Raleigh Bicycle Company
Raleigh's heron head badge
|Type||Private company limited by shares|
|Predecessor(s)||Woodhead and Angois (1885, later Woodhead, Angois and Ellis)|
|Founded||December 1888, registered as a limited liability company in January 1889|
|Headquarters||Nottingham, United Kingdom|
The Raleigh Bicycle Company is a bicycle manufacturer originally based in Nottingham, UK. Founded by Woodhead and Angois in 1885, who used Raleigh as their brand name, it is one of the oldest bicycle companies in the world. It became The Raleigh Cycle Company in December 1888, which was registered as a limited liability company in January 1889. From 1921 to 1935 Raleigh also produced motorcycles and three-wheel cars, leading to the formation of the Reliant Company.
The history of Raleigh bicycles started in 1885, when Richard Morriss Woodhead from Sherwood Forest, and Paul Eugene Louis Angois, a French citizen, set up a small bicycle workshop in Raleigh Street, Nottingham. In the spring of that year, they started advertising in the local press. The Nottinghamshire Guardian of 15 May 1885 printed what was possibly the first Woodhead and Angois classified advertisement.
Nearly two years later, the 11 April 1887 issue of The Nottingham Evening Post contained a display advertisement for the Raleigh ‘Safety’ model under the new banner ‘Woodhead, Angois, and Ellis. Russell Street Cycle Works.’ William Ellis had recently joined the partnership and provided much-needed financial investment. Like Woodhead and Angois, Ellis’s background was in the lace industry. He was a lace gasser, a service provider involved in the bleaching and treating of lace, with premises in nearby Clare Street and Glasshouse Street. Thanks to Ellis, the bicycle works had now expanded round the corner from Raleigh Street into former lace works on the adjoining road, Russell Street. By 1888, the company was making about three cycles a week and employed around half a dozen men. It was one of 15 bicycle manufacturers based in Nottingham at that time.
Frank Bowden, a recent convert to cycling who on medical advice had toured extensively on a tricycle, first saw a Raleigh bicycle in a shop window in Queen Victoria Street, London, about the time that William Ellis’s investment in the cycle workshop was beginning to take effect. Bowden described how this led to him visiting the Raleigh works:
″In the early part of 1887, while looking for a good specimen of the then new safety bicycle, I came across a Raleigh in London. Its patent changeable gear and other special features struck me as superior to all the others I had seen, and I purchased one upon which I toured extensively through France, Italy and England during 1887 and 1888. In the autumn of the latter year, happening to pass through Nottingham, and with the idea of, if possible, getting a still more up-to-date machine, I called upon Messrs. Woodhead and Angois, the originators and makers of the Raleigh …″ 
It is clear from Frank Bowden’s own account that, although he bought a Raleigh ‘Safety’ in 1887, he did not visit the Raleigh workshop until autumn 1888. That visit led to Bowden replacing Ellis as the partnership’s principal investor, though Bowden did not become the outright owner of the firm. He concluded that the company had a profitable future if it promoted its innovative features, increased its output, cut its overhead costs and tailored its products to the individual tastes and preferences of its customers. He bought out William Ellis’s share in the firm and was allotted 5,000 £1 shares, while Woodhead and Angois between them held another 5,000 shares.
In Frank Bowden's own lifetime, Raleigh publicity material stated that the firm was founded in 1888, which was when Bowden, as he himself confirmed, first bought into the enterprise. Thus, Raleigh's 30th anniversary was celebrated in 1918. The 1888 foundation date is confirmed by Bowden's great-grandson, Gregory Houston Bowden, who states that Frank Bowden "began to negotiate with Woodhead and Angois and in December 1888 founded 'The Raleigh Cycle Company'." The December 1888 foundation date is also confirmed by Nottinghamshire Archives. In recent years, the Raleigh company has cited 1887 as a foundation date but, whilst this pre-dates Bowden's involvement, the Raleigh brand name was created by Woodhead and Angois and the enterprise can, as demonstrated above, be traced back to 1885.
The company established by Bowden in December 1888 was still privately owned with unlimited public liability. In January 1889, it became the first of a series of limited liability companies with Raleigh in its name. It had a nominal capital of £20,000, half of which was provided by Frank Bowden. Paul Angois was appointed director responsible for product design, Richard Woodhead was made director responsible for factory management, and Frank Bowden became chairman and managing director. Some shares were made available to small investors and local businessmen but take-up was minimal and Bowden ended up buying most of the public shares. He subsequently supplied virtually all the capital needed to expand the firm.
When Frank Bowden got involved with the enterprise, the works comprised three small workshops and a greenhouse. As Woodhead, Angois and Ellis, the firm had expanded round the corner from Raleigh Street into Russell Street, where also stood Clarke’s five-storey former lace factory. To enable further expansion of the business, Bowden financed the renting of this property and installation of new machinery.
Under Bowden's guidance, Raleigh expanded rapidly. By 1891, the company occupied not only Clarke's factory but also Woodroffe’s Factory and Russell Street Mills. In November 1892, Raleigh signed a tenancy agreement for rooms in Butler’s factory on the other side of Russell Street. Shortly after this, the company also occupied Forest Road Mill. (Forest Road junctions with Russell Street at the opposite end from Raleigh Street.)
