Sunday, December 18, 2016

Raleigh's Bike Boom Flagship: Raleigh Professionals Marks II-V, 1971-1981



Any racing enthusiast who wants the very best will find this custom-built bicycle completely satisfying. The frame geometry assures a lively and responsive performance. The special configuration of the rear triangle gives added rigidity, a necessity for top competition. Reynolds 531 double butted tubes throughout and completely Campagnolo equipped, including brakes.
1975 Raleigh catalogue





One of the most iconic of racing machines during the Bike Boom in America in the early 1970s, the Raleigh Professional also represented the heyday of the marque in the country. Its trademark "blue mink" and silver paint, gold lug lining, lashings of lustrous chrome, characteristic "fastback" rear stays and all that much coveted Campagnolo componentry made it one of the most aesthetically pleasing and desired lightweights of the era and often a "pipe dream" machine for a generation of young cyclists on account of its very high cost. For those fortunate enough to own one, then or now, it remains one of the most distinctive and pleasing of racing machines in appearance and ride.


This article examines the various marks and sub-variations of the Raleigh Professional Marks II-V which was Raleigh's top of the line racing machine for the US market from 1971 onwards and post 1974 exceeded only by the Raleigh SBDU Ilkeston-built Team Professionals. In production from 1971 to 1981 with no fewer than four "marks" or versions, the Professionals Marks II-IV were built by Carlton in Worksop rather than by Raleigh in Nottingham and were were essentially rebadged variants of Carlton frames. The final version, the Mark V, was based on the Tour de France winning Raleigh Team machines built by the SBDU.

With a huge firm like Raleigh with a global market for which specialised products were developed, it's essential to define terms so the below concerns itself solely with Carlton-built Raleigh Professionals for the US Market only c. 1971-1981 not Carlton badged Professionals for the British market, "team professionals" etc. which were quite different in details and components.

Even more than most Raleigh models of this era, dating and identifying Professionals can be a bit of a minefield especially if one falls into the "brochure trap" in trying to reconcile real production machines to the blandishments of a paper brochure. With Raleigh, it's much more helpful and meaningful to ascertain the serial number especially the letter prefix which determines the essential production year of the frame that may often bracket the brochure "year". Further, as Raleigh/Carlton got a bit inundated during the early 1970s "Bike Boom" in the US, there were production delays. Hence, we find the Mark II Pro Limited Edition advertised in the 1970 brochure was, by production date serial numbers, actually built in 1971. Worse, there were Mark II, III and Mark IVs all built the same year and Mark IIIs portrayed as Mark IVs in the 1972 catalogue, etc. etc.


THE CARLTON CONNECTION 

Carlton's 1960 brochure cover, the year it was acquired by Raleigh. credit: V-CC on-line library

Founded in 1898 by Fred Hanstock in the village of Carlton, Nottinghamshire, Carlton Cycles moved to Worksop in 1934 and began to concentrate solely on lightweight club and racing cycles. Under the slogan "Hand Made Cycles at Mass Production Prices", Carlton established itself as a leader in the field with a wide range of specially designed frames for timetrialling, road racing, track, club and even cycle polo which were renown for their craftsmanship, finish and distinctive lugwork as well as their advanced design and engineering. Moreover, it mostly sold complete machines with carefully selected components and fittings with a broad price range. In 1939, Carlton was bought by the O'Donovan family with D.R. (Dan) O'Donovan the Managing Directors. In 1958 his son, Gerald O' Donovan, joined the firm and became Manager and Chief Designer two years later.

By the late 1950s, British bicycle sales were well into a protracted sales slump with the huge increase in private car sales and use, aided by hire purchase schemes and the construction of new motorways. Although sales of bicycles as basic transport diminished, the market for racing, sports and leisure machines remained hopeful with increased leisure time and intense interest in cycle racing especially the growth of mass start racing in Britain with the Tour of Britain, Tour of the South-West, London-Holyhead etc. It was a market, especially at the high end, that Raleigh, the world's largest cycle manufacturer, was unable to tap at the time. Its last high end, custom order lightweight bicycle, the fabled Raleigh Record Ace was out of production by 1954 and by the end of the decade its longstanding Lenton series of entry level sports machines with hub gears was nearing the end of its productive and profitable life.

