Sunday, December 18, 2016

Raleigh Record Ace (RRA) 1933-1942

Indelibly associated with some of Britain's top record-breaking cyclists of the late 1930s-- Sid Ferris, Bert James, Charles Holland and Tommy Godwin-- and one of the most popular mass produced lightweight racing/club/time trial machines of the interwar era, Raleigh's Record Ace (RRA) was announced in November 1933 (in time for that year’s Olympia Cycle Show) for the 1934 model year.

"It’s Design That Matters…. In Cycling And only quality can interpret it to perfection. It all goes back to design and quality-building—that extra speed and stamina of a track car! It’s the same with cycles, in a hundred refinements of design, devised by experts with road and track experience, the Raleigh Record Ace stands high amongst those who understand a fine machine. Still more important—the exclusive Raleigh design is interpreted only with the very finest materials. That’s why when your feet touch the pedals of the Raleigh Record Ace you recognize, on the instant, a machine that gives you more speed, more pleasure and more riding ease."

Best known for its roadster and leisure cycles, Raleigh’s long history includes intermittent but intense involvement in cycle road sport, record breaking and racing. Twenty-one years after the Land’s End-John O’Groats record had been broken on a Raleigh, the Heron was thrust back into competition and public attention when, in August 1929, Jack Rossiter did the run in 61 hours, 27 minutes, cutting nearly 7 hours off the record. He rode a Raleigh "Club" with a Sturmey-Archer “K” three-speed hub gear and spurred Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer on a remarkable decade of sponsoring cycle road records as well developing a new range of racing/club cycles and racing hub gears. The Record model of 1931 was a great success and paved the way for an improved model. 

The introduction of the Record model by the Raleigh Cycle Co., Ltd. some two or three years ago was in the nature of an experiment. It was the beginning of a serious effort to cater for the club-cum-racing man, but it deliberately avoided the 'super' specification so as to keep the price under £8. That experiment has been highly successful; so much so that Raleigh concern has decided to 'go the whole hog' for 1934 and the result is the Raleigh Record Ace, to be known as the R.R.A. at £9 10s., which, as a company-built speed bicycle on thoroughbred lines, leaves very little to be desired. It will take the place of the previous Record model in the new range. 
Cycling, 10 November 1933

The new Raleigh Record Ace as announced in Cycling 10 November 1933. credit: website

The Raleigh Record Ace as first portrayed in the 1934 catalogue beginning its eight-year production run  as Raleigh's premier lightweight club and racing machine. credit: V-CC on line catalogue archives

1935 RRA parts diagram, credit: site

"To Suit the Speedman": The RRA's Specifications

For the real enthusiast there is but one mount-- the Raleigh Record Ace. Light, fast, strong, and as the specification reveals, lavishly equipped, it is the perfect example of what a racing machine should be. In it, Raleigh design and craftsmanship reach their finest expression. 
Raleigh catalogue, 1937

The new Raleigh Record Ace (model no. 45) was an improved Record with many of the same components and geometry but incorporating Reynolds HM (high manganese) Tubing (a forerunner to Reynolds 531) which had been introduced in 1925. In keeping with Raleigh’s mid-range market and to keep the price below £10, the £9 10s (compared to the £7 17s 6d Record) the RRA frame featured a main triangle of 22g chrome-molybdenum tubing while the rear triangle (round tapered chainstays and seatstays) and round sectioned fork blades were of 18-21g Reynolds HM tubing. Braze ons comprised pump clips on the downtube, quick release mudguard eyes, chain hook and rear reflector clip on the driveside seatstay. 

The Record's 67/67˚ parallel seat and head tube angles were kept (as were the lugs) with a 10½" bb height and a 41½" wheelbase with a choice of 20", 21" and 22" frame sizes. The geometry was more mid 1920s than 1930s making it somewhat less attractive to roadmen and for the 1936 model year, the angles were changed to a more responsive 71/71° parallel. 

The stock wheelset comprised 26x1¼" Dunlop Endrick black-enamelled 32/40-hole steel rims and black double-butted spokes with a radially-laced front wheel and quick release hubs with distinctive “R” shaped wingnuts, Dunlop Sprite wire-on tyres and two sided fixed 16t/18t cog rear hub. A single front Raleigh sidepull caliper brake was fitted. A freewheel and rear brake could be added at extra cost. Carried over from the Record model were the distinctive chainset (but initially with unfluted cranks) with three little Heron’s heads on the detachable chainring (46T stock, 44, 48 and 50T optional), attractive Heron’s Head steel quill racing pedals and Heron's Head fork-mount lamp bracket as well as on the handlebar stem. 

