A toy story

GRANDPA’S GIFT John Moses readied this Chopper Mark II in time for his nine-year-old granddaughter Susan’s visit from Puducherry  


A runaway success with children, the Raleigh Chopper put the company back on track

When the Raleigh Cycle Company was derailed by the shifting business realities of the 1960s, a toy put it back on track. Incorporating features of a chopper motorcycle and marginally those of a car, the Raleigh Chopper was a runaway hit with children. Spurned by images of the chopper motorcycle in the film “Easy Rider” (1969), children pestered their parents to get this toy, modelled on a chopper. The ape-hanger handlebars, the padded seat with a sissy-bar, the side-stand and the unequal wheels (16-inch front and 20-inch rear) gave this bicycle the look of a motorcycle. As a bonus, its three-speed Sturmey Archer transmission, located on the top tube, was designed to be operated in the manner of a car’s floor shift.

Barring the first two years, Raleigh’s sales team faced no undue strain in marketing the Chopper. When introduced in the United States in 1968, the Chopper was cold-shouldered. In 1970, Raleigh found out that its own backyard was more conducive to sowing the seeds of success. The U.K. launch of the Chopper, in that year, marked a sharp turnaround in the company’s fortunes. Off to a great start in its native country, the Chopper was getting better at every stage of its development. With the machine slowly gaining ground in America as well, the Mark II was pedalled out in 1972 — this version was an exercise in weeding out glaring design defects.

Certain features made riding the Chopper risky to kids — constant complaints involved the front wheel getting off the ground and children falling over the gear shifter. Parent feedback, combined with negative reviews, forced the design team to move the seat closer to the handlebars; and integrate the handlebars into the stem so that children did not yank them backwards. In contrast to the first edition, the Mark II had a small carrier.

John Moses, who untiringly runs after junk dealers in the hope of finding priceless antiques, picked up a Raleigh Chopper Mark II for Rs. 250 at a junk shop in Kilpauk six months ago. “It was buried under a heap of empty liquor bottles.”

Moses spent Rs. 2,000 for the cycle’s restoration, which included fabrication of a gear shifter. Despite such fresh introductions, the cycle still retains much of its old character. Its front sprocket bears the design of multiple peacocks; and it has a three-speed Sturmey Archer transmission (the Mark II was offered with an option of a five-speed transmission — which was rarely taken).

In a dozen other places, the cycle displays trademarks characteristic of Raleigh and its hugely successful Chopper.