The Raleigh Twenty or R20 series was launched in 1968 without much fuss. It was, after all, Raleigh’s third string as far as adult-size small-wheelers went. They already had the Mk2 version of their answer to the Moulton, the RSW16. And since late summer 1967, Raleigh owned their former nemesis Moulton Bicycles Limited, as well. So at first, their new, 20-inch-wheel, H-frame, unisex, ‘one-size-fits-all’, urban bike was not aggressively marketed and was something of a Nottingham Cinderella. It was, however, a much better bike than the RSW; and although less sophisticated than the Moulton, it was more profitable to manufacture.
In May 1970, about 18 months after the R20 was launched, a major sales effort went into promoting the Mk3 versions of the RSW16 and the Moulton. They were launched simultaneously with the children’s hi-rise pseudo motorcycle, the Chopper, which was already on sale in the USA. It soon became apparent that, although the Chopper was selling very well indeed, sales of the RSW and Moulton were extremely disappointing. So Raleigh started to advertise the R20 more heavily. The picture below shows the burgeoning R20 range, as promoted to the UK cycle trade via advertising in the retail magazine Motor Cycle & Cycle Trader in October 1970.
A folding version of the Twenty, using the old Moulton model name ‘Stowaway’, was introduced to the home market in 1971 (it seems it was available in Canada in 1969). However, the vast majority of R20s were non-folding models. Unlike the parallel and largely simultaneous Continental small-wheeler boom, which was dominated by mediocre folding bicycles, the British small-wheeler boom saw folding and separable bikes taking only a small share of the small-wheeler market.
In 1974, Raleigh phased out the RSW and the Moulton, concentrating all adult small-wheeler production on the R20. The following year, the Twenty series was Raleigh’s biggest selling model – 140,000 R20s were made in the UK alone. This almost matched the entire UK production of Moultons from 1963 to 1974. The R20 was still Raleigh’s biggest seller in 1977. Although sales gradually tailed off after this, the Twenty was to remain in production well into the 1980s. In the early 21st century, there are still many R20s in use in the UK and around the world.
The Consumers’ Association magazine ‘Which?’ rated the Raleigh 20 the best of the small-wheelers it tested in the mid 1970s. They considered that it rode more like a conventional roadster than other small-wheelers and that it had a stronger frame than its principal rival, the Dawes Kingpin. Part of the R20s roadster feel was due to the use of a solid nylon top steering bearing, which damped the comparatively light steering of a 20-inch wheel.
R20s built for the UK market had 20 x 1 3/8 inch (451) tyres on adult versions of the traditional British format E5J rim. The code E5J stood for Endrick (the rim profile) British size 5 (=20-inch) Juvenile. The wheels were therefore slimmer and easier rolling (at least, on the average British road surface) than the semi-balloon tyres used on most other 20-inch wheel bikes sold in the UK. Many export R20s, however, had wider section 20 x 1.75 inch American format (406) tyres, which in those pre-BMX days were virtually unknown in the UK.
New Zealander Michael Toohey reports that Twenties were made in New Zealand for Raleigh by Morrison Industries. This was because of a law requiring 40% local content. Tyres were 20 x 1 3/8 (451), made in NZ and branded Riedrubber or Feltex. The bracing struts from the underside of the main beam to the bottom bracket were omitted in NZ production. This can be seen in the picture below, supplied by Michael Toohey, and taken from a Master Cycle Traders catalogue of about 1981.
The history of the Raleigh Twenty series has been largely ignored by British cycle historians. They tend to have a dismissive attitude towards the bikes. Raleigh Twenties epitomise the much despised British ‘shopper’, a generic term derived from a well-equipped and popular model in the 1970 R20 range. Some historians tend to forget that history is about what actually happened and not what they might have liked to have happened. The reality was that relatively few of the British public in the 1970s were buying the exotic lightweights that many historians favour. A significant number were buying very average quality 10-speed lightweight lookalikes, sometimes badged with the name of a genuine lightweight maker, such as Carlton – – by then part of Raleigh. But even more were buying, and riding, Raleigh Twenties and similar machines. Some of those bikes, despite minimal maintenance over a period of some 30 years, are still in daily use – as a mid-week, mid-morning visit to any English suburban shopping centre will reveal. They provide convenient, reliable, easy-to-adjust, easy-to-mount, short-range urban transport for people wearing ordinary clothes who want a bicycle that can easily and safely carry a reasonable amount of shopping.
Following in their footsteps, Chris Slydel, a British ex-pat who lives in the USA, has built a high performance Raleigh Twenty from what was once a single-speed folding version. He started by taking off every part off the Twenty that was not needed, including grinding off the kickstand support, the mudguard attachment point and swapping the folding handle for an Allen bolt. The rear triangle was gently spread to allow a 5-speed freewheel on high flange hubs. New wheels were built with Araya rims and high pressure tyres. The gear change is now mounted on the seat post for simplicity when the bike is folded and there is only one brake. Chris re-threaded the bottom bracket shell, which allowed him to fit a standard thread titanium BB. He also threaded the top section of the fork at the top, to allow the fitting of a standard headset, and not the solid nylon top bearing that Raleigh initially put on the machines. A Ritchey stem was fitted, which allows Chris enough rise to make the bike rideable.
The finished machine, shown in Chris’s pictures below, now weighs about 24 lb. This is some 8 to 10 lb less than it did originally. A non-folding version could be even lighter.
The next picture shows another Raleigh Twenty with tri-bars. I took this at the 1992 Tin Can Ten, an annual fun race in the English Midlands for riders on any bike equipped with a hub gear (‘tin can’). I don’t know the name of the rider but he did quite a respectable time, despite riding with the hub dynamo switched on!
From Ottawa, Canada, Alvin Burnard wrote:
I hit on your website while looking for anything on my favourite bike, the Raleigh Twenty. I now own 5 of these wonderful bikes including one all original with about 50 miles at most on it.
You mention: “A folding version of the Twenty, using the old Moulton model name ‘Stowaway’, was introduced in 1971.” My daily rider is a 1969 Raleigh Twenty folding bike. I’m confident it is original judging by the non adjustable handlebar style which I suspect was a carryover from the RSW and much better than the adjustable style that came latter. In all my searching here in Canada & the US, it appears only the folding version was imported here and the few non-folding models made it here as luggage or stowaways (thus the name?). I’ve never actually seen a non-folding Twenty. It also appears the other brand names used on the Twenty never made it to our shores. The exception is a version of the Twenty marketed by Canadian Tire under the Supercycle brand of which I own a 1973 model. You are also correct that the models we received all had 20×1.75 tyres although I’ve seen a couple of 20×1 3/8 models on eBay.
Anyhow… above is a pic of my 1969 Twenty and below my all original 1972 Twenty…