The saddle was the Brooks B16 Champion Castalumin model with an alloy girder undercarriage which weighed 1 lb. 7 oz. or  4 oz. less than the B17N which it otherwise resembled. Marsh bend chromed (black celluloid optional) 15-inch wide 4-inch drop handlebars with Constrictor Shockstop 5" grips were fitted to a three-inch extension in a new pattern double locking headclip. A Bluemels Featherlight 15"x⅞ celluloid frame pump and Bluemels No-weight black celluloid mudguards with separate spearpoint extension and Raleigh special pattern quick release fitments and large Brooks saddlebag completed the specification.

Carried over from the Record were the lovely Raleigh pattern three-pin chainring with Heron's Head, scalloped cranks (from 1937-onwards), Heron's Head pedals and lamp bracket and the "R" pattern front axle wingnuts.

Handsomely finished in Raleigh’s unmatched dipped lustrous black enamel with subtle “RRA” gold seat tube transfers, the Record Ace blended well into the stealthy character of British road racing and time trialling when all-black kit was de rigueur for roadmen and machine alike.

A remarkably original "Barn Find" example of a 1934 RRA as offered on eBay c. 2010 showing the rare Brooks B16 Castalumin saddle with dural undercarriage, the first pattern stem the '34-35 models came with and the tubing decal on the lower head lug, on later models it was on the seat tube. The flat 'bars must have been a customer special order. This even has its original Raleigh marked Brooks saddle bag and Dunlop tyres!

"It is the intention of the Raleigh Cycle Co. that the clubman shall have a generous scope of choice in varying the specification of this machine. Apart from the frame, the angles of which must remain standard, quotations will be made at once for any special requirements in the way of tyres, gears, bars, brakes, saddles etc. differing from the items forming the standard specification." Cycling 10 November 1933

Raleigh offered a range of alternate components to “suit the speedman”. The frame could accommodate both 26" wire on or 27" (as 700c rims were known then) sew up rims and run with fixed, fixed and free or Sturmey-Archer hub gears. Constrictor Conloy Asp 26 x 1¼ wire-on alloy rims and Williams B108 Dureel chainset could be substituted at extra cost .

As if to prove its bona fides as a "lightweight", Raleigh only quoted the weights of their top model in the brochures and that for the RRA varied considerably according to the specification. Taking the industry standard of 21" as the stock frame size, an RRA could weigh:
  • 25 ¼ lbs     per catalogue stock, single gear, one brake, stock wheels, no bag
  • 23 ½ lbs     w/ Constrictor Conloy wire-on alloy rims, Dureel chainset, one brake, no bag
  • 19 ½ lbs     "racing trim" w/Conloy sprint rims and sew up tyres, one brake, no 'guards
  • 23 ⅝ lbs      author's 1939 23" RRA with Conloy sprint rims, Sturmey-Archer AR hub,                                        'guards    
  • 27 ½ lbs     per catalogue stock, Sturmey-Archer TC hub, two brakes
  • 35 lbs        author's 1939 23" with stock Endrick rims and wire on tyres, AW hub and GH12                             Dynohub
The Bluemels No-weight mudguard set (including the braces and fitments) weighed 1 lb. on its own and was of the quick release variety and usually removed for time trialing whilst keeping the separate spearpoint attachment up front. Even the little wingnuts for the 'guard brace attachments were of a special pattern unique to the RRA/Record.

Attractive to clubmen, trialists and leisure cyclists alike, the versatile RRA was an important and popular addition to Raleigh's range as it expanded into the competitive cycling and club market.

On 2 November 1934 "Cycling" reported on the new Raleigh range for 1935 exhibited at that year's Cycle Show which in addition to the new Golden Arrow would feature two stock variations of the Record Ace, a "racing edition" with Constrictor sprint wheels and tyres and a fast touring version with North Road 'bars. In the event, neither of these were indeed offered for the 1935 season although such specifications could be adhered to by custom order. That year the Record model was revived for a final season and it was indeed offered in the touring version contemplated for the RRA.

The 26 June 1935 cover of Cycling featured a testimonial letter lauding the RRA's "right amount of 'uprightness' without any of the present day exaggerated angles which affect comfort and steering". Yet, this would be the last year with the original and dated 67/67 angles

The RRA as shown in the stylish Art Deco 1935 catalogue showing the new white Bluemels celluloid mudguards with built-in reflector introduced that year.  credit: website

For 1936, the RRA got more contemporary 71/71 parallel frame angles and Bailey bend handlebars. credit: V-CC online catalogue archives. 