To provide a quick "key in the door" to the top-end racing and sports cycle market, Raleigh's longtime spokesman and track champion, Reg Harris, first suggested the idea of acquiring Carlton. It not only had the reputation among "clubmen" that Raleigh lacked but its product and production offering an unusual but very effective means of offering "custom made" bicycles, but within a set range of options and features that gave most of the benefits of a truly bespoke frame but at a lower price point. It also enabled semi mass production.



So it was that in Spring 1960 that Raleigh bought out Carlton, its last big acquisition before it, too, was brought into the huge Tube Investments conglomerate the following year. Such was the reputation and capability of Carlton that its name, design and manufacturing capacity (at Worksop, 24 miles from Raleigh's Nottingham's works) was not only retained but expanded and it was to be the centre of all high-end racing bike and Reynolds 531 production for the whole of the Raleigh "empire", made wider and wider still when bought out by TI Raleigh at years end. Carlton would now, in addition to its own range, manufacture lightweights for Raleigh, Triumph, Sun, Dunelt and others based on the Raleigh "branding" principle. Finally, heading Carlton's design department (since 1958) was Gerald O' Donovan who proved one of the leading designers of racing bicycles both for professional use and also commercially.

Although many moaned (and still do) about Carlton being yet one of many proud independents "swallowed up" by Raleigh, its name, brand recognition, sales and overall market impact in lightweight cycling increased exponentially not just at home but throughout a now truly global market under the aegis of TI Raleigh.  It also, for the first time in 1963, fielded its own racing team Carlton-BMB (British Maufactured Bearings) with riders George Shaw, Michael Coupe, Mike Harpham and Sean Ryan. Three years later, the first all professional road race was run in Britain at Sutton Coldfield with Shaw placing second. In 1967, Shaw became manager of the team which now included Wes Mason, Arthur Metcalf, Mick Cowley, Richard Goodman and Bernand Burns. In 1968 the team  competed in its first European race, the Amstel Gold Race.

The first US Market catalogue for Carlton in 1961. Owned by Raleigh since the previous year, the marque is still marketed under its original name. credit: Bulgier cycle catalogue archives.

Together, Raleigh and Carlton developed one of the most successful quality lightweight cycle ranges for the American market and helped usher in and further "The Bike Boom" of the early to mid 1970s. The new range was gradually introduced in the 1968 model year with the Raleigh Super Course and Grand Prix and in the following year the Professional, International and Competition were added at the top of the range offering the aspiring American racing and serious sports/touring cyclist the widest range of quality Reynolds 531 built lightweights in the country. 


RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK I (1968-1970)

For complete details on the Mark I Professional, derived from the Raleigh Ruberg, see:

https://on-the-drops.blogspot.com/2017/11/continental-racing-raleigh-raleigh.html


RALEIGH PROFESSIONALS MARK II-IV

True to its name, all of the Raleigh Professionals had bona fides in professional cycle racing, the Mark I using the frame designed for the German Ruberg racing team and building on its success, Raleigh looked to a new Professional for the U.S. Market based on a "race proved" (to use Carlton's own slogan) model that had, in fact, been first introduced to pro racing by the newly formed Raleigh-BMB Team in 1966. This was an improved version of the Carlton Giro d'Italia which came out the previous year.

The new Giro d'Italia frameset as first announced in the 14 November 1964 Carlton price list. The close-up depicts the original "fast back" seat stay attachment which was redesigned for added strength and rigidity as the "Victor" seat cluster for the team machines and the Raleigh Professional Mark II. credit: V-CC on-line library

The Giro d'Italia was completely different from previous Carltons and the Raleigh Ruberg, being a very contemporary British time trial/criterium frame featuring a tight rear triangle with Brampton "Victor" fast back stays (a stronger variant on the original fast-back stays on the early Giro d'Italias), short rapid taper chainstays, high bottom bracket (10⅝"), 73° angles, short top tube and short fork rake. Brampton Latin Line lugs, sloping Cinelli-style fork crowns (actually Davis crowns) and ¾ chromed fork end socks and Allen Key seat bolts made for a very attractive, up-to-date frame.  Unlike the very strongly built (and heavier for it) Raleigh Ruberg/Pro Mark I, the nimble and lighter Giro was built for fast running on good road surfaces, ideal for British competitive cycling conditions rather than the pave of the Continent and with sensitive handling and good cornering thanks to the high bottom bracket.


