Sunday, December 18, 2016

Raleigh Super Lenton & R.R.A. Moderne 1952-1958


A clubman's bicycle that offers a high-class specification, modern design and good workmanship at a moderate price. Cycling c. January 1952

Since its introduction as the Lenton Sports in 1946 and then as the Clubman from 1948, this was always Raleigh's best mass production club/sports machine and second only to the custom ordered Record Ace. In 1950, the Clubman had been greatly improved with all Reynolds butted 531 frame, 73°/71° angles, pencil stays and 27" high pressure wheels so that it was one of the finest machines of its class. Although it proved a popular alternative to the RRA both in terms of cost and availability, the Clubman's market appeal was mitigated by having but a single frame size (22") and at £27.5s.9d. it was an expensive upgrade from the enormously popular Lenton Sports (£18.11s.6d).

The Raleigh Super Lenton as portrayed for its introduction in the November 1951 National Cycle Show.

To better cater to the "aspirational" rider, especially those already owning a Lenton Sports, Raleigh retooled and revamped the Clubman into the Super Lenton for the 1952 model year. The essential straight-gauge Reynolds 531 frame of the Clubman with its 73°/71° angles, pencil seat stays and clearance for 27" hp wheels was carried over but with new cut-away pattern lugs. Chainstay length was 17¼", the wheelbase was 41¼" and the fork rake was 2½". Unlike the Clubman, the Super Lenton offered a choice of 22" and 23" (with a 23" top tube) frame sizes. British cyclist inseams were indeed growing, considering that initial post-war Raleigh club machines were offered in only a 21" frame size.

The "Cycling" review of the Raleigh Super Lenton included a reproduction of the blueprint for the machine. credit: Paul Whatley collection.

The components were comparable to the Clubmans although a new 2½" expander bolt (instead of the old head-clip design) chromed stem was mated to alloy 15/16th" Maes bend 'bars. GB alloy short reach Sports brakes and hooded alloy levers were fitted. The seatpost, too, was alloy and the saddle was a Brooks B15. The standard Lenton Sports crankset was fitted and there was no Heron's Head chainring for the Raleigh, all models having the plain version.

The model was produced in all three Raleigh Industries brands: no. 27 Raleigh Super Lenton, no. 127 Rudge Aero Special (taking its name from Rudge's pre-war top-end lightweight) and no. 327 Humber Streak, certainly one of the most effective and catchy names in the entire Raleigh line-up. Although each offered its own distinctive fork crowns (the Rudge sloping design and Humber's twin-plate "Simplex"), the colours were same as the Raleigh model which was the first time different colours for each brand were not offered. In addition to the Polychromatic Electric Blue (as previously offered on the Clubman), there was also the choice of Lustre Orange, both with white lining and distinctive transfers. Probably a consequence of reoccuring chrome shortages at the time, the Super Lenton initially lacked the chromed fork ends of the Clubman.

The Rudge Aero Special in "exploded" diagram form in the 1955 spares booklet showing also the different fork crowns and lamp brackets for the Humber Streak and Raleigh Super Lenton. For the first time, though, all three models shared the same colour choices. credit:

The Super Lenton's biggest selling point over the Clubman was its considerably cheaper price: £20.16s.6d. with double fixed rear hub or £23.15s3d. with four-speed Sturmey-Archer hub compared to £27.5s.9d. for the single-speed Clubman.

Raleigh's 1952 catalogue featured celebrity endorsements and here, the new Super Lenton is introduced by footballer Stan Matthews. 

The new model was introduced to public at the London Bicycle and Motorcycle Show in December 1951 and was one of the star attractions of the event. The new machine certainly impressed "Cycling" magazine's famous reviewer, "Nimrod", who wrote:

"even before I had the opportunity of riding the 'Super Lenton' bicycle, I gained a favourable impression, for it is one of those machines that looks good and therefore gives every promise of some fine wheeling. It emerged into the semi circle at a pre-Show [the London cycling show of 1952] at Raleigh's Nottingham factory, when the men who had been responsible for its production, from the first design on the drawing board to the finished article, wheeled it in with expressions on their faces that showed modest complacency and satisfaction with a job well done.

Talking with the Show visitors a few weeks later, I heard several comments that more out the Nottingham satisfaction, comments that linked these three things, the design of the machine, the quality of the components and accessories, and the price.