As described in Cycling 4 December 1935 reporting on that year's Cycle Show at Olympia, London "where a Raleigh Record Ace model is shown stripped for racing complete with sprints; a fast-looking machine with 71-degree frame, of 22-gauge Molybdenum tubing, 41.5 wheelbase and extra resilient high manganese fork blades, that tips the scales, as shown, at 19½ pounds. Price is only given on application, although the standard job, which weighs 24½ lb with mudguards and brakes and Sprite tyres, costs £9 10 s. "

RRA Specification Changes:

  • white celluloid Bluemels No-Weight mudguards with built-in rear reflector (the change to white prompted by new MoT regulations mandating at least a white section for rear mudguards)
  • seat stay braze-on for reflector deleted. 
  • frame angles changed to 71/71˚parallel
  • Brooks B-16 Castalumin saddle whose alloy girder frame was prone to cracking replaced by Brooks B-19 Champion Narrow which was designed for long-distance cycling and longer than the B-17 and weighed 2 lbs vs. the 1 lb 7oz B16. 
  • 16-inch 6-inch drop Bailey bend handlebars instead of Marsh bends on a shorter, differently shaped adjustable stem extension. 
  • Williams B108 crankset option deleted.
  • fork chromium-plated
  • fluted and scalloped crank arms. 
  • riveted metal headbadge instead of transfer
  • optional finishes at no extra charge: Maroon, Blue, Green, Gold or Silver
  • rear brake optional at no extra charge. Sturmey-Archer 2-speed close ratio, 3-speed KS, KSW or K hub gears optional. 
  • price increased to £9 15s for stock model
  • lug design changed to "cutaway and fishtailed" pattern. 
  • Sturmey-Archer Dynolamp, AR close-ratio three-speed hub gear and stainless steel spokes optional.
  • 23-inch frame size added 
  • new pattern Raleigh caliper brakes and rear brake now standard. 
  • chain now Renold Elite. 
  • Sturmey-Archer hub brakes, AR, AM, AW hub gears, 12v. or 8 v. Dynohub, rear lamp optional.
  • Dunlop EA1 Endrick chromed rims standard (black optional) with stainless spokes, Constrictor Conloy 700c sprint rims optional. 
  • optional finishes (no extra charge) expanded to Maroon, Blue, Green, Gold or Silver lustre finish, Maroon, Green, Light or Dark Blue enamel as well as six Continental finishes" 
  • price increased to £10.19.6, only available in black 
  • Sturmey-Archer AW, AM, AR, AF and FM hub gears optional.

Left: the stem used on 1933-35 RRAs with Marsh bend 'bars and (right), the stem used from 1936 onwards with Bailey bend 'bars.

The original unfluted cranks (1934-36) and the standard "flip-flop" rear cog of the RRA. credit: V-CC on-line archives

Left: the original pattern Raleigh caliper brakes, front and rear, of  the RRA 1933-39 and right: the revised pattern adopted in 1939. credit: left V-CC on line archives and right author's photographs.

The Humber Super Club

Having acquired Humber Cycles of Coventry in 1932, its production was absorbed into that of Raleigh in Nottingham and in an early example of "branding", the new Humber range starting in 1933 largely mirrored that of the parent company save for the model names, colours, transfers and a few components. Consequently, the Raleigh Record Ace was offered from 1934-38 in a Humber badged equivalent, the Super Club no. 95, identical in price and components to the RRA except for plain chainring, different fork crown and Humber pattern lamp brackets.

The new Humber Super Club in Cycling's 1 December 1933 National Cycle Show number. Although now part of Raleigh, Humber's advertising and catalogue artwork always seemed to steal a march on the parent company's. The "famous clubman" mentioned was most likely a reference to Raleigh professional Charlie Marshall. 

The new Humber Super Club as introduced in the first edition of the 1934 catalogue with artwork strikingly similar to that used for the Raleigh Record the previous year.

The new Humber Super Club as more elegantly presented in the second edition of  the 1934 catalogue. credit: V-CC on-line catalogue archives

The Humber Super Club as pictured in the 1936 catalogue.

"Cycling's" famous "Nimrod" reviewed the Raleigh Record Ace in the 25 November 1936 issue, testing both the machine and the new Sturmey-Archer TR two-speed fixed/free hub gear introduced that summer.
Of the machine, he wrote:
"Stripped, and in road racing trim with Conloy rims and Constrictor Asp tubulars-- the whole job, with a couple of brakes, weighing less than 22 lb.-- heavens! why there isn't a cyclist I know who hasn't envied me testing the Raleigh Record Ace during the past month or so.
They have cause; it is a really super-fine bicycle. I suppose I have ridden something 700 miles on it, including quite a lot to and from the office and my home, and I have not put a spanner on it or even an oily rag since I've had it. Yet, although it is convered with mud-- we have had quite a lot of rain in the London district recently-- the machine runs as well now as it did on the first day and nowhere can I find anything that needs adjustment.
Just a word or two about the machine itself. The frame is 21 ins. and the fame angles 71 degrees at the seat tube. Extra resilient high manganese round section forks are used, the head is generous, and the whole result is a frame upon which one can sit comfortably (and I sit well behind the bracket, although Bert James sits almost on top of it), and balance and seteer with accuracy and remarkable ease.
So simple is the Raleigh to balance and steer that I rode the whole length of the avenue in which I live, my hands removed from the handlebars, and yet I felt secure and perfectly confident that I had full control of the machine; although I admit that it took me some time to convince a cruising police-car party upon the latter part. ..
The bicycle is splendidly finished; in fact, the machine looks what it is: a high-class job for the specialist"