The redesigned "Victor" fastback stay cluster of the Raleigh Pro Mark II (as well as the Contre la Montre time trial frame). credit: V-CC on-line library.

One of the obvious advantages of a cycle manufacturer sponsoring its own team was the obvious marketing promotion attached to its own products and none better than providing the customer with a chance to own and ride a bicycle with bona fides as an actual team machine. Hence the increasing number of "team replicas" in the 1960s. In 1967, Carlton introduced a new range of lightweight frames/cycles, the top model being the first "team replica", the "Team Carlton/BMB Bicycle" which used the "Giro d'Italia" frame with a stronger fastback attachment than the initial models. Typical for Carltons of the era, though, the complete machine's components were a mixed bag of Simplex derailleurs, Zeus crankset, Weinmann 999 brakes and rims, GB stem/Brampton bars etc.


The 1967-68 Team Carlton/BMB frameset), based on the 1965 Carlton Giro d'Italia (right) were the roots of the Raleigh Professionals Mark II-IV 1971-1976. credit: V-CC on-line library


It was this basic frameset that would be chosen as the basis for what most still associate as being "the" Raleigh Professional for the US market for the first three-quarters of the 1970s. As such it was unique among the other top-end Bike Boom Era machines for the US Market which were more conventional stage racing models like the Peugeot PX-10, Cinelli SC and Schwinn Paramount. The new generation of Raleigh Pros would be very much top-of-the-line machines with full Campagnolo components including the recently introduced brakeset with lashings of beautiful chrome and subtle elegant paint finishes which made this one of the most attractive and coveted of lightweights of its era.


RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK II (1971)

Model no. D-180. F serial no. prefix for 1971 manufacture and said to be limited to 500 framesets but evidence of this running into at least 529 as individually numbered decaled. A classic example of conflict between catalogue and production year, this appears in the "1970" catalogue which specifically mentions "only 500 will be made in 1970" but, in fact, all of the Mark IIs have F serials nos. indicating they were actually made in 1971. F2657, no. 338, sold on eBay in February 2013 by the original owner was bought on 9 March 1971 and had a pat. 70 Campagnolo derailleur indicating these were produced at the very beginning of the year.

The Mark II was based on the Carlton Giro d'Italia frameset with fastback seat stays, rapid taper chainstays with no dimples, high bottom bracket, 73 deg. angles and Davis sloping fork crown. Campagnolo drop-outs with mudguard eyelets. Nervex bb. 122 mm rear spacing. 5-speed freewheel. Chromed 10.5" front fork socks and fork crowns only. Haden Latin Line lugs. No braze ons except rear derailleur cable stop. Mink/silver livery. All Campagnolo components including brakeset (a fair number being the rare "no name" initial version of the calipers). 3ttt Grand Prix stem/GB bars. Brooks small rivet Professional saddle. Weinmann 293 sprint rims. 172.5 mm cranks. Silver Silca frame pump with Carlton "racing man" decal.

The Professional Mark I was in production through late summer 1970 and indeed there are more examples of these E prefixed frames than any others indicating both the demand for the model and the delays in getting the Mark II special editions into production which didn't occur until early 1971. As it was, the Limited Edition was extended beyond 500 and was a complete sell-out, the delays only adding to the anticipation and the desirability of the model. One of the great selling points was that it came fitted with the new (actually introduced in 1969 but largely for professional use at first) Campagnolo brakeset which was in very short supply initially and much sought after. Indeed, Raleigh appears to have bought a quantity of the initial versions with no "Campagnolo" stamped on the calipers for these machines, a good proportion of them having these rare versions.

The new Mark II was considerably more expensive than the Mark I, costing $330 ($2000 in 2017 inflation adjusted price) vs $220 ($1350 adjusted for inflation) and henceforth the Raleigh Professional became the paragon of "10 speed bikes" in America and appealed as much or indeed more to the "gimme the best" customer as much as the discerning racing cyclist for whom it was really designed. For the newcomer to such things, it was perhaps too specialised in its handling characteristics and design for general riding, more so than the Peugeot PX-10 or Schwinn Paramount, and thus it sometimes assumed a "garage queen" reputation and reflected in the large numbers of Professionals that can still be had secondhand on eBay or garage sales in near mint, virtually unused condition.

