "muscle bikes" became popular.  They were meant to emulate "muscle cars" like the 1967-74 era Chevy Camaro RS, Ford Mustang Mach 1 and Dodge Challenger SE or racing motorcycles.  Mainly, what bicycles like the ones from the Raleigh Chopper and Schwinn Krate series had in common with those machines were flashy graphics and stick shifters.  

One difference is that the "muscle cars" were designed to appeal to their drivers' desire to feel more powerful and virile (They didn't have Viagra in those days!), while the placement of the "stick" shifter on the bicycle imitators seemed chosen specifically to decrease the fertility rate of a generation of young boys.

Many an adult expressed umbrage at those bikes, mainly because they were garish rather than for dangers like the "stick" shifters. (Those same adults almost always expressed concern for their kids' safety!)  I think the best reason to disapprove of those bikes, though, was that they taught kids that their bikes were just "stepping stones" to the "bigger and better" machines they would drive when they became of age.

One thing I can say about them, though, is that kids usually enjoyed them:  There was no pretense to practicality about them.  Which begs the question (for me, anyway):  Can a kids' bike be whimsical and practical at the same time?

12 May 2018

Judge Stewart Knows

"I know it when I see it."

We've all heard that declaration.  Perhaps we've even used it ourselves.  The person uttering it is usually trying to categorize something according to a category that lacks clearly-defined parameters.

It may be Judge Potter Stewart who immortalized it.  In Jacobellis vs Ohio, the US Supreme Court reversed the state's conviction of a theatre manager who showed Louis Malle's Film Les Amants (The Lovers).  A court in the Buckeye state ruled that Nico Jacobellis violated Ohio's anti-obscenity law by screening a film it had deemed "pornographic."

Stewart, in concurring with the Supreme Court's majority ruling, said that the First Amendment protected all obscenity but "hard-core pornography."  When asked to define it, he admitted he couldn't, and could say only, "I know it when I see it."

He might well have given the same answer to this question:

What's the difference between a motor-assisted bicycle and a motorcycle?  

Until about World War II, most people would have had trouble telling the difference.  Up to that time, most motorcycles looked like bicycles with motors attached to them--and, in many cases, were effectively just that.  

I was reminded of that when someone sent me an article about Vintage Electric's new Scrambler S electric bicycle. 

It also reminded me of some bikes I saw during my childhood.  There were machines like the Schwinn Phantom that had fake "tanks"--usually, with battery-powered headlights built into them--between the top tube and the twin cantilevers. A few years later, Schwinn would introduce their "Krate" line and Raleigh its "Chopper", which consciously emulated the low-slung motorcycles that became popular during the 1960's and 1970s.

Those bikes didn't have motors.  But if they had, what would have differentiated them from 1970s "mini bikes"?

Judge Stewart would have had the answer.

22 April 2016

The Wheelie Bar

The eve of the 1970s North American Bike Boom was, interestingly, the heyday of "muscle" cars and "chopper" races.  So, it's no surprise that bicycles were made to evoke, in every way possible, the roaring engines and screeching tires of Daytona, Indy, LeMans and other motorized races.

The best-known of those bicycles were probably the Schwinn "Krate" series and Raleigh "Chopper".  Sometimes I think the latter name referred to what happened to bones when we attempted some of the stunts we saw on "Wide World of Sports".

Whatever our skill (or stupidity) levels, we all could do "wheelies".  We didn't need "training wheels", as we derisively called this item:

09 July 2015

Wanna Make Some Noise?

When I was a kid, you rode a bicycle because you weren't old enough to drive a car--or a motorcycle.

Back then, it seemed that every bike maker (at least here in the US) was trying to appeal to pre-teen boys' visions of themselves astride a "Hog" or "Busa".  That is why bikes came with "ape hangers", "sissy" bars, "banana" seats and stick-shifters located on the exact spot of the bike where it was most likely to impede said boys' future chances of creating a future market for Schwinn Sting-Rays and Raliegh Choppers.

But, boys being boys (I know; I was one once!), they not only wanted their bikes to look like junior motorcycles; they wanted their low-slung wheels to sound like what the "big boys" were riding.

So they'd clip a playing card onto a seat stay or chain stay so that it would catch in the spokes.  Actually, they wouldn't clip a card:  They'd usually attach two or three, though I saw kids who'd clip as many as they could fit on the bike.  The louder the better, right?