credit: Peter Jourdain

The heyday of the hub gear in competitive, long distance record breaking as heralded by Sturmey-Archer and Raleigh adverts of the day. All of these records were achieved on Raleigh Record Aces and Raleigh Charles Holland Continentals. credit: website

A Raleigh Record Breaker

This is the hub [Sturmey-Archer AR ] that helped me break the Edinburgh-to-London, Land’s End to John O’Groats, and 1,000 miles records. It’s exactly what we racing men have always been looking for—a totally enclosed HUB gear with a really close ratio. I’ll never ride without it. Sid Ferris 

Not entirely by coincidence, the Raleigh Record Ace or RRA had the same initials as the Road Record Association, the governing body of British cycle time trial and long distance road records which then dominated cycle sport where mass start racing was still prohibited on public roads. The name association between the two RRAs took on more meaning when the Raleigh machine begin to figure in the late 1930s record making runs under Raleigh sponsorship to prove and popularise a new range of Sturmey-Archer hubs designed for racing and time trialling. 

Sturmey-Archer was spurred to action after Australian Hubert Opperman’s 1935 Edinburgh-John O’Groats record on a BSA using a four-speed Cyclo derailleur. 

Ushering in a new era for Sturmey-Archer in the competitive cycling trade and designed to compete with the early derailleurs was the AR close-ratio hub (an AR-9 as on the author's 1939 RRA) and the trigger gear changer (this is the first version).

Under the leadership of William Brown who took over Sturmey-Archer's development and design department in 1935 and in cooperation with Charlie Marshall, one of Raleigh's top riders, new racing hubs were developed, first of which was the AR Close Ratio. First marketed in November 1936, it offered what had long been sought by time-trialists and long distance racers, an ultra close ratio gear (7.24% increase/6.76% decrease) equal to adding or subtracting one-tooth from the sprocket and allowing a uniform pedalling rate against wind or gradient. Sprockets were available from 14 to 20 teeth.

Designed for quick release wheel changes, special Sturmey Archer wingnuts were fitted and the gear control wire featured a quick release connection alloying the wheel to be removed without upsetting the gear control adjustment. The AR hub weighed 2 lbs. 9 oz. Another innovation (patented on 10 July 1937 by Brown and Marshall) was the new trigger gear changer which fitted just below the brake lever permitted simultaneous two finger control of both.

Sturmey-Archer brochure for the new AR close-ratio hub gear highlighting Sid Ferris' record ride, Edinburgh-London in October 1936, for Raleigh/SA on an RRA with the new gear. credit: website

To prove the new hub to the "speedman", Raleigh-Sturmey Archer engaged Charles Holland, Bert James and Sid Ferris managed by Charlie Davey (himself a recordholder in the 1920s) to undertake a series of long distance rides on RRAs with AR hubs to beat the records then held by derailleur-equipped machines starting in autumn 1936. 

"Cycling" reported that Ferris "has selected a Raleigh bicycle for his record activities. He has already accepted delivery of his new Raleigh Record Ace models. They have 21-in. frames and are finished in flamboyant green with chromium-plated forks. The specification includes Brooks B17 Flyer saddle, 15-in by 4-in Marsh bars; and 26-in by 1⅛-in Conloy rims with Dunlop no. 3 tubulars...."

Cycling 6 October 1936 announcing the signing of Sid Ferris to a professional contract with Sturmey-Archer and initial plans to challenge Opperman's R.R.A. records won with Cyclo derailleurs with the new Sturmey-Archer AR hub. credit: V-CC on line archives

On his first ride as a Raleigh/Sturmey Archer professional, 29-year-old Sid Ferris broke the RRA record for the 386-mile London-Edinburgh run with a time of 21 hours 28 minutes on 14 October 1936, 21 minutes faster than the time set in 1931 by E.H. Brown. Ferris failed, however, to beat the 24-hour record of 461¾ miles, set by Opperman, with 440 miles covered. Ferris commenced his ride at Glenogle Halt Gate (Perthshire), 68 miles from Edinburgh, and finished at the London G.P.O. and except for a following wind for about an hour, braved rain and head and cross winds for most of the journey. Thirteen hours of the ride was accomplished in darkness but Ferris still averaged nearly 18 mph.