The famous "mink/silver" colour scheme for the Mark II-IIIs originated in Carlton's Contre La Montre frameset of 1969 which was designed for time trialling, although the "Double Lilac" sounds even more intriguing and, in fact, used for the Raleigh Competition Mark II of 1972. 

The Mark II Professional as it appeared, rather hopefully it seems, in the 1970 catalogue. Note the pump (appears to be a Britannia Sprint Veloce) fitted below the top tube, on production models it was on the seat tube and was a silver Silca. No Mark IIs appear to have actually built in 1970 but rather in early 1971 and having F prefixed serial numbers.

The Limited Edition Mark II as described in the 1970 brochure. In the event, more than 500 of these frames were actually built as there are recorded numbers at least up to 525.

A near mint Mark II Pro as offered on eBay in July 2012: serial no. F2657, limited edition no. 338 and complete with its original bill of sale from Velo Sport, Oakland, CA. dated 13 March 1971. Total cost including tax: $321.78

RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK III (1971)


Model no. D-180. serial no. prefix F for 1971 manufacture. Same frame as the Mark II but with 9" chromed rear triangle ends. 122 mm rear spacing. 3ttt Record stem/GB 'bars. Brooks small rivet Professional saddle. Weinmann 293 sprint rims. 172.5 mm cranks. Silver Silca frame pump with Carlton "racing man" decal.

Raleigh Professional Mark III specs from the 1971 catalogue

Tapping into the great demand for the Mark II which far exceeded the initial Limited Edition run, Raleigh effortlessly followed through with a general production model, the Mark III, which differed mainly in having chromed rear triangle ends. 

As a group, these F series frames are widely considered the best examples of the "fastback" Raleigh Pros in terms of general finish and workmanship; exemplars of "old school" pre mass production Carlton craftmanship and with the full chrome, eye-catching and luxurious yet unstated in that British manner by virtue of the very '70s mink/silver livery. 


Still having to share a catalogue page with the International, the Mark III Professional (left) in the 1971 brochure. credit: The Headbadge website

Another minty Raleigh Pro (did anyone actually ride these things?!), a Mark III, serial no. F6455, 1971. The last batch of Pros built at Worksop that year were in the new platinum blue/silver scheme and known as Mark IVs. 

Typical of Raleigh catalogue conflicts during the Bike Boom, the 1972 brochure shows a Mark III Professional advertised as a Mark IV although there is no evidence of any Mark IVs being built in anything but the new blue mink/silver scheme which had already been introduced on the last run of F series Pros in 1971. credit: The Headbadge website


RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK IV (1971-1976)

serial nos. F (71), G (72), A (73) and the new W prefix system late 73 onwards) for 1971-1977 Manufacture. Decoding the W nos.: W (Worksop) Second Letter denotes Month (A=Jan, B=Feb, D=Mar, E=Apr, G=May, H=Jun, K=Jul, L=Aug, M=Sep, N=Oct, P=Nov, S=Dec), Third Letter denotes year with 3 for 73, 4 for 74 etc through 9 and then repeats,remaining digits indicating sequential quantity that month 000000-999999. So WB4002438 would be a Worksop frame built in February 1974 and the 2438 frame that month.

F serial nos. (1971) identical to the Mark III except for the new blue mink and silver livery and is shown in the 1972 catalogue in the old brown mink/silver scheme but still called a Mark IV. Silver Silca frame pump with Carton "racing man" logo decal on most observed examples not the REG white/chrome pump shown in the catalogues.

Many "G" serial no. (1972) examples have Haden Birds Mouth lugs, rapid taper chainstays and mudguard eyelets. 126 mm rear spacing and six-speed freewheels (many original examples being Regina). 170 mm cranks. Campagnolo pedals stamped "1037 on pedal body. Brooks small rivet Professional saddle. AVA eyeletted sprint rims. REG white/"chrome" plastic frame pump with Carlton "racing man" decal.

