Saturday, December 17, 2016

Raleigh Record Ace (RRA) 1947-1954






A product embodying the combined experience and advice of Club and Track Men, in collaboration with the ‘quality conscious’ Technicians of the Raleigh Organisation, whose unequaled skill and craftmanship have produced a mount incorporating all the needs of the most critical Rider. It will be obvious from an examination of the specification that the requirements of every keen Clubman have been appreciated and embodied. Apart from the frame, the angles of which are the result of exhaustive research and experiment, each machine is made to individual taste in respect of the components and finish. Although the price is high, it should be realized that no expense has been spared in fitting all the very latest components made from the expensive light alloys available today. We are satisfied that in the R.R.A. we are offering a Speedman’s mount which is without equal in the industry.
1948 Raleigh catalogue

March 1946: Winston Churchill gives his "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, Clement Atlee announces the British Government would grant India's request for Independence and at the first post-war cycle dealers show in Nottingham, Raleigh, the world's largest cycle company, introduces its new range. If not of such global consequence, it was still a welcome sign of revival at the end of a hard winter of coal shortages that made the shiny new prototypes all the more alluring. The Red Menace and Indian Independence were vague abstractions compared to a brand new, shiny bicycle freed of rationing and wartime black-out paint as well as getting Britain's export industry up and running exporting bicycles to the far corners of the globe and Empire again.


The last for the duration, Raleigh's 1942 catalogue assumed a suitably patriotic flavour. Like so many British companies, it earned the right to Fly the Flag, devoting 95% of its production capacity to munitions work and turning out 400 million pieces of small shells, cases and fuses for the Ministry of Supply as well as designing and building a special folding bike for the Parachute Corps. 1942 was the last year the old RRA was produced but even during the privations of war, Raleigh planned a successor that, like its war efforts, would be Best of British in specification and quality and appreciated more than ever today as a true icon of British post-war design and craftsmanship. credit: V-CC on line catalogue archives

Wartime Work & Post-War Plans

From 1942 onwards, Raleigh was mostly focused on essential war munitions production, and consequently only 25,000 bicycles were produced that year. But already the following year, this rose to 183,000. During the war, Raleigh supplied 200,000 cycles to HM Government and HM Forces so its core business remained active. In August 1944 George Wilson reported that "a good deal of development work had taken place in connection with cycle design" adding in October that "excellent progress had been made with reference to improved design and equipment for post-war." In January 1945 Raleigh established an experimental shop to develop new Sturmey-Archer gears and lighting and also new bicycles. By the end of the War in August, Raleigh was producing 6,000 frames a week and Sturmey Archer had resumed hub production at a rate of 5,000 a week. (Hadland, Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand).

The prudent development of new products during the war and resumption of commercial production helped ease Raleigh into the post-war age. And many of the new bicycles, components and hubs designed and perfected during the war by Raleigh and Sturmey Archer including a new range of Dyno-Hubs (including the GH6 and combined three- and four-speed gear Dyno-Hubs), the ASC three-speed fixed-gear hub and a new range of roadsters and sports machines proved among the best ever made by these companies as well as being exemplars of British cycle design, innovation and craftsmanship in the 1950s-60s. At the head of the post-war range was a new Raleigh Record Ace.

The new Raleigh Record Ace was a completely reworked version of its famous record-breaking pre-war predecessor. The original RRA, in production from late 1933 to 1942, had been an enormous success both in the commercial market as a mid range priced, factory made club and racing machine and in its widespread use in professional record breaking for the Raleigh-Sturmey Archer team to promote a new range of racing hub gears. Had it not been for the war, it would most likely have been superseded by a new machine by the mid '40s.

Indeed, to cater to the nascent sport of mass start road racing in Britain, Raleigh had introduced the Charles Holland Continental model in 1939 which joined the venerable RRA as the top model in the range. But neither were built of Reynolds 531 already well established and there was clearly an opportunity to improve on both the specification and Raleigh's standing at the upper echelons of the sport/club cycle market.


The Charles Holland Continental of 1938 was in some ways the precursor of the post-war RRA and the first Raleigh designed for mass start racing. This early brochure cites full frame sizes whereas production models were in half sizes i.e. 20½, and with steeper angles (73° head, 71° seat) which were carried over with new RRA. 


Wartime Prototype "Raleigh Super Club"


The Company [Raleigh] is cut to produce a real Clubman's bicycle and are determined it shall be a machine second to none in its field.

