New Zealand bikes of the 1980s
Michael Toohey describes a unique and insular market that even spawned a separable Raleigh 20
Raleigh bicycles were manufactured under licence in New Zealand by Morrison Industries of Hastings from the very late sixties through to (I think) 1987. Although the Sports Model was the original backbone of the range, it was the Raleigh 20 which really set the sales records.
Slightly cruder than the original Nottingham version, the 20 was nevertheless a sturdy machine which suffered very few problems over its long production life. It was made of local steel, and the main tube was of slightly smaller diameter than the original. In another departure, the bracing tubes from the main tube to the bottom bracket were missing. This last feature allowed the production of a fully detachable version which was, I think, unique to NZ.
I own a Raleigh 20 Detachable, although I’ve modified the machine heavily. The bike originally came fitted with the usual Raleigh equipment: Quick adjust seat and ‘bars, full ‘guards, a built in prop-stand and a sturdy tubular carrier. Also fitted was a wiring system for dynamo lights, which ran through the main tube and through copper contact plates at the shotgun style joint.
Unlike the US 20s, the NZ version stayed true to the 20 x 1 3/8″ wheel. I modified mine to 20 x 1.75″ BMX rims, but found that they lowered the BB too much. Since the photos were taken I’ve switched back to bigger diameter aluminium rims and Primo Comet 20 x 1 3/8″ tyres. The bike has been transformed, and is now very nippy, thanks to the full pound each wheel has shed! I’ve also foregone the cable-free back end and replaced the Duomatic with a standard Torpedo 3; much more pleasant to use in my humble opinion. Cable splitting is yet to be tackled.
Keith Guthrie of Cycle Trading Co found the following letter in his files. Note that this letter refers the Folder and not the Detachable, it is closer in format to the original Raleigh 20 Folder from Nottingham, but still without the BB reinforcing bars. Also interesting is the fact that Morrison could confidently claim in 1977 that the 20 was NZ’s biggest selling bicycle.
Back to the history. The 20 grew a bigger sibling, the Morrison 22 and THINK I’m right in saying Raleigh 18s were also made in NZ. Choppers were certainly built here, as were 5 and 10 speed “racers”, the Olympus (26″) and Arena (27″). The pictures below are scans of a Master Cycle Traders’ Federation catalogue from the early 80s (the MCT was NZs national cycle trade body). It was produced by them for their members, i.e. most quality bikeshops in New Zealand. It was multi-brand; all the models on the pages I sent you were made by Healing Industries of Christchurch or Morrison Industries of Hastings. The third largish player on the market was Cyclemakers of Pleasant Point, but at this point cyclemakers would have just been getting off the ground.
The Catalogue is, in fact, a 1981 item. We confirmed this by looking back in old invoice books till we found prices to match. Rampant inflation and no discounting in those far off days made this a fairly simple task.
I’ll run through the catalogue explaining some of the bikes.
Raleigh Bermuda: Morrison’s last version of the Sports Model. Flashy and a good seller, but the chrome was awful and the general standard of work much lower than on earlier efforts. Significantly poorer than genuine Nottingham item. Note the plain fork crown; this was the first Morrison Raleigh to depart from the “Raleigh Crown”.
Healing 10 Speed: Healing’s amazingly successful best seller. The cunningly named 10 speed rode the crest of the oil crisis and the 10 speed boom. Gents and Mixte models. The frame was butt or bronze welded out of local steel supplied by Southward Engineering. Even the handlebars were bent up in NZ on a locally built machine, and a very peculiar bend they were too. Despite dire predictions by those brought up on proper lugged frames, the 10 Speeds proved to be rugged if uninspiring machines.
Healing Commuter: Healing were aggressive in filling every hole in the known market with products based on their basic frames. Here is the 10 Speed frame re-dressed as a (Shimano) 3 speed. Nice bikes, and probably the last fully equipped bicycles to be sold in any numbers.
Raleigh Module 5/Alpha: Gents and Ladies frankly horrible 5 speeds based on the basic sports model frame. There was also a 10 speed version: the Olympic. These were the first derailleur-equipped mass market bikes in NZ, and as such were quite a hit. Keith Guthrie of Cycle Trading Co remembers the sleepless nights he incurred after ordering 20 of them, a big commitment for a young shop-owner. He very quickly sold them all. Once the Healing 10 Speed hit the market with its svelte 27 x 1 1/4″ wheels, the cobby looking Raleighs enjoyed less success. They still had a market though in those rich parents looking for a derailleur bike for their kids. Also, in the pre-MTB days, hard charging clubbies looking for a machine to handle NZ’s “shingle” roads preferred the rugged little Raleighs over the more effete 10 Speed. Note the bars are taped right to the stem. They were NZ made and hot-dip galvanised rather than chromed. Morrisons supplied them with enough cotton bar tape to go all the way to the stem.
Healing 12 speed: Healing’s flagship. Their standard butt welded steel frame (Schwinn Varsity style) with a mixture of better Japanese gear: Shimano 600 and Altus Araya aluminium rims.
Morrison Monark: The best NZ produced mass-market bike of this period. Lugged Hi-Ten frame, mostly SunTour parts and Araya Staylite(?) rims, those dull chromed ones. These were bought by the well-heeled and by aspiring cyclo-touriste not quite able to afford genuine 531 and low gears.
Raleigh Arena: Morrison’s lugged 10 speed. Fairly average mix of parts. Beaten sales-wise by the poorer framed but more stylistically unified Healing 10 Speed. In the early days Morrison frames all had their bottom brackets dipped in a vat of molten bronze and frames were generally very well brazed. By the bitter end they assembled the tubes and tacked them, stockpiling them for brazing. Some would inevitably make it through to painting with a joint or two left unbrazed, resulting in a surprising series of events for the unsuspecting new Arena owners!
Raleigh 20: By this time the NZ 20 had lost its one piece bars and stem to the more fashionable semi-riser bar. Colours had become more limited, and the rugged tubular steel carrier had been replaced by a flimsier chrome wire item. Obviously the now-unfashionable small wheeler’s last gasp.
Healing Cruiser: a frank Raleigh 20 copy. Replaced the loop framed Lo-Line, a more continental looking small-wheeler. Ian Hooker, formerly a manager with Healing, told me that he was always happy to let Morrison experiment with a new model before committing Healing’s capital to the idea. Yet someone in the design department (if indeed one existed as such) must have had a good eye, because Healing products always managed to look more with-it and appealing than the Morrisons they copied. I know from other sources that Ian was very responsive to dealer feedback, even inviting it, something which was an anathema to Morrison Industries. Thus if given a choice, the majority of dealers would prefer to sell a Healing over a Morrison. There were one or two gaffes, the Healing Dragster was definitely less cool than the Chopper it aped, yet even here Healing were probably in the black. With a frame adapted from the Cruiser, and a 20 inch front and 24 inch rear wheel taken from stock, the Dragster was made up cheaply and quickly from existing parts and probably sold in sufficient numbers in the bike-starved 70s to turn a profit.
As you can see, the market in New Zealand was quite unique and insular. Import restrictions were severe and even quite ordinary bikes were expensive items (in 1981 I was earning NZ$80.00 per week as a 15 year old). The bikes were a peculiar mix of English (Morrison) and American (Healing 10 speed) manufacturing styles. By the mid 80s all this changed; a peculiarly free market loving Labour government gained power and we opened up to all sorts of imported machinery. By 1987 Morrison and Healing, the two giants of the industry, had gone without a trace, victims to takeovers and asset strips very familiar to anyone with a knowledge of the British bicycle industry.