My subsequent riding on the 'Super Lenton', added to these qualities, others such as good workmanship, comfort and that msyterious something which is inherent in some bicycles and lacking in others, 'life'. Fearing that I was likely to become too eulogistic of this smart, blue mount, I tried to become rather more critical, but really it is very difficult to find fault with this machine.... Couple with all this the excellent finish, good handling and easy-running properties that I proved to my own satisfaction, and you have everything that it takes to make a first-class bicycle.

The Raleigh Super Lenton as offered in the 1952 export brochure for the Irish market. credit: Paul Whatley collection.
The Humber Streak as it appeared in the 1952 export brochure. It and the Rudge Aero Special were initially available only in the Flamboyant Electric Blue as on the Clubman and all models lacked chromed fork and triangle ends.

A reduction in the tax on new bicycles in the 1953 budget saw the price for the Super Lenton drop to £20.18s.8d. that model year.

The Humber Streak in the the 1954 catalogue

The Super Lenton in the 1954 brochure showing the chrome fork ends introduced that year.

For the 1954 model year, chromed fork and rear triangle socks made a welcome return and Lustre Royal Carmine replaced Lustre Orange as option to the stock Electric Blue. But the price remaining unchanged and the Super Lenton range still represented excellent value.

With the withdrawal of the Raleigh Record Ace at the end of 1954, the Super Lenton assumed pride of place as the best lightweight in the range. Consequently, its specification was enhanced for 1955. The frame was now made of double-butted Reynolds 531 and a new lugset, quite ornate and one of the most distinctive of any Raleigh, was introduced. Reflecting au courant clubman's custom, brazed-on brake cable stops under the top tube permitted "bare wire" rear brake cable. The new Brooks B15 Flyer saddle was fitted and pump pegs now accommodated a 18" inflator. Still priced at £20.18s.8d., the improved Super Lenton was one of the best values in its class.

Now at the top of the range with the withdrawal of the RRA, the 1955 Super Lenton now had a new lugset and butted Reynolds 531 tubing. Curiously, Raleigh described the machine was being a derivation of the pre-war Record Ace as ridden by Tommy Godwin on the 1939-40 record for most cycled in one year. credit:

The 1955 Humber brochure featured a unusual non driveside depiction of the Streak as well as details of the new lugs and the characteristic "Simplex" fork of the Humber version of the Super Lenton.

The 1955 Rudge Aero Special

In what would prove its final version, the Super Lenton for 1956 was little changed from the previous year except for provision of narrow section mudguards. The cost rose to £21.19s.6d

The Super Lenton as it last appeared in the 1956 catalogue


Recently, I had the unexpected pleasure of being able to ride an entirely new model that combines the best there is to be had in accessories and components, a frame of tuning fork vivacity, and above all has the quality of making the rider feel instantly at home.
"Nimrod" review of the RRA Moderne, Cycling, 25 October 1956

Since its introduction in 1933, the Record Ace was Raleigh's best lightweight, the pre-war version establishing itself in competitive and long distance record cycling to a greater degree than any factory produced model of its era whilst the post-war version was an iconic masterpiece of craftsmanship, finish and components unique to the model. The RRA was last produced in 1954, its popularity diminished by its very high price and its somewhat dated specification especially its lack of derailleur gearing. The Super Lenton, too, was no less behind the times as a hub gear or free-fixed single-speed machine when the derailleur was becoming all dominant in the competitive cycling trade and, increasingly, in the sports/leisure market. Raleigh's ownership of Sturmey-Archer had rather led it into a dead-end in terms of remaining competitive in the entry to mid-level lightweight cycle market without derailleur-fitted models.

So it was that the Raleigh Super Lenton, Rudge Aero Sports and Humber Streak were withdrawn from production in late 1956. In their place would be a revived Record Ace for the 1957 model year which, like its predecessor, would only be offered as a Raleigh model. This version, however, would be from the start of lesser specification, largely derived from the Super Lenton and lacking the exquisite custom designed components of the previous 1948-54 model. Significantly, however, it featured Cyclo-Benelux derailleur gearing in addition to options for Sturmey-Archer hub gears or traditional fixed/free. It was not the first Raleigh to offer derailleur gearing, that being introduced in 1954 with the Trent Sports but it marked a new departure for a high-end Raleigh model.

The RRA Moderne as first presented in the 1957 catalogue showing the spurious accent grave over the first "e" which Raleigh supposed imparted the requisite Continental flavour so fashionable in lightweight cycling then. In reality, the latest take on the RRA was an upgraded version of the classic British club bike, the Super Lenton but with the provision of derailleur gearing. 

