A Life in a Year – 25th April, Raleigh Bikes

Frank Bowden was a businessman who made a fortune in the stock market by the age of 24 but he became seriously ill and his doctor gave him six months to live. He took up cycling on his doctor’s advice and bought a bicycle from a small shop on Raleigh Street, Nottingham. He was so impressed with his recovering health and the bicycle that he bought the company that was making three bicycles a week.  Production rose, and three years later Bowden needed a bigger workshop, which he found in a four-storey building in Russell Street. He changed the company’s name to Raleigh Cycles to commemorate the original address.  By 1896 it was the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world and occupied seven and a half acres in Faraday Road, Nottingham.  He died on 25th April 1921.

All boys wanted a bicycle of course and after I had learned to ride a two wheeler I was bought my first Raleigh bike.  This bike got me into trouble once when I was about ten and persuaded some friends to tackle a bike ride one afternoon to Leicester to see my grandparents without checking with anyone first.  I have to confess that this was both ambitious and thoughtless especially on a Raleigh Junior bike with 18” wheels and no lights and not in any way suitable for a fifty mile round trip. 

Getting there was reasonably straightforward but the return journey was a bit more difficult on account of it being dark and us being completely knackered.  There was a search party that night for sure and I can remember being astonished about how much fuss was made over such a trivial incident when dad intercepted me at Abbots Farm and sent me home immediately for a good telling off from Mum which turned out instead to be an emotional and tearful reunion and I can remember being thoroughly confused by that.

Later, when I was a teenager I had a simple sky blue and brown Raleigh model with a saddle bag, a rear view mirror (which was a pointless waste of pocket money) and an aluminium cycling proficiency badge on the handlebars but what I really wanted was a racing bike with pencil thin tyres, derailleur gears and a saddle so sharp that one false move in any direction would cut your arse to ribbons.  My bike didn’t have any gears at all, a very sensible saddle and it certainly wouldn’t have won any races, but it was reliable and solid and every day I would cycle the two miles or so to school and back and, on account of the fact that I didn’t like school meals, go home for my dinner as well.

There were some speciality bikes about when I was a boy my friend Rod Bull had a Moulton, a small-wheeled, unisex, dual-suspension Moulton bicycle.  No one wanted the traditional diamond framed bicycle anymore and all sorts of new designs hit the market.  I never had anything modern or unusual, my last bike (before my modern mountain bike) was a really black old sit up and beg model but that was stolen from outside the Jolly Abbott pub one night while I was inside, behind the bar, working.

Although I never had a modern design bike my brother Richard had a Raleigh Chopper which was the must have bike of its era and quickly became a 1970s cultural icon.

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