Raleigh Twenty (R20)

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.

In the USA, the potential virtues of the R20 frame-set are appreciated by some of the most knowledgeable bicycle experts. Hence, devotees include John S Allen and the late Sheldon Brown.

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…

43 thoughts on “Raleigh Twenty (R20)”

  1. I bought one a couple of years ago that was in mint unrusted condition except for a completely trashed front fork. It looked as if someone had taken it for one ride, straight into a wall. The head tube was undamaged – good sacrificial design there from Raleigh – and I found a new chromed BMX fork with very long steerer for only £13, It was JIS standard, so headsets are easy to find (Tange Passage is good and cheap) and the cups are the same diameter as Raleigh (30.0 rather than 30.2). You can then fit a standard high-rise quill stem. Even better, the fork has bosses for a V-brake; the Twenty’s caliper brakes are terrible, and get even worse if you fit BMX (ETRTO 406) wheels, which I recycled from another bike to replace the steel rims.

    BMX wheels drop the bottom bracket a bit but the bike is still perfectly usable. The BB height with 40mm tyres is about 10.4″, which is the same as some touring bikes.

    The next step will be to replace the rear hub with a Sachs Duomatic 102, now I’ve found a good one; this gives a decent coaster brake at the rear and allows the removal of a lot of parts (whole rear brake arrangement, shifter, cabling).

    One issue with the Twenty is that the factory chainline is really quite poor; the chainring is too far outboard on the standard BB spindle and the sprocket can’t be moved to line up, which would normally be easy with a SA hub, because the chain then fouls the seatstay even with a 15T sprocket. A 3/32″ derailleur chain or a cheap 1/8″ SRAM PC-1 is reasonably happy being run at an angle but steer clear of full-bushing 1/8″ chains. An ideal solution would be to replace the crankset with one having a separate chainring, which could then go on the inside of the spider, but these don’t exist in cottered form. Argos in Bristol will narrow, ream and sleeve the BB to ISO 24 TPI standard so you can use any BB and crankset, but this is a £90 job and for serious enthusiasts only.

  2. Hello,

    I’m currently renovating a Raleigh Twenty Stowaway (1975-ish) with my Dad, semi-retired classic car mechanic – so I trust him!

    He’s left the cosmetic side to me (i.e. bag, decals and paint) but I’m failing in locating anything resembling paint colour codes for the original model.

    While the one we have was the purple colour, I think I’d prefer the metallic bronze green… Has anyone come across codes for either? I’d take it to get matched but we’ve over-zealously had the frame sandblasted and primed…

    Also, the vintage raleigh stowaway bike stickers… what are my chances?


    1. Hi Jen,
      I’m not aware of anyone ever finding codes for Raleigh colours but many people would be interested if any reader can help. A specialist paint supplier with a spectrometer might be able to scan the colour from an actual bike. But that would be a pricey option.

  3. I just received this email saying “Hi guys..i know its an old thread but i happen to have a spare kickstand for the 20..happy to post it out to Phil if he still needs one. Just a thought :)” apparently a post from Owen Cambridge (or Owen in Cambridge?)

    So there really is a Santa Claus? or Owen Claus? I’d love to have a kick stand for my twenty. How do I get in touch with Owen? I can be reached at philwarner@centurytel.net.

      1. Thanks,Tony. I got an email from Owen today and am looking forward to filling in another blank on my twenty.

  4. Hello from Canada!
    I picked up a 1969/70? Raleigh Stowaway today, here in Victoria BC for about 6 pounds – score. Very cool little bike. It looks to me to be completely stock right down the to white wall Raleigh tires (tyres 😉 with the word Foreign on the sidewall. I thought it was interesting too that the rims are stamped Raleigh but they were made in France. I don’t know if there is any facility for posting pics, but if you would like me to upload some I would be happy to do so – just send me some instructions on how to do so if you so desire. Cheers!