“The splendid performance of S.H. Ferris, latest recruit to the ranks of Nottingham’s ‘star’ cyclists, in beating (subject to EEA confirmation) in the early hours of this morning the national Edinburgh-London record for unpaced road riding is expected to bring a new phase of prosperity to the works of Messrs. Sturmey-Archer Gears Ltd. Ferris, who is riding professionally for this Nottingham concern, is expected to attach further records next year. His object is to emphasise the greater efficiency of the product of the British gear industry against many foreign types of chain gears which have invaded the country in recent years” Nottingham Post, 14 October 1936

The second RRA record, London-Portsmouth roundtrip, was broken by Bert James on 25 May 1937 with a time of 6 hours 33 minutes 57 seconds. "It was a magnificent effort," said manager Charlie Davey, "Then, when over fifty miles from home on the return journey, James had a puncture. This was followed seven minutes later by another. Then he actually had to slow up for a few seconds, owing to traffic. In the following car we had almost given it up for hopeless, but in the last two hours we saw the most tremendous fighting effort any of us have ever seen, and James pulled up across the line with seconds in hand. At the end of the trip James looked surprisingly fresh, and the first thing he did was to send a telegram to his wife." James had beaten Australian F. Stuart's previous record, held for two years, by a scant 10 seconds. 

On 3 June 1937 Sid Ferris did Edinburgh-London (378 miles) in 20 hours 19 minutes, besting the previous record by E.B, Brown which had stood for six year by 1½ hours despite headwinds in Northumberland and Yorkshire. 

Player's cigarette card depicting Sid Ferris on his RRA starting his record ride in July 1937 from Land's End to John o' Groats

The most celebrated of RRA records, Land's End to John O'Groats, was reclaimed by Sid Ferris in July 1937. Leaving Land's End at 10.00 am on the 17th, Ferris reached Bodmin on schedule at 12.50 pm but was an hour down by the time Bristol was reached and no time made up by Lancaster after 403 miles. After Carlisle (470 miles), he was still 80 minutes down but it was very fast running after that and upon reaching Inverness (728), Ferris was 30 minutes back and rode the remaining 142 miles to John O'Groats in 9 hours 33 minutes to reach there 57 minutes ahead of schedule. His total time for the 860 miles was 2 days 6 hours 33 minutes averaging 16 mph, beating Opperman’s time by 2 hours 28 minutes and standing for 21 years. 

Interviewed at the finish, Ferris told reporters: "I am feeling very fit. I had a lot of rain on Saturday, and it was very cold cycling through Grampians on Sunday night. I am pleased that the run has been a success." His wife, who followed her husband in a car, added "It was a strain watching the clock all the way, but I am glad he broke the record. He had no sleep, and only short rests occasionally." After three hours rest at John O' Groats, Ferris was back on his RRA to make a run for the 1,000-mile record which he broke in a time of 2 days 22 hours 40 minutes, three hours faster than the previous mark. 

Ferris' record was big news in Australia as they were at the expense of the Australian Opperman. Here cuttings from the Sporting Globe (Melbourne) show Ferris with his RRA. 

When his June 1937 Edinburgh-London record was disallowed because of a rule violation by an assistant rider that October, the opportunity was seized to try again that month and Ferris clocked 21 hours 28 minutes, still 21 minutes faster than any previous record despite riding 15 hours of it in the dark and also proving another new Sturmey-Archer innovation, the 12 v. Dynohub, which been introduced the previous month.

Bert James set a new Liverpool-London (200.5 miles) record on 19 September 1937 of 9 hours 27 minutes, beating the previous time (which had stood for 48-years) by three minutes. Starting at 7.00 am, James did the first 100 miles in 4½ hours but was later challenged by winds and 60 miles from London by rain, but was described as being "quite fresh and plenty in reserve" when he reached the London G.P.O. at 4.27 pm.

The 1938 Sturmey Archer brochure featured their new three-speed range including the AR and the new medium ratio AM and highlighted 1937's impressive series of records won on RRA's with the AR hub. 

Records continued to be broken in 1938.  New that year was the Sturmey-Archer AM medium ratio hub featuring 15.55% increase/13.36% reduction and weighing 2 lbs 6 ozs. and this was to feature prominently in that year's record efforts.

On 19 March 1938 Bert James cut 9 minutes 53 seconds off the 100-mile record on an RRA with an AR hub, clocking 3 hours 45 mins and 51 secs between Stirling Corner, on the Barnet bypass, and Attleborough, breaking the record held since 1934 by Frank Southall. This worked out to an average of approximately 27 mph.

Riding with the new AM hub, Sid Ferris broke the 24-hour record at 465.75 miles from Edinburgh to the South Coast on a Record Ace which was also fitted with the new GH8 Dynohub.