Bowden created a business which, by 1913, was claimed to be the biggest bicycle manufacturing company in the world, occupying seven and a half acres in purpose-built premises completed in 1897 at Faraday Road, Lenton, Nottingham. It subsequently became very much bigger.
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.
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.
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.
Post war bicycle production
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.
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.
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.
However, the RSW lacked the Moulton's suspension, which compensated for the bumpy ride that comes with small wheels. Instead, Raleigh fitted the RSW with balloon tyres, which effectively smoothed the ride but at the cost of increased 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 ate into the sales of the Moulton and put the new company into financial difficulties. Raleigh then bought out Moulton and found itself simultaneously making both the original small wheeler and its own rival version. Raleigh continued production of both bikes until 1974, by which time sales had slowed to a trickle. However, the Raleigh Twenty, the RSW's small-wheeled sister model, was an enduring success that remained in production well into the 1980s.
Expansion and mergers
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
The Raleigh Chopper was first available for sale in June 1969 in North America 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.
Raleigh have re visited the chopper design in recent times, with great success although the new version has had some changes due to modern safety laws. Gone is the top tube shifter and long integrated seat, but the look and feel of the bike remain.
Reorganization and new ownership
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, 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.
In 1987, the leading German bicycle manufacturer Derby Cycle bought Raleigh USA from Huffy. In 1988, Derby opened a factory in Kent, Washington where Raleigh Technium bicycles are built. This factory closed in 1994, So all Raleigh Cycle Company of America parts and frames from 1995 onward are mass-produced in China and Taiwan for Derby Cycle and assembled in other plants. Raleigh of Denmark still offers traditional rod-brake models. 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.
In the same year, Raleigh ceased volume production of frames in the UK and its frame-making equipment were sold by auction.
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. 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
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." Only the final assembly takes place in the German town of Cloppenburg.
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. 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. 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 headline sponsor 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.
In the 1986 Bike messenger film Quicksilver a variety of Raleigh USA bicycles are used. 1984–85 roadbikes 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.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the 1958 debut novel by Alan Sillitoe, is partly set in Raleigh's Nottingham factory, Sillitoe himself being an ex-employee of the firm; several scenes for the 1960 film adaptation starring Albert Finney were filmed on location at the factory itself.
- Bowden F, ‘To the Public’, The Book of the Raleigh, Raleigh, Nottingham, 1903, p.8
- Harrison A E, ‘The Competitiveness of the British Cycle Industry, 1890–1914’, The Economic History Review, News Series, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Aug 1969), p.289
- ‘Rutulan’, Souvenir of the Raleigh Works, Raleigh, 1922, p.4
- Lloyd-Jones R & Lewis MJ with Eason M, Raleigh and The British Bicycle Industry, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000, pp.47–49
- Hadland T, Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, Cycle Publishing, San Francisco, 2011, fig.8.3
- Hadland T, Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, Cycle Publishing, San Francisco, 2011, p.52
- Bowden GH, The Story of the Raleigh Cycle, Allen, London, 1975, p.16
- Dorrington M et al, Turning Back the Pages of Raleigh Cycles of Nottingham, Nottinghamshire County Council, 2007, p.2
- Lloyd-Jones R & Lewis MJ with Eason M, Raleigh and The British Bicycle Industry, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000, pp.49–50
- Lloyd-Jones R & Lewis MJ with Eason M, Raleigh and The British Bicycle Industry, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000, p.50
- Raleigh catalogue, 1892, p.1
- Nottinghamshire Archives DD/RN/1/1/1
- Raleigh catalogue, 1893, p.3
- Graces Guide – Raleigh cycles
- Nottinghamshire.gov.uk History – Wheels of Fortune – The Story of Raleigh Cycles of Nottingham
- 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
- Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles, pp. 5–6
- "Raleigh Museum". Mombat.org. 21 August 2001. Retrieved 20 May 2009.
- "| Raleigh". Raleighbikes.dk. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- "Raleigh quitte définitivement Waterloo". Granby Express. 3 December 2013.
- "Raleigh in the Last Quarter of the 20th Century". Hadland.me.uk. Retrieved 20 May 2009.
- [dead link]
- "Non-Australian manuf articles". Canberrabicyclemuseum.com.au. Retrieved 20 May 2009.[dead link]
- Steve Frothingham (19 February 2012). "Cervélo's White: We can grow by delivering". Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- "Raleigh sold to Accell for $100m". Bike Radar. 26 April 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- Raleigh – Weinmann 1986
- Raleigh back in the peloton from 2010
- 1984 Raleigh USA catalog
- Hadland, Tony (2011). Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand. Van Der Plas Publications. ISBN 9781892495686
A much expanded version of the text of this book, with full academic referencing, is held by the National Cycle Archive at Warwick University for the benefit of serious researchers.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Raleigh vehicles.|
- Raleigh corporate website – U.K.
- Raleigh USA
- Raleigh Bicycles The Raleigh Heritage Timeline.
- Raleigh Denmark Makes older Raleigh bikes.
- Raleigh bicycle at the Open Directory Project
- Retro-Raleighs – models and year identification for high-end USA Raleighs, 1960–1980, maintained by Sheldon Brown
- Raleigh Serial Numbers through the Years
- Raleigh Serial Numbers Memo