"G" higher serial nos (4000s up) and "A" serial nos. (1973) models have dimpled chainstays and show considerably greater front fork rake. "G"s still have mudguard eyelets, "A"s do not. Very high "A"s (9000s) have "CC" cut-out on the bb undershell. 170 mm cranks. Campagnolo Superleggero pedals marked "1037 on pedal body. New slanted white block letter "RALEIGH" logo on down tube, "Professional" script on top tube now in white instead of gold, "Carlton" on seat tube and Reynolds 531 triangle decals on fork blades. REG white/"chrome" plastic frame pump with Carlton block logo decal.

W prefixed serial no. examples (phased in late 1973 onwards) have "CC" cut-out on the bb undershell. In addition to the usual blue mink and silver livery, silver/black offered in 1974 model year (high As and W serial nos). 170 mm crankset. Brooks large rivet Professional saddle. REG white/"chrome" plastic frame pump with Carlton block logo decal. Silver models fitted with silver Silca pumps.


Raleigh Professional Mark IV specs from the 1972 catalogue


Raleigh Professional Mark IV specs from the 1973 catalogue





The Mark IV was initially no different from the Mark III with the except of what came to be associated with the model: the elegant "Blue Mink" and silver finish which was altogether more attractive and suitable to a racing machine than the original brown mink. The livery changed actually on the final batch of F series frame made in 1971 although the Mark IV was a 1972 model year offering. Adding to the confusion, a brown Mark III was used to illustrate a Mark IV in the 1972 catalogue.  It was a fitting beginning to a four-year production run that ground out more Mark IVs than probably any top-end racing machine of its era. The sheer numbers produced taxed Carlton's production capability past its limits and there were consequently quality control issues c. 1972-3 with the whole of Worksop's output although the vast majority of Pros were still a credit to the old firm. For the collector today, most of the indifferent examples have long been winnowed out and indeed the number of near mint Professionals available is proof enough of its popularity in sales in a boom as opposed to its actual use.

Specifications, too, changed "without notice" during this busy time with many variations and contradictions in terms of lugs, chain stays, bottom brackets, mudguard eyelets, rear spacing etc. The above cited examples in detail remain "a work in progress" in terms of ascertaining what happened when in relation to serial numbers and build dates. 

Prices (suggested retail/dealer cost) for Raleigh Professional Mark IV (model DL-180)
  • 23 April 1973      $460/$314
  • 26 April 1974      $575/$406
  • 1 March 1975      $649/$494
  • 26 March  1976   $650/$495

The author's Raleigh Professional which was built in late 1971 (serial no. F8165) but completed in 1972 (Campagnolo date codes) as a Mark IV in the new "Blue Mink" and silver scheme. Bought on eBay from the son of the original owner, this is typical of many Pros of the era in having barely a 100 original miles on it and in near perfect, mint original condition. Quality of Pros vary greatly and it's generally conceded that these F series ones (and yes, they did turn out Mark II, III and IVs all that one year!) are the best with superb build quality and finish. 

Build details on the author's 1971-built Mark IV showing the beautifully shaped fork, Brampton Latin Line head lugs and chromed Davis fork crown, the distinctive "Victor" seat cluster and fastback stays and the unusual mating of a 3ttt Record stem to GB Map of Britain 'bars which characterised these lovely machines.

The Professional finally got its own brochure page in the 1973 catalogue and the first time the Mark IV was portrayed in blue mink even though it had been in production since the end of 1971. credit: ThreeSpeedHub website

The Professional Mark IV shown in the 1974 catalogue in the optional silver/black livery found on late A and W series frames built in 1973-74. credit: The Headbadge website


The Mark IV Pro last appeared in the 1976 catalogue by which time the design was more than a decade old. 



RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK V (1976-1981)

Mark V: W serial nos. for 1976-81 production. A complete rework of the model for the 1977 model year and based on the SBDU Ilkeston team racing bikes as a stage racing machine with conventional rear stays with oversized caps, rapid taper chain stays, semi sloping Vagner fork crown and standard height bb. Haden Sovereign lugs with windows. Chromed drop-out facings only. GB Biba stem/Raleigh bars. Brooks large rivet Professional saddle. Mavic sprint rims and low-flange Campagnolo Record hubs.