To distinguish it from previous versions, the new Raleigh Record Ace was dubbed the RRA Moderne (model no. 57) which also imparted the au currant Continental flavour lightweight cycles of the era now assumed. Even so, this was a wholly British effort and employed essentially the same frame as the Super Lenton with its all Reynolds 531 butted tubing, 71º/73º angles, thin taper backstays and chainstays and attractive lugs. This was updated, though, with the essential provision for a Cyclo-Benelux derailleur on the rear driveside dropouts and braze on for a single gear lever on the down tube as well as cable guides/stops whilst keeping the braze-on pulley boss should Sturmey-Archer hub gears be chosen. The pump pegs were moved to under the toptube and Tecalemit lubrication nipples added to the bottom bracket and lower head tube and the lamp bracket mounting changed to a bolt-on bosing on the drive-side front fork blade. Finally, the mudguard eyelets were moved down to the drop-out/fork ends. Frame size choice was greater than the Super Lenton with 22", 23" and 24" being offered. In size 23", the frame weighed 4 lbs. 3 ozs.

The RRA Moderne came in two finishes: the traditional dipped Raleigh Black enamel with white peak head with white 'guards, cabling, handlebar tape and pump or polychromatic Sunset Yellow (really more of a gold) with black 'guards, cabling, handlebar tape and pump. Although catalogue depictions show the yellow models having a black peak head and seat tube panel, the few surviving examples do not feature this. As with the Super Lenton, the front fork ends and rear triangle ends were chromed. "Raleigh" appeared on the down tube in a new script style with "RRA Moderne" in vertical block letters on the seat tube panel and Herons Head surrounded by Olympic rings and in script on the top tube near the head. In either colour (the Sunset Yellow examples being far rarer than the black) this was a thoroughly attractive machine.

The new and distinctive typeface use for the "Raleigh" downtube transfers on the RRA Moderne

Carried over from the Super Lenton were the GB Courer alloy brake calipers and Superhood levers, Raleigh steel racing quill pedals and steel seatpost. The wheelset comprised the familiar Dunlop HP 27x1¼ wire-on 32/40 rims laced by db spokes to Airlite Continental large-flange hubs with domed wheel nuts.  This was the first Raleigh to have conventional 10 mm wide rear drop-outs (instead of the 8 mm designed around the flattened axle of Sturmey Archer hub gears) so it took standard hubs and derailleur hangers. The chainset was a Williams C1202 with single 46t ring and fluted 6½" cranks. Although the 2½" steel stem was the same as that on the Super Lenton, the steel "Continental"handlebars were new and very distinctive with swooping ends rather like the old Stratalite South of France or GB Road Champion bends and same fitted to the Lenton Grand Prix and Lenton Marque III of the same year. The saddle was a Brooks B17N.

The choice of gearing represented the biggest departure for Raleigh with the option of a Cyclo-Benelux Mark 7 5-speed derailleur with a 14-16-18-20-22t freewheel, Sturmey-Archer FC, FM, AC or ASC hub gear or16/18t fixed. This derailleur was Cyclo's latest and like the RRA Moderne itself was introduced at the November 1956 Cycle Show. For Sturmey-Archer, this was near the end of the road for its specific racing and club hub gears. In 1955, they discontinued supplying them with the traditional clubman's wingnuts and quick release fittings and far more RRA Modernes were delivered with derailleur gearing. 

It was in cost that the RRA Moderne was at a disadvantage and while the Super Lenton represented a substantial reduction in price over its immediate predecessor, the Clubman, the reverse was true for the new RRA. In its stock fixed-gear form, it cost 35 Guineas (itself a rather elistist manner of pricing more associated with racing horses than bicycles even then!) or £39.19s.6d. in its most common form with the Cyclo-Benelux derailleur.

"Cycling" magazine's famous reviewer "Nimrod" afforded the new RRA Moderne effusive praise in his 25 October 1956 review.... "first, for the fashion conscious, it looks good. The forks are neither too sturdy or too slender, and the rear triangle is very attractive. The colour scheme is tasteful, but will suit the new age of club riders."  The sample review machine, in Sunset yellow, shows the contrasting black seat panel and peak head whereas surviving examples of production machines lack these. 