  5. Hi Tony,
    Thank you for the piece. I just wanted to say that my twenty shopper has made a great platform for an ebike commuter. I have installed the bafang mid drive system and it rides really sweetly. Mounting the battery was no problem – it sits lashed onto the front of the cross tube – so all the extra weight is in the best position for good handling – between the wheels. I think I may have to put a modern wider ‘tin can’ at the back because the chain line is not so good. The bike is largely original except I did the nylon bush bearing upgrade described by sheldon brown, plus XT v brake shoes and a modern brooks saddle. It’s a delight to be batting along on good old British steel. Regards, Paul

  6. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for this informative web site. I had been considering getting a Twenty for some time and last week bought a folding 1972 model (stamped 72 3 on the hub) with serial number 1544687 on the left dropout. It was posted on Craig’s List by a fellow who said he listed it for an older friend who didn’t ride it and who needed to clear out his garage. It is the dark brown coffee color and appears to be fairly original except for a cheap bolt on kick stand and chinese headlight and generator which I’ve removed. It has chrome mudguards with thin rectangular reflectors on the sides of the front mudguard (well, one reflector left) and I wondered if these are original. I see an angled tube on the bottom of the frame under the crank set that looks like a place an original kickstand may have been installed. Did these bikes come with a built in rather than bolt on kickstand?

    I am in the process of cleaning and tuning and have thoroughly cleaned and lubed the front wheel bearings so far. The 3 speed hub seems to be free and working well so I’ll leave it alone for now, but what weight oil is recommended for the hub and how much is needed there? I am looking forward to having a proper British Bike to ride around the British car shows i sometimes enter; It’s not a show bike by any means, but should be a reasonable example with a little naval jelly and polish.

    1. Hi Phil,
      Thanks for this and I hope you enjoy the bike. Without seeing the mudguard it’s hard to say if it’s original. Such items varied from time to time, from one model to another and from country to country. I don’t recall ever seeing a front mudguard with reflectors on it but it may be something I missed or a feature used only in an overseas market.
      A lot of Twenties had a built-in (brazed-on) kickstand but folding versions did not. (At least, as far as I recall.) My two non-folders both had brazed-on stands but my folder does not. The lack of a stand would help compensate weight-wise for the frame hinge joint and would also compensate somewhat for the extra cost of the hinge.
      If you want to numb your brain, you can enter endless discussions on the web about the right lubricant for your hub. Don’t worry, though. It’s not super critical. Avoid 3-in-1 and similar, which goes gummy over time. Avoid WD40 and similar, as it’s too light. Sewing machine oil is good. (The late great former Olympian cyclist and hub gear tweaker Jack Lauterwasser advocated sewing machine oil, which he used successfully for many decades.) Or you could use a light automobile oil. A teaspoonful should be enough but remember to top up periodically. If you haven’t used the bike in a while, consider an oil top-up something you do when checking and topping up the tyres.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Tony,
        My twenty folder does have the bottom bracket for a kickstand and i’ve since found some photos of a kickstand in place in the bracket on other folders and some discussions of having to replace a broken roll pin that keeps it in place. I’ll try calling the fellow I bought it from but chances are the original kickstand is long gone – probably because of a broken pin. Maybe a replacement stand will turn up on eBay; the extra weight is not a concern for me as a casual rider..
        Thanks too for the warning against 3-in-1 oil, that’s likely what I would have used without your warning. To change oil do you just open the cap, turn the hole down, let it drain out (assuming there is still some in it), and then turn it back up and refill? When topping up, do you fill it to the cap or just put in a measured amount? I use Marvel Mystery Oil in my SU carburettor dash pots; I wonder if it would be good in the hub too. BTW, the mudguards are Cleaning up nicely with naval jelly and chrome polish; Raleigh must have had a decent chrome plating system.
        I ran across another interesting item. There is a twenty folder on eBay listed as a 1969 model and I asked him for the serial number and number on the hub since I’d read that the folders were introduced in the UK and export markets in 1971. The seller said the serial number is 059163 and the number on the hub is 69. Then I reread the info I’d copied from the web and it said it was “conjectured” that folders were sold in Canada in 1969, so maybe this is a Canadian model. It has painted mudguards where my 72s mudguards are chrome and a registration sticker on the frame indicates it lived in Los Angeles california for part of its life.

      2. Hi Phil,
        Thanks for this. Sounds like good progress. I know nothing of Marvel Mystery oil (never seen it over here in the UK) but a light motor oil, such as 5W-30, would be OK. As I mentioned before, sewing machine oil is good. Bike shops often sell cycle oil and a good quality product of that type would do also. For Sturmey-Archer’s 1950s instructions on lubrication see https://hadland.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/sausemaint.pdf and https://hadland.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/saaw.pdf

        You don’t need to drain old oil out. It usually just wears and evaporates away. If you were rebuilding a hub, and everything inside had been cleaned, a couple of teaspoons of oil should be put in to make up for the fact that the internals are dry.

        I see even the Canadian folding version on my website has an integral stand!