Well, one can only attach so many cards to a bike.  Apparently, some would-be inventor noticed as much and came up with the idea of amplifying the sound with a "Turbospoke":

If I had a child, I'd rather give him or her a Turbospoke rather than an electronic gadget.   For one thing, it might get him or her to ride more. And it's way less expensive!


15 December 2014

Fantasies On Speed, Not Steroids

The other day, and the day before that, I wrote about vintage bike parts that were (and, in some cases, still are) elite, if not sublime.

Now I have to balance it out with the thoroughly ridiculous.  Also, I feel an obligation to show that not all crazy, impractical ideas are being conceived and carried out (of what?) today.

Specifically, I am going to write about a totally ridiculous shift lever.  Having been a cyclist for four decades, and having worked in bike shops, I've seen some doozies, including ones longer and wider than railroad spikes--mounted on top tubes, no less.  (Could that be a cause of the decrease in fertility?)  They are in the category of, "They don't make them like that anymore--thank Goddess!"

So is this shifter I found on eBay:

I mean, in what universe is a shifter shaped like that?  Or, for that matter, in what reality does one combine it with a speedometer.

I'll tell you what milieu I'm talking about, because I spent part of my childhood in it.  It's the decade or so--roughly from the mid-1960s until the mid- or late 1970s--when bikes were designed for boys who, from atop their banana seats and behind their "ape hanger" bars, dreamed of driving "muscle cars" on the Daytona flats.   

Said bikes were designed by like-minded boys, some of them in the bodies of 40-something men.  And the boys of that time are now the 40-, 50- and even 60-something men who still are driven (pun intended) by such fantasies.

I'll bet that someone like that will buy the shift lever/speedometer I found on eBay.  I mean, who else would?

28 April 2014

Monkey, Longhorn Or Ape Hanger

One of my favorite non-bike blogs is Old Picture of the Day.  Sometimes the images are worth looking at purely for aesthetic reasons; almost all of the others are interesting in some aspect of life, past or present, they reveal.

In each post, a (usually brief) comment accompanies the photo.  Those are worth reading because they convey "PJM"'s deep appreciation--and, sometimes, personal connections--to the photographs he collects and displays.

His post today included this photo, along with a reminisce about his own childhood bike, which was very similar to the one in the picture:

One thing I found interesting about the responses he got to his post is how they described the handlebars.  I have heard to bars like the ones in the photo referred to as "Longhorn" bars (even though I grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey!)  and the bars on bikes like the Schwinn Sting Ray and Raleigh Chopper (the ones with "banana seats")as "Ape Hangers".  But one commenter heard them referred to as "monkey" bars".  What's really funny, to me, is that some of the adults I knew during the  '70's "Bike Boom" referred to the those funny-looking dropped handlebars on those newfangled ten-speeds as "monkey bars"--meaning, I presume, that only a monkey could ride them.


25 January 2014

Saturday Sillies: Twisted Toilets

OK.  After yesterday's rant, some Saturday Sillies are in order.  (Can "sillies" be in order?  Or is that an oxymoron?)

If your local bike shop also doubles as a headquarters for skateboarders--or simply has lots of adolescents hanging around in it--it probably sells low-rider bikes.

For years, low-rider enthusiasts have favored "twisted" parts. 

On this bike, the handlebars, mirror holders, fender braces and banana-seat struts all look like mono-chromed candy canes.  I have also seen pedals with twisted cages and cranks that look "twizzled."

Still, most of the frames looked like the ones found on Schwinn Sting-Rays and Raleigh Choppers that were popular in my childhood:  They were constructed from traditional round steel tubes.

Just recently, I came across a twisted frame.  However, it wasn't made for a lowrider:  It seems to have 700C wheels and conventional road/city bike components:


I have no idea of how such a bike would ride or how long it would last.

On another note, I'm going to offer you an insight that very few other bloggers or cyclists--or, indeed, very of any kind of person--could give you.  But don't worry:  It still has to do with weird bikes.

One of the first things I noticed upon venturing out into the world as Justine is that--as I heard so many women complain--the lines to women's bathrooms are indeed longer than those for men.  This is especially true at the end of a showing or performance, or during intermissions.  

However, I have found one exception to this rule:  organized bike rides.  I have been on a few--including two Five Boro Bike Tours--since I began my transition.  Even events like 5BBT, which attract large numbers of families and more women than most bike rides, are ridden by far more male than female cyclists.  So, as you have guessed, the women's lines at rest stops are shorter than those for men.