28 June 1945 Suffolk & Essex Free Press


Bert James astride the RRA prototype outside F. Webb & Sons cycle dealers in Sudbury, 27 June 1945. James rode the machine from Nottingham to Sudbury via Norwich, Saxmundham, Woodbridge, Ipswich, Clacton and Colchester.  28 June 1945 Suffolk & Essex Free Press. 

Design work on the new R.R.A. was sufficiently advanced during the War so that within weeks of V-E Day, a prototype had been built. Recognising that there would be a huge pent-up demand for sports cycling and club machines as millions of Britons of prime club cycling age were "demobbed" in coming months, Raleigh organised an extensive promotional tour of the new machine and other post-war innovations. This featured the famous Raleigh record breaker Bert James who had ridden a RRA to four British Road Record Association records 1937-39 and still held the 100-mile record of 3 hrs. 45 mins at an average speed of 27 mph. This nationwide tour began in June 1945 and included visits to Raleigh dealers, cycle clubs and sports events with James riding the new model throughout much of the country. The tour also promoted the first prototype of the new Sturmey-Archer ASC three-speed fixed-gear rear hub.

28 June 1945 Suffolk & Essex Free Press

As reported in the press, the prototype's specifications were:

Frame: Reynolds 531 main triangle, back stays and forks
Wheels: double-butted spokes, Constrictor alloy hollow rims, Dunlop road racing tyres
Mudguards: white celluloid
Gears: Sturmey-Archer AF four-speed close-ratio hub gear with trigger control
Cranks: special octagonal cranks and light chainwheel, Raleigh quill pedals
Handlebars: alloy 'bars
Brakes: Raleigh calipers in alloy
Saddle: Brooks B39
Braze-ons: mudguard eyes and pump pegs
Finish: flamboyant blue with red lines and panels


For a Nation thoroughly sick of War and sacrifice, Raleigh's summer 1945 promotional tour by Bert James of the new "Super Club" prototype made welcome news in the local British press. "...a reminder that the time is fast approaching when the devotees of the wheel will probably be indulging in in a nation-wide revival of their pastime."


The New R.R.A. Debut.. and Delays

"Unfortunately, I cannot say what these machines will cost; nor when they will be obtainable. The models I saw were prototypes, forerunners of the really beautiful machine to be produced later"
CTC Gazette, April 1946

The first prototypes of the Raleigh Record Ace were the star of Raleigh's "dealers show" in Nottingham in March 1946 which highlighted the new post-war range of Raleigh, Rudge, Humber, Robin Hood cycles and Sturmey-Archer hubs. As reported by the CTC Gazette (April 1946) :

It was obvious that the 1946 models are by no means repetitions of those we knew before the war. They are better in many ways, especially in lightness and finish. Weight has been saved in several instances. The Dynohub, for example, is 4½ oz. lighter than it used to be. The pedals of the R.R.A. now weight 6 oz. less than their pre-war equivalents-- a reduction achieved by the use of alloy, which is also responsible for a saving of weight in mudguard stays, wing nuts, lamp bracket, handlebar and stem. The R.R.A. had a 73/71 degree frame of '531' tubing, and is equipped with the new Raleigh chainwheel, a handsome job indeed. A special feature is that the beautifully fluted crank forms one of the three radial arms. In the normal single-geared form the R.R.A. with a Brooks B17 narrow saddle and Airlite hubs in high pressure rims weighs 23½ lbs. The tourist version weighs only 3½ lb. more. It has a three-speed gear, rubber pedals, and quickly detachable bag-support, and Conloy rims.

The CTC report added "Unfortunately, I cannot say what these machines will cost; nor when they be obtainable. The models I saw were prototypes, forerunners of the really beautiful machines to be produced later." And that, like so much of the immediate post-war era was the issue as British industry gradually geared up for new commercial production amidst shortages of steel, coal and skilled labour. For Raleigh and the cycle industry as a whole, the immediate focus was on the export trade as demanded by the Atlee Government to replenish Britain depleted foreign currency earnings. And on more modestly priced and practical machines.

The prototype of the post-war Raleigh Record Ace in its touring configuration as displayed at the dealer's show in Nottingham in March 1946. It would be two years before the first machines were actually delivered.

Cycling's (20 March 1946) write-up on the new RRA at the Nottingham dealer's show. credit: V-CC on-line archives. 