Bert James' 12 May 1938 effort broke both the London-York and 12-hour records. His London-York time of 8 hours 44 minutes clipped 16 minutes off Frank Southall's 1934 record and he covered 260 miles in 12 hours, adding seven miles to the previous record and averaging 20.7 mph.

Charles Holland broke his first road record on 9 June 1938, Liverpool-Edinburgh, clocking 10 hours for the 210 miles, 12 minutes faster than the previous record held by Frank Southall and averaging 21 mph. On 13 October he dropped 25 minutes off the Land’s End-London record, doing the 287 miles in 13 hours 44 minutes at an average 20.91 mph despite hours of rain and four punctures en route riding the new Raleigh Charles Holland Continental model (a mass start version of the RRA) with an AM hub.

Even as far afield as Australia, home of Opperman who triumphed the derailleur on RRA records, Sturmey-Archer countered with an extensive advertising campaign touting its own success toppling many of "Oppy's" records with the new AR hub.

In late October 1938, Sid Ferris set a new "24" record Edinburgh-London of 465.25 miles, running the same course with Cyril Heppleston (riding for Hercules) who clocked the best time for run, besting Ferris by six minutes. Ferris rode an RRA with a Sturmey-Archer AM hub for the hillier daytime portion of the ride and switched to another RRA with an AR hub and the new 8-volt GH8 Dyno-Hub for the southern portion run in the dark. In this photo from Cycling 2 November, Ferris' RRA is fitted with a front spearpoint extension 'guard with a half a rear mudguard. He suffered five punctures during the ride, lost four minutes at level crossings and skidded and fell crossing Westminster Bridge. But the ride was huge success coming right on the eve of the National Cycle Show at Earl's Court. 

The National Cycle Show at Earl's Court in November 1938 included at display at Raleigh's stand of Sid Ferris' and Bert James Raleigh Record Aces used on their record runs as well as Charles Holland's new Raleigh Charles Holland Continental model.

In early 1939 Ferris began testing the new four-speed AF hub (essentially an AR hub with an extra low (25% decrease) gear for mass start racing and hills) with weekly trial runs totalling over 3,000 miles between London and Nottingham prior to its introduction in April. That month, he established a new 24-hour record of 465.75 miles on an RRA with the new hub.

The "Raleigh Riders"... Bert James, Sid Ferris and Charles Holland... were prominently featured in Raleigh's 1939 catalogue.

Sid Ferris on his RRA

By 1939, Raleigh boasted it held nine of Britain's 15 road records totalling over 3,500 miles of the 4,650 total:
Road Record Association British record runs 1930s 
(15 in all) 
Records Held by Raleigh-Sturmey Archer riders by 1939 (9)
1. 50 miles
2. 100 miles 
3. 1000 miles 
4.12 hours
5. 24 hours 
6. London-York or vv 
7. York-Edinburgh or vv 
8. London-Liverpool or vv 
9. Liverpool-Edinburgh or vv 
10. London-Edinburgh or vv 
11. Land's End-John O'Groats or vv 
12. Land's End-London or vv
13. London-Bath r/t
14. London-Brighton r/t
15. London-Portsmouth 

Never before and not until the exploits of the TI Raleigh Racing team of the 1970s-80s, were Raleigh bicycles more in the news than the Raleigh Record Aces ridden to British road cycling records 1936-40 by S.H. Ferris, Bert James, Charles Holland and Tommy Godwin. Ferris' Lands End-John O'Groats record was unbroken for 21 years and Godwin's record for the most miles cycled in single year has yet to be matched. 

The last RRA record broken by Raleigh was in July 1939 when Frank Southall's Edinburgh-York time, which hadn't been beaten since 1935, was bested by 1 minute by Charlie Holland who clocked the 186-mile run in 8 hours 20 minutes, averaging 21.7 mph using an AF hub and riding a Raleigh Charles Holland Continental.

Not just professional record breakers rode the RRA, it was a popular mount in the amateur cycle sport scene as well, exemplified by the classic British time trial between the wars of black alpaca jackets, tights and dawn runs on the Bath Road. Here are some great action shots from the British Best All Rounder (BAR) competition annual programmes: left and centre, Norman Hey (Bronte Wheelers CC) 5th in the BAR in 1937-38 riding an RRA fixed (left) and with a Sturmey Archer hub gear centre and left: H.H. Pickersgill (Vegetarian CC) 4th BAR, 1937, riding an RRA with Sturmey-Archer hub. credit: Peter Jourdain

With its newfound records and laurels, the Raleigh Record Ace achieved its apogee in 1939 and offered to mere mortals in that year's catalogue above. New that year was a 23" frame size. This page also introduces the new Charles Holland Continental model, the first Raleigh designed for mass start racing. credit: V-CC on-line catalogue archieves. 