The full review in "Cycling"  25 October 1956. credit: V-CC on line catalogue archives

Despite the fulsome praise of the machine by Cycling's "Nimrod", the new RRA Moderne was, in comparison with its predecessor, a bit retrograde in its components. Not only did it lack the exquisite custom designed and made RRA specific components of the 1947-54 model but it featured fewer outside maker fitments. Unlike the Super Lenton, the handlebars were chromed steel rather than alloy. The design of these "Continental" 'bars proved quite unpopular and were similar to the old fashioned South of France or Baileys and despite their name were at odds with the prevailing Continental mode in lightweight cycles favouring squarer, narrower dropped 'bars permitting one to "ride on the tops". "Nimrod" even had them replaced on his test machine with "handlebars to my personal taste of square design, giving special comfort on the tops. They are 14 1/2-in wide, have a straight center of 12 in., a drop of 5 in. and 4 ½ in. reach".  These sound identical to what Raleigh called "Reg Harris Road" bars which replaced the "Continental" bend 'bars by the time the second edition of the 1957 catalogue was out.  These, too, were chromed steel.

Besides the heavier steel bars and stem, the seat post, too, was all steel as were the rims and pedals so that that new RRA weighed more than the old one. Tellingly perhaps, Raleigh avoided quoting of the weight in the its brochures, something it had always done with the earlier RRA variants. The author's 1958 RRA, 24" frame and with Cyclo-Benelux derailleur etc, weighs 27.6 lbs and this examples features the hollow bb spindle of the older model so stock models would tip the scales at about 27.7 lbs.

The choice of gearing, too, was curious in that the Raleigh Lenton Grand Prix, introduced at the same time and fitted with the four-speed version of the Cyclo-Benelux Mark 7 derailleur had a double Williams 46/49t chainwheel and hand control front derailleur giving it a far greater 8-gear range than the five-speed RRA. And whereas derailleur gearing was the only option for the new Grand Prix model, the RRA was far more traditional and supplied in its stock form with 16t/18t rear fixed cogs with the added option of a Sturmey-Archer FM hub. As such, it was Raleigh's last traditional club machine.

Raleigh's new lightweight and sports range advertised in Cycling, 21 March 1957 headed by the RRA Moderne and all featuring the new "Continental" bend 'bars which proved quite unpopular and replaced on the RRA before the year was out with a new design. 

The RRA Moderne is probably the rarest of post-war Raleigh lightweights at least based on surviving examples documented on the web. Sunset Yellow ones, such as the above, are rarer still. This complete example, with Sturmey-Archer FM hub (date code 57 7) and serial no. 94021AA came with an original sale receipt dated April 1957. It has the original clamp-on style fork handlamp bracket. Note also the distinctive script "Raleigh" transfer introduced with this machine. credit: website
One of the best restored original finish RRA Modernes is this 1957 model with Sturmey Archer hub gear and smaller (44t) ring on the Williams C1200 chainset.  Note the additional seat tube transfer below "Moderne" which is the "Guaranteed Genuine English Lightweight" decal found on American export models of the era. credit: member MnHPVA Guy

The RRA Moderne, alas, was not particularly successful and in production for but two years. Its sales were hurt by its high price and although modestly updated was still a variation on the 1950 Clubman in basic frame and quality. Despite this, it was a superb riding and handling machine and to this day, cherished for these attributes which as the "Cycling" reviewer noted were as intrinsic as they were hard to define. The author numbers his RRA Moderne as one of the best riding machines in his collection or experience as do many present and former owners. 

The author's 1958 RRA Moderne. Differing from production models in its livery, transfers and more chrome on the front fork, this was built by Raleigh's Special Build Department for a Raleigh employee as a gift for his son on his 17th birthday.

Build details of the author's 1958 RRA Moderne showing the distinctive Super Lenton lugs and the boss-mounted headlamp bracket. The seat tube white panel is unique to this special build machine. 

For its second and final year, the headlamp bracket changed to a bolt on boss on the driveside fork blade.

The RRA Moderne as last depicted in the 1958 brochure.

And in the 1958 fold-out poster size leaflet. credit: Sheldon Brown on line Raleigh catalogues

The RRA Moderne was withdrawn from production in late summer 1958. It was the end of an era for Raleigh being the last all Reynolds 531 framed complete machine built in Nottingham until the 1980s for in 1960 Raleigh purchased Carlton and concentrated all design and production of lightweights at their Worksop factory. It was also the end of the classic RRA until its one year revival for the US market in 1973 and a decade later for the UK. Finally, the RRA Moderne proved to be the very last high end production lightweight built with the option of hub gears so that "Moderne" was not quite modern enough and with it, Raleigh closed more chapters than it opened. 

The author would like to thank Paul Whatley, the V-CC Raleigh lightweight Marque Enthusiast, for his helpful editing, additions and contributions of illustrations.

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