The new RRA presented additional challenges as its concept was based on a wide choice of high end components both from other makers and its own unique fitments some of which were not made "in house" by Raleigh and thus subject to the production delays and issues out of its control. And like the RRA, almost all of its outside maker components were brand new for the post-war era and only just coming into production. Manufacture of the frames thus had to wait until the components were available in sufficient quantity and in regular supply.


The first advertisement for the new RRA appeared in Cycling 2 April 1947 "A new R.R.A. Model specially designed and built for the Racing man is shortly going into production. This super machine will be worth waiting for." Indeed and as it turned out, the wait would be more than a year until the first models were available. credit: V-CC online archives. 


There were also some changes in specifications by Raleigh itself prior to production. Some of the alloy components on the prototypes mentioned by the CTC Gazette story-- the lamp bracket and stem in particular-- were made of chromed steel in actual manufacture.

Thus, it wasn't until November 1947 that Raleigh printed its first post-war catalogue and in which the new Raleigh Record Ace, model no. 26,  was finally revealed in detailed specification. That month the new machine was the star attraction at the Raleigh Industries Fair at Marylebone, London and subject of an article in Cycling 26 November 1947 by its famous reviewer "Nimrod":

Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is the long-awaited Raleigh R.R.A. Record Ace machine, which is a truly outstanding example of the results obtained when a large manufacturing concern uses its resources to compete in the lightweight market with a hand-built racing model. With 73-degree head and 71-degree seat angles, the R.R.A. is built throughout with Reynolds 531 tubing, and at a glance it is plain this a bicycle that looks good and is good.

In stripped condition for road racing, with 27-in. Conloy rims, tubular tyres, two brakes and a bell, the machine weighs only 20.5 lbs complete, and when equipped with Sturmey-Archer hub gear, mudguards, rubber pedals, lamp brackets, etc., ready for touring purposes, the weight is 27.5 lb

It is not difficult to prophesy a keen market both at home and overseas for a machine of this class, since no small detail has been overlooked. Pressure lubrication nipples are fitted to both head races, and to the bottom bracket, while alloy has been employed for such fittings as pedals, bars, handlebar stem, brakes and mudguard fittings. Chain wheel and cranks of special lightweight design, the cranks being made from nickel chrome steel, with forged solid arms on the right-hand crank to give direct drive to the chain wheel. The specification is an elastic one to permit a choice of fittings, but the basic price of the machine will be £32 (plus purchase tax)

Drawing of the new RRA that accompanied the first review of the machine in Cycling 26 November 1947. credit: Peter Jourdain

Production of the frames had begun late 1947 and orders were first taken in early 1948. It wasn't until April that the first machines were actually delivered and the RRA's gestation period lasted as long as the production run of the original post-war Lenton Sports.




The new Raleigh Record Ace was finally "unveiled" in the 1947-48 catalogue, Raleigh's first of the post-war era and printed in November when specifications of its new post-war range were finally settled on and production began to approach normalcy.  


When the Record Ace finally made it to cycle shops,  as indicated by these April-May 1948 adverts, it was indeed "big news" in cycling and remained one of the most desirable machines of the immediate post-war era as well as the most expensive.

Although the price is high, it should be realised that no expense has been spared in fitting all the very latest components made from the most expensive light alloys available today. We are satisfied that in the R.R.A. we are offering a Speedman's mount which is without equal in the industry. 
Raleigh 1947-48 catalogue

Whereas the pre-war Record Ace had been designed as a mid-range priced machine and somber and understated as were most bicycles of its era, even racing and sporting ones, the new post-war one was entirely different. For its new range, Raleigh expanded the market and price range of its line and at the top were new lavishly finished and equipped "Luxury Cycling" models including the "Superbe" range of roadsters. The Record Ace was the luxury "flagship" of the club/sporting range combining the Superbe ideale of the best of everything with the pre-war Club Raleigh concept of offering the discerning clubman a wide choice of custom chosen components from the best of other makers well established in the lightweight market.

All this would come at a price. The new RRA was the most expensive complete bicycle of its era and, until towards the end of its production, was only sold as a complete machine. As announced in April 1948, the RRA cost £41 12s. 4d. but this was reduced to "only" £39 9s. 4d. including the breathtaking Atlee era purchase tax of £7 9s. 4d, on complete bicycles. As such, it cost nearly four times more than the pre-war RRA and to put its price in perspective, the average annual salary in Britain in 1950 was £500. In today's money, it would cost about £1700 but in the 1950s, its cost was far greater in relation to salaries and to other bicycles even at the top end.