Unbroken: Tommy Godwin's Record Ride

Your brilliant performance definitely demonstrates that the modern high-grade British bicycle fitted with a four speed hub is supreme in quality and dependability.
from telegram from Sturmey-Archer to Tommy Godwin upon his record

27 May 1939, almost six months into his effort to break the record for the most miles cycled in a single year, Tommy Godwin poses with his new sponsors, Raleigh, his new ivory-coloured Raleigh Record Ace and manager Charlie Davey (extreme right) in front of Winchester Cathedral. The photo (left) of Godwin at speed on his RRA is obviously posed as it lacks the essential sealed Smith's speedometer fitted to record his mileage. Note, too, the well worn and dirty 'bar tape and unusual black-painted stem indicating the handlebar set maybe have been initially carried over from his previous mount, a Ley T.G. Special. 

The final and most enduring (unbeaten to date) record set on an RRA was that by 27-year-old Tommy Godwin who established the all-time total of 75,065 miles ridden in a single year. Setting out on a Ley TG Special (with a Reynolds 531 frame) bicycle with a four-speed Cyclo derailleur on 1 January 1939, the demands of the ride proved too much for Ley, a small independent cycle company and on 27 May Raleigh-Sturmey Archer assumed sponsorship.

Raleigh provided Godwin with a new 21" RRA in special ivory livery fitted with an AF hub, 48t chainring and 15t sprocket. His saddle was a Brooks B17 Flyer. The wheelset appears to be the stock RRA one with 26 x 1¼ light Endrick chromed rims with Dunlop Sprite tyres. Lighting was by a fork-mounted Lucas battery headlamp. Godwin also extensively rode a conventionally black-painted RRA with chromed fork. Most photos of him actually on the road are on this machine including an extensive collection taken on 21 July when Cycling's H.H. England and a photographer spent an entire day recording a typical day of Godwin on the road.

With the coming of war that September and the black-out, Godwin had his black RRA quickly repainted painted white or cream for greater visibility but with the original "RRA" and "Raleigh" transfers on the original black background and all looking rather wartime expedient. Finally, towards the end of his record in spring 1940, Godwin was back on his original ivory RRA and also running with the new GH8 Dynohub.

In addition to running with the AF hub, Godwin also used the new medium-ratio four-speed FM hub starting in October. It was claimed that his average daily mileage increased by 33½ per cent from 156 to 200 using the four-speed hubs. It should be noted that Godwin used an AF hub from March-May on his Ley as well and went from a 155.7-mile average in February to 178.6 in March with the new gear.

Godwin's record was a triumph of man and machine. And in particular, the new Sturmey-Archer four-speed models introduced in 1939. Indeed, Godwin was one of the first to use the new AF four-speed close-ratio gear in March 1939, a month before its commercial release, and began his association with SA whilst still riding his Ley and before his signing as a professional with Raleigh-Sturmey Archer. In October he began riding with the new FM medium-ratio four-speed hub, a month before it was released. credit: Sturmey Archer Heritage website. 

Godwin's RRA was probably heavier than his Reynolds 531 Ley but it was the support that Raleigh provided in terms of a manager (former Raleigh ride Charlie Davey), pacers and limitless technical and parts assistance that made the difference. Raleigh's promotional assets thrust Godwin's efforts into the media spotlight as they hitherto had not been. He was the best advertisement Raleigh/Sturmey-Archer could wish for and posters, postcards and dealer displays flooded the cycle world. As late as 1955, Raleigh touted that a "prototype of the Super Lenton" (sic) was used in the effort. 

Tommy Godwin on his RRA with "Cycling"'s H.H. England on 26 October 1939 when he just broke the record for the most miles cycled in a single year (with two months to spare) and the promotional card issued by Sturmey-Archer in September 1939 in anticipation of the record. Godwin's black-painted RRA has been hastily repainted white (leaving the original transfers on the original black) to give better visibility during the wartime blackout. 

Although it was soon overtaken by the Second World War and largely forgotten after it, Godwin's run for greatest mileage record was widely covered and not just in Britain but throughout the Empire. These clippings are from Australia whose Ossie Nicholson held the record prior to Godwin, 62,657 miles in 12 months. 

Spending up to 18 hours a day in the saddle, Godwin's best day's run was an amazing 361 miles on 21 June 1939. After six months, he had ridden 34,610 miles. July saw the most miles, 8,581, chalked up (an average of 277 a day) and that month Godwin stopped riding with pacers and the rest of his record was accomplished solo. The 50,000-mile mark was reached on 29 August and with two months to spare, he broke the previous record riding into Trafalgar Square on 26 October completing 62,658 miles. By year's end Godwin had notched up 75,065 miles (averaging 205.6 miles a day), riding through the appalling winter of 1939-40 and despite wartime blackout restrictions and rationing. He reached the remarkable mark of 100,000 miles before finally halting on 14 May 1940 after an incredible 499 days awheel. These records remain unbroken to this day. 

