On Friday the 18th of May 2012, a 85 year-old man named Alan Oakley died after a long battle with cancer. While you may not recognize his name, you will surely be familiar with the iconic bicycle from the seventies that he designed: the Raleigh Chopper.
Mr. Oakley was 85 years old when he passed away in Nottingham, England — the home of both Alan and the Raleigh Bicycle Company. He was cared for by his wife, Karen, who fondly remembers the influence that Alan and the Chopper had upon Raleigh and the legacy of English cycling.
Patented in 1967, the original Chopper Mk1 was Raleigh’s attempt to woo the American youth market away from the Schwinn Sting-Ray. The Chopper’s precursor enjoyed a lukewarm reception in the US and Alan was sent on a reconnaissance trip to investigate the slow sales.
Alan concluded that a completely new design was required and on the return flight, penciled a sketch on the back of an Airmail envelope that was to become the phenomenally popular Raleigh Chopper. Initially inspired by Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider chopper, sales exceeded 1.5 million units in the UK alone which was enough, it was purported, to save Raleigh from bankruptcy.
The Mk1 was modified later to become the Mk2: the shifter changed from a knob to a T-bar, the seat was moved forward to resist ‘involuntary wheelies’ and the handlebars were welded to the stem. Apparently kids were adjusting them aft, which rendered the bike nearly ‘unsteerable’.
The Chopper ceased production in 1981, but not before appearing in the opening scenes of On Any Sunday and providing inspiration for the forthcoming behemoth of bicycle motocross.
This particular Mk1 was first owned by Gerry Lauzon, who found it in a dumpster and restored it to the condition seen here. He then sold it to a bike shop in Montreal and within minutes was purchased by Peter Schwar as a present for his son. He photographed it beautifully on film before selling it on eBay — to a buyer in the Chopper’s spiritual home, England.
R.I.P. Alan Oakley — The Spoken salutes you! Special thanks to Peter Schwar for the fine photography. See more in his flickr set.