A new Raleigh Clubman (closest to camera) and Raleigh Record Ace being admired outside a cycle shop in Guildford, England in May 1949 although it's doubtful many schoolboys could afford the RRA. credit: Getty Images used without permission

The Record Ace sold very well when introduced and today most of the surviving examples seem to date from 1947-49 (with "P" suffixed serial numbers) indicating intensive frame production at the beginning and tapering off towards the end. There was, in fact, often a waiting period of many months to take delivery of an RRA although some of this was occasioned by shortages of other manufacturers' components.

Typical of Raleigh's advertising for the RRA is this one from the CTC Gazette in February 1951 touting the machine's weight (note the reference to the new Brooks B37 saddle with alloy cantleplate which became standard that year) and specification "which makes the Raleigh Record Ace Britain's greatest road racing cycle".

The Raleigh Record Ace in "exploded" form in the Raleigh spare parts catalogue c. 1950 showing the alternate rubber/alloy pedals and alloy "hockey stick" chainguard for the tourist version. 

Raleigh Record Ace Specifications

The Raleigh Record Ace is a machine to satisfy the most exacting cyclist. Designed to meet the special requirement of the Clubman, and built in every details by craftsmen who are skilled in the making of fine quality bicycles. 

Designed by Sidney Buxton, Raleigh's Assistant Works Manager and a young Alan Oakley (who as Raleigh's Chief Designer was best known for conceiving and designing the Raleigh Chopper in 1969), the Record Ace was the first Raleigh entirely built with butted Reynolds 531. The only model that was not offered in a Humber or Rudge badged version, it was very much to be Raleigh's own unique "flagship". The RRA's very cost made it rare and desirable but with a specification, quality of build, finish and components that earned its reputation as "Best of British" in lightweight cycles of the era.

Like the Charles Holland, the RRA frame was made in half sizes (centre to top) but with a wider choice: 20½, 21½, 22 ½, and 23½ with a 22½" top tube, the same frame angles of 73° head and 71° seat and the same pattern lugs and seat stay caps but with more slender profile profile "pencil" seat stays. Reynolds 531 double butted tubing used for the main triangle and steering tube with Reynold 531 stays and forks. Whereas the frame was standard, the Reynolds 531 fork (including steerer tube) could be ordered in a “D” to round section profile or the stock all round to round section (as on the pre-war RRA). Stock silver soldered braze ons-- mudguard fittings,chain rest, down tube pump pegs—could be augmented by any combination of options—brake cable clips (neat under top tube design), quick release bag support studs, rear lamp clip, chain guard clip and pulley boss for Sturmey-Archer gear control wire. Tecalemit lubricators for bottom bracket races and bottom head race were fitted.

The distinctive lugs of the RRA which first appeared on the 1936 model and also showing the Tecalemit lubricator pip for the bottom head race. 


A distinguishing feature of the post-war RRA frame was its gorgeous and elaborate finish with a special intricate transfer design and chromed rear triangle and front fork ends. Paint was to customer specifications including Raleigh Green or black enamels, polychromatics or pastel finishes with optional paneling or lug lining. Even the transfers were special using a special gold flake which was unmatched for its lustre and impossible to recreate in later reproductions. Time trial traditionalists could also specify the understated all-black finish with the pre-war style gold block transfers. But for most in drab post-war Britain, the RRA was a welcome and desired piece of flash on the cycling circuit and still regarded as one of the most stylishly and handsomely finished British lightweight cycle of all time.


A hallmark of the new RRA were its specially designed stem, pedals, crankset, alloy mudguard fitments and rear bag support. The stem, made of Reynolds 531 and available in three different length extensions (1", 2½" and 3½"), was of the head clip fixing pattern and featured decorative lugs replicating those on the frame. The racing rattrap pedals, lovely with their little Heron’s heads on the cages, were of steel and alloy construction with nickel-chromed steel spindles and Tecalemit lubricating nipples to the oversized races. These weighed 6 oz. less than the pre-war versions. There was also a touring pedal of alloy construction with rubber inserts.

The RRA crankset was made by Walton & Brown and featured fluted nickel chrome plated cranks and the right-hand crank with two arms solid forged. This was the lightest steel crankset of its day but somewhat fragile and broken crankarms were not uncommon. The distinctive RRA chainrings with their Heron heads came in 44t, 46t, 48t or 50t whilst the bottom bracket featured a nickel steel spindle.


The lovely original RRA chainset with its characteristic Heron's Head chainring and slender (and rather fragile) crank arms and solid bb spindle.


