It was 1887 when Sir Frank Bowden bought a wee bike company on a Nottingham back street; the peer having begun to cycle on his doctor’s advice and been impressed by the bike he’d bought from the Raleigh Street concern.
The company grew and the name first hit the major sporting headlines when A.A. Zimmerman won the Worlds for them on the track in 1897.
By 1932 the company was producing 62,000 bikes per year but it was in the late 40’s and early 50’s when the Raleigh name really exploded into the public consciousness.
‘Reg rides a Raleigh’ said the posters as Reg Harris dominated world professional sprinting at a time when track meets attracted sell out crowds.
Harris was British Sportsman of the Year before Chris Hoy or Bradley Wiggins were born.
In 1960 TI (Tube Investments) took the business over and in 1972 Raleigh went back into pro cycling in a major way with the TI Raleigh team.
In 1974 legendary Dutch Six Day man and Paris-Roubaix winner, Peter Post came aboard as team manager and changed pro bike racing forever.
The Netherlands football team promoted ‘total cycling’ – and Post took that concept into cycling as his teams dominated professional bicycle racing through the late 70’s and into the 80’s with Joop Zoetemelk taking the 1980 Tour de France along the way.
Since those heady days we’ve had Castorama on Raleighs; Raleigh Banana and from 2010 Team Raleigh – Raleigh GAC as it was in 2015.
It’s a name with a lot of history, woven through the fabric of bicycle racing history since the earliest days of the sport.
Laurence Morgan from Perth was a team TI Raleigh fan back in the 80’s having fallen in love with a 753 Raleigh he saw at the 1982 Scottish Health Race.
It’s been an enduring love affair and this year he started the TI Raleigh Vintage Cycling Club – good timing with ‘retro’ the word of the moment.
At VeloVeritas we like a man who’s obsessed with 70’s and 80’s bikes and riders; we decided we’d best ‘have a word…
Did you race, Laurence?
“Yes, I raced as a junior with Perth United in the same era – the mid 80’s – as Brian Smith and Drew Wilson.
“I made second cat. as a junior but turning senior was a bit of a culture shock!”
What’s with the Raleigh obsession?
“As a youngster I was at a stage finish of the 1982 Scottish Health Race in Perth – I saw this 753 TI Raleigh and decided that one day I wanted to own one.
“I was actually 40 years-old before I got one, from the ex-Scottish international rider, Maurice Laing who had been a Perth United rider, too.
“At the start of 1980 I bought another 753 and more recently started to look at cycling groups on FaceBook, but there was nothing about Raleighs so I decided to do something to rectify that.
“Drew Wilson, the ex-Scottish international rider put me in touch with management at Raleigh so as I could ask them if I could use the name – I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
“They were great and gave us the necessary permissions – the main difference between the current pro team jersey and ours is that they have a yellow side panel and we have black.
“They even offered us the use of the TI name – which of course we jumped at.
“Since then things have come on in leaps and bounds; Jason Edwards of Pro Vision has done our jerseys and made a great job of them.
“We’re affiliated to Scottish and British Cycling – so the 80’s Raleigh jerseys and bikes are back in business!
“We have 279 members on FaceBook and 10 paid up club members and a huge amount of interest about the bikes, the clothing and Raleigh history.”
The bikes look good, original.
“Dave Marsh of Universal Cycles does our re-sprays; he worked with Raleigh and has all of the correct graphics – he’s a real guru on the brand.
“I’ve seen re-sprays done by other firms and when they come back often the decals are wrongly placed.”
How fanatical are you about authenticity?
“It’s up to the individual but personally I want to be 100% as close to the team as I can be.
“When you met me at the Edinburgh Tour of Britain stage I had clipless pedals and concealed cables.
“That bike is from ’84 and clipless had just come in – so that’s OK but I want to ride the British Eroica in 2016 and the bikes have to be pre-1987 with exposed cables and clips and straps so I have the bike original now.
“The equipment is out there on eBay but it’s very expensive – people realise what it’s worth, these days.”
Are any of the original Raleigh riders involved?
“Leo Van Vliet and Didi Thurau are part of the group and Aad Van Der Hoek is our Euro Patron; he’s working still so doesn’t have as much free time as he’d like – however he retires soon and will be getting more involved.
“I sent him one of the club jerseys and he’s sent me his signed team ‘hero cards.’
“And guys like Pierre Rass, who’s a relative of Jan and Rob Schuiten, the son of the late Roy are part of our group, too.
“George Shaw who was the original UK team manager is our UK patron.”
Who’s your favourite Raleigh rider from that era?
“Jan Raas, Henk Lubberding, the late Gerrie Knetemann and Robert Millar when the team became Panasonic.”
Are you a fan of the Laurent Fignon, Castorama Raleighs, too?
“I have one in the garage!
“I’m going to build it up 100% authentic with the Campagnolo Delta brakes and all…”
What’s best to ride 753 or 531 tubing?
“The two main bikes I ride are 753 and so is the Casto Raleigh but I have two 531 Raleighs – to tell the truth though I just love riding my bike, whatever the tubes.
“I’ve extended an invitation to them to come and get a shot of my 753 anytime they want.
“I have carbon bikes, a Wilier and a Colnago; the Wilier in particular is a nice machine but they’re so rigid and hard on your backside – a steel frame absorbs road shock so better.”
Is the plan for the team to be race or sportive oriented?
“As I said there’s the Eroica coming up in June – which will be a great vehicle to promote the club – but David East has already ridden cyclo-cross in our colours.
“I’m going to ride the Fife mid-week time trials on my 753; no road races though – I couldn’t handle it if I broke that bike!”
And finally – isn’t it strange going back to clips and straps?
“To tell the truth I hardly noticed the difference and it’s second nature to me again now and I feel better on them.”
I think I might start a club for Benelux gear and Mafac brake users: well, when I think about that, maybe not.
But it’s nice to see those red, yellow and black gems back on the road.
Laurence can be contacted through the club’s FaceBook page which features many fine pictures of the Raleigh Armada in action.