      3. Hi guys..i know its an old thread but i happen to have a spare kickstand for the 20..happy to post it out to Phil if he still needs one. Just a thought 🙂

  7. Hi I’ve just bought which I think is a raleigh 20 1970s folding bike as a restoration project. It has euro-bike decals on it but I cant find any information on eurobike but the bike is similar in every way to a 20 it has serial no under the BB how can I tell if raleigh was the manufacturer of this bike. Hope you can help. Thanks Tommy

    1. Hi Tommy,
      What you’ve got is different from the original Raleigh 20. For example, instead of having a straight main beam, separate seat tube and two supporting struts running from the bottom bracket to the underside of the main beam, yours has single bent tube forming the seat tube and main beam. In fact, your bike is closer to the kind of U-frame machine that Raleigh used when they dropped the original 20 series.

      1. G’day Tommy,
        Yeah! ‘Real TWENTY…..Rule Britannia!

        Should be easy to find one somewhere in the World!
        I would search for an early one if you are that way inclined ( pre 1970 )….they make a great restoration point especially as they feature many of the RSW styling cues and are from sourced from their parts bin!

        I went as far a having a ’67 RSW 16 sent from the UK…..very happy with that!

        It did not need restoring….. 🙂

        Cheerios Amigos

      2. Yes, and it’s worth noting that Twenties tend to be very cheap in the UK, where they are under-appreciated. Prices in the USA can be quite a bit higher, as there is a long tradition of hotted up Twenties stateside. Real bike experts, such as John S Allen and the late Sheldon Brown, have produced really nice upgraded Twenties.

  8. Hello, Tony. I believe I’ve stumbled on – and acquired today – something rather special and rare in western Canada: a Twenty Shopper, non-folding, pale purple in colour, with very good paint and with the wide white Brooks saddle and Raleigh whitewall tires in very good condition. I am hoping you can advise on a few things (likely more questions to come):
    – The combined dynamo/three-speed hub (it has the grip shift) bears a 7 on the left and what looks like 1C but may be 10 on the right – would this mean October 1977 manufacture?
    – Are replica trays/bags available for the rear rack? I gather a tray is missing that would bolt through the two rack crossbars (each has three holes).
    – Should the front basket (missing) bolt or clip to the front rack – or attach to the handlebars somehow? The front light is broken, sadly, so I’m hoping my local shop may have one tucked away.
    – The pump is missing; would the correct replacement be something Raleigh manufactured itself, or an affiliate’s model?
    It’s a lovely machine and I’m looking forward to riding it. My main bike is a 1980 Raleigh Super Grand Prix – my first 10-speed, acquired days after I became a teenager (in January 1981).

    1. Hi Ian,
      Good to hear from you. Regarding date stamping of the hub, the digits on the left show the year (two digits), those on the right the month (one or two digits). It’s possible that one of the two year characters was accidentally omitted or struck two lightly. That might tie up with the 0 of 10 being badly applied. So, it’s hard to tell the year with only one digit, as many Raleigh 20s will have been made in the seventies. Maybe try shining a light obliquely on the area to see if it shows a faint mark of a missing digit?
      I don’t know of anyone ever making replica bags or racks (unlike 1960s Moultons, for which replicas have often been made). The plastic tray was normal for versions of the bike that had a quick-release holdall. You will see this carrier (but not the holdall) on my blog in the article showing photos of a Raleigh 20 FE.
      Assuming you have the front rack that is fitted to the fork and therefore turns with the handlebars, the wire basket fitted to the rack via a quick-release mechanism. There was a spring-loaded slider in the base of the rack that you pulled out, releasing the basket. That, at least, was the case with the one I owned.
      The pump would probably be made by Apex. If you email me at tony.hadland@gmail.com, I’ll send you a PDF of the 1973 Raleigh components and accessories catalogue, which may be helpful.

  9. Hi Tony, Recently, in fact about three weeks ago the opportunity to buy a black fixed frame TWENTY came my way, so l jumped at the chance…firstly because it was black and second because it ran a front and rear light set-up using the AG Hub…correct me if l am off the mark on the Sturmey Archer specs. 😉
    Anyhow, l was a bit miffed when l saw in the eBay photo series what appeared to be a smaller front wheel…l did ask before bidding…however no answer was forthcoming and went ahead with the buy at $32.50 AUD.