And the special pedals which were of a combined alloy and steel construction, weighing 6 oz. less than the pre-war version but still incorporating the Heron's Head on the cages. Tecalemit lubricators were fitted to the spindle races. 

The RRA stem, made of chromed Reynolds 531 steel, its design emulated the characteristic RRA pattern lugs. 

The mudguards were Bluemels “No-weight” celluloid in ivory or black with separate no. 6 Spearpoint extension, moulded in reflector in rear 'guard and mudflap on the front 'guard. Raleigh pattern quick release alloy fitments, stays and special shaped wingnuts unique to the RRA reduced the weight of the total assembly to 1 lb.

Finally, a specially designed quick-release rear bag support was fitted which clipped to brazed on pips on the seat stays.

The post-war RRA was the first Raleigh since the Club model of 1925 to feature a truly customer-specified component fit from a choice of the finest British made components of the day. It could be built-up as a single speed or hub-geared time trialling, mass start racer, club or touring machine.

Rims: the RRA was the first Raleigh designed to take Dunlop's 27" HP (for high pressure) wire-on rims and tyres. The initial specification was for HP rims in 27"x 1¼" or 26"x 1¼"   in chromed steel or 26"x 1⅜" chromed steel Dunlop EA1 Endricks. At extra cost one could also have Conloy alloy Asp 26"x 1¼" or 27"x 1¼" alloy wire-on rims or 27" (700c) Conloy sprints.

Tyres: wire-on Dunlop HP Road Racing (90 psi, 18 oz. a pair) or Dunlop Sprite were standard. Dunlop sprint tyres to order at extra cost.

Hubs: A Sturmey-Archer AM medium-ratio three-speed hub was fitted as standard but could be substituted for any SA hub gear or fixed/free rear hub. Front and rear hub options included Airlite, Harden, Coventry, Ultralite, Solite or Airlite Continentals. Quick release hubs, front and rear, were standard with special RRA pattern alloy wingnuts or, with S/A rear hub gears, S/A steel wingnuts and quick release indicator fitments.

Stem: the RRA pattern headclip fixing stem (1", 2½" or 3½") was standard but could be substituted for GB Hiduminium or Reynolds 531 pattern stems. 

Handlebar bends: GB Sylvere Maes alloy pattern was standard to racing models or North Road Raised on the touring version but any GB or Reynolds ‘bar could be substituted: Pelissier, Bailey, Binda, North Road flat etc. Raleigh pattern rubber sleeve grips, tape or rubber grips to choice were provided.

Brakes: the new GB Hiduminium side-pull calipers with alloy hooded levers were standard but one could also specify Raleigh pattern calipers and levers.

Saddle: the Brooks B17 Narrow Champion was standard but any Brooks saddle could be substituted. A Reynolds R.R. 56 alloy 10" domed seat pin was standard.

Accessories: large 13" kitbag (similar to Brooks but these had the "RI" (for Raleigh Industries) logo), Bluemels Noweight celluloid 15" inflator, tools, Tecalemit oil gun. 


In late 1948, Raleigh began extensive promotion of the new RRA which was finally in full production although there was often a lengthy waitlist. An elaborate and impressive fold-out brochure was printed and the RRA was the only Raleigh model afforded its own specific brochure. credit: V-CC on line catalogue archives.


The back cover of the brochure featured the "Super Tourist Version" of the RRA but interestingly leaves off the special alloy "hockey stick" chainguard that was made for this model and later also used on the Lenton Tourist. 


The inside fold-out highlighted the special RRA components and frame features.


The reverse side of the brochure unfolded into a poster size rendering and full specification sheet for the new machine, "Designed by Clubmen for Clubmen". author's collection



A detail from the RRA poster showing the rendering of the machine "The RRA as a Clubman's Model-- weight stripped for Road Racing, fitted with 27" Conloy Rims, tubular tyre, two brakes and bell: 20 1/2 lbs." 


The specification list in detail, already differing from that in the 1947-48 brochure in listing the new (for the 1949 season) Dunlop L.A. (light alloy) HP rims as standard equipment. But the bb spindle remains solid nickel steel. It will be note that this particular version of the leaflet dates from October 1950 and that the chromium plated frame ends have been crossed out, indicative of the severe chrome shortages that year. 

