Sunday, December 18, 2016

Raleigh Professionals Marks I-V, 1968-1981


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 even if built by Carlton rather than the Nottingham firm. 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 which was Raleigh's top of the line racing machine for the US market from 1968 onwards and post 1974 exceeded only by the Raleigh SBDU Ilkeston-built Team Professionals. In production from 1968 to 1981 with no fewer than five "marks" or versions, the first four series of Professionals were all built by Carlton in Worksop rather than by Raleigh in Nottingham and the Marks II-IV 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. 1968-1981 not Carlton badged Professionals for the British market etc. which were quite different in details and components.


THE CARLTON CONNECTION 

above: 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. 








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". For example, the Mark I Professional is often called "the 1969 Pro" since it only appeared in the "1969" brochure. In reality, it was in production in 1968, 1969 and 1970. 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 III and Mark IVs all built the same year!


An intriguing "one-off" is this 1968 Carlton/Raleigh frame serial C4619 948 (the last three digits indicating a custom build) that seems to be a prototype for the Raleigh Professional that uses the Carlton Giro d'Italia/Team Carlton frameset painted in a scheme similar to the Raleigh Mark I Professional. This was sold in the Netherlands to an Australian collector in 2010.





RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK I (1968-1970)

The Raleigh Mark I was directly derived from the Raleigh Ruberg model which was unique to the UK market and itself based on the machine designed in November 1966 by Gerald O'Donovan for the German Ruberg professional cycling team.

The commercial market version of the Raleigh Ruberg was introduced at the Earl’s Court Cycle Show in November 1967 for the 1968 model year. Assigned model no. 77A, “this exciting sports machine is ridden by the famous German Ruberg Professional cycle racing team, which includes many Olympic and World champions—proof of its ability.” (Raleigh brochure, 1968) and cost £29 as a complete machine. This was painted in Ruberg racing livery with 10-inch chromed front fork ends, head lugs and fork crowns. Frame sizes were 21.5”, 22.5” or 23.5” with 72˚ head and 73˚ seat tube angles, 16.5” chain stays, 5/8th” seat stays and Zeus drop-outs. There were braze ons for “bare wire” rear brake cabling under the top tubes as well as pump pegs. The components included Simplex Prestige 5- or 10-speed detrailleurs, Normandy hubs, Weinmann sprint rims and Weinmann 999 Vanquer brakes, GB metric Norma stem with Brampton ‘bars, Brooks B15 saddle and black mudguards. The Ruberg was also sold as a frameset with chromed head lugss, fork crown and 10 inch fork socks front and rear as on the team machines or without any chrome.

serial no. prefixes C,D,E for 1968, 69 and 70 manufacture. Based on the Raleigh Ruberg frame with beefy 5/8th" semi-wrapover seat stays, Davis sloping fork crowns and short, rapid taper chain stays with no dimples and plain Brampton lugs. 72 deg. angles. Zeus drop-outs but some with Campagnolo (rear), no name front with mudguard eyelets (a few C series examples without). 120 mm rear spacing. 5-speed freewheel. Top tube braze-ons for bare-wire brake cabling but C prefixed examples had clamp on brake cable clips. White livery, no chrome, special Raleigh 75th anniversary headbadge. Full Campagnolo componentry but Weinmann Vainquer 999 brakeset. GB or Weinmann stem/Brampton 'bars. Brooks small rivet Professional saddle. Weinmann 293 sprint rims. 172.5 mm cranks.


above: the new Professional may have been the top racing bike in Raleigh's new lightweight range for the US market, but you'd never know it in its one rather underwhelming depiction in the tacky 1969 brochure. Known as the "1969 Pro" because of this, it was actually manufactured between 1968-1970. credit: ThreeSpeedHub.com

above: frame details from my Mark I ProE8165 (1970): the fork blades have the Reynolds 531 triangle transfer, other examples have a little Heron's Head. Note also the Raleigh anniversary headbadge, the thinner round pattern rear brake cable braze-on stop (compare with the heavier flat pattern one below) and the delightfully crude seat stay cap "decoration"!
Above: a remarkable near mint and totally original late edition 1970 Mark I Pro (serial no. E4807) as offered on eBay in February 2010 featuring the rare alloy/steel Weinmann stem and Brampton 'bars with pristine decals. Even the 'bar tape is original as are the Milremo plugs.


RALEIGH PROFESSIONALS MARK II-IV

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 was based on the "Giro d'Italia" model that first came out in 1965. Entirely different from the Carlton Professional, this was a very contemporary British time trial/criterium frame featuring a tight rear triangle with Brampton "Victor" fast back stays which were then the all the rage, short rapid taper chainstays, high bottom bracket, short top tube and short fork rake. Brampton Latin Line lugs, sloping Cinelli-style fork crowns (actually Davis crowns) and 3/4 chromed fork end socks and Allen Key seat bolts made for a very attractive, up-to-date frame. 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.


above: the 1967 Team Carlton/BMB frameset (left), based on the 1965 Carlton Giro d'Italia (right) were the roots of the Raleigh Professionals Mark II-IV 1971-1976.




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. And, unlike the somewhat bare bones Mark I, 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)

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.

above: the Mark II Professional as it appeared 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.

above: 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.

above: 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


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.


RALEIGH PROFESSIONAL MARK III (1971)

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.


above: still having to share a catalogue page with the International, the Mark III Professional (left) in the 1971 brochure


above: typical of Raleigh catalogue conflicts during the Bike Boom, the 1972 catalogue 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 platinum blue/silver scheme which had already been introduced on the last run of F series Pros in 1971! Credit: The Headbadge website


above: another minty Raleigh Pro (did anyone actually ride these things?!), a rare 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. 




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.



above: 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.

above: 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

above: 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


above: 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 but 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.




above: 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



above: 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.


above: 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.

BOOM & BUST

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" in the United States during the early 1970s when interest in cycling, especially "10-speed racers", exploded almost overnight. Bicycle bike sales went from fewer than 7 million in 1970 to over 15 million in 1973. By virtue of Raleigh's established nationwide distributor network and production capability, it initially benefited enormously from this boom and Raleigh quality attracted record sales even if most of the bicycles sold in the USA by other firms during the early 70s were admittedly cheap imports dumped on the market. No other company offered a wider range of quality Reynolds 531 tubed machines and the very desirable Campagnolo Nuovo Record components featured on the Professional and International models. 

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. This was 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. 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. 



above: "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 Humpreys, Stan Swaim 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. 

above: 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

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.

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 unexperienced 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.



1972 Raleigh Professional Mark IV
above: 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. 



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. In many respects the best of the series, the Mark V was the only Pro model not derived from a Carlton, although still designed by Gerald O'Donovan. 

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. 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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