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Why Raleigh?

February 21, 2012
by Erin B

To be fair, in it’s day, the Raleigh 3-speeds I am talking about with such love in my heart were the mass produced mega mart bike.  From the 1930’s until the 1980’s (approximately) Raleigh made hundreds of thousands of bicycles each year.  They were sold at bike stores, catalog stores, hardware stores all over the world.  Here’s the thing that blows my mind…  Are you ready?  It was all more or less the same bicycle.

Yes, it came with different add ons, different colours, different saddles, but the frame geometry seems to be either identical or only have minor changes in all that time.   The 1939 catalog shows the same geometry as the 1970’s bikes:

1976 Sports

I’m a little disappointed that in the 1970’s “womens” frames were relegated to the top corner, but here is a bit of a close up:

1964 Sports:

1958 Sports:

1939 Sports:

OK, so catalog shots are the same as getting out your digital protractor and measuring the angles on a real frame, but I have parked Claire next to Unnamed and next to a lot of vintage Raleighs and (as near as I can tell) the frame geometry didn’t really change much between the Superbe or the Sports in all the years of bikes I have seen on the road.

Now think about that for a moment.  Bike were not disposable items back then.  You had to save up for one and it was expected to last forever.  And with a little care, they did.  There are still fully functional 1930’s Raleighs out there, although at this point they are collectors items and likely don’t get ridden very much.  If that geometry made your knees hurt, you wouldn’t have just bought another bike next year, it would have been a big deal.  I would argue that the bikes are all the same because they hit on a winning frame design and stayed with it.

Modern era bike seem to change their frame geometry every couple of years.  What does that say about them?  No, don’t answer that.  Let’s just say that Raleigh frame geometry works for me and I can’t find a locally available new production bike that matches that geometry.

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