The Record Ace was a true lightweight for its era both in terms of its frame and weight conscious components. Owing to the range of custom components and configurations, it tipped the scales variously but here are some examples:

19½ lbs      21" frame post 1951 (with hollow bb spindle, Brooks B37 saddle) stripped for time                                          trialling, fixed/free rear hub, sprint rims, two brakes, bell
20½ lbs.     21" frame stripped for time trialling, fixed/free rear hub, sprint rims, two brakes,                                        bell
24½ lbs      Author's 23½" '49 RRA with four-speed hub, Conloy sprint rims,two brakes,  mudguards
24⅞ lbs      Same machine as above but with Dunlop LA wire-on rims, hollow bb spindle, B37 saddle
25⅛ lbs      Same machine as above but with Conloy Asp wire-on rims
27½ lbs      21½" frame touring version with Endrick wire-on rims, four-speed hub, mudguards


Field-Marshall Viscount Montgomery opened the first post-war Cycle Show at Earl's Court on 18 November 1948 where "lightweight enthusiasts have the opportunity of examining the details of the post-war Raleigh R.R.A. which is another example of the outstanding results obtained from the resources of a large manufacturing concern when they concentrated on hand-built racing machines." (Cycling, 17 November 1948).

For the 1949 season, Sturmey-Archer began to supply their ASC (new that year), FC and AM hubs with alloy shells which saved 4.25 oz. over the steel shells. In addition, a new trigger shifter, capable of working with 3- or 4-speed gears, and with an alloy face plate was introduced. The post-war version of the famous AR close-ratio three-speed hub, the AC, was finally reintroduced for the 1950 season and with an alloy shell at which time the FM hub, too, was supplied with an alloy shell. Dunlop introduced their LA (Light Alloy) high pressure wire-on rims in late 1948. These lighter top-end components were incorporated into the RRA's specifications starting with the 1949 model year as was a hollowed out bb spindle all of which further reduced the overall weight of the machine.


By 1949 the RRA had earned an addenda in Raleigh's Cycle Maintenance Handbook which was first published in 1946. No Raleigh of this sophistication and specification had been offered before hence Raleigh's reminding this was indeed "a hand-built precision machine [which] necessitates detailed care in all aspect of adjustment and maintenance." V-CC on line catalogue archives


The RRA as shown in the rare 1949 brochure. That year the Sturmey-Archer FC four-speed close-ratio hub gear (alloy shell) with alloy-faced trigger gear shifter, Dunlop LA (light alloy) wire-on rims were standard and a hollow centre nickel steel bottom bracket spindle was fitted. 

The Record Ace in the 1950 brochure: "Whether built to racing, clubman or touring specification the R.R.A. provides the connoiseur with a delightfully light and highly responsive mount which is without equal in the industry and at very reasonable price for such a thoroughbred"
The specification sheet for the RRA in 1950 catalogue highlighting the unique components including the distinctive mudguard stay wingnuts.


In the 1951 catalogue the presentation used the same rendering as the previous year. 


The specification sheet for the RRA in the 1951 catalogue highlighting the unique components including the unique mudguard stay wingnuts.

Specification Changes Over the Years


1948
  • by mid year, the standard hub gear listed was Sturmey-Archer AM. At the time, these were only available with steel shells and the 1947 pattern "black-face" trigger gear shifter.
  • Late in year, new silver headbadge with "Nottingham England" with black background instead of silver introduced. Found on most RRAs with serial numbers beginning 599 and above.
1949 
  • Sturmey-Archer FC close-ratio hub gear with alloy shell was standard or, if desired, the ASC, FM or AM hubs also with alloy shells. 
  • The new alloy-faced trigger gear shifter for 3- or 4-speeds was fitted.  
  • Stock rims now the new Dunlop L.A. (for light alloy) HP 27”x 1¼" rims which weighed just 18 oz. a pair. The L.A. rims came also in 26"x 1¼" (17 oz.) or 26"x 1⅜". These featured a raised centre section, similar to the Westrick pattern roadster rims. 
  • The bottom bracket spindle was now hollowed out nickel steel A-16-N. 
  • New pattern of fork lamp bracket. 
1949/1950
  • crank arms changed to a beefier, stronger design
1951
  • Sturmey-Archer AC (three-speed, close-ratio) standard
  • Brooks B-37 (a lighter version of the B-17 with aluminium cantle plate and stainless rails)
  • Dunlop stainless steel 27” HP rims standard
  • option of the D to round pattern fork and 50t chainring  withdrawn.

A rare example of the revised RRA chainset introduced c. 1949/50 with beefier crank arms which replaced the lighter, more fragile original design which was prone to breakage. This was offered on eBay (UK) in February 2014. 