Any guy (or gal, for that matter) who simply can't endure the wait might want to consider this:

From Jeremy Gadd


06 October 2013


When I was very young--which, believe it or not, I once was--bicycles with small-diameter (usually 20 inches) wheels and "banana" seats were popular.

The models oriented for girls were usually white or pink or lavender and had flowers, rainbows and such painted on them. But the ones for boys sported racing stripes and other things meant to evoke racing. 

One example of a girls' bike was the Schwinn Lil' Chik.  For boys, Schwinn made the "Krate" series (apple, orange and pea picker) while Raleigh offered the "Chopper".

Schwinn, Raleigh and other companies seem to have stopped making those bikes some time in the late 1970's.  If I recall correctly, the Consumer Products Safety Commission published a warning about them, or banned them outright.  I also heard that Schwinn, Raleigh and other companies that made such bikes were facing lawsuits from the families of kids who were injured when the bike toppled or, more commonly, when the struts of the banana seat broke.

It seems that nobody was even making those bikes or seats until a few years ago.  I don't know whether the government changed its regulations or whether the struts are better-designed or made with stronger materials than the old ones.  But, somehow, they are recapturing a part of the market and showing up in what would have been the most unlikely places:

I'm guessing that the banana seat on the back of this Trek hybrid is intended for a passenger.  I've ridden bikes with 15 to 25 kilos--about the weight of a young child-- loaded on the rear.  However, my loads--which usually consisted of clothing, camping and hiking equipment, notebooks and such--were packed into pannier bags attached to the sides of a rear rack.  Weight carried in that position is more stable than the same amount of weight fastened to the top of a rack--or on a banana seat.

I wonder what the safety record is for today's "banana" seats, especially given that increasing numbers of them are being attached to bicycles like the one in the photo.

30 January 2013

A Chopper's Ship Comes In

I never thought I would write these words:  A Raleigh Chopper has a raison d'etre.

In fact, three--count 'em three!-- of the most unsafe bikes ever made have been put to good use.  Aesthetically, no less.

If you still don't believe me, take a look at this:

Apparently, it's an ad from the '70's.  I found it on Amber's Cruiser Media. She has some other interesting old-school ads on her site.  

More than a few kids who rode Choppers imagined themselves like this rider:

02 January 2013

No Longer A Prologue To The Automobile

When you get to be my age, the beginning of a new year becomes as much a time for reflecting on how things have changed during your life as for thinking about the time ahead.

I was reminded of that upon seeing this photo:

During my childhood, bike-makers often tried to emulate motorcycles and automobiles.  The irony is that the less race-worthy the bicycle, the its maker tried to evoke racing motorcycles or cars in the paint, graphics and other details of the bike.

One classic example of what I mean is the Raleigh Chopper:

The "spoiler" on the rear, the racing stripe on the seat and the lines of the frame--as well as the front wheel that's smaller than the rear--were taken from customized racing motorcycles that were popular for about a quarter-century after World War II.

Raleigh's machine, though, was a kind of "mixed metaphor", if you will.  While it was supposed to appeal to teenage boys' yearnings for the kinds of motorcycles they saw in movies like Easy Rider, this detail comes straight from the "muscle cars" of that era:

Could the size and location of that lever have anything to do with the decline in birth rates among baby boomers?

A decade or two before Raleigh started making "Choppers", Schwinn, Columbia and other American bicycle manufacturers built lights and horns into fake gas tanks attached to the tube.  

1934 Schwinn AeroCycle in the Longmont (CO) Museum and Cultural Center

It seemed that the main purpose of those "tanks" was to hold the batteries (usually 4 "D" cells) required to power the light and horn.  I'll admit, though, that on some bikes--like the Schwinn "AeroCycle" in the photo--they looked stylish, and even beautiful.

The reason why bikes, particularly those intended for boys, were styled after cars and motorcycles is that, in those days, bicycles were seen as stepping-stones to motorized vehicles.  When teenagers got their drivers' licenses, they passed their bikes on to younger siblings or other kids--or else the bikes were discarded.  

That view of bicycles started to change around the time I was entering my teen years.  While many of my peers would abandon cycling for years, or even forever, after getting their licenses, others started to see the bicycle as something other than a pre-motorcycle or pre-automobile.  They continued to ride, if less regularly, after they began to drive.  And, of course, many would bring their bicycles with them to the colleges they attended, as cycling is often more convenient than driving on and around campuses.

