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.

Morrison letter

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.

NZ catalogue 1

NZ catalogue 2

NZ catalogue 3

NZ cat 3.5

NZ cat 4

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…

Farewell Alan Oakley

Alan Oakley, born 27 April 1927, was for many years senior designer at Raleigh. He died on 18 May 2012, aged 85, after a long fight against cancer. Obituaries have been dominated by references (of varying accuracy) to his work on the Chopper high-rise bicycle. But Alan was responsible for much more than that – everything from components, such as anti-squeal roller-lever brakes, through conventional roadsters and a highly succesful range of small-wheelers, to race-winning high-end lightweights. As part of the research for my 2011 book on Raleigh’s history, writer and cycle historian Eric Kwiatkowski interviewed Alan Oakley about the upmarket machines. Eric attended Alan’s funeral to pay his respects and here records his impressions:

I went to Alan Oakley’s funeral yesterday. A dull day, but there was a very warm although of course sad atmosphere at the service. On arrival, I noticed about ten ‘Choppers’ near the chapel entrance, which I thought was a very nice touch!

About a hundred people attended, filling the main chapel at Wilford Hill crematorium. The service opened with the 23rd Psalm sung by the congregation, followed by prayers and also eulogies given by his son, grandson and a friend, Dennis. Of course, the Chopper story was told, but so was Alan’s involvement with Reg Harris’s career.

Dennis has quite a sense of humour – he said that after Alan’s enforced redundancy from Raleigh, they both spent some time sticking pins in effigies of the management. It must have worked said Dennis, because those responsible were themselves ‘retired’ soon after! He told the story of Alan’s wanting to fly, but having eyesight problems which were sufficient to keep him from joining the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.

Model aeroplanes were a passion, as was painting and fine wines – Alan’s senior at work once asked why he’d never seen a photo of Alan without a glass! Alan’s grandson and son spoke of his broad interests and his immensely positive influence on them in childhood.

The minister conducting the service told us all that he himself had once owned a ‘Chopper’ and a ‘Grifter’, and joked that it was probably blasphemous to say so, but he’d preferred the ‘Grifter’! We were asked to reflect on Alan whilst a recording of Eva Cassidy’s version of ‘Fields of Gold’ was played. As the service neared its close, ‘Forever Autumn’ from ‘War of the Worlds’ was played.

Although my meeting with Alan was brief, his willingness to open his door and help with my research even though Raleigh was many years in his past spoke volumes about him. He also entrusted me, a complete stranger, with some of his precious photos – which of course I returned the next day having scanned them. I’m glad we met.

Eric Kwiatkowski