The revised chainset with hollow bottom bracket spindle.

Bert James returned to promoting the RRA in the 1952 catalogue which featured famous sports and media celebrities endorsements. Here, the RRA is shown in the distinctive polychromatic lilac that was also used on the Humber Clipper. 

The RRA in the 1954 catalogue and its last appearance. This was the first time the frameset was advertised for sale and cost £16. 16 s. 0 d. including the chainset.  V-CC online catalogue archives

The Record Ace was last offered for the 1954 model year and production ended that summer. This was the first year that a frameset was offered and maybe to sell off stock. So the commercial production run of the RRA lasted only a little over seven years, compared to nine years for the pre-war version.  Its success was mitigated by its cost and changing technology and tastes in the top-end lightweight market towards more up-to-date Continental designs and derailleur gearing. And it was an expensive machine to produce as well as outfit with so many different outside manufacturer components which were evolving themselves away from the traditional British "club" type machine.

In its place was an improved Super Lenton with all butted Reynolds 531 frame but a stock component fit. And this would itself evolve into a revival of the Record Ace in 1957-58 with the RRA Moderne with provision for derailleur gears. In 1961, all Reynolds 531 production was moved to newly acquired Carlton in Worksop. There wasn't a Nottingham-built Raleigh lightweight to rival the '47-54 RRA until 1987 when Raleigh Special Build Unit (SBDU) was moved there from Ilkeston.


Certainly a rarity is this bona fide ladies framed RRA which was purchased on Craiglist USA (New England) in November 2013 (and since resold). It is fitted out in the Tourist version with the alloy hockey stick chainguard and GH6 Dynohub with full lining and the original mudguard, pump and touring bag. credit: ThreeSpeedHub.com website


The RRA in Competitive Cycling 


Few racing bicycles can claim a better introduction to competitive cycling than the RRA as ridden by Reg Harris to claim two Silver Medals at the  August 1948 London Olympic Games. At the time Raleigh's Charlie Marshall was courting Reg Harris to sign with the firm as a professional and he rode a conventional RRA track machine for the individual sprint competition. 

Whereas the pre-war RRA figured prominently in professionally sponsored road record breaking with Ferris, James, Holland and Godwin, these were done mainly to promote Sturmey Archer's new racing and club hub gears rather than the bicycle. The post-war RRA found more varied employment both professionally (Reg Harris and Cyril Peacock) and amateur timetrialing, the classic British cycle sport, and over a far longer period, indeed well beyond the six-year commercial production run of the machine.

The most famous "RRAs" used competitively were the custom made "Works Specials", built in a corner of the largest cycle plant in the world and by masters of the design and building of bicycles en masse or one frame at a time: Asst. Works Manager Sidney Buxton, designer Alan Oakley and the dean of racing Raleighs since the 1930s, Charlie Marshall.  They took the essentials of the RRA frameset and adapted it to the requirements of some of the greatest British cyclists ever. This included 15 Works Special 22", 74°/74° track frames built for Reg Harris which featured stiffened chainstays, down tube and seat tube as well as reinforced bottom bracket to stand up to the famous "RH kick". For time trialist Ray Booty, Oakley designed a special 25" framed RRA with track ends. All had characteristic RRA lugwork and in the road versions, the same rear stays.

All of these bore the hallmark of a Raleigh Works Special: the carmine red lustre finish (which came to known as Reg Harris Red) and the distinctive gold block "RALEIGH" transfers introduced back in 1932 with the Record. Post-war, for lightweights, these were only used on Work Specials and factory refurbishments. The rider's initials were carried vertically on the seat tube as on the pre-war RRA: "R - H - H" (Reginald Hargreaves Harris) or "R - B" (Ray Booty) etc.


Perhaps the best example of a RRA Works Special track machine, in wholly original condition, is that built for Richard Blundell. credit: Alexander von Tutschek 

The pride of Raleigh and Nottingham, these Works Specials were ridden to road and track championships from 1948 to 1974. But "off the shelf" RRAs were likewise the chosen mounts of many individual time trialists and into the 1990s. Here is a brief resume of some of the most accomplished RRA champions over this uniquely long span:



Mary Dawson (Tee-Side Road CC, 1926-) is the last great living RRA champion. Starting her career in competitive cycle sport in 1946, the maths teacher rode an RRA to win the 1954 and 1955 BAR (Best All Rounder) title, the second woman to win consecutive titles and recording averages of  22.34 and 22.63 mph respectively. These photos show classic British timetrialling-- Dawson "full out" on her classic black RRA with fixed gear with single front brake and the RRA chainset and pedals, stopwatch and bell on the handlebars. credit: Time Trial Legends website.