Also, by that time, adults were starting to take up cycling.  A few went as far as to live car-free lives.  Such riders were, of course, not interested in bicycles that looked (and, in some cases, rode) like motorcycles or cars without engines.  Some were not interested in aesthetics at all, while others (including yours truly) would come to appreciate the cleaner and more elegant lines of lightweight bicycles.  

Now I see that those old cruisers and Choppers have become "hip" in certain circles, and that Schwinn, Raleigh and other companies are making modern replicas of them.  However, people--even pre-teen boys--don't view them in quite the same way as kids in my time saw the originals of those bikes.  Somehow I don't think kids today see themselves as "graduating" to an automobile from one of those bikes; if anything, I guess that they see it as a cool toy or accessory, or as their means of transportation.  And they know that they can choose to continue riding bicycles as adults.  Almost none of my peers thought that way when I was a child.  I don't think I did, either.

30 July 2012


A month ago, I ranted and raved about electric bikes.

As "Ailish" and other commenters pointed out, bikes with motors, or other non-human assistance, are nothing new.  In fact, there have been motors of one kind or another on bicycles for almost as long as there have been velocipedes.  

So, as ironic as it may seem, it's really not surprising that some bicycles have "motor" or some similar term in their names even though the bike's only engine is human.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is the French line of Motobecane bicycles.  "Becane" is a colloquialism for "bicycle" in France, so, in essence, "Motobecane" means "motorized bike."

(Note:  Bicycles currently sold in the US with the Motobecane name have absolutely no connection to the company in France, which no longer makes bicycles.  The company that markets the current Motobecanes simply purchased the right to use the name in the 'States.')

Other bike makers have used automotive motifs, particularly on models intended for pre-teen boys.  I think now of the "Chopper" and "Krate"-style bicycles, which had stick shifters meant to evoke the ones found in race cars, as well as racing stripes, checkered flags and such.

Schwinn actually made a model that was called "Motobike." As a kid, I remember seeing one in the basement of my great-aunt's house; if I remember correctly, my great-uncle or their son (my mother's cousin)--or, perhaps, both--rode it when they were boys.

I have no idea of where that bike is now.  But I found a photo of one in an eBay listing.  According to the seller, the bike was made in 1938.  

Another eBay listing revealed the perfect accessory for that bike:

Believe it or not, it was made in the USA--in Illinois, to be exact.

Isn't it interesting that the box reads "Bicycle Ignition"?

04 February 2012

Banana At The End Of Christopher Street

If you are of my or Steve's or Gunnar's generation, you probably remember when bananas were "energy bars."  That's what we ate during rides before there were Power Bars, Clif Bars and such.

If you're of our time, you might also remember the movie "Bananas."  That came out a couple of years before a Presidential adviser tried to tell people that a dip in economy was a "banana."

But if you're a cyclist of our generation, apart from the association with the original cycling snack, you probably connect the word "banana" with "seat."  

From about the mid-1960's to the mid-1970's, banana seats were found on a variety of kids' bikes on which kids did "wheelies". I'm thinking of the Schwinn Sting-Ray and Apple, Orange and Lemon Krates as well as the Raleigh Chopper and other bikes.  

Those bikes, and seats, had all but disappeared by the early 1980's.  There are several explanations as to why.  There were rumors circulating (Remember, this was before the Internet!) that there were lawsuits involving people who got hurt when seat struts broke.  That seems plausible enough, given that, as often as not, those seats were carrying two kids at a time, and those seats weren't designed for that.

But the more widely-believed reason for the disappearance of banana seats were the rise in popularity of BMX and, later, mountain biking.  Smaller seats and lighter frames are better suited to those kinds of cycling, for a variety of reasons.

Also, the kids who rode those bikes simply got older.  Some of them moved on to road or mountain biking, but most put bicycling aside altogether once they got their drivers' licences.

I understand that banana seats are enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity.  Today I saw one where I wasn't quite expecting it:

Susan says she "loves" the banana seat on the rear of her otherwise utilitarian Giant hybrid bike.  I can only imagine what it's like to pedal from back there.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure I'd want to.  I also don't think I'd want to pull a "wheelie" on that bike!

Anyway...I've seen bananas at the end of Christopher Street--just not banana seats!