Whit Monday, Paddington Recreation Ground, 13 May 1940: Tommy Godwin is congratulated by Cycling's H.H. England having completed 100,000 miles in 499 days. A great and yet unbroken record held by a British rider, British bicycle and gears. The rider and machine show the rigours of the effort and it will be noted that Godwin's RRA is fitted with the new Sturmey-Archer GH8 Dynohub.

Sturmey-Archer advertisements of 1940 heralding Tommy Godwin's record. (Sporting Globe, Melbourne) 

The day Godwin finally ended his record ride, Britain's new Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his first speech in Parliament promising nothing but "blood, toil, tears and sweat" in coming months and years. Like the Nation, Godwin went to war, serving in the Royal Air Force. After the war, he continued his avid cycling but his record was largely forgotten. Not by Raleigh which apparently supplied him with a new Raleigh Record Ace every two years. It was fittingly on an RRA with a Sturmey Archer hub that Tommy Godwin died of a heart attack whilst returning from a ride on 20 July 1975, aged 63.

The RRA in America

The year before the introduction of the RRA, Hamilton Osgood, who had recently completed his education at New College, Oxford, and fell in love with cycling, English bicycles and especially Raleighs there, imported the first eight Raleighs to the United States. Before 1933 was over, he had established Raleigh Cycle Distributors. At the time American cycling was largely considering a juvenile past time and dominated by heavy single speed "coaster brake" bicycles. The Raleighs were a  revelation in lightness and performance by comparison and the Raleigh Record Ace was, at the time, unlike any machine being sold in the country. In addition, Osgood introduced the Sturmey-Archer hub gear and Brooks saddles to the U.S. market. By 1939, Osgood was selling 9,000 Raleighs a year and a good proportion of them were RRAs and Golden Arrows.

The RRA as presented in the 1938 Raleigh brochure for the United States. Costing $79 single gear or $86 with a Sturmey-Archer AW hub, it was comparably priced to the new Schwinn Paramount and together they were the only lightweight road racing bicycles then readily sold in the country. 

Article in the Lewiston Daily Sun (USA) in May 1937 on the then remarkable exploits of 17-year-old W. Richard Kitchen on his brand new Raleigh Record Ace. It is described in detail as if from another planet compared to the unsophisticated and unwieldly “coaster” bikes that defined American cycling of the era.

The RRA as portrayed in its final form in the 1940 catalogue showing the 23" frame size (first offered the previous year) and the wide range of Sturmey-Archer hubs then available as options. credit: website

The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 did not immediately end commercial Raleigh cycle production and a full range was offered in 1940 but essentially unchanged from the previous year except optional finishes for the RRA were dropped. Prices were increased by 12½ per cent with the RRA and Charles Holland costing £10 19s 6d. Production of more practical roadsters took priority and Sturmey-Archer ended almost all hub manufacture in 1942 and switched to war production. The RRA and the Charles Holland Continental as well almost the entire Raleigh line except the Popular, Dawn and Sports roadsters were withdrawn from production in October 1942.

The Raleigh Record Ace last appeared in the 1941 catalogue, the last for the duration, sharing the page with the Lenton Sports (introduced in 1939) and the Charles Holland Continental. And H.M. Submarine Swordfish

Thus ended the first phase of the Raleigh Record Ace and the heyday of the hub gear in long distance road records in the 1930s. With the RRA Raleigh established itself in competitive cycling with a factory-made machine of modest qualities and price that proved itself a record-breaker many times over as well as being a thoroughly delightful bicycle to own and ride then and indeed 75 years later.

The author's 1939 Raleigh Record Ace, serial no. AF55635.
A full set of photos and other details:


Paul Whatley (V-CC Raleigh marque specialist), Neil Foddering, Peter Jourdain, the V-CC online catalogue archives, website, Sturmey Archer Heritage website, OldBike.Eu website, website, Trove, National Library of Australia on line newspaper archives.
Unsurpassed, Godfrey Barlow, 2012
The Year, Dave Barter, 2015
Raleigh, Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, Tony Hadland, 2012


1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for putting together such a fine resource for Raleigh and Sturmey Archer. A great read and very informative. Your Ipernity albums are a treat as well. I remember you from the halcyon days of the CR list and your wee battles with Chuck Schmidt on the relative merits of hub gears and derailleurs. I was always on your side. :) I don't have a Raleigh (other than a 1983 Superbe) but I've now got a real hankering for a Record Ivorychrome - what a superb-looking machine. I do have an AF9 hub, however, which I'm keeping for a 1939 Carlton Flyer, and it was fascinating reading about its introduction. It made me feel like I really was living between the wars, if only for a brief period.

    Bruce Robbins