With its frame design dating to 1965 and considered "quirky" in its handling by some, it was high time to replace and upgrade the Raleigh Professional by the mid 1970s. The Bike Boom had run its course, too, and sales of top-end racing bikes fell back to their merits and value rather than fad. By the mid 1970s, too, Raleigh had completely changed in relation to both its standing and recognition at the top levels of competitive racing with its own world famous TI Raleigh Racing Team headed by Peter Post and its racing bicycle production with its new Specialist Bicycle Development Unit or SBDU set up in a separate operation in Ilkeston under the direction of Gerald O'Donovan. This designed and built a new generation of top end racing Raleighs both for the team and the specialist consumer and helped pioneer the latest Reynolds 753 tubing. 

Thus the inspiration for the latest (and last) Raleigh Professional was indeed Raleigh not Carlton and was, in effect, a mass produced (still at Worksop) Reynolds 531 version of the latest Raleigh Team bikes being built at Ilkeston. Almost all of the essentials-- lugs, geometry, frame features-- were replicated in the new Professional which was fitted out with full Campagnolo Nuovo Record components.   And, of course, it retained the famous Blue Mink & Silver livery although in keeping with preferences of the era, it lacked all the glorious chrome of the early model. 

Costing $699 (as of April 1977), the new Mark V Professional breathed new life into the model and the marque. If anything, it was a more conventional stage racing machine than the Mark IV with nimble handling but more predictable steering and more stable with a standard bb height. Workmanship issues at Worksop had long since been resolved and many consider the Mark V the best of the lot overall for its handling and build quality. 


For the 1977 model year, the Raleigh Professional was totally reworked with a new frame modelled after the Raleigh Team bikes made by the SBDU in Ilkeston with conventional road frame geometry (73 parallel) and lower bb compared to the Mark IV. Alas, for the US market it also came festooned with CPSC mandated reflectors and, yes, a chainguard on the crankset! credit: The Headbadge website



Build details of the completely redesigned Mark V Pro: note the oversized seat stay caps, Haden Sovereign lugs and slotted bb shell, Vagner fork crown, bb braze-on cable guides and chromed drop-out facings. Serial no. WK8001539 denotes the 1539 frame built at Worksop in July 1978. credit: from an eBay auction, December 2013.


The presentation of the Mark V was especially pleasing and detailed in the 1978 catalogue. credit: The Headbadge website


The Raleigh Professional Mark V in the 1981 brochure at the end of its production run. These were among the last frames built at Worksop before the closure of the works that May.


RACING RALEIGH PROS

The first mid 'sixties racing team of TI Raleigh was begun in 1966 as Raleigh-BMB and raced as such for one season before changing to Carlton-BMB in 1967. Managed by George Shaw, Peter Chisman, Benny Dobson and Mike Coupe comprised the squad and were the first to use the new Giro d'Italia in professional racing as Raleigh badged Professionals. These were fitted with Simplex derailleurs and GB brakes, stems and 'bars and GB was a co-sponsor. 


The initial Raleigh-B.M.B. team of 1966 with their Raleigh Professionals, the first time the type was used by a professional racing team. The following year, the team was renamed Carlton-B.M.B. and continued to use the machine, badged as Carltons, until 1971.


"The Raleigh Boys". Raleigh USA played a critical role in nurturing the nascent American presence in international road cycle sport when, in 1972, they sponsored the Century Road Club of America to race in the Tour l'Est in in the Provence of Quebec and the next year sent four riders, John Howard. Bill Humphreys, Stan Swain and John Allis (above) in the Raleigh-Dunlop Tour of Ireland, the first American team to race in an European stage race with Howard placing 3rd. During this, John Allis (left) rode a Mark III Professional. 

For the 1972 season, the TI Carlton Team was renamed the TI Raleigh Team and equipped with Mark IV Professionals in a short-lived red-white-blue Raleigh livery and equipped with a mix of components including Stronglight 93 chainsets. Replica Mark IV framesets in the Raleigh livery were offered in 1972-73 by Carlton only to the UK market but the Raleigh Professional track model was sold in the US for 1972-74 in the scheme.

Another photo of the newly renamed TI Raleigh Racing Team of 1972 posing with a Raleigh Professional outside the Waldorf Hotel, London. The brakeset appears to be Weinmann 500s with slotted levers. Credit: Erik Van Herck, Cycling Archives websites

The 1972 TI Raleigh Team. credit: Erik Van Herck, Cycling Archives website


BIKE BOOM ICON


Certainly the best photo ever taken of a Raleigh Pro, a perfect time capsule of '70s Bike Boom in all its glory. Taken in 1974 at a cycle race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a local bike shop displayed a brand new Pro (including the price tag still on the brake cable) which attracted the attention of this lovely, leggy lady. credit: "GMS" posted on www.bikeforums.net in 2008. 