    What’s the deal with the 406 front and 451 rear….did someone smash the original? Did Raleigh use SA Wheels for their US and nearby markets? This 406 hub is marked….l can’t make it out at the moment! 😦

    Cheerios Amigos

    1. Hi !nk,
      Good to hear from you. Raleigh used 451 wheels for the UK and Australasia but 406 wheels for North America. (There’s a mention of this here: https://hadland.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/raleigh-twenty-r20/) They would never have sold a bike with mixed formats, so someone must have replaced a wheel. My guess would be that someone smashed up the original front wheel and stuck a 406 replacement in, possibly finding it easier to obtain latterly.
      All the best,

      1. Hi again Tony,

        Kool…my friend George D. alerted me to the angled side wall of the front rim and that immediately triggered the imposter theory that you have alluded to! As you say, smashing
        a front at anytime in the 451 sizing can be difficult to find a true ridgee didge replacement!
        Especially DownUnder!!!!!

        l like the way the bike with the 406/451 set-up jumps puddles and cracks in our sun beaten streets and tracks here in Oz!

        Cheerios Amigos,

        ps. l wrote a short poem for the TWENTY last year…if someone has read it, they might like to remind me! In the meantime, l will try to find it! 🙂

        NEWSFLASH, dateline 23 June 2016: He found it and here it is.


        Raleigh Twenty rolling on through hills
        Little wheels turning and heart’s beating!
        So in time the climb crests to a thrill
        With delights of sights downward fleeting!

        Now surely along the gentle streaming
        Bird’s call here on and creatures take flight!
        Be not in fear friends, for the Twenty Dreaming
        Of days yet to be; places tomorrow’s delight!

        InK (Ivan John Kuljis)

  10. Thank you.. It has helped indeed!! The clouds have parted. My Saffron is a 1986 model and the frame matches that too. It’s in great condition (just without bag unfortunately) and I just have to replace a few things to bring it back to it’s original look, (e.g. seat, tyres, handle bar grips, etc) as the guy I bought it off (£25) had attempted to make it look more funky and modern for his teenage daughter, who turned her nose up anyways! Am really chuffed with it myself. Although, I wouldn’t have been seen on anything so girly and pink as a youngster. I had a Raleigh Grifter, Raleigh Chopper and then later a Raleigh Arena. I was very lucky with my bikes as my Dad worked for Raleigh all his life. 🙂
    Many thanks for your help, Tony.. very much appreciated.
    Best wishes,

  11. Great article, thank you! I’ve just bought a Raleigh (Saffron) and am busy restoring it back to it’s original state. I am confused as to what year it was made. The year on the serial number is 6. I am told the Twenty was discontinued in 1984, but am unsure if the Saffron model was made as early as 1976? It is a Nottingham made bike. (N) Do you know is the Saffron was made as early as this? Many thanks. No worries, if you can’t help. Best wishes.. Lou

    1. Hi Lou,
      Thanks for your message and good luck with the restoration. If the bike has a Sturmey-Archer hub gear, there will be a year and month marked on the hub, e.g. 86 for the year and 10 for October. The bike will have been assembled soon after the hub was made. The Saffron was introduced in the mid 1980s but the U-frame on which it (and some other models) was based did not appear in the shops until 1984. The Saffron was certainly in the 1987 catalogue and may well have appeared a little earlier.
      Hope this helps!

  12. I have a question about Raleigh twenty folders. I’m interested in purchasing one, and the seller I’m looking at is asking for $350. He/she says it’s in mint condition, they did some upgrades to the tires & brakes, & apparently also had it tuned up. I’m on the verge of saying “yup, that’s the one” but I’m on the fence about the asking price. Is it a fair deal or should I keep looking?

      1. Wow, those are exceptionally original and very keenly priced. If I lived nearby, I’d be round there like a shot.
        Good luck!

      2. I inherited two Twenty folders in good condition recently and would like them to find a new, good home and am also wondering what is a fair price to ask.

      3. Hi Craig,
        It’s a bit tricky, as these bikes are under-appreciated and there are quite a lot still around. I’d say £50 was a fair price for a bike in good condition, though sometimes they will go for a little more or quite a bit less – anything in the range of £25 to £100 would be typical. I recently paid £100 for two of these bikes in pretty good condition. I restored one fully, paying about £20 for new parts (thus making a total spent of £70), then sold it on eBay for a mere £14.50. After deducting eBay fees, I guess I lost £60 on that exercise but it was fun and a well-restored example went to an appreciative new owner.
        Good luck!

  13. I own three twenty folders. Two have the smaller rims one the bigger. All my bikes were sold through local Canadian bike stores

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