The incomparable Ray Booty (1932-2012, Ericsson Wheelers CC) was the greatest road champion to ride the post-war RRA although his were custom built "Works Racing Machines" and built c. 1955 after regular RRA production ended and supplied to him by Charlie Marshall of Raleigh. As shown in these splendid "action" shots, Booty raced RRAs in fixed-gear, derailleur and Sturmey-Archer hub form. credit: Time Trial Legends website

Surely one of the rarest of all Raleigh's in existence is "Works Racing Machine" frame no. RP117 custom built for Ray Booty. This was ridden to two of the greatest records in time trial history in August-September 1956: the first 100 mile time trial (out and back) in less than four hours (3 hours 58 mins. 28 seconds) running fixed gear and the first "straight out" 100 miles in 3 hours 28 mins. 40 seconds running with a Sturmey Archer AM hub gear.. a record that was unbroken for 34 years. The machine was acquired from Ray Booty in 1995 by its present owner Alexander Von Tutschek. credit: Alexander Von Tutschek

Another of Booty's RRA Works Specials owned by Alexander Von Tutschek is this road racing version with road drop-outs and fitted with Campagnolo Record derailleurs. credit: Alexander Von Tutschek

Cliff Smith (East Midlands CC), winner of 18 "24" time trials, was one of Britain's best long distance cyclists and probably the most prolific and last rider of RRAs with Sturmey-Archer hubs on the competitive circuit. In November 1965 riding an RRA he broke the Edinburgh-London record, clocking 18 hours 49 minutes 42 seconds for the 384 miles. This was the last long distance record won on an RRA, some 29 years after the first by Sid Ferris. Cliff Smith remained active on the time trial circuit up to his tragic death in 1999, aged 71, whilst on a training ride. credit: I Worked At Raleigh website

And, of course... Reg Harris (1920-1992, Manchester Wheelers CC)... icon of British cycling of the post-war era and perennial Raleigh spokesman who really did ride a Lenton Sports for his road training and leisure and won most of his victories on the track on Raleigh Record Aces and custom made Works Track bikes. The top right photo shows the RRA pedals used on these machines. credits: left: Alchetron,  right top Brooklands Museum, right bottom Classic Lightweights UK

Before "Reg Rides a Lenton for his Road Training" and early in his career as a Raleigh professional, Harris like so many British cyclists of his era, lived in Belgium just outside Brussels. Cycling 24 November 1948 had a feature "Life of a Professional Track Rider" that included photos of Reg on his daily 30-mile road training with his friend the Belgian sprinter M. Gosselin and riding a RRA road machine fixed gear (67.5"). According to the article, his RRA track machine measured 22", top tube 22.5", 73 parallel angles, 10.5 bb with round forks. Both featured the full RRA transfers and the colour appears to be either black or red. The road machine looks like it has the optional D to round fork blades. And appears to have a tail lamp braze-on on each seat stay for British and Continental roads. 

Left: 4 August 1948 Herne Hill, right: 27 July 1974 Leicester. Twenty-six years separate these two photos but it's still Reg on an RRA. The 1948 photo was taken during the London Olympics and one of the earliest photos of Reg on a RRA track bike complete with the ornate transfers and headclip fixing stem. It was on this machine that Harris won placed 2nd in the sprint competition and went on to win a Silver Medal in the Games.  The 1974 shows Reg, aged 54, winning the British Championship on one of his original c. 1950 Raleigh Works/RRA track machines brought out of store in Nottingham for the occasion. 

Seventy years ago, the Raleigh Record Ace was the acme of British bicycle design and craft, the flagship of the greatest cycle company in the world. And to cycling pro, weekend time trialist or duffer alike, a joy to own and ride.  And today, for those fortunate to own one (or several!), still a delightful bicycle and an icon of a now vanished era of Raleighs, Nottingham built.


Acknowledgements/Credits

Paul Whatley, Raleigh Marque Specialist, V-CC, Peter Jourdain
Raleigh, Past and Prescence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, Hadland, 2011
Websites: Time Trial Legends, I Worked At Raleigh, ThreeSpeedHub, Veteran Cycle Club online library, RaleighRecordAce.com, Classic Lightweights UK

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