The Raleigh Professional reached its zenith in terms of sales, popularity and "it" factor with the Mark IV and precisely at the apex of the "Bike Boom" in America for which it was both an icon and an indicator of the strength, breadth and depth of a huge increased market both in number of bicycles sold but the range, type and specialization of them. The Bike Boom was driven by what was generically called "The 10-Speed Bike" even more than the "Chopper" and it was as loosely defined in terms of product quality, price and purpose as evident in the range of "10 speeds" being sold at record numbers, many to people who never owned a bicycle since childhood. A lot of the bikes were $89 wonders with 10 speeds but little else to recommend them but many, including the products of the big makers like Raleigh, Falcon, Peugeot, Motobecane, Gitane, Schwinn etc. represented a range of quality machines at various price points and headed by a "flagship" top-end racing model.  Heading the range of the biggest cycle manufacturer, the Raleigh Professional Mark IV was unquestionably the Icon of the Bike Boom and the sales of such a top-end, sophisticated racing machine were unprecedented.

Raleigh advertisement for the U.S. market c. 1970 showing the diverse range of the company to a country just discovering cycling in all its forms: the traditional three-speed hub black Raleigh Sports, the Chopper and the Mark II Professional. 

Given the numbers of machines being built by Raleigh and every other cycle manufacturer during this time, production and product alike were taxed to the limits. Consequently, specifications changed based on component availability and yes, quality, too, showed the pressures of, in effect, mass producing what had been quasi bespoke frame production for Carlton, at least. Indeed, the range of quality all or partly Reynolds 531 frames for Raleigh at this time was unprecedented and never repeated and the vast majority of it for the export U.S. Market. c. 1971-1975 Raleigh 531 racing machines comprised the Professional, International, Competition, Gran Sport, Super Tourer and Super Course. Of the "10-speed" range only the Grand Prix and Record models were not made at least partially of Reynolds 531. Moreover, four of the models had tubular tyres and this was unquestionably most sophisticated quality lightweight range of the Bike Boom Era.

Beyond the Bike Boom sales, the Raleigh Professional remained a quality and competitive machine both on the pro circuit and amateur races. It was also one of the very first production lightweights to come with a six-speed freewheel and 126mm rear spacing as standard beginning in 1972.

The Raleigh Professional, along with the Schwinn Paramount and the Peugeot PX-10, were the most popular quality lightweights widely available during the "Bike Boom". Overall, bicycle sales went from fewer than 7 million in 1970 to over 15 million in 1973.

All this put enormous strain on manufacturing capabilities at Carlton, Worksop, where production increased almost overnight by 40 per cent and by 1973 2,500 machines were being turned out a week and employment reached a record 340. Alas, this meant that Carlton's old motto of "Handbuilt at Mass Production Prices" changed from mass produced at inflation/dollar devalued prices and a change from the traditional individually hand-brazed frame to assembly line "charge and dip" production. Custom framebuilding at Worksop ended and led to the establishment of the Specialist Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU) at Ilkeston in 1974 under Gerald O'Donovan. 

There were also inevitable shortages of components especially Campagnolo for whom Raleigh was their biggest single customer with the Professional and International having these top-end components. This shortage so acute that a new model, the RRA, was hastily conceived in 1973 as an option to the Professional and fitted instead with French components. Quality suffered and there was a real quality control issue for all Raleigh products c. 1972-73 and the Professional was not immune from this. F series frames are by far the best crafted and finished but quality of "G" prefixed frames varied. Raleigh took immediate steps to improve quality control and building techniques so that this was shortlived but the reputation of the model and make suffered. 

The Bike Boom ended almost as suddenly as it began exacerbated by the 1974 recession, the devaluation of the US dollar which increased prices for Raleighs (see below) sold in the US and cuts their profits. Raleigh's US market was halved between 1974 and 1976. Even Carlton was obliged to lay off 100 employees in 1974 as demand suddenly slumped.

