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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January 2004, 21:11 GMT
Design classic that entranced kids
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Online

The return of the Raleigh Chopper bicycle to the shops for the first time since 1981 means the 1970s classic is set to captivate children once again.

Blue chopper
For children of the 1980s, it was the BMX. For the 1970s, it was the Raleigh Chopper.

If you are British, and between the ages of 33 and 45, it is not unlikely that you had a childhood haunted by longing for a Chopper bike.

It is very possible that a quick glance at the outsized back wheel, the high "ape hanger" handlebars, the automatic car-style gearstick and the motorbike seat still has the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

Enticingly garnished with chrome, the Chopper was just the kind of bike that parents thought unsuitable, and certainly one had to be supple when swinging a leg over the raised metal hoop at the back of the seat to ensure future fertility was not jeopardised.

People do get excited about them, some even start crying
Gary Hughes
Raleigh Chopper Owners' Club
The design of the bike was inspired by the customisation or "chopping" of motorbikes in post-war America.

The distinctive features were picked up by children on the West Coast for their bicycles and in the 1960s US manufacturer Schwinn adopted the style for its Stingray.

After creating the Rodeo and the Fireball, Raleigh eventually created the Chopper and a generation of children was entranced.

Chopper reminiscences are the stock-in-trade of the nostalgia shows that clog today's TV schedules and with the enduring popularity of 1970s fashion over the last decade, the time could not be riper for a return.

The dream has been kept alive by collectors, who have lovingly preserved and restored these pre-Thatcher design classics, paying as much as 1,500 for a pristine example.

Gary Hughes, who runs the Raleigh Chopper Owners' Club and owns 30 different Chopper-style bikes, said nostalgia was a powerful emotion and adults were enjoying now what was out of reach in their childhood.

"A lot of children couldn't have one because their parents couldn't afford one. Now as adults they can. It's childhood dreams, the nostalgia value is what it's all about."

Easy Rider

Mr Hughes said much of the appeal of the bike was due to its distinctive shape.

"It's the whole thing of the dragsters, the actual shape of the bike, the big wheel. It represented a lot of high-performance cars.

"And The Easy Rider film. It was the next best thing to that Harley Davidson bike that Peter Fonda used to ride."

Indeed an advertising campaign for a pre-Chopper bike described it as "the next best thing to a sports car".

Mr Hughes said collectors displaying their bikes in public were used to emotional reactions from passers-by.

"People do get excited about them, some even start crying."

And he is adamant that the appeal of the new Choppers will not just be to nostalgic adults, forcing them on reluctant children.

"My son used his for his cycle proficiency tests. It caused a standstill, the kids didn't know what the gear-shifter was. It's all mountain bikes and BMXs now. They all look the same."

Return of the Chopper
15 Jan 04 |  Nottinghamshire
Bike maker changes gear
20 Jan 03 |  England

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