Some Raleigh Professionals never found a buyer when the Bike Boom went Bust. Serial no. WM4007877 (above) a Mark IV with a '74 date coded rear derailleur and '73 date coded cranks sat unused complete with its original tags and wheelcovers and offered NOS 50 years later by Velomine.com. credit: Velomine.com

Another unsold NOS 1974 Raleigh Professional Mark IV, still in its original carton and wrapping as offered on eBay about 50 years after it left Worksop. 

Still, a great many Raleigh Professionals were sold during the 1970s, probably more than any machine in its class except perhaps for the Paramount and PX-10 and it was the most expensive "10-speed" generally available and appealed to the "gimme the best bike you got" cycling neophytes as much as to discerning customers. In many respects, it was not ideal machine for inexperienced cyclists owing to its specialised design, harsh angles, high bottom bracket etc. Many are still found today on eBay and Craiglist looking like their original owners had put about 50 miles on them before they were hung on the wall... the Icon of the Bike Boom quickly became Garage Queens.

By April 1975, Raleigh even ceased for a time exporting new machines to the United States due to the glut of unsold stock. There was a marked decrease in top quality Reynolds 531 and Campagnolo fitted machines in future catalogues. Sales of the Professional slumped, no longer the object of impulse buying by well-heeled bike boomers and its now dated design no longer appealing to the cognoscenti who embraced Italian marques like Masi and Colnago. A new Mark V Professional came out for 1977 and was a mass produced 531 tubed version of the SBDU made Reynolds 753 Raleigh Team Professional. It sold well in the United States, but never to the extent of the Mark IV in its heyday and the top-end market by then overwhelmingly favoured Italian marques.

A great name in British cycling and cycle manufacture ended on 27 May 1981 when the Carlton Works at Worksop closed and the last 220 employees made redundant. And with it, the end of the Raleigh Professional series. credit: steel-vintage.com

Production at Worksop decreased markedly in the late 1970s and in 1981 it was decided to close the works and on 27 May production ended. A new Raleigh Lightweight Unit was opened in Nottingham to take its place although the Carlton name was soon phased out. Production of the Professional ended by which time Raleigh in the US turned over its marketing to Huffy (which ironically imported Carltons under its name in the early 1960s). Thus ended more than several eras in quality Britsh-built lightweight cycles for the American market.

Today, the Raleigh Professional in all its guises remains a cherished reminder of the real rebirth of American cycle sport and a delightful machine to collect, ride and restore. For many, a chance to finally own the long coveted bicycle that was the apple of teenage eyes many years ago.

4 comments:

  1. Nice informative piece. I was a bicycle mechanic as my first job at a Raleigh dealer in 1979-81 and built a few Mark V bikes out of the box. The earlier Mark IV versions I worked on always seemed a bit more "racy" but I couldn't afford either- so I managed to buy a 78 Super Course wth my "disount" from the owner of the shop. In 92 I lucked into a January 73 G series Pro, with both the original wheels and a set of clinchers with low flange Campy record hubs included. Still have it to this day and despite the comments about the F series 72 bikes having the best build quality, I defy anyone to ride my 73 (with the "fancy lugs") and find any flaws in the frame.

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  2. Great job documenting the many model, feature, and brochure changes--and the overlaps in between! I have a '73 Mark IV, "very high" A93xx. It has the "CC" cut-out shell BUT rapid-taper stays. My '72 "high" G42xx has dimpled stays as expected. It is a lighter shade of blue than the '73. It also has the recessed seat binder, which was a nice touch on the (guessing here) pre-73 Victor fastbacks.

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  3. I have a G series with Haden Bird Mouth lugs. The chrome has been stripped. It was already refinished in red when I got it. Braze ons for gears, water bottles and cable guides for the rear brake. I'm contemplating having it refinished and as the bike is the frame has been modded I may move away from the mink and silver finish which is my favourite finish but looking around those colours look hard to achieve here in the UK.

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  4. Does anyone have a paint brand/code for the Silver paint used on the Blue Mink and Silver Raleigh Pro models? I just bought my Pro and it has the Blue Mink finish, but areas that should be Silver have not been painted and I'd like to get it complete. Also, my S/N is G with a 9291 number following, should the Raleigh Professional brand decals be gold or white? Thanks....

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